Ahmedabad to Banni and Pachcham: Rann up the hill
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In the mood for an intimate, community-driven experience, I zeroed in on the Banni and Pachcham region in the northern reaches of Kutch. My cousin and I planned to visit a few villages in the world’s largest salt marsh, in the Great Rann of Kutch, and follow it up with a hike to Kalo Dungar (Black Hill).
To optimize our travel time from Ahmedabad, we packed breakfast and hit the road at dawn, stopping only for lunch at Bhuj. A Kutchi thali included staples like bajra nu rotlo (pearl-millet bread), slathered with butter, and moong dal kichadi (a lentil and rice dish). We then headed northwards to the Banni and Pachcham region, taking a short detour to visit Kala Raksha, a non-governmental organization in Sumrasa that works with local artisans. A museum there showcases the narratives of the local craft communities and has a handicraft shop crammed with intricately embroidered products.
We continued towards Dhordo, the official gateway to the White Desert, another name for the salt marsh. After getting our permits, we sauntered on foot, listening to the salt crystals crunching under our feet. We were like tiny specs in the vast expanse of whiteness.
The Rann offers a snow-like illusion right up to the point where the land meets the sky. We basked in this natural marvel that was both profound and timeless, till the setting sun muted all light.
The Great Rann of Kutch is approximately 7,500 sq. km of saline wetland that floods in the monsoon. When the water evaporates, the salt desert reveals itself. For an authentic experience, and to avoid throngs of tourists, it is advisable to make this trip before or after the annual Rann Utsav (November-mid-February).
We drove back 17km, reaching Hodka for the night, and settled into Shaam-e-Sarhad, an ecotourism initiative that has traditional mud huts, known as bhungas, equipped with modern amenities. The huts are painted with organic mineral colours, a custom common in these villages. Gazing at the night sky for hours, seeing what seemed like every star in the galaxy, kept us busy the rest of the evening.
After a good night’s rest and a morning walk around Hodka village, we navigated our way towards Kalo Dungar (66km). Dungar is the highest point in Kutch, with an exceptional view of the White Desert. The road was flanked by shallow ponds of rainwater, attracting many migratory birds, including the flamingo. A board by the road indicated the place where the Tropic of Cancer passes, and we halted for a photograph opportunity.
We wended our way to Bhirindiyara village, where maavo—fresh milk and sugar cooked over a clay stove until reduced to a fudge-like consistency—came as a wonderful surprise. After Khavda, we powered through a few steep kilometres, till we finally reached Kalo Dungar.
We arrived just in time to witness an interesting ceremony that occurs daily at noon. The priest of the resident Dattatreya Temple beat a spoon against a plate and five jackals emerged from boulders and gathered on a nearby platform to feed on prasad. According to folklore, Dattatreya (the trinity of Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva) met a gang of hungry jackals when wandering these hills. He offered his body to them. As they tore into him, he continued to regenerate. The temple was consecrated to honour this sacrifice and the priests have practised the ritual feeding of jackals for nearly four centuries.
Later, we hiked to the summit of Kalo Dungar, which rises 462m above sea level. Savouring the calming breeze and humbling panorama of the Rann was the perfect way to end the trip. We sat in silence, reflecting on all the beauty and wisdom nature had offered us over two days.
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