Do you remember those rare occasions when you’re proven wrong? I bet you can count those on one hand, cause, let’s face it: You’re awesome.
To my embarrassing admission, a trip to the Rann turned out to be one of those occasions. I was convinced this experience would be like living every cliché out of the tourist’s handbook. We’ve all seen the images of the great white desert, the souvenir shopping and everyone, I mean everyone’s picture by the board that announces ‘You are crossing the Tropic of Cancer’.
Naturally, I had a solid case of ‘The Taj Syndrome’
The Taj Syndrome : When you’ve been over exposed to stunning visuals of an iconic destination such that the actual experience is dulled in comparison. So much so that the Windows 98 wallpaper version of said place is better than your experience.
Look, in all fairness, the Kutch region is drop dead gorgeous. So you can either have a normal experience, like every other sod (as I had imagined it) or you could turn it around on its head and do the cha-cha. And that is how, my entire experience turned out to be anything but vanilla. Instead it was a decadent dessert (pun unintended) that had more spunk than a Katherine Sabbath cake.
But first, let’s get the vanilla out of the way.
About the Rann
The Rann is a lot more than an endless salt desert. It’s an enigmatic ecosystem that is more magical than real. They even discovered a replica of Mars’ surface in Kutch!
The word Rann is believed to be derived from ‘Viraan’, meaning deserted. Now you’re probably thinking barren, desolate and pretty damn dead. I also imagine a young Brendan Fraiser chasing an ugly mummy, with a 90s version of a hot librarian. Thankfully, Rann is anything but dead. Or mummified.
Look closer and you’ll find a staggering diversity of wildlife, flora, culture and yes, food. Together, the Great Rann and the Little Rann make for 23,000 square kms. Lets take a moment to grasp that.
That’s more than enough to fit 15 Delhi NCRs!
Say goodbye to parking problems, forever!
Honestly, the best way to explore this Narnia like land is on wheels. You can hire a car from Bhuj and drive to the Great Rann. Fantastic roads that will compel you to play Miles Davis. Or Drake. Whatever makes your jam.
The most fitting place to stay is at the Rann Utsav. Highly recommended for anyone craving some Glamping action.
Picture Perfect tents, running hot water and bonfires by the night
The festival is very well managed; with trips to the Rann through the day. The sight of the sun going down by the salty desert is worth your money. But I also advise you to come back after moon rise, to experience a whole different kind of breathtaking. If you haven’t seen this, you haven’t seen anything.
BSF Cavalry Display at the Great Rann of Kutch
And now, Ladies and Gentlemen. Its time for the Decadence. Here are three must do’s to take your trip to Kutch from memorable, all the way to epic.
Feast the Village Way
Only a short drive from the Great Rann, I meet with a bright young man, dressed in black at Dhordo Junction. Naaran Bhai runs a small handicraft shop and like most of his Kutchi counterparts, makes a mean sale. But I am interested in a souvenir of a different sort. Fresh, authentic, honest-to-goodness Kutchi food.
We reach his family home in the village of Bhirandari, which looks like a photographer’s wet dream: Beautiful hutments and gorgeous women, both dressed in vibrant colours and patterns, handicrafts on display and plenty of mirror studded memorabilia scattered around. Naaran Bhai has two children, the youngest is 2 months old and even shares my name!
The women instantly surround me and have lots of questions for me – what do I do, where’s my dupatta from, why is my brother so shy and the more importantly, why am I not married yet. Between this melee, Naaran Bhai’s wife and two teenage sisters volunteer to make lunch for me.
A typical Kutchi village home is decorated with mirrors and vivid colours
The menu is a simple mix vegetable with hot chappatis (flatbread); an everyday staple for the family. We sit down to peel potatoes, wash florets of cauliflower and chop chillies. Chatting with the ladies, I realize their food unlike their attire, is cloaked in simplicity.
I was strictly forbidden to photograph their faces. Women usually cover their faces in public, but in the kitchen its a little more relaxed
The rules are simple. Families share common kitchens and eat together. The women cook for the men (and the boys) but eat after them. All the vegetables and spices go into one pot and is simmered on coal fire for atleast 30 minutes to make a thick stew. And oh boy, is it spicy.
