The stark beauty of the salt desert of Kutch is the backdrop for the colourful affair of the celebrations!
When it comes to counting colours, moods, moments & occasions, no other place in India, if not the world, is more versatile than Gujarat. Blessed with rare geographical diversity & rich flora & fauna, Gujarat also attracts tourists for its ethnic, colourful people.
There are a few things in life as colourful as the desert- hidden in these barren land is a riot of colours, reflecting in the people who live there. A highlight to this is the tribal community of the hauntingly beautiful Rann of Kutch, that remains committed to tradition, rituals, customs & of course, Festivals. Here is my attempt at familiarizing the intrepid traveller with one of Gujarat’s Biggest & most popular fair-festival: The Rann Utsav. This festive extravaganza is the highest tribute to the beauty & spirit of this glorious region that is known for enveloping the state in a frenzy that can put the best vocabulary to shame.
A unique geographical feature of Kutch is the Great Rann of Kutch, an expanse of about 30,000 sq km of salt desert & seasonal marshland that lies between the Gulf of Kutch & the Indus River. The area was once the shallows of the Arabian Sea before geological uplift closed off the connection of the sea, leaving behind a vast lake which turns into a desert.
The Rann Utsav, an annual festival, offers an incredible opportunity to explore the Great Rann of Kutch & the Banni grassland to the north of Bhuj. In December-January, a huge tented village near Dhorodo village is set up by the Gujarat tourist authorities to accommodate tourists for the festival. As the evening shadows lengthen, camel carts are readied to take tourists into the salt flats & marshes of the Great Rann of Kutch. You can witness the brilliant sunset from the camel carts. After disembarking, trudge on the salt flats to enjoy a superb view of the white desert shimmering in the moonlight. The atmosphere is especially breathtaking on a full moon night. Food is served in the desert wilderness & musicians sing folk songs of the region, known for its Sindhi ‘bhajans’ & Sufi music.
Another unique experience of the Rann Utsav is the trip to Kala Dungar, literally Black Hills, of Kutch. The drive winds up the hill to the Dattatray Temple which has a singularly beautiful view of the vast expanses of the salt desert of the Great Rann of Kutch stretching towards the India-Pakistanborder. The surrounding scrub vegetation trills with the call of birds. When the priests of the temple call, ‘Lo-Aang’, packs of jackals come out from the scrubland to feast on the temple offerings laid out for them.
Dhorodo lies in the heart of the Banni grassland where pastoral villages produce some of india’s finest hand-embroidery with a variety of styles that differ from one community to another. You can tour the gamut of villages that dot the grasslands like Sumrasar Sheikh, Bhirendiaro, Hodka, Gorewali, Dhorodo, Ludia, etc. to watch women doing embroidery. You can stay at Shaam-e-Sarhad, an endogenous tourism resort in Hodka designed using local craft skills.
Northwest of Bhuj, the villages of Zura & Nirona are home to many lesser known craft skills. At both these places, it is possible to watch ‘luhar’ (blacksmiths) hand-casting melodic bells. These villages are also known for their lacquered woodcrafts. The folk art that is now limited to just one family is ‘rogan’, which involves an intricate process of creating colours by mixing pigments with castor oils. Southwest from Bhuj, Mundra is the centre for ‘namada’, the art of felting. Dhamadka is a traditional centre for ‘ajrakh’ block-printing. For bold embroidery of the Ahir community, visit the villages of Dhaneti & Padhhar.
Together with craft villages & the unique salt desert landscape of the Great Rann of Kutch, the Rann & its adjacent Banni grasslands are delightful for bird watching. Flocks of flamingos & storks mingle about the pristine fresh-water lakes & salt marshes, along with a good number of larks, eagles, falcons & other raptors.
A visit to Bhuj is an experience of its sorts. Though the 2001 earthquake devastated Bhuj & destroyed its grand palaces, it is still one of the best places to get an introduction to Kutch with fine monuments, museums & markets.
Tera at Kutch is a heritage village with a scattering of mosques, temples, stepwells, havellis & a medieval fort with Ramayan-themed frescoes inside. A notable feature of Tera’s havelis is the gateway- carved wooden doors framed by ornate stonework featuring Indian & western motifs.
The north western tip of Kutch, with its fortified villages, was once an important centre for sea trade & the villages here grew prosperous from the maritime activities.
The festival also features folk performances, competitions & handicraft demonstrations. Choose from excursions organised to various sites, from the archaeological site at Dholavira to the holy lake of Narayan Sarovar.
- Dates: varying from last week of December to mid January.
- Places to stay: Gujarat tourism sets up tented village at Dhorodo, Shaam-e-Sarhad or Rann Riders.
- Must eat: Dhabeli, Gulab Pak & the Gujarati thali.
- Must haves: powerful sunscreen & enough cash in hand.
- Kutch is a shutterbug’s paradise, so a good camera is a must.