If you have seen the promo for Gujarat tourism in TV, you may have heard Amitabh Bachchan saying, “Kutch Nahi Dekha Toh Kuchh Nahi Dekha”. The line is so effective that it captures our imagination. So in my list of things to do in Gujarat, visiting Kutch was the most important one.
The district of Kutch is the largest in India so there are many places to visit in Kutch, but the one that Amitabh Bachchan wants you to see is the Great Rann of Kutch. Rann of Kutch is a shallow wetland which submerges in water during the main monsoon season and in the remaining months of the year, it transforms into the world’s largest white salt desert measuring over 16,000 square kilometers.
Rann of Kutch is about 7-8 hours by road from Ahmedabad, but there are no direct buses. Buses from Ahmedabad, both State government and private buses will only go up till Bhuj. Bhuj is the capital of Kutch district and it’s the last major stop on the way to the white desert.
Bhuj has recovered from the 2001 earthquake, but remains under-developed:
I and my friend Prashant took a late-night (11.30pm) bus from Ahmedabad and almost 7 hours later, we were on the streets of Bhuj, hunting for a hotel room. I looked around for any remains of the massive 2001 earthquake which flattened the city, but there were none, but then, except for a couple of newish buildings, the place is nondescript and under-developed.
Getting good accommodation is difficult:
From the outside, Bhuj didn’t look like a place which sees a lot of tourists, but to our surprise, we found it difficult to find a vacant room. Almost all the hotels on either side of the main road were full. We knew we were in the middle of Rann Utsav season which runs from December to February every year, but didn’t expect Amitabh Bachchan to drive so many visitors into the place.
After some walking around, we did manage to find a place though. It was a small dingy room in a shabby old hotel facing a market place but the room was ideal for us as we didn’t want to spend too much money as we were only looking for a place to just freshen up.
Without Hindi, it’s not so easy to manage:
When we checked into the room we asked for 2 hours time and the room boy quoted the amount in Hindi. My ability in Hindi is elementary level and only recently I started to learn the language from my LKG-going daughter. Prashant is at a much better level than me, but even he struggled to figure out numbers more than one hundred. Our difficulty in figuring out numbers would often make us frown and scratch our heads throughout the trip. Most locals and shopkeepers cannot tell numbers in English so a little bit of tuition in Hindi, especially with numbers helps.
Tips: Keep a notepad with you so that you can ask the person to write down the numbers.
All South Indian are still Madarasis in Kutch:
Akbar Bhai, our cab driver is an old man. He asked where we are from. When we told Bangalore, he asked, “South India?” We said “Yes, South India”. “Oh, Madarasi!” he exclaimed, but without any hint of disrespect. Perhaps, the perception that all South Indians are Madarasis still remains among North Indians living in remote locations such as this, but Akbar Bhai simply didn’t seem to know there’s a place called Bangalore in India, so to save us from explaining that Bangalore and Madras are different, we nodded our head.
Stock yourselves with food items or you starve:
The Rann is about 80 kms from Bhuj. When we started from Bhuj, it was already 9:00 am and we didn’t have enough time to have breakfast. At 10:30 my stomach was crying for food. We drove for miles and miles but didn’t find any hotels on the way. At last, just before entering the Rann of Kutch checkpost, we found a small shop in a village by name Bhirandiyara. The shop had only biscuits and something called ‘Mava’ which is made out of milk, but I didn’t have the courage to try that.
You have to pay money to enter Rann of Kutch:
The Rann of Kutch cannot be entered without a valid permit. When we heard about the permit even we were clueless on many things – what permit, where to get it and from whom and all that, but the entry permit isn’t a big deal. Just before you enter the last 10kms or so, there’s a checkpoint. You just have to fill a form, stand in queue and pay about 300 rupees, that’s all.
Just after Malar Mava Center in Bhirandiyara, there’s this police checkpost. Permits can be obtained from here.
Have you seen cows on Air India?
The scenes on either side of the road were boring, and then we saw ‘Air India’. Do you see Air India in the below pic?
The Great Rann of Kutch:
At 11:oo am, 2 hours after we left Bhuj, we reached the destination.
Behold, ladies and gentlemen, the Great Rann of Kutch.
As I told you, Rann of Kutch spreads over 16,000 square kilometers. You can enter the desert from multiple locations. We chose the Bhirandiyara – Dhorodo entry. Rann Utsav happens in Dhorodo.
I took a lot of photographs, but this post is already too big so I’m trying to limit the number of photographs.
The Great Rann is definitely a great spectacle but there isn’t much to see unless you want to stay in one of the tents around and enjoy cultural programs at night, especially on a full moon night! But tents are very costly, it could cost you 7000 rs per head for a night.
Near the parking area, there was an exhibition cum sale going on. We went there to take a look.
This is one of favorite pics – the one below. I bought a bag for my wife from this guy.
The border of the desert was strewn with tents.
Amitabh Bachchan may tell you that if you haven’t seen Kutch, you haven’t seen anything, but if you have seen Kutch does it mean you have seen everything? No, obviously, there’s a lot to be seen before the sun sets on our life. We jumped into our cab and off we went – to the next location!