Surreal and seemingly eternal, strangely mesmeric, lifeless, ghostly stretches of white salt pan with an odd musicality, making a peculiar connection with the onlookers. I was at Rann of Kutch and could feel the salt as big as marbles from childhood memories, crunch under my feet. It was all white and barren, as far as eyes could trace, without any markers. The silence was inviting and I was finding myself getting lost in this white wilderness. I looked at the full moon, looking as inviting as a big pie kept within your reach. The white sand shone as it reflected the gleam of the full moon, inviting certain poetry in mind.
Come winters and the salt marshes of Rann of Kutch turn into a white salt desert and then burst into myriad colours of bedecked camels, brightly coloured tents and shimmering costumes and lights, as Rann Utsav sets in for three months from November to mid February. Vibrant bazaars are set up, local music resonates in the air, colours of multi-cultural Gujarat finds resonance with the white wilderness and magical nights and the rather desolate Rann becomes all about sounds, smells and sights. A riot of colours gets sprinkled in barren white land.
Almost a township on tents comes up for three months, with all amenities and comforts. A series of stalls of local arts and handicrafts and food lines up. Preserved heritage of Kutch is the prime attraction of visitors. The villages of Kutch are known for their intricate designing, handicrafts, pottery, embroidered leather work, copper work, wood carvings and block printing. All of these are put to display in Rann Utsav. The tented city displays the quintessential Rann character in all its settings, be it residential tents, the recreational set-up or the shops. The white sands turn into coloured mosaics.
Detached from the main lands, Kutch has grown and flourished in its own shell preserving its rusticity. There is a feeling of detachment here which you will only find in the remotest lands of the country. In this tented city you are never too far from this organic culture. Skip the tents and head to the performance area where a kaleidoscope of colour and movement awaits to greet you. Sure you will be left amazed as graceful dancers twirl to the haunting music beats. The music and performances run well into the night. Everything reminds you that you are in Kutch country, meals have a trade-mark kutchi touch, a more pastoral touch in cooking, starting with thick yoghurt drink followed by mouth watering garlic dal, stuffed chapattis, muthiya (a steamed rice dumpling dish that could be served dry or with gravy), Khichdi (made of rice and pulses), Kadi (made of yogurt) and goond jo laddoo, a powdery, sugary dessert made of Acacia gum.
Don’t miss to be on Rann in the evenings. The ethereal beauty of the white sands as the Sun sets and fills the sky with its orange hue and the luminous beauty of the bright moon starts to fill the sky, is close to getting washed with innumerable joyful waves of bliss. Standing there on world’s largest salt desert, stretching for over 7500 square kilometers, uniformly barren, lost, sends shivers in body. But thrill sets as the feeling of detachment mixes with the play between setting sun and rising moon gets played in painted sky. Let more time pass, and wait for the night to tighten its grip. And when the moon is high and the gallery of stars is set, let imagination cross; the same sense of detachment turns enchanting, the ‘once in life’ sight. The desert glowing in the moon’s light casts a spell on you. For those precious moments you are detached from everything but closer to yourself. You can stand rooted there for hours and watch it endlessly, marveling at the magic of this white wilderness. Hundreds of emotions rise in you as you look at the star studded sky. You wish to be left alone, unless some faint hypnotic sound of live performances from the tent city beckons you to move.
And take some time during day to took a detour to Kala Dungar. Kala Dungar or the black hills, is the highest point of Kutch area and offers panoramic views of the Rann (all the way to the India Bridge and the India-Pak border). The ride takes you through the magnetic hills to the 400 years old Dattatreya temple, famous for the associated legend of vegetarian jackals. The story goes how Dattatreya found starving jackals here, and offered his own hand for them to eat. Seeing his selflessness, God regenerated his body as it was being eaten. Since then his disciples have made sure the jackals never starve again and feed them the vegetarian food served in the ashram! Stretch a bit further to the border areas and immerse yourself in gladiatorial tales of the BSF as they guard the borders in absolute nothingness bracing temperatures that can go upto 50 degree Celsius.
The desolateness of the place and the magic that wraps the white desert, the long, unending escapments to the Kutch villages, borders and areas where habitations seemingly mirror some alien lands, the charm of pastoral lifestyle of Kutch, tales of Dattareya temple and the thrilling joy of silence in the crowded tent city, will surely leave an indelible mark on you. Step out for a walk in the night or take a bicycle to the white sands and be in the white marvel in the company of stars and moon, you will realize that there’s a certain poetry that the sands hold. They wait for your audience.
(For getting your bookings to the Rann Utsav, log on to rannutsav site.)