Fourth Corner of India – The Great Rann of Kutch
I wasn’t born to just pay the bills and die. I had always wanted to explore the world, well, if not the world, at least my country… India. The quest to explore my motherland planted a seed in my heart and with every passing year, a new leaf sprouted up indicating a new place to be explored.
It started with my 2016 trip to Kerala. It was then when I explored the southern most state of India. In 2017, it was a quick visit to North Eastern state of Meghalaya where I experienced the wettest region on earth near Cherrapunjee. In 2017 itself, it was a ten days trip to Srinagar and Ladakh in the north most state Jammu & Kashmir. The mighty Karakoram with mightier Himalayas were a treat to eyes. It makes one feel so insignificant, so minuscule, so tiny. Spending hours in oxygen deprived Khardungla pass was a nightmare, which I luckily survived. India had offered a plethora of cultures and weather whilst on these trips. The backwaters of Kerala, the rains and greenery of North East, the bone chilling cold of North. Now, it was turn to explore the White Desert of Kutch, the fourth and last corner of India.
An opportunity came our way when we had to attend wedding of a friend at Ahmedabad on Thursday, 14th February. A thought sprang up my subconscious, why not explore the Rann over next three days and return to Gurgaon on Sunday, 17th Feb. 19. The plan was to attend the wedding on Thursday and explore Mandvi Beach / Bhuj on Friday with night halt at Bhuj (since tents and resorts at Kutch were expensive). On Saturday morning, leave for Dhordo, on the brink of White Desert – Rann of Kutch. Saturday night halt at Dhordo. Leave for Ahmedabad early on Sunday morning and board the evening flight to Delhi. I checked up the self drive car rentals and got to know that zoomcar offered the cheapest rates. Since we were four (Me – Gaurav, my wife Ravinder, my kid Ansh and my friend Pramanshu), we settled for an i20, which seemed adequate for us.
Upon casually speaking to my friend Dr. Arya about our upcoming trip, he expressed his desire to join us with his wife, which we agreed happily. So, now it was six of us and our i20 seemed inadequate to accommodate all of us. We upgraded our zoomcar (https://www.zoomcar.com/ahmedabad/) to a Tata Hexa, which seemed like Hulk, bigger and sturdier than my XUV. With our ride booked, it was time to book hotels. In Bhuj, we decided to book Nishansh Homestay (https://www.agoda.com/en-in/nishansh-homestay/hotel/bhuj-in.html?cid=1844104) which had decent reviews. We paid Rs 3224 for two rooms. At Rann of Kutch Dhordo, we booked Rann Homestay Resort (https://www.facebook.com/RannHomeStay/) for Rs 12390 for two tents including all meals. Next, we had to weave our itinerary around our bookings and make the maximum out of it.
We left Ahmedabad at around 08.00 hrs on Friday morning after having a sumptuous breakfast at the hotel. It was around 400 km drive to Mandvi. The sun was already up and it was getting hotter with each passing minute. The only solace was that all tolls on the state highway were free for cars. The quality of road was excellent, better than the National highway roads. We had planned to cover Bhuj first as we wanted to reach Mandvi beach by the sunset. The highway was smooth and driving Hexa was an amazing experience. Everything in this Hulk is top notch, the quality of interiors, the suspension, storage space inside car, Air Conditioning. The best thing I liked were 8 JBL speakers, one could actually feel every beat, every sound… amazing quality. Despite all these amazing qualities, I personally wouldn’t buy Hexa. The deal breaker is car’s sluggish pick up when compared against sprinted XUV. The overtaking on highway wasn’t smooth owing to this lack of adrenaline. The engine isn’t that peppy owing to its 2.5 MT curb weight. Sorry Hexa, despite all the goodies, the soul of the car was lack lustre. We reached a Gandhidham restaurant named Hotel Shri Ram for a quick round of Gujarati Thali. The food was amazing and it was just Rs 100/- per person for an unlimited hog. My kid tasted authentic and simple Gujarati food and exquisite Dabeli for the first time. Needless to say, we relished this experience.
It was almost 15.00 hrs when we reached Aaina Mahal navigating through narrow lanes of Bhuj. The so called Mahal was in a dilapidated state and left to fend for itself. A very sorry state of affairs.
