The Ranns, deserts, artisan villages, stepwells of Gujarat, and much more… in 9 stories… this is ‘story 5’
Co-authored & edited by my travel companion – Shoba Nayar
Exploring the Great Rann of Kutch
Arriving at Kutch Safari Lodge
Finally, after a long and fascinating day, we arrived at the ‘Kutch Safari Lodge’ our home for the next 3 nights while we explored the White Desert region and the Rann. It was a dark but balmy night and aircraft noises hung on the night air. On the way from Bhuj, we passed the military installation headquarters whose job it is to protect the Indian border with Pakistan, which the Rann sits alongside (or upon).
The exploring begins!
Early the next morning we drove out to the Rann and crossed the line of the Tropic of Cancer on the long flat road that lead us to the Black Hills and the much awaited views out over the 43,000sq km of the white desert and the Great Rann of Kutch, in this unique region of western India.
Castor oil plantations
The Black Hills
The Black Hills are so named because the travellers of ancient times used this 435m (1500ft) landmark on the otherwise flat plains when coming from the north to guide their way, and it indicated to them the distance they still had to travel. At first, all they would see was a ‘black dot’ on the horizon, created by the sun casting a shadow of the hills—this is how they got their name.
We passed through marshlands of salty clay where water from recent rain still lay in patches on the otherwise flat land. Scrubby bush dotted the landscape and obscured the view deeper into the Rann where local tribes still live in their communities tending their flocks and producing artisan works for markets and visitors. In the high summer, much of this scrub has died off and blown away but, because of the recent rain, we saw the unusual sight of the 1-2 metres high bushes that only grow when it has rained.
Viewing the Great White Desert
We drove up the narrow road of the ancient stoney hills to the viewpoint at the top of the Black Hills. From here we marvelled at the vista laid out on the canvas far below which stretching beyond where our eyes could see.
Extending far to the left and right, the Rann and white desert still had a lot of water in it but the edges had dried out and the sand coloured land dotted with the scrubby green bush gave way to an expanse of white salt. This salted area formed the edge of the desert before the light blue of the shallow water edged its way to the far horizon, the border with Pakistan and the ocean to the south.
Artisan pottery village
We stayed quite some time enjoying this amazing scene before driving back down the hill among the buffalo and cattle herds and turning off the main road to drive to a village where we met with an artisan potter and his family. The drive through the town on the dirt road to the potters house showed evidence of damage from the 2001 earthquake. In the outdoor garden we were treated to a demonstration of the process of creating the pots and plates from clay on the potter’s wheel whilst earthquake damaged potting stones used by his grandfather lay stacked by the gate.
We were taken inside the shop, where we perused the shelves of hand painted baked clay pots, plates, mugs and cups, turtles, vases, and much more. It was fun to choose pieces for gifts and ourselves. Whilst we drank delicious tea, the father of the household bubble wrapped our purchases so that they would withstand the travel we had ahead of us and the flight back to New Zealand. The village families would gather around to meet, greet, and chat with us as much as they could. They did not know when the family started producing pottery; the traditional craft had been handed down generation after generation and all they knew was that their ancestors had always done it.
A traditional village
Next, we visited a small nearby village with round stone and clay houses called ‘bhongs’, which have a round pole holding up the roof of bamboo and straw.
They were beautifully and artistically painted and decorated inside, and the beaten earth outside areas were swept and tidy. The women of the village wear traditional colourful and mirrored skirts and tops with aprons and scarves. We visited the woodcarver and leather workers, along with the fabric and jewellery makers.
Shopping in the village
Here we had lunch before purchasing some crafts and jewellery and going to a big barn like room where we were shown magnificent cloth fabrics, bed spreads, and other linen goods, all hand made, colourful, and for sale. Even though I had told my husband I would not buy a bedspread, how could I resist the green and calico, beautifully hand stitched and mirrored bed cover and pillow cases! It was light to carry and looks particularly beautiful on our bed.
Traditions still being upheld
The majority of the women in these villages wear traditional clothing and jewellery which adds authenticity to the wonderful surroundings, crafts, and homes in which they live and work. In some of the villages, the women and young girls still draw the water from the well, where they have an elaborate system for collecting and storing the rain. When they take the water to their homes they elegently carry it on their heads—a sight to behold!
The Great White Desert
Whilst in this area, we drove over a long flat road to the famous glistening white salt desert we had observed from the Black Hills. Driving west we passed the ‘tent city’ camp, where the artisans hold a massive annual market, and onto the road that runs about 5ks out onto the white salt plains, where the sea water has partially evaporated and the white salt clumps into crystals. What an amazing experience.
At the end of the road, were a lot of people in carnival mood, enjoying the sight of the flamingos wading in the shallow water, the sun coming down.
People engaged in camel rides and were generally enjoying the nature right at the level of our feet and as far as the eye can see.
The best time to visit is sunrise or sunset and the full moon offers the greatest opportunities for absolute beauty to be observed. Shoba and I sat on a roadside bench and watched the sun setting, dipping behind a cloud before it could reach the horizon, but reflecting beautifully on the shallow salt water.
And so back to the Kutch Safari Lodge
As we drove back, we observed many people walking out onto the dry salt mud flats, enjoying the desert landscape—the experience of complete immersion into the White Rann.
On the way back to camp we stopped at a road side stall and ate milk cake, a local dessert, caramel in colour, made from boiled milk and sugar and very tasty – a nice end to a great day.
Story 6… ‘Exploring the Great Rann of Kutch – Day 2’… coming soon.
Travel organised with Suresh Bahuguna at Lotus India Journeys!
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