Rann of Kutch, which is part of western Gujarat, was on our travel list for quite some time. This winter we finally got opportunity to visit it. Rann of Kutch is famous for its white desert which is a huge salt land formed out receding sea water during monsoon which fills this area, making it a unique landscape. This extends into Pakistan as well. This is otherwise a barren land, nothing can grow, sparse habitat. Bhuj is capital of Kutch(or Kuchchh, कच्छ) district. Bhuj and surrounding area was hit by devastating earthquake in 2001. Kutch was made popular due to Rann Utsav started by Gujarat government since few years ago, and also by famous TV serial Tarak Mehta Ka Ulta Chashma. Amitabh Bachchan is brand ambassador of Gujarat, we have seen him sporting Kutchi look in Rann Utsav advertisements saying Kutch Nahin Dekha To Kutch Nahi Dekhka(कच्छ नहीं देखा तो कुछ नहीं देखा), meaning you have not seen anything if you have not seen Kutch.
We took a train to Bhuj from Mumbai-Sayaji Nagari Express. We had not traveled by train for quite a few years. Lot of things associated with train journey are still same, but few things were noticeable-the attempt to keep trains clean. They are not there yet, but attempts are being made. One can notice staff coming and cleaning once a while, taking feedback and signatures of passengers on the cleaning report. As we departed, that Gujarati environs started sinking in, with plenty of Gujaratis, particularly, Kutchi people around us. This was my second trip to Gujarat. Last time I had visited Diu, Daman, Silvasa, incidentally during Christmas.
The train reached Bhuj next morning. Rann Utsav reception lounge was situated just outside the station and we were transferred to bus for another travel to reach to tent city near Dhorodo. Rann Utsav, which goes on for 3 months, during winter, at tent city which is temporarily built near the white desert. It was sunny, dry, but chilly, when we reached Dhorodo’s tent city which is about 85 km from Bhuj. The tents are nice and colorful with all the amenities. The whole area is so vibrant and colorful, with display of culture and craft of Kutch. As we arrived at the tent city, we were greeted with music, and kum kum on the forehead. I wished those who welcomed us there were local men and women, than event management employees in polished formal dresses. The food served had good mix of local Kutch food, and other usual options. We particularly stuck to local food such as undhiyo, bajra rotla/white jaggery, khaman dhokala, various types of khichadis and kadhis, and sweets such as mohan tal, adadiya pak.
We stayed in the tents for 2 nights and 3 days. We visited the white desert 3 times-during sunset, sunrise and in the night as well.
The full moon was around and the visit to white desert in the full moon is a climax of the visit to Rann of Kutch. Loitering in the bright moon light on the salt land in the chilly weather in an experience by itself. We also visited to Kala Dungar which is a highest point in Kutch, Gandhi nu Gam which is a special handicraft village displaying and selling artifacts made by local artists. There are many things one can do in tent city itself, shopping, having a glimpse of Kutch culture and heritage. In the night, there was a cultural show arranged with folk songs, dances of Kutch and Gujarat in general, which was very good.
On the third day we checked out of the tent city and proceeded to Bhuj. We could spot the Bhuj fort which seems to be with Indian Army, and also archaeological site as we went through the town. On the way visited Bhujodi-another private handicraft village. We could not visit the Swami Narayan temple and Aina Mahal which were part of the itinerary for some reasons. One can plan Rann Utsav visit along with other excursions around Bhuj, to visit places such Mandavi beach, Mundra port, and other places of interest. As for our trip, we have saved those for our next trip.
Overall, Rann Utsav was good experience, but it certainly can be bettered from the perspective of organization, and also involving local people. The tent city is managed by private organization Lalji and Sons, who has employed staff who is outsider(even from Nepal), who don’t have any idea of culture of Kutch-they could not answer my simple questions about the some of the seemingly local food items which were on the meal menu. Talking of food, I was seriously looking for authentic Kutchi Dabeli on the menu, but could not find it to my huge surprise-not sure why. I also sorely missed facility of allowing the tourist to clad themselves in the local Kutchi dresses and get photographed.
We proceeded towards Ahmedabad for our next leg of the trip.