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Rann of Kutch – The White Desert!

Rann

Rann is the reason we wanted to visit Kutch in the first place. Thanks to the extensive advertisement campaigns by Gujarat tourism that Rann became our dream destination and we planned this trip. Rann is considered to be the largest salt desert in the world. So at Rann, as far as your eyes can see the earth is white, although it varies according to the colour of the skies. It’s white during broad day light, orangish during sunset & bluish on a full moon night. Rann’s beauty can be admired only by visiting it, no images or pictures can come close enough to what you experience with your own eyes.

Other Attractions

Other attractions near Rann are Kalo Dongar, –  highest point in Kutch and India Bridge.

The Journey

Our train from Mumbai reached Bhuj railway station in morning at around 7.30 am, the pre-booked mini bus was already waiting for us at the entrance. We all were too hungry, so we asked our driver to take us to nearby hotel for breakfast. Breakfast for Mumbaikars basically meant poha or bread butter and tea. Instead he took us to road side stalls where they were serving khakra & jalebi as breakfast. Initially we didn’t get down the bus, as none of us could see how jalebi can be breakfast, it’s more like a dessert to us! But for as hungry as we were, we got down reluctantly and had whatever was there on the menu. For most of us, this was the “Welcome to Gujarat” experience πŸ™‚
I wouldn’t say it was one of the best breakfasts, but it served the purpose of filling up our stomach.

Khakra Jalebi
Khakra Jalebi

After breakfast we headed to Dhordo village with a pit stop at Bhirandiyara checkpost to get our permits to visit Rann, Kalo Dongar & India Bridge as these places are quiet close to border. The driver & vehicle permit costs are bared by the tourists. The permit taking process was quiet hassle free, and took less than 10 min to make payments, get the permits and leave.

Bhirandiyara Check Post
Bhirandiyara Check Post

The road to Rann is very good & well maintained. The hoardings of Gujarat Tourism directing to Tent City where the famous Rann Utsav is organised yearly, could be seen at various places starting from Bhirandiyara. On the way to Dhordo, the land on either sides of the road was barren with desert but also few vegetation could be seen here and there. But it was still beautiful in its own way. The village houses would sprung out of nowhere in the middle of the desert and would just add to its beauty. These hut shaped houses were traditionally made by mixing mud & cow/horse dung, and are called Bhungas. We were told that these are final few villages across Kutch who still live in such traditional houses. The mud clay art work with tiny mirrors on it, could be seen on the either sides of the main door of these Bhungas making these simple Bhungas look outstanding! The sunlight reflecting out of these tiny mirrors combined with the house itself on a desert background, made the whole scene picturesque.

Road to Rann with Gujarat Tourism Hoardings
Road to Rann with Gujarat Tourism Hoardings
Clay-Mirror Work
Clay-Mirror Work

We reached our resort- Gateway to Rann-near Dhordo village by afternoon. Adjoining this resort, sharing its boundaries were series of tents and a stage at the centre with some focus and show lights on it. It sure looked liked the Tent City, which we later confirmed with the resort authorities too. After the check in formalities, we were shown our rooms. We were surprised to see that our rooms were actually Bhungas that we saw on our way. It too had the same clay-mirror work on them which not only gave a very Indian traditional touch to it but at the same time enhanced its beauty. Another appreciable feature was that it was way too cooler inside even in the afternoon without air conditioning because of the use of mud in its construction. One downside about the whole set up was that wet feet makes the floor muddy which I consider a small drawback.

I had read few reviews of this resort on Tripadvisor stating that it wasn’t up to the standards. If we go with a expectation of 4-5 star accommodation, then this resort might not be the place to stay in and Tent City would be appropriate. But if you expect a simple, clean and tidy place to stay, then its an above average resort. The resort is maintained by the villagers of Dhordo and I believe they are doing a good job at it. We all were quiet happy with our rooms and meal arrangements which by the way had traditional Kutchi food buffet. Post lunch and after a short afternoon nap and some chai and pakoda later, we were ready to visit Rann.

Gateway To Rann Resort Entrance
Gateway To Rann Resort Entrance

Rann was 2 km from our resort. Our bus dropped us at the entrance to Rann. But we could a road cutting through the white desert and many smaller 4 wheeler’s driving on it. The road was more like a promenade. When asked, we were told that this road was permitted for only smaller 4 wheeler’s and goes till a km or two further inside Rann.

The Promenade
The Promenade at Sunset

Just as we entered Rann, there were a set of musicians singing traditional songs which we listened to for a few moments and enjoyed. Then we walked beyond them to see the wide expanse of white desert for the first time. I think my brain was trying hard to process what it was seeing, cos this was a sight I have never seen in my life. It was a white land instead of brown that we all are so used to see. The feeling of walking on it was unique too. From a distance you would feel that its a flat “solid” land and it would be same as walking on any other land surface. But once you start walking, you realize how different the surface is, the “solid land part” that your brain processed it to be, vanishes. The crackling sound of salt under your shoes, the wetness you feel when you touch it, the impression of your feet on it, is a whole new experience for your senses!