Whole green chillies + dried chilli powder + slow fire = a lethal combination.
A humble meal of Saag and Chappati
Now lets talk about the chappatis. Ideally, it should be the most ordinary part of the meal, but I can’t help gushing about it. Seriously, I tried.
Freshly ground wheat kneaded with just a hint of water, mixed by angel hands. Her name is Mamta. She’s all of 17 and can make 30 chappatis in under an hour. Don’t let her find you loitering around, she’ll challenge you for a knead-off, and you will lose. Badly.
Look Ma, I made a spaceship!
Travel to the edge of the Country
This is IT. The real deal. The land of the outlaw. Mad Max meets Ashutosh Gowariker (I almost swallowed my tongue there). Drive towards India Bridge to see miles and miles of uninhabited land, so white you feel like you’re travelling on the curve of a vanilla cake. Extreme climates and salt marshes that are punctured with shallow pools of blue water, steaming like your grandma’s pressure cooker.
But you won’t be alone. Cause here’s who you’ll meet:
Birds : It doesn’t matter if you’re an enthusiast or a bored road tripper, the sheer variety of gorgeous birds will cater to every flight of fancy. It is believed to be home to almost 200 species of birds. You’re likely to spot Falcons, Eagles, Shrikes, Pelicans, Swallows, Gulls and many many more.
Divine Legends: There is a very special Hanuman Mandir that is believed to have special powers. The story goes like this : during the Indo-Pak war of 65 an Infantry company commander takes shelter in a temple on the Pakistan side for one night. That night the god visits him in a dream, and says “you must take me back home with you”. The commander comes back victorious and establishes a temple to honour the god. It is believed that everyone passing the area must visit the temple for good luck and tie a bell. You’ll see hundreds of bells in all sizes hanging from the temple beams. Don’t forget to ring them all.
Indo-Pak Border: If you can manage special permission, don’t miss the chance to visit the International Border which is an electrified fence between the two countries. Interestingly, the fence stands between a significant amount of no man’s land, which on our side is uninhabited, but on Pakistan side, had a considerable civilian population.
*You’ll need prior permission to travel beyond the India Bridge
This really cool Palace – Museum in Bhuj
Disclaimer time: I really really don’t like museums and the chance of me advertising one of they’re kind probably means that someone else has taken over the blog. I’ll take that diversion today. Cause seriously, this museum will literally blow your mind-hole.
Here’s some seriously cool facts about this house of unexpected:
- You may have seen Swades in 2004, but a version of of it seems to have happened in the mid 18th century. Ramsinh Malam trained as an artisan in Europe for 17 years, but doesn’t felt fully appreciated. He approaches the King of Bhuj for a chance to prove himself which ends up in the commissioning the Prag Mahal (pictured above). Which explains why it looks so European
- He sets about on a mission to source and create the materials locally. He establishes a glass factory at Mandvi and manages to manufacture china tiles in a factory in Bhuj. He personally crafts the fountains, mirrors and glasswork, and even a pendulum clock in sync with the Hindu calendar! Make in India much?
- The Aina Mahal or ‘Hall of Mirrors’ is an eclectic collection of artifacts from around the world. Chandeliers from Belgium, a 47-foot-long paper scroll depicting a Kutch state procession, an ornate door made entirely of ivory, an old portrait of Mastani (Bajirao fame) and a collection of stuffed toys. True Story.
‘Fuvara Mahal’ was the King’s entertainment chamber
You know how they say, don’t judge a book by its cover? Or a tinder date by how many cat pictures they have (oops, that one’s true). Seriosuly, here’s a truckload of awesome in the Kutch region, much more than meets the eye. Ditch your tourist wheels and hop on to the train of whimsy. I’ll see you at the crossing of pretty much crazy. Ciao.
All Images By Ishita Thakur
Fuvara Mahal Image courtesy Wikimedia Commons