When Kutch comes alive...

When Kutch comes alive...

Rann Utsav is a great excuse to explore the beauty and vibrancy of the salt marsh in Rajasthan, writes Garima Verma

There are deserts and then there are the salt deserts. The Great Rann of Kutch is the latter; even a certain James Bond would know. The white carpet of it stretching from horizon to horizon, the sun and the moon making a canvas of it, is a wonder that has to be seen to be believed. The rising sun casts pale golden hues and the setting one lights it up with fiery shades of reds and oranges. Yet it is the colours of Rann Utsav that make it shine the best of all, and more so on a full moon night. This year, the utsav is on till Feb 23.

As the winter approaches, the white sand salt marshes of this part of Thar Desert come alive with colours, culture, music and food. At first look, this ecological and ethnically diverse region may, however, want you to wonder at the unforgiving nature. Yet, the barren empty land stretching for kilometres somehow ignites the childish excitement and expectation of a prized wonder waiting for you. The village of Dhordo, the host to all the revelry, does not disappoint.


Swaminarayan Temple, Bhuj

Thrilling the senses

Its mud huts, tents and markets full of Kutchi handicrafts — textiles that sparkle with skill and myriad colours, exquisite woodwork that captivates you, lovely mud paintings waiting to adorn many walls, seem to transport you to another era. Life inside the ‘Tent City’, that takes birth every year for a few months only to fulfil its purpose of bringing the whole of Kutch at one place, makes you an admirer for life. It almost has a magical appeal at dusk, when the evening is just about to give way to dark and the
whole place seems to wake up for a night of festivities with lights and lanterns highlighting its various colours.

Once there, you need not travel any further to savour the flavours that linger on taste buds for long or for the music that stays with you forever. After all, what could be more satisfying of an experience than having your fill of Gujarati farsan (snacks, like dhokla, khandvi, khaman, patra), shaaks (vegetables or curries), varieties of breads and sweets, and following it with sitting on a rustic porch under the starlit sky sipping warm saffron milk in earthen cups, with soulful live folk music and dance for company.

Behold, for the Rann gets better. For, it is on a full moon night when the pristine pure white desert is at its beautiful best — glowing in the moonlight like an unmatched vision that makes poets out of ordinary folks. The local musicians belting out sufi and regional spiritual numbers then not only seem to add to the infinite beauty of the setting but make it ethereal. And, on new moon days, the sky presents to you its numerous stars as not seen elsewhere.

The place has it all

The awe, though in a more worldly manner, continues when you find yourself amid the colourful world of ajrakh prints, bandhnis, and rabari, ahir, sindhi, banni, ari — various styles of embroidery in the region with some including mirror and bead work, at Gandhi nu Gaam handicraft village not too far from Dhordo (or at Bhujodi crafts village in Bhuj), struggling to pick which cloth or leave which. The plethora of carved wood products just add to the purse and strings dilemma. If one could, an ornate specimen of that in a charpoy would have taken a place of pride in one’s abode.

The shopping high, which though captivates you all over again and every time you cross the Rann Utsav haats (market zones), is temporarily dimmed by the laws of physics. Or the confusion by them! On the way to Kalo Dungar or the black hill, be prepared to turn off your engines and be pulled uphill by an invisible force that even works on fully-occupied big buses, too.

Time seems to stop on the road ahead. The tiny villages and their inhabitants, with their decorated camels and painted houses though, may remind you of movies like Refugee.

Giving a splendid bird’s eye view of the Great Rann, the black hill is not only the highest point in Kutch but it also served as a major landmark for the traders in the past to navigate their way through the Rann.

As the sun starts setting, the musician’s songs from the yore make the perfect companion to the relaxing setting. And, all that just makes you wonder that not too far in the past, the Great Rann of Kutch had been
written off a lifeless land with little prospect. Since 2005, it may continue to find absence of life in green ways, but Rann Utsav has surely made sure there is no life missing from the land.

Vijay Vilas Palace, Mandvi
Vijay Vilas Palace, Mandvi

Mandvi

Mandvi is a 16th century trade port whose merchants owned hundreds of vessels and their business reached as far as Africa. Vijay Vilas Palace is a must-visit for, it is standing as a sight of perfection among unruly woods and well-laid gardens. Mandvi’s beaches are splendid, too. Keep an eye out for flocks of flamingos and cranes near water bodies; they will make your day. The ‘India House’ of scholar and freedom fighter Shyamji Krishna Varma in Britain, has been replicated in his birthplace, Mandvi, as his memorial. The house was a hub for nationalist movement in North London.

Bhuj

While the city has come a long way from the 2001 earthquake, its signs are still visible at places like Prag Mahal (featured in the movie ‘Lagaan’) and Aina Mahal. The new Swaminarayan Temple is a picture of white opulence with sandstone pavilions on the sides and gold-covered sancta. The runway of air force station, Bhuj, had been laid to waste by attacks in the 1971 war against Pakistan. After the defence’s efforts proved to be inadequate to get it working, it was the valour of Madhapura village residents, mostly women, who came to Bhuj’s rescue. Despite an attack by the enemy, the women worked relentlessly to make the runway operational. A memorial stands at the entry of the town to honour the bravehearts.

 

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