Having travelled across Himalayas over the years, I never could believe that I’d find myself astounded by a land that I had always visited but never explored.
Gujarat is a lot of things – a state that bears the heat for the country, a place where farmers innovate, a land known for its integrated economy, a society that is warm and feminist, a tale that is vibrant, and a story that has spoken of freedom and non-violence. The state is full of colours, one can feel it as soon as one sets foot into its soil. The sun is the brightest here and one can sense life behind all the tanned faces. Yet, among its life and goodness, the only of Gujarat I have known were Ahemdabad and Somnath.
This new year, I forced myself to walk on the infamous White Rann of Kutch with my best friend (on her 25th birthday!) I have known for 16 years but never took a trip together. As the year 2020 set in, I booked my tickets to Ahmedabad and started the odyssey.
The Rann of Kutch, Bhuj
We had earlier visited Mandvi and decided to keep Rann as our dessert destination. We hopped on the local roadways bus to Bhuj form Mandvi and started the second lap of our journey. Our driver, Vasant Bhai, was waiting for us at the stop and from there we took off to feed ourselves with typical Gujarati breakfast – Chaa and Thepala and found ourselves what we would like to call ‘enough to survive’ guest house at ‘All India Kutch Lohana Samaj’.
Nonetheless, our host was waiting for us at her unique democratic school for kids and we went off to meet with her. She was kind and warm, introduced us to the school and even hosted us a lunch soon after which we went off to our journey to the White Rann.
White Rann of Kutch was like a mystery waiting to be unfolded. The two hour journey from Bhuj was quaint and long. We drove off the no network areas, gradually developing sand zones, the private luxury tent areas, and the government Tent City and finally reach our destination – Rann Utsav (Festival of Rann).
At the beginning it seems as if the white salt desert is muddy and too far from the photographs we see on brochures but one has to walk at least 1.5 kms to reach the part where the magic begins. You may take a ride with camel or horse or you may simply walk the trail on whose both sides there are shops spilling with Kutchhi work and food. My friend is an animal advocate so we decided to walk.
There is a little square where some of the Kutchhi goods are sold, and a group of men sing folk songs, tie turbans on your head and encourage garba (Gujarati folk dance). I took the leap, got a colourful turban over my head, clicked a few pictures and walked deeper into the sea desert.
As you walk deeper into the rann, the salt gets whiter (obviously since lesser feet walk on them) and is more crystallized. The way sea desert is formed is an interesting phenomenon. Centuries ago, the area was under Arabian sea until an earthquake caused the shift. During monsoons, sea water enters into the beds of rann and recedes as monsoon withdraws. The remnant sea water, gradually evaporating gives rise to the formation of salt. By the beginning of winters, salt farmers pump out the water, expose the layers which start crystallizing under the sun. Once the salt layers are hardened enough, farmers cultivate these kilometers of land to produce salt – one of the major economic activities in Gujarat.
Some part of it remains uncultivated and is known as the White Rann which the government had decided to turn into a tourist attraction.
It is wiser to travel to the white desert on a full moon’s night. We reached there by 3 in the noon, clicked a million pictures in our colorful attires and peacefully watched the sun set.
The land of salt seems endless ‘jaha tak nazar jaaye waha tak rann hai‘ (rann is as far as your eyes can see).
The orange sun swiftly sets on the white horizon, leaving shades of grey, orange and yellow behind. The wind grew colder, the salt crystals were tinted with the departing sun’s rays and more of silence gushed in.
But that’s not it, there’s another magical moment waiting to unveil itself as the full moon rises with the sunset. Unless you have extremely great DSLRs or lenses, trust me when I say that your camera cannot capture what your eyes can see. The baby blue sky slowly turning into grey then to dark grey then to pastel dark blue as the moon’s halo brightens the night. The stars start to pop out and once again, the salt crystals start to sparkle under the moon’s rays.
Soon the pinkish land turns to grey whitish shade as if the moon has risen on an ocean. It is hypnotic how these two monotonous celestial events seem so transcendent in that moment.
We just couldn’t keep our eyes off the moon but eventually realised of our two hour trip back to Bhuj and we bid goodbye to the full moon behind us. There are many mountains, forests, lakes and beaches in India but there is only one Rann of Kutch.