Exploring India as a traveller had always been a part of my plan and I had been waiting for the opportune moment to take the plunge ; what better place to start, I thought, than the Rann of Kutch. The Rann of Kutch had been on my bucket list ever since I saw visuals of Bollywood actor, Amitabh Bachchan, taking a walk on the pristine white bed of sand on a full moon night; his words, “Kutch nahin dekha toh kuch nahin dekha,” stuck with me, and I decided to take a trip to the colourful land of white sand beaches.
The first stop on my journey to the Rann was Bhuj, the earthquake hit city in the district of Kutch. It is very well connected by air, rail and road.
As soon as I reached Kutch, I realised that the beauty of this region lies in its villages. Each village is famous for its handicrafts and unique artisan work.
While in Kutch, I spent a couple of days in Hodka village. Take a bus from the ST bus stand in Bhuj to Bhirandiyaara followed by a shared jeep ride and an hour or so later you will be in Hodka. I stayed with Ramjibhai and his family.
What instantly stood out for me in Kutch were the vibrant colours that seemed to engulf the village in their hues. Women dressed in eye popping colour combinations, that would definitely put a top designer to shame. Houses painted in motifs of kaleidoscopic intensity, and handmade bedspreads exquisitely hand stitched with fabrics in a variety of colours and textures. It is as if the people of Kutch have breathed life into the monotone desert.
My hosts in Kutch, Ramjibhai and his family, gave me a warm welcome, and were the most loving hosts a solo traveller could ask for. During my stay, I happened to develop an instant friendship with his daughters, Anita and Gauri, who accompanied me everywhere I went.
Ramjibhai’s homestay was hand built, the mud architecture being quite unique. My hand-painted hut, was spacious, and was equipped with modern amenities. Cooked over woodfire, meals were simple, but delicious; khaara bhaat, a type of rice preparation accompanied by vegetables and chaas, was a staple.
As for the locals, most men are leather artisans, while the womenfolk look after the homes. Days are for cooking, cleaning, followed by handicraft work. Evenings are spent watching television; each member of the family has a favourite saas bahu serial. Life is simple and traditions followed.
My journey around Kutch began with a trip to the Rann, which is is about 25 kms from Hodka. Ramjibhai and I headed out later in the day, on his bike, to Dhordo, the hosting site for the Rann Utsav. I did not time my visit to a full moon night, hence I settled for the next best sight, a sunset at the Rann.
To access the Rann, one needs to obtain a permit from the police station at Bhirandiyaara, so make sure you carry your ID.
As we drove in, all I could see, was an endless expanse of salty whiteness. The damage caused by the increasing footfall was also quite evident, as I could clearly see how it had robbed the white sand dessert of its pristine beauty; regardless, it was one of the most impressive landscapes I had ever seen.
As we settled down to watch the sunset at the Rann, Ramjibhai narrated to me his tales of growing up in Kutch, and his life as an artisan. As we sat there, the giant golden ball slowly melted away into the white desert, spreading a caramel hue all around. It was a surreal and truly magical moment that I will cherish for a long time to come. How I wish this moment was accompanied by the mellifluous sound of a sarangi somewhere in the background.
Since I only had two days in hand, I decide to explore the northwestern part of Kutch. It was the onset of summer and the Kutch terrain was rugged and dry, yet, there lay beauty in its wilderness.
It was a hot day and we were in an open jeep, ready to cover nearly 300 kms by road.
We headed to Lakhpat, a once flourishing port city in northwest Kutch, now virtually abandoned. The 7 kilometer fort walls were as intact as they could be and offered tremendous views of the ocean out over the Rann. However, there was not much to do at the fort, except soak in the history and imagine what this city must have been like, in its prime, nearly 200 years ago.
We also made a stop at the Koteshwar Mahadev Mandir. Surrounded by the vast ocean, it is said to be the last outpost of human construction at the westernmost limit of India. I walked across to the tip of the area which is guarded by the BSF . Being the westernmost limit of the country, just 40 kilometers away from Pakistan, I was not allowed up to the edge or to take pictures; the local fishermen are the only people who have access to the sea there.
It had been a long day and I was exhausted. Back at the homestay, after a simple meal, I lay on a khaat outside my hut and looked up to the clear night sky; I fell asleep trying to unsuccessfully spot constellations amongst the incessantly twinkling stars.
The next day I bid farewell to Ramjibhai and his family, and headed back to Bhuj. I had a day and half to explore this city and it’s sights before heading back to Mumbai, and I decided to make the most of it by sampling the street food of Kutch. The area around the bus stand was full of small eateries selling snacks, the most popular being Dabeli that cost only 10 rupees!
I also gorged on the fafda jalebi – a common breakfast item, along with Kutchi pav bhaji, dhokla, an array of farsan and of course the Gujarati Thali. Everything that I ate was entirely vegetarian, however it was incredibly delicious. The food was marked by a sweet and spicy balance, that had my taste-buds tingling. You also get non vegetarian food, just head to one of Mughlai eateries, most popular being Hotel Noorani.
To spend the night, I got a room at the City Guesthouse for Rs 500 a night. It’s strictly a budget stay, but extremely popular with backpackers and international travellers, which turned out to be great as I got the chance to meet some interesting people and spent the evening in the common veranda, chatting away.
From the guesthouse, the local sights are an easy walking distance; you can see the Hall of Mirrors at the Aina Mahal, climb the bell tower of the Prag Mahal next door, stroll through the produce market, examine the artefacts in the Kutch Museum and take a stroll around Hamirsar Lake. Head to Bhujodi, a small town just 8 km outside, where artisans from various villages display and sell their wares.
For this reason, Bhuj is a shopper’s paradise with its numerous markets selling colourful traditional fabrics, handicrafts and exquisitely handmade silver jewellery.
The essence of Kutch lies in its wonderfully handcrafted goods, which are amplified by the bright colours and the culturally rich landscapes. The people are friendly, the villages seeped in traditions and the food a tickle for your tastebuds. My first solo trip has left me wanting more, with a promise to return to this pristine desert.