Ahmedabad to Bhuj: Discovering Kutch
A surreal landscape, and the lost glory of Bhuj
It was 4 am. Our car zipped through the deserted streets of Ahmedabad. A few friends and I had decided to spend the weekend visiting the Little Rann of Kutch, en route to Bhuj. This is one of Gujarat’s liveliest cultural regions and we were eager to pack in as much as we could.
Gradually, fafdas and jalebis, Gujarat’s staple breakfast, started making an appearance at highway stalls. A short breakfast stop later, we were at our base camp, the village of Dhrangadhra, on the fringes of the Rann. We had signed up for a 3-hour safari in the Wild Ass Sanctuary (open from 15 October), a veritable hook for those visiting the Rann. Devjibhai Dhamecha’s home-stay, Eco Camp, was our springboard for it.
From Dhrangadhra, the edge of the Little Rann of Kutch is about 25km. Our jeep squeezed through the narrow lanes of the village, opening, eventually, into a vast swathe of green. A pair of spotted owlets scanned us from the hollow of a tree. Patches of wetland, with regular residents like pelicans, storks and ibises standing meditatively in the middle, had the shutterbugs amongst us excited. What seemed like a million photographs later, we drove further into the Little Rann.
The prefix “Little” seemed inaccurate—the parched terrain stretches over 5,000 sq. km. Perhaps the name is based on comparisons with the adjacent Greater Rann of Kutch, spread over 7,500 sq. km. We drove on the arid surface, hopping off to find the earth crunching like biscuits under our feet.
We had driven only 5km inland, but felt we were in the middle of nowhere. We were in the country’s largest wild ass reserve but only a single khur (Indian wild ass) had made an appearance to engage in a mutually curious moment before bolting out of sight.
The Rann is famed for its bright white salt pans where agarias (salt-pan workers) rake and organize large mounds of salt, harvested from the seawater that flows into the region during high tide. Minerals ensure a delicate blush of pink glazes the all-white topography. The surreal landscape held us spellbound.
Three hours had gone by and it was time to head to Bhuj once we had tucked into a Gujarati thaali back at the village. It took us the rest of the day to reach Bhuj, 211km from Dhrangadhra.
Bhuj, which lived through a severe earthquake in 2001, was the capital of Kutch, a princely state during British rule. The once glorious city of forts, palaces and temples is now shrouded in a haunting vibe of lost grandeur. The monuments stand forlorn and neglected.
Our first stop the next morning was the 300-year-old Prag Mahal, with a 45ft-high bell tower built in the Gothic style as its central showcase. The structure is a blend of Italian marble with sandstone sourced from Rajasthan, Corinthian pillars with intricate carvings and jaali (lattice) work. Broken chandeliers and sculptures lay scattered in the Durbar Hall section. The neighbouring Aina Mahal (palace of mirrors) is home to lunar clocks, mirrors and exquisite artefacts.
I had my eyes set on Bhuj’s craft-centred villages for pottery, jewellery, embroidery and tie-and-dye textiles. We decided to spend the last few hours in Nirona, 40km from Bhuj, where the Rogan art from Persia is still practised. Paint and castor oil is mixed and applied to bedsheets, wall hangings and handbags, in floral designs. My friends literally had to pull me away from the spot.
It was time to return. But the short trip had just whetted our appetite for the treasures of Kutch.
Weekend Vacations offers suggestions on getaways that allow for short breaks from metros. The author tweets from @LakshmiSharath