“KUTCH nahi dekha to kutch nahi dekha” (If you have not seen Kutch, you have not seen anything.)… is our realisation too, apart from the tourism promotion ad film. Being a part of Gujarat, a developed state of India, it has it own identity. Bhuj being the prosperous headquarter of this shallow wetland of immense ecological importance. The wetland here submerges in water during the rainy season and becomes dry during the other seasons. This was our learned knowledge of the region to feed our wanderlust. The rest was for us to uncover.
“As our every other trip, this too was a short notice plan, pack and move. Renting a bike gave us the liberty to seek this marshy land gliding through the smooth silky course. Although the automobile store had ill maintained bikes, but with no other option at hand, we had to go for one among them which was little descent than the rest. It was a 153cc Yamaha Phazer. The initial testing revealed it had a faulty fuel indicator and a missing kick start lever. With its shortcomings, it became our companion of our sojourn in Kutch. A couple of days went well with an enjoyable ride, just with the bothering fuel indicator in a land where fuel stations are far enough.
The Hamirsar Lake in the heart of Bhuj, with plenty of Pelicans and Darters, was the precursor of our bird watching trip, with Naliya (known for the Great Indian Bustard Sanctuary) and Charri Dhand wetlands (known for the migratory birds) on our tour itinerary. With much excitement did we cover the less exciting spots of our to see list, saving the best for the last. It is a great wonder to find a variety of landscapes on this small piece of land. The rock formations were awe inspiring. The ravine at Kodki was a marvelous work of nature. One can easily call it an Indian, miniature version of the Grand Canyon compressed, multiple times. As this natural wonder tickled the photographer within us, the local onlookers kept watching us, amused.
The climb to the Bhujiya hill (after which the city of Bhuj is named) was a bit of cardio exercise. Although the bird’s eye view from its top was rewarding enough. Watching the sunset, with the changing colour of the sky and gradual dusk bringing up the veil of an evening over the city with the clock tower of Prag Mahal standing high in clear vision, seems to have added the charm to our trip.
It was a long chilly ride to Naliya through the deserted road hardly finding any vehicle crossing by. As we approached closer we found small billboards saying, “Save the Great Indian Bustard” at every kilometer. Reaching the Naliya village and enquiring about the bird sanctuary (with no other road signs indicating direction) was an interesting experience to be shared. Locals thought us to be bird catcher and offered us their private collection. It was difficult to explain them about the Great Indian Bustard, not knowing its local name, till then. After wandering a bit through the village and some repairing work on our noisy bike, we were able to locate the forest department office, with very little help from google maps. The officials there gave us the proper direction to the main gate of the sanctuary. But to our dismay, we found the gate locked and no human in proximity. Again returning back few kilometers to find a human to enquire, and know that the owner of the tea stall, situated few kilometers beyond the sanctuary gate had information of the gatekeeper, was annoying enough.
Adding to our irritation, on reaching the mentioned stall we came to know the gatekeeper was off for a family wedding. Seeing our haggard plight after a drive of more than 120kms and disappointing venture, they made their utmost effort calling other forest guards and directing us to the other gate of the forest, to get a glimpse of the great “Ghorad” (locals name). However, with little hope remaining, we reached the other gate through the dirt road away from the highway. The keepers informed the birds are on the other side, in the defense land (here civilians are not allowed) and has not yet arrived here due to delayed winter. Yes the birds, great they were, kept us tempting, so long for such big distance with a final feel of – so near yet so far. With the beckoning birds giving us a miss, we decided to save our day, again taking a long ride to Mandavi beach.
Biking to Hodka was yet another remarkable journey; moving apart from the semi-arid view on either side of the road to wetlands with flocks of Pelican, Flamingo, Darter and many more birds, unknown to me. We kept riding through the tranquil landscape; breathing the wild breeze; passing by a couple of wild Donkeys and a heard of wild Horses crossing the way; through a huge overhead board with road direction, reading: “Smile you are in Kachchh” and passing by the welcoming locals, waving at every vehicle or human they passed. Thus, we reached our home for next two days, ‘Shaam-e-Sarhad’, a community run village.
A small fenced compound with the little reception area, after which comes the tastefully decorated dining hall while on the other side were the Bhungas and tents, aesthetically spaced out, within the village compound. With our last minute booking, we had a little luck to enjoy the lavish Bhunga (a local round shaped mud hut with thatched roof), but to stay content in a tent. Even the tents were built well with an artistic interior, beds and couches all made of mud. They even had comfortable mattresses and cushions covered with locally made intricate ‘godri’ (embroidered bedcover).
Within the tent there was artwork everywhere, be it on the waist length mud-wall around, or be it the ‘matko’ (round vessel made of mud) containing drinking water or the lamp shades. To our surprise, it also had an attached bathroom. That too a tent with mud interior, a triangular mud-wall separating the toilet area from the wash basin. It had all basic amenities including western toilet, 24hrs running water and electricity. What else can we ask for in this remote village? But we the ever hungry city dwellers always wanted more, never content with even how much we have. I kept on with my nagging request to the manager to offer us a Bhunga even for a night, in any case of cancellation. But to my ill fate no cancellation happened and the Bhungas kept alluring me.