Musicians at White Desert
Musicians at White Desert
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By 5.30pm sun had started to set in filling up the skies with its dramatic colours. By now it was fully occupied with people all coming to see the sunset. We wanted to be a little away from the crowd, so we started walking further inside. As white land is all that we could see for miles and miles, we couldn’t judge the distance of our target area where there were very few people. We kept walking and walking until there was no one else close enough to us. We realized that we were walking for good 20-30min & we had reached around 1-1.5 kms from the entrance. Walking on the salt wasn’t easy either, legs tend to get tired pretty fast due to the friction between feet and salt, but our walk was worth the effort. The place we were standing at, gave us an illusion that we were right at the middle of the white desert and no one else was there till the horizon. We started capturing the beauty of Rann at sunset but I am still not too satisfied with the pictures I have because what I saw with my eyes was even more beautiful. We took a few moments off our cameras, just to admire the beauty of the crimson colour over the white desert which was simply divine!

Rann at Sunset
Rann at Sunset

As soon as the sun had set, we started gazing at the sky for any signs of moon. We could spot stars slowly, but there was no sign of moon anywhere. After waiting for sometime and later being told that moon rise time was around 8.30 pm, we came back to our resort by 7.30 pm to watch the traditional folk music show organised by the resort. It went on till 8 pm. At 8 pm, the tent city show starts, and these same musicians would go there and perform on the stage. Everyone whether accommodated in the tent city or not, is permitted to watch the show for free. As we all were pretty tired with the walk on the desert, we opted to have dinner instead. Dinner was pretty good and the best part were the jalebis- it was hot and crispy, wasn’t too sweet, tasted awesome & finally jalebi’s were served as dessert πŸ˜€ I think our group alone would have finished more than half of the jalebis prepared by them :p.

Delicious Jalebi :)
Delicious Jalebi πŸ™‚

As soon as we stepped out of the dinning area – right in front of us, staring right back at us- was the big bright moon finally risen.

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Moon Rise seen from resort

Without any further delay, we headed straight to Rann. At the entrance, we were instructed to be back by 11.30 pm by a BSF personnel.

There were very few people at night on the desert. We opted to take a leisure walk on the promenade watching the moon lit desert on either side of us. We walked till the space were there was some arrangements to sit and glance at the desert.

The beauty of the White Rann at moonrise just cannot be expressed in words. The colour of the white desert in combination with the bright moon light gave a halo-ish soft blue shimmery colour effect on the whole desert. “Is this an illusion or is this for real?” was the question crossing our minds and this feeling was making us stare at it even more. Few moments you feel you can see the bluish effect, other moments its not there. Whatever it was, for me, this was one of the most soothing experiences. We kept looking at the vast expanse of Rann for sometime, then started walking on it with our eyes focussing the horizon searching for the halo effect which was playing hide n seek with us. That’s when one of my friend pointed out that he is feeling like we are not walking on earth’s surface, it was some other planet altogether! These experiences are too magical to describe. This game of illusions mind plays, can only be felt once you are physically present on a bright moon night at Rann. I am not a pro photographer but still I tried my level best to capture this magic my eyes were seeing on my camera, but I just couldn’t. So I gave up on my photography skills and tried to save the picture on my brains hard drive forever πŸ™‚

Sadly by 11pm, we had to turn around and walk back. As soon as we were approaching the entrance, we turned around for one last time and admired its beauty. Once back to our bus, we headed to our resorts. After a long and tiring but eventful day, with beautiful memories of Rann permanently etched in our minds, we retired for the day.

Reaching Rann

Bhuj is the capital city of Kutch. It is well connected to other major cities of India by trains. Bhuj also has a domestic airport with daily flights to & from Mumbai. Once in Bhuj, you can easily hire cabs to Rann.

Hiring Vehicle -As of Feb 2015, charges for various vehicle types:

Indica Vista – 4 seater – Rs 2400 per day – max 300km per day
Innova – 9 seater – Rs 4200 per day – max 300km per day
Tempo Traveler – 12 seater – Rs 6000 per day – max 300km per day
Toofan – 12 seater – Rs 3300 per day – max 300km per day
Minibus a/c – 19 seater – Rs 8400 per day – max 300km per day
Minibus non a/c – 19 seater – Rs 7200 per day – max 300km per day

Its takes close to 2 hrs to reach Rann. It is preferred to stay at Rann itself so that you can witness the moonrise. Otherwise one can stay at Bhuj and drive down to Rann and go back. Solo travellers would prefer staying at Bhuj because the stay options are cheaper and your trip becomes more cost effective. But if you are a group, then I would suggest staying in Rann is better as the per head cost won’t be too much.

Bus

Gujarat Tourism arranges buses till Dhordo(where we had stayed) during the festive time from Dec to Feb end. Charges are nominal. I did not take this option, so doesn’t have too much details. To get more details, write to tibbhuj@gujarattourism.com ( Tourist information Bureau, Bhuj)

ST buses go till a place called Khavda, after Khavda you will need to arrange your own transport till Rann.

Permits: Permits are needed to visit Rann, Kalo Dongar & India bridge. The most convenient place to get permits is at Bhirandiyara check post as it is on the way to Rann from Bhuj. Takes Rs 100 per head for the permits & Rs 150 for vehicle. Taking permits isn’t a time consuming process. For us, it took less than just 10 min.

