Discover the delights of the desert and the ongoing Rann Utsav in Kutch
Under the gaze of the full moon, when the sands of the white rann (desert) glimmer at night, it’s breathtaking! With this description from fellow travellers, I couldn’t wait for the night to arrive. Soon enough, it did. While the full moon did show up, only the stars glimmered. And by the way, it’s not the sand that is white, but the carpets of salt that cover parts of the rann. Yes, salt. You have to taste it to believe it. The view wasn’t as mind-blowing as I had expected, but then again, three busloads of people can make any place seem less serene. This was our second visit to the white rann in 12 hours—my friends and I had come here in the evening for the sunset. Other tourists were going on camel rides, clicking the crimson sun and dancing to folk music...But for me, the beauty lay beyond the crowd, where I could see the rann and the blue sky meet.
Our tents at Dhordo
War, Peace and Love
Early next morning, we left for the Indo-Pak border. Even though nations are only a few centuries old, tools of patriotism like national songs, movies, news reports...are used so well that the border, as a tourist spot, needs no marketing. People will visit anyway. From Tent City Dhordo, where we were staying, the border is almost a four-hour drive. In between, we stopped to hand over our cellphones and cameras to the Border Security Force (BSF) officials near India Bridge. You’re not even allowed to photograph the bridge. Barbed wire fences indicate that the border is not too far; while you can’t go right there, the watch spot is just a few feet away. Tourists are allowed here only during the Utsav. A BSF jawan cued us in about the machinery and equipment, the difference between BSF and the army, the climate and geography of Kutch and more... Interestingly, Kutch gets its name from kutchua (tortoise) because of its shape. Not too far, he informs us, is the largest breeding ground for flamingos in India. The bunkers you see are only used during war, but this border is “peaceful”.
While some found it interesting, others complained it wasn’t worth the time. For me, it triggered memories of KN Daruwalla’s Love Across The Salt Desert that I had read in school. On our way back, I pondered over the charm of old love stories, Najab and Fatima (lead characters) and Daruwalla’s description of the desert as a mirage in the heat where “a depression in the sand looked like a splash of water, a freak, stunted cactus gave the appearance of a grove, and a camel looked like a huge prehistoric animal on the move.” The vast stretch of desert and nothingness may bore some, but it brought me deep calm. I wondered what it would be like to cross the border on a camel. Do people still smuggle tendu leaves out? What’s life like on the other side? Do spice sellers still live there?
View from Kalo Doongar
Wildlife and Mythology
Soon, it was time to hop off again, this time at Kalo Doogar (black hill), the highest point in Kutch. Guides say that when the Lord Dattatreya stopped at the black hill and found starving jackals, he chopped of parts of his body and gave it to them. As they ate, his body regenerated itself. Wildlife lovers will be glad to know that jackals come to the temple everyday to eat. For nature buffs, the black hill, white sand and turquoise sea create a lovely canvas.
Adventure and Hospitality
We returned to Dhordo by night and the cultural programmes had begun. We didn’t attend them, but we got reviews, “The folk performaces are really good and events are interactive.” At an extra cost you can do dirt biking, desert safaris, hot air ballooning and more. For every meal, you’re offered a combination of cuisines: Kutchi, north Indian, south Indian, Indianised Italian and Chinese. The Tent City is huge, so jeeps and golf carts ply to and fro to take people across. The simple-looking tents are clean, comfortable and mosquito free. A heater-cum-cooler is provided and the attached bathroom is basic, but spacious, stocked with toiletries. Of all the things, what I won’t forget is the hospitality.
Modern crafts at Hodco
Craft and Colour
We were eager to spend at least a day visiting the villages and after interacting with craftsmen at the Tent City’s craft bazaar, we decided on Hodco. The village lies in the heart of Banni grasslands; craftsmen here deal in leather punching, mirror work and embroidery. Their circular houses wear a conical hat and their women, colourful garments and bold metallic jewellery. In the past they embroidered with passion in the heart and art in the mind, but now they tailor their offerings to suit the cost-conscious, industrial culture. As a result, today, the demand for the old work is such that designers are willing to buy garments previously worn by the women of the house. For those interested, homestays are available.
Vijay Vilas Palace
Beach Buzz and Royalty
We spent the night at Mandvi, and once the sun rose, we headed to the beach it is famous for. Here you’ll find windmills, a few shacks and coconut and chatwallas peddling up and down. The beach has the Indian stamp of litter, but the blue water is delightful. We also visited Vijay Vilas Palace, a summer palace turned heritage hotel, where several movies have been shot. Those interested in architecture should visit Prag Mahal and Aina Mahal in Bhuj to see a blend of Indian and European styles. Before leaving Mandvi, we relished Osho’s Kutchi thali. Even on a Sunday afternoon, when most shopkeepers in Bhuj had pulled their shutters down, we managed to find an antique shop that stocks everything from embroidered and painted fabrics and coloured stones to tribal accessories and coins. We bought a little of everything.
Image courtesy: Pooja Bhula