After enjoying a wholesome delicious Kutchhi lunch made by the caretakers of our village and some rest, we ventured for the salty wonder, the Rann, in the late afternoon so as to stay there long and experience the marvel under the brightly lit moon (it being a full moon night). As we approached nearer we could see the preparation of the Rann Utsav on the process, which was supposed to be inaugurated by our honourable PM Mr. Narendra Modi. We reached the vast white salt land. It was salt all around, with a majority of the area under water due to heavy late rains, this year. On whatever direction did our vision seek was white ground and a rich blue sky above. After many photo sessions in this beautiful work of nature, I tried to be over adventurous to get down on the marsh. To my surprise I found the land below the dried salt to be dark muggy, drenching my shoes, socks and trousers with the sticky black wet soil beneath. Thanks to the mason who was cleaning himself from a water tanker, after his days work. He helped me clean my mess.
Then came the much-awaited moon, after the dusk. Although the thin film of water, covering the salt did not bring out the much-expected show. But the little dry area did keep its promise, showing the shimmering gloss under the pristine white light of the moon. On our way back our bike surrendered. In a deserted road, within the semi-arid forest on either side, no street light only the moon above, shining bright, our bike refused to start. There was no lever for the kick start. We were in a big trouble with our previous knowledge of no network in this region. Left with no other option I had to push the bike with my husband on seat holding the control to get it started. After running for around half a kilometer it started, pantingly and hurriedly I took the pillion seat and worriedly reached our stay. Thus, did we miss the wondrous opportunity to enjoy the romantic night ride on this uninhabited silky path with the moon in it full bloom as the only source of light. Our stressful mood was lightened by the local musicians starting off with village folk music in their light singsong voices, after dinner. It was arranged by the village caretakers to entertain the guests, bringing a melodic end to the day.
Visiting the India Bridge, the last civilian point towards the India-Pakistan border and engaging in a chit-chat with the Jawans on duty was the start of another pleasant day. Again we witnessed the vastness of Rann from the other side. Parking our vehicle on the roadside, we walked down through the thorny shrubs for a long to get a closer view of a large flock of Flamingoes gorging on the fishes over the water covered Rann. By then we were adapted to the customary greeting of the locals by waving hands to the passer-by. We reciprocated well. Riding to Kala Dungar, the black hill, was truly an uphill task for our already dying bike. Half the way I had to walk while my husband rode alone. Again strange rock formations and a small broad on one side of the road reading ‘Probable magnetic field’. We spent the afternoon visiting the Rann again.
An evening well spent strolling outside our village under the bright heavenly moon. It was another amazing moonlit night of my life, but yet so different from the others. Walking through the dusty open ground bathing in the silver light, inhaling the crisp desert breeze and sensing the astounding tranquility, ‘far from the madding crowd’ was a milestone added to my memory store. Breaking this stillness were occasional shrieks of Jackals. It sounded so near that it seemed to traverse the fence to trespass human territory of our village. That night the music troop had an active group of audience who made them sing catchy numbers to shake their feet, lighting a bonfire in the centre.
It was difficult saying goodbye to our small serene village and its amicable caretakers. The cute teenaged boy ‘Manish’ took great care of us with an ever smiling face. The adorable elderly uncle who showed a lot of concern over our bike’s condition and kept providing us with the much-needed road directions. He played a vital role of keeping watch all through the night so as to prevent wild animals from crossing in the village fence. They bid farewell saying do visit again. We smilingly said yes, definitely. Riding back was yet another adventure to behold.
After riding a few kilometers, our bike asked for a switch over to reserve mode. Even after refueling full tank the previous day, it was left with a little to carry us for approximately 50kms. With fuel stations far apart in this deserted region, we were at great risk of pushing our vehicle all way long. After refill, we headed for the fossil park, but after a long ride, we spotted the punctured rear tyre of our bike. We returned, repaired and were back to Bhuj, disheartened.
The drive to Dholavira the other day was long and mundane with a little spark of excitement on the very glance of a long track through the Rann. This is the other side of the great Rann we toured before. Reminiscing the ancient Harrapan culture was an awe-inspiring moment. Walking through the ruins of the houses, passing by the renowned underground drainage system, picking up the broken remains of once used terracotta pottery and jewellery, standing by the network of water preserving huge network of reservoirs and listening to the archeological theories from our guide was like reliving the past life of the Indus Valley people.
So much in this small patch of land is hard to believe. From seas to hill, from desert to grassland, from salty sterile marshland to multiple wild habitats, from stone formation to large water bodies, Kutch has it all. With amazing new adventures each day, we did enjoy every moment. Yes, we did smile throughout while in Kutch. With fond enduring memories and a hope to visit again, we said adieu.