The vibrant colours of Kutch

exploring gujarat

The vibrant colours of Kutch

It is not the destination, but the journey that matters. It is a twisted version of what Ralph Waldo Emerson once said. But I must admit that the thought did cross my mind as I stood in the middle of a nondescript village in rural Kutch, gorging on a local staple.

I bit into the soft-yielding pav and the sweet-spicy flavours exploded in my mouth with the crunch of peanuts. My famished stomach thanked me for the quick snack of Kutchi dabeli, possibly prepared in unhygienic conditions. I am not a daredevil traveller, but hunger got the better of me. A camel cart passed by and the wind slowly gathered the sand on the dusty road as I munched on the real taste of Kutch, a desert district of Gujarat.

Travel travails

The mention of a desert may paint a dreary desolate picture, but Kutch is anything but that. With colourful sunrises, sunsets and equally fascinating inhabitants, Kutch preserves its mystique with humility. Although drier and emptier than its green and fertile cousin Saurashtra, in the south of Gujarat, Kutch is known for its resilience and the spirit of survival in extreme weather conditions, and takes immense pride in its heritage.

And come December, Kutch dons a festive look, thanks to the annual Rann Utsav organised by the Gujarat government, to promote the rich culturescape of this parched land. Driving down from the city of Ahmedabad, it is an eight-hour uneventful journey to the Rann of Kutch. Despite travelling on one of the best highways in the country, the landscape of sparse green expanses, the uninhabited stretches can make the trip quite tedious. And the lack of decent dhabas and clean toilets doesn’t help a weary traveller’s cause.

Although my destination was the Tent City in Dhordo, I had to first make a pit-stop at the archeological site of Dholavira. As the salt pans of Little Rann whizzed past me, the sky met the white marsh, and after a point, I couldn’t tell them apart. Crystals of salt shined as the sunlight brushed against the white mounds. The ancient city is situated close to the Little Rann in the Bhachau taluka of Kutch. Dholavira is one of the largest Harappan sites, which has remains of one of the most advanced civilisations in the world. The Archaeological Survey of India has unearthed pieces of pottery, ornaments, seals and small figurines, which have now been displayed in a poorly-curated museum. Nonetheless, the ingenuity of this ancient city’s planners is quite astounding, and is good for a one-time visit.

As the sun disappeared behind these ancient remains, I continued my journey onward to the desert. What Kutch lacks in natural beauty, its inhabitants — humble Kutchi people — more than make up for in their vibrant arts and crafts. One of the most artistic communities in the world, the different tribes of Kutch, especially the Rabaris, liven up their surroundings with their beautiful clothing, exquisitely-crafted jewellery and wonderfully-embellished homes or bhungas. A visit to a local home is a must. I had the good fortune of visiting bhungas of local artisans who stay true to their talents.

Women covered in tattoos and heavy adornments and children who are perennially covered in dust — the locals here are hauntingly beautiful. While the façade of bhungas are decorated with lovely motifs and studded with mirrors, the interiors are equally breathtaking. When I stepped into a bhunga, I was blown away by the display of bright-coloured quilts, intricately-woven bags and the neat display of shining utensils. Most bhungas are gradually being converted into homestays as the locals have realised that they cannot sustain themselves on their key profession as shepherds or even through the sale of their artefacts.

Wild notes

Apart from arts and crafts, Kutch also has a wild side. Yes, you heard it right! Desert and wildlife probably don’t go together in the same sentence, but this desert region is home to the endangered Indian wild ass. It houses the Wild Ass Wildlife Sanctuary and also has a host of other animals like nilgais, golden jackals, striped hyenas, Indian wolves, Indian and white-footed desert foxes, desert cats and a variety of lizards and reptiles. Moreover, in winters, the salt flats of Little Rann play host to the elegant flamingoes that are a bird-watcher’s delight.

After a back-breaking bus ride, the only thing I looked forward to was the much-raved-about moonrise at the White Rann. But my travel-worn body protested and I just wanted to rest my tired limbs. “But, how can you miss the full moon rise over the White Rann?” my fellow travellers argued. Finally, I gave in to their protests and headed for the “moon-walk”. Many have written about the magic of the desert moons, but nothing can prepare you for the majesty even the most hi-tech cameras cannot capture. I stood enchanted as a milky white glow surrounded me.

The magnificence of the full moon shining on the pristine White Rann enveloped me in a strange sense of calm despite the cacophony around. The click-click of cameras, the jingle-jangle of the camel carts passing by and the sighs of wonderment. As I surveyed the moonscape with a sense of awe, I could only hear the faint tune of an old song and feel the winter winds on my face. My arduous journey that culminated in this one moment will remain forever etched in my memory, making Rann of Kutch worth a second visit.

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