We enjoyed a quick cup of tea and started for Mandvi beach. The road to the beach was double laned and had steady traffic. By the time we parked our Hexa near the beach, it was almost 16.45 hrs. Cool breeze was blowing and the weather had turned salubrious. Me and Ansh quickly changed into shorts and raced towards water. There were plethora of options at the beach…camel ride, giant wheel ride, sand scooter ride and Jet ski. We opted for sand scooter ride which my kid enjoyed a lot. We enjoyed a quick munching of snacks and clicked amazing pics with sunset backdrop. The canvas of sky looks fabulous when crimson rays penetrate deep into the sky, bleeding red across the horizon. In one word…indescribable.
Soon it was sunset and we started back for Bhuj. We decided to have dinner at Hotel Prince before heading to our hotel – Nishansh Homestay. At Hotel Prince, North Indian food was available which we were dearly missing. We ate to our heart’s content. Food was delicious and reasonably priced. Finally, we reached our homestay by 20.30 hrs. The huts were round in shape and were well decorated in Gujarati Cultural paintings and artefacts. Rooms were impeccably clean and linens were spotless. Tea served was okayish though. We called it a day by 22.00 hrs after briefly planning the next day.
On Saturday morning, we left homestay by 08.00 hrs for Dhordo and decided to have breakfast on the way somewhere. The road from Bhuj to Dhordo was of average quality. It was Hexa’s suspension which handled potholed roads with dexterity. Soon, we could see horizon on both sides of the road with empty vast desert. The topography had changed within a span of one hour.
Soon, we were overwhelmed by mortal emotions of hunger and soon decided to stop for breakfast. Alas, there were no dhabas in sight serving hot parathas and delicious tea. At around 10.00 hrs we reached a place called Bhirandiara which was buzzing with tourists and locals. There were small shops serving local delicacies and tea. We too, followed the suit and ordered fafda, jalebi, pakoras, mawa and tea. The food served was piping hot and delicious, though on hygiene front, finicky people like me may have some issues. Still, with tummy full, we moved ahead to our next destination – our Dhordo resort Rann Homestay. This resort was in middle of nowhere about 5 km before Great Rann of Kutch. Dust was blowing across the resort as we entered it around 11.30 hrs. Soon after allocation of tents, we left the resort by 12.00 noon to visit get the Rann permits and if possible, explore the area.
Rann Utsav Link: https://www.rannutsav.com/
The permit to Rann was easy to get as we all had our ID cards ready. The BSF jawan checked our permit and allowed us to take our car till parking zone. The sun was right above our head when we parked the car and walked towards Rann main gate. We negotiated the rates for a camel cart at Rs 1000, which took us to the white desert. We all were wearing bright clothes, which against the white backdrop of salt desert were looking fantabulous. We clicked some amazing pictures and collected fond memories of the place. My kid found a small pothole of water, which when I tasted was salty. Dr. Arya scrapped the ground surface and collected some fresh rock salt, which again we tasted and found salty.
After an hour’s ride on the camel card and around 300 pics later, we decided to ride back to the main gate to the parking. We drove back to the resort to have lunch. Time showed 13.30 hrs. The food prepared at the resort was simple yet tasty. Dal, roti, aloo subzi, rice, achaar, papad and chaas. Simply bliss. After overeating lunch, we had two options – either to stay back and rest or to explore Kalo Dungar and BSF war memorial, which were around one hour drive away. Needless to say, we chose latter. We decided to see the BSF war memorial first. After driving for around one hour, we reached India bridge which connects border area of Kutch with mainland. The BSF jawans posted there asked us to deposit our cameras and cell phones before proceeding further. We obliged. The BSF war memorial was constructed recently which is a tribute to our Armed Forces. The temperature was already around 35°C in middle of February. Imagine the heat wave during extreme months of May and June. Our forces brave extreme weather round the clock and guard our motherland, to guard our freedom. India’s pride are its Armed Forces. Lines below were tweeted by Indian Army post Balakot strike in Pakistan, which sums up the mood of the nation.
क्षमाशील हो रिपु-समक्ष
तुम हुये विनत जितना ही
दुष्ट कौरवों ने तुमको
कायर समझा उतना ही
सच पूछो, तो शर में ही
बसती है दीप्ति विनय की
सन्धि-वचन संपूज्य उसी का
जिसमें शक्ति विजय की।
– Ramdhari Singh Dinkar