I looked outside the aircraft window, feeling optimistic and excited about the next few days. There were many things that still remained unfigured on my itinerary, but information online wasn’t extensive, and I had been too tied up this time to plan better. What resulted was an itinerary that left a lot of room for spontaneity, but I had a good feeling that it would all work out. Mainly because the part I was most interested in was already chalked out. And I wasn’t thinking of much else.
Other than the Rann of Kutch.
I landed in Ahmedabad, checked into the hotel and met up with the others in the group. For dinner, we decided to eat at the New Irani Restaurant in old city. It was fantastic food for the meat eaters with the lamb curry, mincemeat kebabs and biryani, not so much for the only vegetarian in the group who had to do with Rotis and Egg Bhurji. It was an uneventful evening and we decided to call it a night as the next morning was an early start. Our plan was to drive to the Great Rann of Kutch, a distance of 350 kms which we expected to cover in under 7 hours.
We got ready the next morning, patiently awaited our self-drive car, which arrived, but with a driver. As it turned out, getting a self-drive for Kutch is not an easy thing and the company had assumed we needed a driver. Since we didn’t, we called more transport companies, more drivers, asked for help from our hotel, but nothing worked out so after wasting 4 hours, we gave up and hired an Innova and a driver. It was 11 am as we settled our stuff and ourselves in the car.
We crossed the mayhem of Ahmedabad to reach the highway. The roads are pretty great in Kutch, and you can really pick up speed, unless interrupted by the odd swarm of goats or distracted by the endless expanse of salt.
To make up for lost time, we decided to stop only once at Honest, a local and loved Dhaba chain. With every possible Gujarati delicacy on the menu, we debated endlessly on what to eat, eventually settling for Aloo Parathas like good north Indians 😊.
The ginormous paratha in my belly, I decided that it was time for a siesta, so I moved to the last seat of our Innova, very limited legroom but continuous seats which in my view are best suited to lie flat on(unless you are very tall). Perhaps it was the warmth of the sun, the cosiness of the space or the music that I had plugged into my ears, that relaxed every muscle in my body. I guess I dozed off for quite some time, as when I got up we had about 50 kms to the Rann of Kutch.
I got up to look out of the window, trying to absorb the sights and sounds. Nothing exceptional I thought. A vast expanse of desert both sides, the odd green shrub here and there, not too many cars in sight. Dry, arid, almost lifeless. Not pretty in any way. Striking though. And almost lonely and sad.
We kept going on till we came across a sign board that said Tent City. This township is built every year by Gujarat Tourism to invite tourists for the Rann of Kutch festival between November and February, which is the only time of the year that the salt desert doesn’t hibernate under water. While I was expecting it to be busy, what with the promotions that the Gujarat government does for the festival, I was still taken aback by the sheer enormity of the number of buses, cars, people and camels at the entry. The chaos feels like a shock, so ill-fitting with the scarce and still landscape.
We kept going further in, crossing tents and bhungas(traditional mud houses) and a flea market. I was curious to see how the tents looked on the inside, considering the prices can put a 5-star hotel to shame. We reached our “resort”, built right at the end of tent city. It was a little over 5 pm and the family was at the gate(some had reached earlier in the day), not so much in our wait but because the bus to see the Great Rann was ready to go. Between a lot of instructions of dropping the luggage in the room and not missing out on the evening snacks to what happened during the day, we found ourselves on the top of a double decker rickety bus, slowly moving towards the Great Rann of Kutch.
Another check-post later, we were on a ramp facing a huge line of traffic – cars, buses, people, camel carts. The line moved slowly but steadily, and fifteen minutes later, we were there.
I don’t think words or pictures can do justice to the Great Rann, but I will try.
An endless white desert that goes far till it meets like sky. Salt so white that I could mistake it for snow. Stepped on a marshy side and soiled my shoe, the desert will make you careful of where you tread. Not a bird, a flower, a tree in sight, but it doesn’t look like the desert needs them at all. I walk further and further till people look like tiny black dots on a white canvas, and I wonder, how far am I? Not more than a hundred metres, I think. I feel alone, very alone. And I want to go back but I want to stay on. Then the sun starts going down, and the games begin between the sun, the sky and the salt. Colours of pink, orange, yellow and blue, both above and below me, transforming like magic right before my eyes. Till all is enveloped in a cloud of black. No moon, no stars tonight, just a thick cover of black.
Just like that, it was over.
I head back to the bus in the distance, it’s neon lights flickering and a conductor shouting for everyone to get it. I must come back, I tell myself. I must come back to feel this magic again.
And go back I did, not once but twice. Different times of the evening and night. The magic didn’t fade even the slightest, the salt shone, the colours danced, the Rann stood still, lonely, mighty, harsh and beautiful.
I came back feeling inspired and overwhelmed by the beauty of the Great Rann of Kutch. As dramatic and enticing as it is, it is also a very delicate and remote part of our country. On one hand, it is amazing to see the spotlight shining on this wonderland and the effort made to attract tourists, which lends to local livelihoods. On the other hand, I wondered if this desert will remain as pure and pristine with the growing tourism in the years to come. There are both sides to be argued and no easy answers.