I ended 2014 and began 2015 with Kutch. Ironically Kutch was never on the agenda. The husband and I usually holiday together in the first week of January and I had planned to only visit Ahmedabad and LRK – the Little Rann of Kutch to do some birding. But then he was very adamant on visiting Greater Rann of Kutch and at the last minute we “advanced” our holiday by a few days and headed to Kutch. It was a crazy decision. There was no way we could get a place to stay anywhere. In fact we were lugging bags and shifting our base every night. Thankfully we travel light. And the itinerary had to be planned around the place we stayed as the distances were rather baffling to say the least,And yet, it was a wonderful trip. Sharing some of my first impressions of Kutch with you..
The heart of Kutch lies in its villages
Planning a visit to Kutch is not about heading to the Rann Festival or walking on the White Rann alone. It is about visiting the half a dozen or more villages in the region. Each village is home to a craft that has been around for generations and usually its just a handful of families that are keeping it alive. From weaving to block prints to bandini, from pottery to jewellery, every village has its own specialisation. I spent most of my time going from one village to another, watching the craftsmen at work and buying from them a few pieces of their arts and crafts. It is the first time I heard about Rogan Art, a craft that is almost exclusive to one village in Kutch and has made its way to the White House as a gift to President Obama from our Prime Minister Modi
Although I was happy that I was paying these craftsmen directly, be warned a bit – the prices are a wee bit expensive. These craftsmen are not naive. They are genuine artisans but they are good marketeers and they know that this is their only season to make a few extra bucks. They have travelled all over India and even abroad. Some of them have won national awards from the government. Frankly I did not cringe paying them their price, but it did deter me from buying more. Having said that, there are NGOs galore in the area as well.
The most hospitable people I have ever met
“Chai peeoge beta ?” Almost every villager in Kutch opened their doors to us and offered us tea. It is not easy to find these villages or craftsmen in the villages. Very often we had to stop and ask. But where ever we went, we were asked if we wanted chai. Most villagers would welcome us to their homes – even those who were not craftsmen. They would walk the extra mile with us to take us to the homes or show us the way. I was extremely touched with their simplicity and hospitality. India is know for its hospitality but these people just take the cake. Gujarat Tourism can actually do a lot more here by listing out the villages and the crafts they are known for and the names of some of the key craftsmen. But then the experience of losing your way, talking to locals and finding your way and then walking through the narrow lanes and visiting these men and women in their humble abodes is an experience.
White Rann is mesmerising
I can sum up the White Rann in just one word – mesmerising. Walking on those crystals of salt that stretches endlessly for miles (10,000 sq metres ) and watching the sun rise and set is magical. I am told that on a full moon night, it looks so surreal. At sunset, it was filled with people, but during sunrise, we almost had the entire Rann to ourselves. I was freezing in the cold and waited almost for an hour for the sun to dawn. The White Rann is a unique phenomenon. You can see it only during the winters after the ocean recedes post the monsoons leaving behind crystals of salt. In my opinion, a visit here is once in a lifetime moment. Pity, it is getting ruined by loud tourists who spoil the sanctity of the place and ruin the silence.
Great roads but crazy distances
If there is one thing that impressed me most about Kutch and some parts of Gujarat it is the roads, I could virtually count the number of potholes on the way. Even the roads leading to the villages were fantastic. But then be prepared for crazy distances. While most of the villages are huddled together, the distances otherwise can range anywhere from 30 – 60 kms .So, if you were like me staying all over the place, then you will be crisscrossing the region. The only advantage here is you get to see a bit of the not so touristy side of Kutch as well. But due to lack of time, I missed out some of the most interesting sites and offbeat towns. Kutch is a place that needs time – so dont rush into a trip like we did.
Street food is the main course
Once you leave Bhuj and you are on the road, dont look for restaurants and eateries, especially if you are like us crisscrossing the region. We virtually lived on dabelis and bhaji pavs from the street vendors, besides tucking in some fafda and other snacks and savouries. Gujarat is one place where the street food is as enticing if not more than the regular fare and if you dont try it, well, you are missing out on an experience. After all where else, besides Rajasthan will you find people waking up in the morning and eating jalebis for breakfast !
Every water body has flamingos
Kutch is famous for its flamingos who breed here . I have heard so much about Flamingo City but then it is not allowed to tourists. But for a birder, every little creek or lake in the region is filled with flamingos. There are plenty of water birds and waders who flock here during winters and there are so many watering holes which are filled with them – from great white pelicans, greater and lesser flamingos, eurasian spoonbills, black headed godwits, black legged stilts – you see them all and more here.
Not every tented accomodation is like tent city
Stay in tents only if you are desperate like us. Most of these tents are mobile, dirty and they come up like Jack in the Beans’ stalk in a couple of days or more. There is nothing “fairy talish” about them. I stayed one night in an apology of a place near the White Rann which was incomplete, the bathrooms didnt exist, the tents were not zipped, the sand was all over the place and it was freezing cold. The second experience at Mandvi was a wee better – at least it was clean. None of these accomodation options are on the internet. Even if they are, do pay some attention to them. We were confused between a fantastic property in Mandvi (ironically tents) at a private beach and another tented accomodation near the local beach because they both had the same name ..well almost. The first one ironically had a website while the second did not. And we heard about the second through another property owner and assumed it was the first and made the booking, only to realize the mistaken identity after we landed there. Thankfully it was not all that bad, although the difference between the two properties was like chalk and cheese.
Kutch is on the global map now
The Rann Festival created and marketed by the government has put Kutch on the global and NRI map. Although I did not stay there, I did go around the Tent City and it was very impressive. Tours and packages are customised for the tourist who is staying there However ironically, there is not much information if you are travelling alone. Even my driver who was from Ahmedabad and who had ferried many tourists who were staying in the Tent City did not know the names of the villages and small towns. I planned most of my itinerary with the help of friends who had been there or who had helped set up NGOs there. I stayed at Devpur Homestay and at Kutch Safari Resort and they helped with the itinerary as well. I would be happy to help anyone plan an itinerary if they wished to go to Kutch. The season is till end of February and it starts again in November.
Have you been to Kutch ? What are your thoughts and experiences ? Do share a note here.
Planning a visit to Kutch ? Need help with an itinerary or places to visit ? I would be happy to help you over a skype call or on email for a small nominal fee. Leave a comment here if you are interested. Also do leave a comment letting me know what you like about Kutch or the post.
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