Little Rann of Kutch – LRK
One look at the vast expanse of mudflats stretching towards the horizon, basking in monotones of beige, with its parched flat terrain filled with salt, cracking like biscuits under my feet and I realized that the Little Rann of Kutch or LRK is not really Little.
At 5000 sq kms it may occupy less area than the Great Rann of Kutch which extends for over 7500 sq kms but the never ending fabric of earth was mesmerizing. The salt marshes here were not pristine white but there was a certain beauty in the barrenness.
My journey to the Little Rann of Kutch, popularly known as LRK began in the wee hours of the morning as I left Bhuj and drove down from Kutch towards Surendranagar district in Gujarat. The roads turned into lanes and lanes into bylanes.
My destination was the dusty town of Zainabad, one of the gateways to LRK. Intercepting a group of avid bird watchers focusing on a pair of spotted owlets, with their binoculars and cameras pointing towards a tree, I realized I was close to the resort. In a few minutes, I was on a jeep as well, heading on a wildlife safari on the LRK.
We passed by a few wetlands with a smattering of grass and stopped by a lake. A little movement in the grass got my attention. A flock of bar headed geese huddled together in the grass just raised their heads.
The common cranes were doing a little jig, by the lake, their silhouettes standing out against the light. Dark dingy clouds blotted out of the rays of the sun for a moment, painting the entire landscape in a canvas of grey.
In the dull waters of the lake the flamingos stood out in their pink and white coats.
We inched a little closer only to see the flamingos flying away, like colourful ribbons painted across the colourless sky as they parked themselves on the other banks of the lake. The big rosy pelicans were swimming in the waters close by.
The Little Rann of Kutch is a bird watcher’s paradise and the avian species added a dash of colour even to the most banal landscape around, The water birds turned up here in gargantuan numbers , while the waders stood by the fringe of the water bodies posing for us. And in this habitat, flamingos call it home as they breed naturally.
We moved on from one lake to another and then we were thrown into this infinite world of sheer emptiness. The earth was flat and boundless. The landscape was bleak and stark and there were no roads or detours to lead us anywhere.
As we traversed down the Rann, we had neither a sense of direction nor a destination in our mind – it was just the Rann and us. We parked right in the centre and looked around. Standing there, I felt dwarfed by the colossal space around me. It was a cloudless day and the sun was just a tiny blurb in the evening sky. In the distant horizon were patches of thorny bushes and shrubs lending a tinge of green to the otherwise bare terrain.
The birds were the only signs of habitation. The Indian courser with a couple of sand grouse just rushed away from us as we went looking for the short eared owl.
Driving in circles we almost gave up on it when we spotted it crouching behind a rock. In a blink and miss moment it vanished and melted away with the landscape. For a moment, I wondered if I had seen the bird or if it was one of those mirages that flashed in front of me. The common cranes seemed to own the Little Rann of Kutch. Flying around in flocks, they teased us as we tried to capture them in our lens. And the desert wheatears appeared and disappeared as nature took the role of a magician here, flinging new species in and out of our eyes.
But it was not just the birds that called this bleak barren landscape home. As we entered the folds of the Rann, we found ourselves being barred entry by the rightful owners – the khur or the Indian wild ass.
Almost the entire Little Rann of Kutch , with over 5000 sq kms is now the Indian Wild Ass sanctuary, protecting the last of the remaining herds in the country . As they bolted and rushed into the thin scanty woods – just one of them turned and gave us a parting look before vanishing in seconds.
The nilgai soon appeared almost standing as a statue, without any movement. But darting ahead of us in their golden coat of fur was a pair of jackals as we followed them until they merged with the habitat as well.
Suddenly everything seemed silent around us. We stopped for a moment and saw a bit of dust in the horizon clothed in multiple hues , standing out amidst the monotones. As the specks of dust emerged closer, we realized we were actually looking at people. A couple of women and a boy barely aged six were crossing the Rann on foot. The boy was overjoyed to see us , for it seemed unlikely that he had met too many people here.
We followed their trail and reached a small salt farm, one of the few desolate ones scattered around in the Little Rann of Kutch. A family was eking out their livelihood by pumping ground water out and extracting salt out of it. The charpai was stretched out invitingly in front of a small hut as kids hovered around us. We sat in the open and sipped chai as they made us feel at home in this inhospitable terrain, where for miles and miles around, there was no human company.
The sun was now lying askance, its soft golden hues reflecting in the waters of the salt farm. As we began our journey back to Zainabad, darkness spread like a cloak around us. It was surreal driving on the flat earth with no path to lead us. Avoiding the glare from the headlights, was a small creature sprinting ahead of us. Standing ahead and observing us was the desert fox, its shadows merging with the darkness. And that is when the driver stopped the car and tossed his torch light on the ground. Seated below near the rear wheel and merged with the landscape was one of the most beautifully camouflaged bird I had ever seen – the nightjar.
All of a sudden we realized we were surrounded by them as they seemed to be almost everywhere , strewn around in the Rann. The night sky gave us company as we strode through the magical land towards civilization, even as our minds eagerly wished to return to the wilderness.
Although we drove from Bhuj in Kutch to LRK, it is closer to reach here from Ahmedabad. It is recommended to have a taxi as public transport may not take you into the the heart of the LRK where some of the resorts are located. A personal holiday, as I celebrated my birthday here with the husband, it goes down as one of my favourite destinations. Given a chance I will go there again. The best time to go for birding and wildlife is from Novemeber to March and the Little Rann of Kutch is teeming with birds and wildlife.
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