Stay options: The biggest misconception about stay in Rann is that many think- Tent City(Rann Utsav) is the only option to stay here. Tent City cost is a little on the higher side, so visiting Rann is assumed to be a costly affair. But there are good cost effective resorts near Rann which can easily fit budget conscious travellers like me!

Resorts in Rann

>>Gateway to Rann Resort – Dhordo Village – This one is very near to the entrance of Tent City and just 2km away from Rann. We had stayed here. Visit the site http://kutchrannresort.com/ for more details. An A/C bhunga room costs Rs 4000 & a Darbari room costs Rs 6000 for double occupancy including all meals. Extra bed charges are Rs 1000. We had taken an A/C bhunga room for 3 and for Rs 1667 per head, we were quiet happy with all the arrangements, staff and food!

Gateway to Rann Resort Pics…

>>Toran Rann Resort- Dhordo Village – The tarrif is lesser here, details can be checked at their site: http://booking.toranrannresort.com/index.php/bookings/calendar

>>Shaam-E-Sarhad Resort – Hodka Village – This village is around 5 km from Tent City but read that the Bhungas here are beautiful. There are various stay options at this resort, you can get tarrifs from link : http://www.hodka.in/shaam-e-sarhad-village-resort/accommodation-tarrifs/

>>The Tent City – If budget isn’t an issue then Tent City has some luxurious accommodation options. Get all details at – http://rannutsav.net/package-and-tariff

Other Attractions

Kalo Dongar

The next day morning, after breakfast, we checked out of our resort and headed to Kalo Dongar. This is considered the highest point in Kutch. Its a mountain from where one can get a panoramic view of the white desert. We reached there by 10 am in the morning and view was very good. But being the sunset point the view would have been more beautiful during the evenings.

About Kalo Dongar
About Kalo Dongar

Your vehicle will take you till the base of this hill. To go till the top, you have 3 options, one is by camel, which costs Rs 50 per head one side, they take max 3 person on one camel. The second option is toofan, which takes Rs 20 per head one side and accommodates as many passengers as their might be :p. The third option is to just walk up the hill as its only a short 10 minutes walk.

Once at the top, you can visit the temple and/or just walk on a series of steps leading to the view point . Information about the wildlife in Kutch along with animal statue and their descriptions can be seen on the sides of these steps.

Steps leading to the view point with wildlife information on it's sides
Steps leading to the view point with wildlife information on it’s sides

There is a small trek path to walk around the hill beyond the viewpoint, which very few explore, as the view of the desert is as spectacular as from almost any point on the hill.

The white dots are the trek path, if one wants to explore the hills
The white dots are the trek path, if one wants to explore the hills
Panoramic View of Rann
Panoramic View of Rann from Kalo Dongar

After about an hours exploration, we headed to our third destination – India Bridge.

India Bridge

None of us knew what to expect at India Bridge as we had included it as a part of our itinerary because everyone visiting Rann does the same. After an hours drive from Kalo Dongar, we crossed a bridge and at the end of this bridge was a BSF post  We were asked to submit our cameras, phones with them as photography was strictly prohibited beyond this point. Out of curiosity one of us asked BSF – how much time does it take from here to India Bridge, he smiled back and said this is India Bridge and that we are going further towards a memorial which is closer to the border. India Bridge in itself isn’t an attraction, though one of the notable features of the bridge is that it is built in a way that it can be dismantled in a war like situation – but till date has never been done.

Tourists are permitted to go a little further beyond the bridge to a memorial being recently inaugurated by Mr Narendra Modi in 2013. On the way to the memorial, we crossed a forest area covered with short trees or shrubs. We couldn’t spot any wildlife though. We reached the memorial which was just beside another BSF post. Beyond this memorial, no one can go any further. Sand desert is all that is visible from here, a mile stone mentioned border to be approx 50 kms from here. After the brief memorial visit, our driver excitedly took us to a bunker just besides this memorial. None of us had ever seen a bunker before, except for in movies. So it really startled us to know that there is enough space for anyone down there to stand and move around. From outside its camouflaged with bushes covering it. On one side is a series of step taking you down and inside the bunker and remaining 3 sides have a small rectangular opening. After our mini bunker exploration, we headed back to India bridge. Return journey was more exciting as this time through the forest we could spot few wild life like wild boar, deers and nilgai.

Reaching KaloDongar & India Bridge

There is no other option other than hiring a vehicle, to reach these places. For Kalo Dongar though, there is a ST bus from Bhuj every Sunday.

My Experience:

Overall I felt only Rann and Kalo Dongar was worth visiting. But if time isn’t a constraint then India Bridge can also be explored.

Journey with friends are always special and surely fun, but if the destination is also equally beautiful, then the whole trip becomes worthwhile. Rann is one such destination which will surely occupy a special place in anyone’s heart and you might even feel like spending some more days here and explore more places- like what’s said in the tourism advertisements – “Kuch toh din guzaro Gujarat main!” (Spend some days in Gujarat!)

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