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Destination of the Month

Rann of Kutch, Gujarat

The remarkable Rann of Kutch in the western state of Gujarat is the world's largest salt desert, measuring over 16,000 sq km, which makes it much larger than some of the smaller countries of the world. What is even more amazing is that it turns into huge wetlands during the monsoons thereby providing an excellent habitat for resident and migratory birds. For the remaining eight months of the year, the largest seasonal wetland of its type in India is an enormous stretch of gleaming white salt.

On full moon nights; the pristine white salt gleams like a million gems, making it difficult to turn ones gaze away from the bewitching whiteness under the starlit sky. Nowhere else in this planet will you find a counterpart to this amazing natural marvel that turns marshy during the monsoons and then returns to its brilliant white glory during the winters and summers. The umpteen surprises thrown up by this magical land, which was once an arm of the Arabian sea, is likely to humble even the most unquenchable traveller's spirit. In fact, the surreal charm of this endless expanse of salt cuddled on one side by the sea and the other by the desert has to be seen to be believed. Mere words cannot do justice to this enchanting quirk of nature.

It's best to head out into the Rann of Kutch in the early morning or evening. Otherwise the salt can be blinding. The full moon night is the best time of the month to see the Rann. The moonlight Rann camel safari is likely to be one of the most enchanting experiences you have ever had. It is the ideal way to take in the beauty of the surroundings — the bleached earth, the vast vistas of salt and the many mirages. If a camel cramps your style, jump into a chakado (a Kutchi tuk-tuk) for a ride. A night out under the soft light of the full moon is a wonderful way to soak in the many flavours of Rann. The desert sands stretch out as far as the eye can see and the many shadows lend an ethereal quality to the sandscape.

Kala Dungar (Black Hill) is a rocky outcrop which offers a breathtaking view of the expanse of the Rann of Kutch and from which, on a clear day, one can even catch a glimpse of the Indo-Pak border, barely over 30 kms away.

This seasonally marshy land is divided into Little Rann of Kutch and Great Rann of Kutch. The Great Rann is home to a wide array of flora and fauna. It also provides a temporary home to a wide variety of migratory birds during diverse weather conditions. When winter settles in, the water bodies of the Great Rann of Kutch turns pink with the reflection of drifting flamingos. It is the only place in India where these feathered beauties lay eggs and bring up their chicks. About 13 species of larks have also been reported from the Great Rann of Kutch.

The Little Rann of Kutch wildlife sanctuary comprises a variety of habitats ranging from a huge expanse of saline desert wilderness to grasslands, rock and scrub lands, lakes and marshes. The Little Rann is well-known as the last remaining habitat of the endangered Indian Wild Ass. A magnificent member of the horse family, this ass is known for its phenomenal speed and stamina. Nilgai (blue bull), the largest antelope in India, the Indian Wolf, Indian and White-footed Desert Foxes, Golden Jackal, Striped Hyena, Desert, Jungle and Fishing Cat, blackbuck and smaller mammals like hares, hedgehogs, gerbil and field mice can also be spotted in the region.

The Little Rann of Kutch is a birding paradise and has been declared a Ramsar Site. It also gives refuge to several migratory water birds like pelicans, flamingos, cranes, ducks and land birds like Indian bustards, sand grouse and frankolins. During the safaris in the Rann expect to see large flocks of larks, and other dry land birds like sandgrouse, coursers, plovers, chats, warblers, babblers, shrikes. The wetlands also attract storks, ibises, spoonbill, and other waterfowl. The best birding sites are the lakes and marshes in and around the Rann where birds gather in numbers beyond comprehension during the winter months from October to March.
A jeep safari can also help you get a feel of this salty desert. Enroute you will find white patches resembling snow. A closer look will reveal that they are salt crystals which will soon be collected by the salt pan workers.

A visit during the month-long Rann Ustav, a colourful annual carnival celebrating local culture, which usually begins in the latter half of December, provides an additional bonus of a cultural extravaganza. During the festival, Kutch is decked up at its best and brims with festivities that mirror the zest and spirit of this land. Folk dance, music, camel safaris and sundry other activities set in the romantic ambience of the moonlit landscape enthral guests.

Kutch is the only district in India where four distinct ecosystems (Desert, Coastal, Grassland and Upland) exists within a span of 100 kms. The district is virtually an island with the Arabian Sea in the west, the Gulf of Kutch in the south and southeast and the Greater Rann of Kutch and the Little Rann of Kutch in the north and the northeast, respectively. A bullock cart ride through the charming villages of Kutch can be a good way of learning more about local culture and life.

Craft-rich Kutch is a shopper's delight. The textiles are a big draw. Also, look out for shawls and rugs in cotton, wool or camel hair in traditional patterns, or old-style embroidery. Kutch's intricate handicrafts stand testimony to the creative ingenuity and brilliance of the local artisans. Ethnic style embroidery, hand block painting, wood carving, silver work, pen-knives, nut crackers and sea shell toys from here are in great demand in the national and international markets.

Shifting sands, expansive vistas, salt plains craft-rich villages, historic palaces, imposing forts and enchanting temples — Kutch's off-beat allure is unmistakable. This beautiful destination can be best enjoyed between October and March. Ahmedabad International Airport is 425 kms from Kutch, while Bhuj Airport is just 70 kms away.