Kutch (or Kachchh)
Kutch, by far is the largest district in India. Kutch literally means something which intermittently becomes wet and dry and it is called so because large area of Kutch is shallow wetland which submerges into water during rainy season, and is known as Rann of Kutch. The Rann is famous for the salt flats which become snow white after the rain water dries up.
In Kutch is also my ancestor’s village. Unfortunately, I visited this beautiful place for the first time after I was 22 years old. I never grew up here but this is a place I am so fond of and I never miss a visit at least once in a year if not twice. The villages in Kutch are really awesome to be in and stay over. Life is here is very much laid back unlike Mumbai where it is too fast and one strong reason why I love to spend my vacations there.
It’s been 4 years since I have been a regular visitor here, spending three nights and four days every time I come here. It is more like a pilgrimage where we go with the family, offer prayers at temples for us religiously and spend time with our relatives. This time around, I wanted to explore Kutch more in depth. I have had always wanted to go to Rann (shallow wetland). I never knew what it looked like until I researched about it. The moment I saw pictures of the Rann, it was clear to me that I missed visiting this natural marvel all these years.
Kutch is a paradise for bird lovers and one passionate about photography alike. Birdlife in Kutch is particularly rich with raptors, waterfowl, waders and larks, includes the Grey Hypocolius (Kutch is the only known wintering site in India), White-naped Tit, Stoliczka’s Bushchat, Sykes’s Nightjar, Greater Hoopoe Lark, Merlin, McQueen’s and Indian Bustards. Over 30,000 Common Cranes, hundreds of Steppe Eagle, Marsh, Pallid and Montague’s Harriers, Long-legged Buzzards, Sandgrouse, Pelicans, Flamingos and great flocks of Greater Short-toed Larks are a feature of any winter visit to the area. Eagles, vultures, harriers and falcons can be seen hunting in the Rann. More than 200 bird species live in these seasonal salt marshes.
Best time to visit: November to January
There are many places of interests in Kutch, but for this year my itinerary was a follows:
This is the main city center, and the nearest Rail head. I travelled from Mumbai to Bhuj on the train. It takes about 17 hours of train journey and the best possible train you can take is Sayaji Nagari Express which starts at 2.50 pm and reaches Bhuj next day early morning at 7.40 am. Place to see in Bhuj are the Aina Mahal (mirror palace), next to it is Prag Mahal and the Bazar. I kept my shopping for my return and proceeded to visit the Aina Mahal & Prag Mahal. It’s a beautiful palace of Late Rao Lakhpatji. Most of the Palace was destroyed by the 2001 earthquake but the not so damaged portion was resorted and is now used as museum which has many of the displaying the bed room, music room, court room and other old pieces of arts, paintings, arms, palanquin etc.
Which include the Aina Mahal (Mirror Palace) which has mirrors on the wall. It is said that in its best days, very little light was enough to light up the whole palace as the light travelled by reflection. Greater Rann and Little Rann are two marshy wetland areas
To reach Kutch, the nearest rail head and airport is Bhuj, which is also the city center. There are limited flights (once a week) to Kutch and hence a better option would be Ahmadabad from where it takes around 7 hours by road.
Kalo Dungar (Black Mountain) is situated in the village of Khavda. At 462 mts, it is the highest point in Kutch and on the other side of it is the Great Rann. It’s probably the only place from where you can get a true panoramic view of the Rann of Kutch. Since it is also located at near the India Pakistan international border, Indian Army has a post there. The post is out of bounds for civilians. There is also a 400 year old temple and Jackals regularly visit this place for food twice a day which is seen by locals as a godly phenomenon.
Hodko is a small village enroute Dhordo. The village became famous because of the resort, Shaam-e-Sarhad (an evening on the border). The resort does have many modern amenities, except for the construction. All tents and the main reception building are made up of clay. It is rebuilt every year after the rainy season dissolves the mud. The marvelous mud resort offers a very beautiful experience, calm and breezy surroundings and the feel of living in yester years are amazing. You are served tea in an earthen pot and you can taste the typical local delicacies.
My final destination was the Dhordo village, very close to the Greater Rann. It’s around 20 minutes away from the Indo-Pak international border. Dhordo is about 80 km from the city center/airport of Bhuj. There is an entry checkpoint on the highway where you need to register yourself by paying Rs. 100 per person and by an entry pass to the white desert. As our driver explained, this is only during the Rann Utsav and other times this is not mandatory. We did wait for about 3 hours to get ourselves this entry pass and at the end got really frustrated. The printer at the checkpoint was malfunctioning and there were many families and fellow tourists waiting in line to get through this. At the end, we decided to abandon the visit to Dhordo and restrict ourselves by visiting Hodko and then returning back.
However, I can give you a glimpse of what Dhordo is.
At Dhordo, now promoted by the state as an eco tourism destination, you will find entry into the white desert. A panoramic view from Dhordo Resort, you will only see white flat earth. Imagine the utter emptiness. A white nothingness – a brilliant, frost colored land – fat as an ice lake, filling your eyes with its whiteness. Each salt grain on the desert reflects sunlight in the day and more beautiful during the night creating a mist. Enjoy the light breeze and nothing but pure white every direction, horizon after horizon, on and on till your eyes can see. It’s a must see at night during full moon. Amid the darkness you will see truly amazing mist of light.
As I was travelling towards my favorite place to visit, Kutch, I penned a short poem.
Deep in the darkness of long night,
Is when travelling at speed of light,
I am going long away,
To a different state of my own mind,
Heavenly place be waiting for me,
To show its lovely palace of sand,
Dunes I will miss and so will be the heat,
B’coz its winter with blanket of mist,
Its crystalline white earth I want,
From you the natural wonder land,
By each inch am closer to you,
I am eager more to be with you,
Black buck or a wild ass,
Natural assets & your lemon green grass,
Plucking peacock dancing in the hay,
What a beautiful beauty you amass,
Is gold and sandy so color to eyes,
Mid night moon will soon quell its ties,
A bright day and chilling sun light,
My surroundings become just as bright,
Wow, is what I feel to say,
When I think of you and feel gay,
Oh my dear wonder of nature,
Don’t wanna wait to come your way,
Hey beauty just thinking of you,
Goosebumps spiraling my adrenaline up,
Into my chest, to my right arm,
No wonder that you are the great Rann.
I will visit Kutch again to explore places I have unexplored. Until then, these memories will keep me happy.