Variety

Salt march at Rann

Sharmila Chand | Updated on January 20, 2011 Published on January 20, 2011

Celebrating a spectacular landscape under a wintry, moonlit sky — at the Rann Utsav in Kutch, Gujarat.   -  Business Line

The richly decorated mud dwellings at Hudko village.   -  Business Line

It was indeed a spectacular setting — a pure-white expanse shimmering under a full moon, a brief rendezvous with the glowing orange ball sinking in the horizon, Karachi in the distance, camel carts dolled up in fineries, Kutchi folk artists singing and dancing on stage, a helicopter making its way noisily in the sky… This is my first visit to Rann, the pulsating heart of Kutch, and the annual winter festival Rann Utsav — a perfect showcase of the region's unique identity.

The timeless landscape of Kutch, on the western tip of Gujarat, is flanked by the Thar Desert and the Arabian Sea . Rann of Kutch is a large tract of marshland separating Gujarat from Sind in Pakistan. It suffers extremes of nature yet nurtures nomads, tribes, flora and fauna. The extreme heat dries out the marshland, leaving isolated salt islands on a vast plain.

The salt plains are punctuated by highlands called bets, which have scrub flora and grassland vegetation supporting a variety of wildlife.

The Great Rann, called the White Desert, has been shaped by a mix of geological processes. It is believed that the Great Rann and the Little Rann were shallow extensions of the Arabian Sea until geological uplift shut out the sea, creating a vast lake that was navigable even until the time of Alexander the Great. But silting over the centuries created a vast saline mudflat, which becomes flooded during the wet season before drying out during the long hot season.

The salt marshes are home to the endangered Asiatic Wild Ass and support one of the world's largest breeding colonies of the Greater and Lesser Flamingos.

Tent City, Prasaad and a Jackal

The ‘Tent City' is specially erected for the month-long Utsav; visitors can stay in comfortable tents and move around to explore the region.

Kala Dungar, the highest point in Kutch at 462 metres, is the object of our first expedition. The sight from the elevation is breathtaking, as the desert and the skies seemingly merge.

Even as I enjoy a meal of bajra roti and dal at the famous 400-year-old Dattatreya temple, there is a sudden commotion. As though in answer to my enquiring look, my guide places a pair of binoculars in front of my eyes and, yes! there I see it — a lone jackal at a little distance tucking into its meal, oblivious of the circus that we in hundreds had created in its territory.

Well, this is the practice the local priest has been following for years — distributing the prasaad to jackals and human visitors alike.

Our next stop is Hudko village, inhabited by various regional communities. Here, we get to bhungas, the typical round, grass-roofed mud huts extensively decorated with charming paintings and mirror-work.

Evening Rann Safari

Just a little before sunset, decorated camel carts line up for a lumbering ride into the White Desert.

There is excitement, commotion, fights to get in with your own group on the carts. Some are welcomed to join while others are shooed away.

The slow movement of the camels ringing with soft ghungroo notes is a journey worth a million dollars. You are tempted to capture every moment on your camera. Take a deep breath and soak in the myriad hues of the horizon as the sun goes down and the moon chisels its way in.

For the next two hours, we are under the spell of pure divine Nature on a virgin salt land. The only diversion is the Kutchi music and dance playing out on a stage for entertainment.

Indo-Pak Border, Mandvi Beach, Narayan Sarovar

A range of exciting places are within exploring distance of the Tent City: Narayan Sarovar, a temple with one of the country's five holy lakes; Koteshwar, a Shiva temple near the border; Lakhpat Fort, an ancient port city; Mata No Madh, a temple for Goddess Ashapura; the Indo-Pak border; Chhari Dandh, a place for birders; and Dholavira, excavated remains of Indus Valley civilisation.

Mandvi Beach offers a great getaway with its sun-kissed sands and warm tropical waters. Birdwatchers have a treat in store at the flamingo-rich Mandvi creek. Vijay Vilas Palace is the impressive residence of the Maharao of Kutch, which also boasts a museum of princely heirlooms.

You can explore the striking ruins of an ancient metropolitan city at Dholavira, the fifth largest Harappan site situated on Khadir Island.

Cuisine and Shopping

You simply cannot leave Kutch without sampling the varied Gujarati farsan and shopping for the region's exquisite handicrafts. The ever-popular Bandhni textile, enamelled silverware and Qasab crafts are great souvenirs. Kachoris, theplas, khakras are signature items in the local cuisine. If you are in Bhuj, do not miss the Gujarati thali at The Prince Hotel. A delicious meal with 20-odd dishes at an unbelievable Rs 150.

Be it food or folklore, flamingos or wild ass, temples or beaches, the heritage-rich region of Kutch dazzles with its vibrant kaleidoscope of colours and images.

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Published on January 20, 2011
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