Little Rann of Kutch
We’d read a lot about the landscape of Little Rann of Kutch, but seeing it in person was an absolutely unreal experience! It’s unique in the world and has no comparison to anything we’ve ever seen till date. And the stay at Camp Zainabad made it all the more special…
Yesterday morning we boarded an Ahmedabad-bound sleeper bus, which started from Bhuj at 12:30pm in the afternoon. Our stay was arranged by Desert Coursers at Zainabad, a small village-town at the eastern edge of the Little Rann of Kutch Sanctuary. We were told to alight at Malwan, which is about 100kms before Ahmedabad. From here an open-air jeep picked us up and took us to Camp Zainabad – it was a windy 1 hr ride. It was almost 7pm when we got there. We were told that dinner would be ready by 8pm after which Dhanraj, the owner and host of Camp Zainabad, would take us to a neighboring village where a wedding celebration was in progress .
Apart from us, there were about 7 other guests at the camp. Around 10pm we were all driven to a nearby village where everybody was waiting for us to arrive. Dhanraj’s ancestors were rulers of the area so he was showered with a lot of attention and respect; it was just like in the movies . And since we were his guests, we were all treated like celebrities as well . As soon as we arrived at the temple square, the villagers cleared out a seating area for us and the proceedings began immediately. This was the night before the actual wedding where all the villagers gather to sing and dance. A microphone and a couple of loudspeakers were attached to a small cart that sat in the middle of the square. As soon as we were seated, a young man started singing in to the microphone and almost immediately a group of women circled around him dancing the Garba . The women were dressed in their best saris accessorized by tons of gold jewelry. It made for a great photo opportunity. Of course, only some of the villagers were watching the women; most of them were intently (albeit warmly) staring at us .
Some of Dhanraj’s guests who were foreigners jumped in to dance with the women at one point in the evening . It was hilarious to watch them try and follow the graceful Garba steps . Each song started off at a slow pace and eventually picked up to a furious tempo. The dancing threw up a storm of fine dust into the air, so we climbed to the terrace of a neighboring home and watched the rest of the dances from there. For the foreigners in our group, watching Garba must have been an unique experience. For Madhu and me, the dance itself wasn’t novel but the entire village setting was!
We left around midnight and most villagers followed us out of the square to our vehicles. They offered us some hot tea, which was absolutely yummy in the cold night. Finally, we got back into the cars, waved our goodbyes and left. Everybody had been soo warm and nice – it felt fantastic!
Today morning, around 9:30am, one of Dhanraj’s boys drove us to the lake that borders Little Rann of Kutch. It abounds in bird-life as it is an important staging ground for the migrating birds. It is also a popular breeding area for flamingos. And there were hundreds of them at the lake! The driver of our jeep took us as close to the edge of the lake as he could. From here we walked gingerly towards the birds but just as we would get close enough for a nice picture, they would all fly away . Apart from flamingos, we saw many cranes and pelicans – these were large birds that we could identify instantly. There were many of the smaller variety as well. It was a fantastic sight! We realized that apart from us, there were no other humans in sight; it felt unreal! We chased the birds for a while trying to get some good shots and eventually headed back to camp … even though Madhu and I are not particularly bird-enthusiasts, we had completely enjoyed this safari to the lake.
When we got back to the camp, Christine, one of Dhanraj’s guests who we had met and chatted with the previous night was getting ready to be taken to a nearby fort. Since Madhu and I had no other plans for the day, we tagged along with her on the jeep. Apparently, she was keen on seeing salt that’s produced in the Little Rann of Kutch area and Dhanraj had told her that she would be able to see huge mounds of it from the top of the fort. But when we got there, there wasn’t much of a fort left. The villagers had built a nice temple along most of its area and only parts of the original fort walls remained. We climbed some stone stairs to the top of the crumbling fort and did see some salt mounds in the distance. But it wasn’t exactly how we had imagined it to be.
Seeing our disappointment, our driver drove us to the actual site where the salt was accumulated in huge mounds. This was great to see as we had never seen anything like this before; especially from this close. The salt was in small rock formations and looked quite dirty. We were told that trucks ship these to processing plants where they are cleaned, powdered and packed for sale.
We got back to camp in time for lunch after which we lounged around and soaked in the wonderful rural atmosphere. At 4pm we were told that our jeep for the safari into the Little Rann of Kutch Sanctuary was ready. So we hopped on and were driven out for an amazing, and probably our best, Gujarat experience …
As we entered the sanctuary, the landscape was no different than what we had seen outside – dry grass with shrubs and cacti. We immediately spotted some Gudkhurs – the Asiatic Wild Ass that are found nowhere else in the world but here. They almost look like horses as they are taller and more muscular-looking than donkeys. They belong to the horse family along with zebras and donkeys. Dhanraj told us that out of these Gudkhurs and Zebras cannot be tamed. We got off the jeep and walked towards the Khurs while they quietly walked away from us, always maintaining a comfortable distance. Their light cream and brown coat looked very regal – it was fantastic to observe them from so close.
We got back on the jeep and as we drove deeper into the sanctuary the landscape changed dramatically. The shrubs and grass fell away to reveal a parched, cracked, dark-grayish-brown ground. It was an unbelievable sight! I’d only seen this in pictures – to stand on this land and stare at the stark beauty of it was absolutely thrilling! The setting sun added to the beauty and atmosphere of the place.
Our driver took us to a couple of remote homes within the Rann where the family members produce salt from a few salt pans. It was strange to see people living in such a remote landscape. When we walked up to them, they were very warm and friendly, and more than happy to explain the salt-making process using our driver as a translator.
We waited until sunset and then reluctantly headed back to camp. On the way we saw a couple of huge male Blue Bulls. We had seen one of them back at the Gir Forest but at that time we could barely see it through all the trees and shrubbery. Here we had a really good view of them – they looked majestic!
It was late by the time we got back to camp. After a quiet and yummy dinner we settled in and debated if we should stay one more day and do more safaris – the place was magical and we were reluctant to leave. In the end, we decided that it would be better to push off. But we will definitely be back at Camp Zainabad and the Little Rann of Kutch someday. The stay here has been one of our best and most unique in Gujarat!