Sunday, January 11, 2015

Posted On January 11, 2015 by Team iCynosure.

The last week of 2014 has been very special for me… I went back to my roots to bring in the New Year and that’s how I want to begin my 2015 blog innings too, connecting to my land.

Being a Kutchi Jain, there was nothing that would stop me when Gujarat Tourism invited me to experience the #RannUtsav. After all I’d be going homewards after almost 15 years… yes 15 long years. My great grandfather came from Moti Rayan in Kutch and settled in Bombay to give us our today. He however ensured we experience a piece of our past and so he never gave away his land in our native where we built a bungalow about 16-17 years ago. However it’s not that habitable today with it's traditional approach contrasting our modern needs.

Anyway lets get back to today, when I was invited for the Rann Utsav; I jumped at the opportunity. As I discussed with hubby dearest he suggested we take the road trip from Mumbai, which was very exciting. Those who follow me on twitter and instagram must have seen my regular updates about my road trip. 

Kutch, the Land of the White Salt Desert is an exquisite place full of colour, infused with historical essence, gorgeous animal-bird life, intricate crafts and much more. The pristine beauty of nature comes alive not only in the way the authenticity has been maintained but also in the warmth of the people. Since we took the trip right in the middle of the peak season we were awarded with the best of everything. We started off with driving down to Ahmedabad and then explored various places in and around the city before heading to the white desert. All in all we spend more than two weeks on the road and visited numerous tourist attractions not only historical and environmental but also religious. But if your budgeting on the number of days, here is the must-do must-visit places that should be included in your itinerary.

Little Rann of Kutch
The Little Rann of Kutch - a salt marsh; which is about 2 hours drive from Ahmedabad is a prelude to experience before you hit the white desert ‘Rann Of Kutch’. Walk into the splendour of the unending horizon. The Little Rann is most popular for its Indian Wild Ass (Khur) Sanctuary and the migratory birds that arrive during the winters. The salt pans are a treat to sore eyes with expanse of the rich soil deposits. It’s a must-visit for bird watchers and environment lovers.

Jain Holy Tirth
Though the whole of Gujarat has amazing temples and shrines including Shiv temples, Jain derasars and holy shrines, one must pay respects to two of the most renowned Jain temples; Shri Bhadreshwar Tirth in Mundra and 72 Jinalaya on the outskirts of Mandvi. Both these temples are home to Lord Mahavir, the last Tirthankara and are a glorious site for its amazing architecture and peaceful ambiance. Though photography isn't allowed within the temple without prior permission, you will see loads of tourists clicking pictures of the temple exteriors. 

Mandvi Beach
Mandvi beach is one of the best beaches in India located in the southern most part of Kutch. If your budgets permit you, you must stay at the Vijay Vilas Palace, the most romantic place I've stayed at, right in the middle of the beach. You could laze away looking at the beach or grab a book with their amazing coffee just like me. Those who want to do different things can even book a viewing of the windmills churning out electricity that you will see all around Mandvi or take a camel ride by the shore to welcome the evening. Do try to grab a 'Double Roti' or even 'Masala Corn' and relish it with gazing into the horizon. One thing we couldn’t believe and you won’t too is that a graveyard stands right at the entrance of the lane that opens into the beach. Eerie, isn’t it? 

Bhuj is the central point while travelling for the Rann Utsav. The city that was completely destroyed by the devastating earthquake in 2001, has managed to bounce back beautifully and has over the years regained it's earlier splendour. Though there are loads of touristy places in Bhuj like the Prag Mahal, Aaina Mahal, Royal Tombs make sure you make time for Bhujodi, which is the market-heart of the Kutch region. Everything from bandhani's to kutchi craft items to beautiful hand woven textiles are all available here. The marketplace has centres that allow tourists to try the art of weaving, tie-dying and block printing, it's an experience to cherish. We did pick up a few from the market including a quilt, mattress, footwear and some amazing kutchi work bags. 

Narayan Sarovar Lake and Koteshwar Temple
The two places are a stone's throw away from each other. Narayan Sarovar Lake is one of the most sacred Hindu holy places devoted to Lord Vishnu while the Koteshwar temple is a renowned Lord Shiva temple. Narayan Sarovar and the adjoining Vishnu temple offer a prasad lunch which is open when the temple closes in the afternoons. Unfortunately the Lake is dried as the region hasn't experienced much rainfall this year. The Koteshwar temple is one of the most visited places due to it's mythological references in the Ramayana. It is believed that when Ravana was carrying a Shivling to Lanka after his meditation, he dropped it at Koteshwar and the shivling broke into numerous pieces and scattered around the area. The Temple was built around many shivlings those are found in different parts of the temple. Also both the temples are Paschimabhimukhi (west facing) which is very rare for Hindu temples and hence high visitation. From a traveller’s point of view what attracted us to the area was the diversity that it offered. With the coolness of the lake on one side, there is an arid expanse of land that meets the vastness of the ocean on the other side only to let a dark horizon break the oneness of the skyline and the land.

Kalo Dungar or the Black Hill
While driving to Kalo Dungar, make sure an experience person is behind the wheel as the path is an extremely rough terrain and there are ghat-like sections to reach the highest point at 462 meters from sea level. It is a must visit place not only for the famous Dattatreya temple but also for the 360 degrees panoramic view the top offers of the entire region. It is also advised to travel to the place early and return by early evening as there are very few road lights and driving may be a bit taxing as the day sets in. On a good clear day one can see the sky reflect on the land in the White Desert. The sunlight plays with the region giving breathtaking views of the valley below and the White Desert at length. 

