Kutch’s Best-Kept Secret
I am sitting with my morning cup of chai in Kutch’s Chobari village when a flock of demoiselle cranes fly into the open space right in front of me. It feels like I have my own little bird sanctuary in this secluded part of Gujarat. These migratory cranes travel long distances from Eurasia and Mongolia to spend the winter in India. The birds make their temporary home in Khichan, , which is around 600 kilometres from Chobari. For a few minutes every morning, right after sunrise, the birds spend a few minutes here at Meriya Nature Resort, where I’m staying, before flying away. As they feed on grains scattered for them on the ground, I marvel at this paradise I have found for myself, blissfully disconnected from the rest of the world.
Chobari is the closest point to enter the Rann of Ekal, a comparatively untouched stretch of the Rann of Kutch. Tourists, generally flock to Dhordo for the Rann Utsav. My desire to spend the full moon night on the empty Rann, and a longing to be away from the sounds of the city and its people, has brought me here. In the evening, we drive to the Rann where there’s no one at Ekal except my family and me and a few couples getting their pre-wedding shoots done. We sit here for a while, drinking chai and soaking in the infinite landscape in front of us.
The glorious white colour that gives this region the nickname “White Desert” is due to the salt marsh. The white land glows even whiter under the full moon sky. The Great Rann of Kutch is spread over 7,500 square kilometres area in the Thar Desert, but this, where we sit right now, feels like its most magnificent spot.
Back at our stay, a meal of bajre ki roti (flat bread made with pearl millet flour), tamatar nu shaak (tomato curry), Gujarati kadhi and chhaas (buttermilk) awaits us. We sit around the wood-fired stove, as the women of the family make hot rotis for us. Ramji Meriya, a local guide and journalist, started this resort around 10 years ago with just a few tents. There are now 5-6 basic rooms and a bhunga—a circular walled house with thatched roof in the traditional design of the Kutch region. More adventurous travellers can also take a tent and pitch it on the Rann, we however, stay inside.
Next morning, after a breakfast of dal dhokli (wheat dumplings cooked in a lentil broth) and chai, we head out to explore the Harappan city in Dholavira, around 118 kilometres from Chobari. Driving through tiny villages and large fields of jowar, bajra and jeera, we reach a point where the drive takes our breath away. Between Rapar and Khadirbet, there’s a roughly nine–kilometre stretch of road with the beautiful white Rann on both the sides, spread out as far as the eye can see. In winter, a little after the rains, the area is flooded with water that brings along fish, which flamingos like to feed on. Sadly, it hasn’t rained in Kutch in two years when we visit, and we don’t see any flamingos.
At Dholavira, our host and guide Jaimal Bhai takes us around the 2,000-year-old site, but not before he treats us to a simple lunch of bajre ki roti, dal, shaak and chhaas at his house in the village. Jaimal Bhai is a local and knows the ancient site better than most. He was a part of the team that excavated at Dholavira for 15 years, and now takes people around the Harappan city, spread over 54 acres. I contacted him through an archaeologist friend, but Ramji Bhai Meriya can also put you in touch with one of the two experts here.
Jaimal Bhai gives us a tour of the site, explaining the efficient water system of the ancient city and the seven stages of its occupation. The visit to Dholavira doesn’t end with the archaeological site, however. We drive through an unpaved, bumpy road to get to the Fossil Park, where a Jurassic period tree has turned into a fossil. What we see before us as our car reaches the destination is what sums up my trip to Kutch. The spectacular white desert is spread out in front of us, with nothing (including humans) blocking the view.