Our jeep lurched forward as it manoeuvred its way through muddy ditches, rocks and shifty sand. My mother and I were seated at the uncovered rear of the jeep, valiantly holding on to the side-rails, as the late afternoon sun beat down on us. My father was in the front, enclosed and comfortable. He was making small talk with the driver and occasionally turning back to ask my mother with a grin, how she felt about her decision to ride at the back.
We had been over half an hour in the jeep since it veered into the mud trail that led to the wildlife reserve on the periphery of the Little Rann of Kutch. We had arrived for the weekend from Ahmedabad in the morning and checked into the Rann Riders resort in Dasada, with the intent of sticking only to a wildlife tenor for the two days.
A safari through the Rann and the Wild Ass Sanctuary that is housed there was on the agenda after a sumptuous lunch—in hindsight, not the most prudent idea.
So far all we had seen around us was a desolate unyielding expanse with a haunting charm about it. The Little Rann is a salt marsh that gets inundated by the Arabian Sea during the monsoon. When the water recedes, it leaves behind swathes of salt-crusted soil, on which nothing but wild desert shrubs and grass grow. Wild tall grass grows around the patches of stagnant water left behind. It was hard to see what could redeem this safari in this bleak landscape, and we were on the verge of losing hope. It was then that we spotted the first flock of birds.
At first, they appeared like white blobs in a body of water, large enough to be called a lake (Dasada Talao). As we got closer, we realized it was a pod of pelicans. When they registered our presence, they lifted in unison and traced a gorgeous arc in the air. As we drove further by the lake, we spotted groups of flamingos. Our almost disappointing safari was resurrected immediately.
The Little Rann lies on the Palaearctic migration route, and each year, during winter, over 200 species of birds descend here for a short stopover, for this is the first patch of land after a long flight. Flamingos and pelicans, along with bustards, are the more commonly sighted species. We also saw the Indian wild ass, trotting around nonchalantly in small groups.
We drove on until sundown and reached a point where there were only salt flats and no scrub. The flats extended endlessly in front of us and met the golden sky near the horizon.
It was nearly dark when we turned and headed back to the resort. Later at night we strolled under the stars inside the resort premises.
During the next day’s safari, the mild morning sun was more conducive to keeping our eyes peeled for animals in the otherwise featureless plains. First, it was a tryst with the elusive desert fox that offered only a short glimpse from behind a bush. Only two out of four pairs of eyes in our jeep managed to see it.
Over the next 2 hours, spotting a galloping herd of wild ass, a lone elegant blackbuck and a family of graceful chinkaras dash in front of the jeep, we managed to check both the boxes on our weekend agenda. Wildlife. And Wildlife. Satisfied, we headed back to Ahmedabad, post lunch.
Weekend Vacations offers suggestions on getaways that allow for short breaks from metros. The author tweets from @kushalchowdhury