India Bridge
Just a few kilometres from the base of the Kalo Dungar is the India Bridge that is the closest border that India shares with Pakistan. Though the entry up to the bridge is open, to go further beyond the bridge one must obtain a special permit from the Police Station in Bhuj. Even with a permit be ready for a thorough checking at the Army Post before being able to drive beyond the bridge as without permit or visa only military and BSF personnel are allowed. Mobile phones and cameras are not allowed within a distance of 200 meters from the bridge. Even though the sun blazes away in the open terrain, it is extremely breezy and calm to be at the India Bridge. 

Rann of Kutch
If you plan to visit the Kalo Dungar, India Bridge and the White Desert on the same day, ensure that you bound yourself in time and drive off to the next destination at the pre-determined time. Do leave the White Desert for the last as you would want to experience the sunset and moonrise at the Rann. 

Spread over India and Pakistan, the Great Rann of Kutch is a virgin white salt desert that’s inspires romance. During the day, the sunlight shines through the desert pulling a golden blanket over the desert while in the moonlight it glows in silver waves. The best time to be there is at sunset, as those few moments give you numerous perfect photo opportunities. Camels in their colourful attires striding through the length of the desert, the sun setting on one side while the moon rising on the other, children running around and loads and loads of people just looking into the horizon. Needless to say that the full moon nights are the most magical and spectacular, more real than one can ever imagine. 

We reached the Rann about half an hour before sunset and just sat there soaking in the beauty of nature’s offering. What we loved about the place apart from the untouched beauty was that it was pristine, as one isn’t allowed to carry food items there. What we lack in daily life we find in a desert… peace and calmness. Be ready to spend a few hours there if you can as you will never feel like leaving. Be aware that the once the sun lowers a bit, the setting takes less than five minutes; one moment the sun is there and you blink and miss the sunset. Though the glorious orange rays remain in the horizon for a long long time and there is a marriage between the sun's orange and the moon's white. We loved sitting through the sunset, almost until the moon was high in the skin sprinkling us with a steady silver glow. 

Stay at a Traditional Kutchi Home
There are numerous hotels and luxury stays come up since the inception of the Rann Utsav. If one looks enough one is able to find every kind of accommodation in every possible budget. However try to live in a traditional kutchi home / resort to experience the Rann life. 
When we decided to take the trip, both hubby and I were very sure we didn't want to live at the Tent City in Dhordo mainly because of the commercialisation. Though perfectly central to all the places you’d want to visit it is a hotel-resort stay and not a traditional home stay. We chose a place called Shilpgram Kutch which is about 10 kilometres from Bhuj on the Bhuj-Ahmedabad highway because of the it's traditional mud-houses or Bhunga and local kutchi people managing the place. Our bhunga was beautifully decorated with kutchi mirror work and temporary white mud-art. There was a cow dung fuelled fire-place and cloth installations on the walls as well. Luckily it did have modern bathroom amenities.

Become a Local
Leave all your inhibitions behind and become a kutchi to experience the place like a local. Dress in a traditional ‘Kediyu’ or a ‘Dhibdo’, eat traditional dishes flavoured with spices and travel on a ‘Chakdo’. No; we didn't do much of this but we plan to during our next trip. Something to look forward to.

A trip like this had it's own ups and downs. We did face a few hiccups during our trip however we want to make it a bit easier for you so here is a check list you must consider while taking a similar trip….
  • Most Petrol Pumps in Gujarat do not accept credit cards, so make sure you have enough money on you for a tank-full before entering the pump for a refill. 
  • Be luggage prepared for both cold nights and warm days. Apart from the woollens be sure you carry hats, sunscreen and comfortable shoes. However if you’re based in countries with a cooler climate, do not carry loads of outerwear, as it is needed only when you venture out during the evenings. A light shawl or a cardigan will work wonders. 
  • While booking the hotel / stays, do not insist on air-conditioned rooms as you will not need them. During the day when it is warmer, you will be out and about and in the evenings the mercury drops and the climate gets extremely pleasant and much cooler around 10 degrees. Additionally you will save money opting for a regular room. 
  • Ensure you take the necessary permits at the right places to ensure a smooth journey. The permit for the India Bridge is to be obtained from the Police Station in Bhuj while the permit for the Rann and Kalo Dungar is to be availed from the Base Point on the way to the Rann depending upon the number of days one plans to stay there. While obtaining the permits you need to fill a simple form and furnish identification in form of driving license and pancard or passport for overseas travellers.
  • Shop at the Tent City Shopping Arena, as the prices are relatively comparative. Do bargain as most sellers would quote a bit higher but will be willing to go down a few hundreds. 
  • All through the trip take as many camel rides as possible instead of rickshaws and taxis as this ensure the upkeep of the animal and contributes to the lives of the tribal people. 
  • Check the dates to see if you could experience the White Desert on a full moon day, adjust your travels to accommodate it, if possible.

Well I think I'll stop now. It is by far the lengthiest post I've written. Hope you enjoyed the post. And if you need more information feel free to drop me an email. 
- Heena


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