The regular readers of my blog would have observed that I have written very few posts in the month of February. The reason for it is mainly that I have been away for a vacation and then a trip to Bangalore after my return from Kuwait. A lot has happened in the market in between but, while I do want to write about it in the next couple of days, this post is about the wonderful vacation that we had in the Rann of Kutch.
I have always been fascinated by the Rann of Kurch and the idea of a vast expanse of wilderness with salt encrusted barren land. Kutch is not an easy region to travel to with children, so despite my interest in the area, it somehow never happened till now. However, with the children in college and me just back from Kuwait, an advertisement for the ongoing Rann Utsav was enough to get us going. Fortunately, in this day and age, things can be done rather easily online. It took us just a couple of hours one evening to book a package at Rann Utsav, book tickets from Hyderabad to Ahmedabad by Indigo and arrange a hotel in Bhuj for overnight stay.
A little about the Rann Utsav – it was started about 8 years back by the Government of Gujarat for 3 days and it has now become a 100 day affair with an outsourced travel company running it with regulation from Gujarat tourism. They have created an entire tent city in a place called Dordho which is the entry point to the White desert. While you can stay at a couple of other tent resorts, my recommendation will be to go with Rann Utsav as the arrangements and infrastructure created are definitely world class. I have traveled a lot within India and outside it and have rarely seen anything that can match it. The tent city has 3 types of tents at different price points. If you are not too concerned on the price go for the Premium European tents, they are great value.The food is part of the package and is great to taste and with fabulous variety. We got sort of a crash course on Gujarati cuisine over the 3 days we were in the tent city.
Coming to the trip itself – day 1 was mostly spent in getting to Bhuj from Hyderabad. We took an early morning flight out of Hyderabad, got onto a Volvo bus from Paldi bus stand and reached Bhuj about 4:30 in the afternoon. There wasn’t much time to do anything in Bhuj, we just walked around a bit and had dinner at a fairly nice restaurant. Day 2 was when we transited to the Tent city from the pickup point near the station. The arrangements were very professional – a tent with a waiting area, refreshments being served while waiting and in the bus, a fairly smart and articulate guide and in general great customer service. The trip to the tent city took about 90 minutes and the check in was rather smooth. Each cluster has 30 tents and our cluster manager was a friendly person with a lot of information about the region and it’s culture. The tent was quite comfortable with nice sitting and sleeping arrangements and washroom. It does get fairly hot in the afternoon so the AC was actually put to good use. The highlight of the day was travel to the White desert by a Camel cart. It was the first time for me and I was able to clear up my eternal wonder about how Camels get down and up – in simple terms they have two joints in their long legs unlike the one that we have. The sunset at the White desert was spoilt a bit by the clouds but the overall experience was quite magical. It was definitely one of the better sunsets that I have witnessed. The dinner was an epicurean delight and the cultural program rounded off a great day of superb experiences.
The next day morning we were again back at the white desert, this time to witness the sunrise. The clouds present made sure the sun played truant again but when it did come in view it was a glorious site to behold. Just being part of such a spectacle in the middle of nowhere, fills you with a sense of wonder about nature. The vast expanse of land covered by the white salt crystals is really an unique setting created by a natural event. In the evening we went to Kali Dungar, which is the highest point in the Kutch region. The place had some nice viewpoints and the sunset was nice, though not as scintillating as the one we experienced at the white desert. The views from the top of the hill are pretty nice and I was amazed to see a body of water which was actually the backwaters of the Arabian Sea. Would have loved to go down there but it seemed an impossibility in the time we had.
After a sumptuous breakfast the next day, it was time for us to leave the Tent city and do some sightseeing in Bhuj. Our first stop was the magnificent Swami Narayan Temple created in white marble. The original temple was pretty much destroyed in the 2001 earthquake that struck Bhuj and the current one was built at a cost of 100 crores by 2008. We next went to the Parag Mahal and Aiina Mahal Palaces. Apart from the physical presence, which has seen a fair bit of destruction in the earthquake, what fascinated me was the belongings of the erstwhile Bhuj dynasty that gives a good idea about the life and times of them. It is also historically significant – the last ruler was in power only for a couple of months before he signed the instrument of accession to become part of India.
After saying good bye to the Rann Utsav people at the railway station, we came back to the hotel where we had stayed the first night. Lipi and I debated a bit as to whether visiting the Mandvi beach was worthwhile by paying the 2000 Rs the travel guy wanted. However, the fact that we may not get a chance to visit the region again won the day and we went off to see the beach. In retrospect I was glad that we decided to go. I have seen many better beaches but rarely one that is so happening in terms of the people and the sheer variety of things to do. Just being part of it and having pani-puri and sugarcane juice while seeing the sun setting in it’s own leisurely way was again an unique experience. This time the sunset was captured in full, both in our memories as well in the camera. The day ended with us having an authentic South Indian dinner in Bhuj, something that most South Indians would find difficult to believe.
The last day was spent in travel, first to Ahmedabad by bus and later to Hyderabad by air. I was quite impressed by the Ahmedabad airport and the number of people waiting for flights there. Overall it was a great trip and very different from anything else I have done. If you have not been there, my recommendation will be that you do. The Rann Utsav is normally from November middle to February last week. If you book in advance you may be able to get dates which are full moon days.
For the financially minded the total cost of the trip came to about 70000 Rs, half of which was the package at the Rann Utsav. For most people, the gateway will be Ahmedabad and you will need to factor in the flight cost.
In terms of experiences though, the trip was priceless for me. Travel to such unique places, reading a good book, watching a great play or movie and sports events are really what make life truly worth living for. Everything else is just existence and not living in the true sense of the word.