Exploring the wild west of India, the Little Rann of Kutch
It was a long dusty road. We had been in the bus for nearly an hour. However, the drive wasn’t as exhausting as expected. It was a December morning so the mercury hadn’t soared beyond 22-23 degrees. We were passing through the arid countryside of Ahmedabad, heading towards Dasada. Just a few hours prior to this drive, we had landed in the historic Gujarati city and were welcomed by the team from Renaissance Ahmedabad Hotel, who had curated a two-day tour as part of their Navigator Tours.
We had been greeted with fresh tender coconut water at the airport and were driven to the aesthetically-pleasing hotel. After a grand welcome by a group of dancers who twirled in the traditional garba (Gujarati folk dance) style, we headed to our rooms for a shower. This was followed by a quick breakfast of dhokla, kachori and chai at the hotel’s 24-hour coffee shop Mill & Co. that’s named after Ahmedabad being called a city of mills. We had then boarded the bus, and left for Dasada. Beyond city limits Like most tourists who often think only of colourful weaves or the old city architecture of Ahmedabad, we too didn’t think there was more to this destination beyond the city limits.
But on our journey to Dasada, guides from Rann Riders, an organisation that supports the local community through its ethnicallydesigned eco resort, briefed us on what to expect. We were going to explore the Little Rann of Kutch — the vast desiccated, bare surface of dark silt that was once an arm of the Arabian Sea. Encrusted with salt it transforms to a coastal wetland during monsoons. We specifically headed to this region to spot the Indian Wild Ass and to spot birds, like grey herons, egrets, rosy pastor and flamingos, that inhabit the region.
While we were still listening to the guides’ stories, we heard loud drumming beats and were informed that we had arrived at our pit-stop, the Rann Riders Dasada resort. The eco-friendly resort that’s designed using local materials is a popular spot among birdwatchers and wildlife photographers. The walls of the cottages that resemble kooba houses of the Bajania community of Dasada and the bhunga houses of the Rabaris of Kutch are decorated with mirrors and mud-plaster designs similar to Kutch embroidery patterns. After a tour of the place, we sat down for an elaborate meal that included Kadaknath Chicken Curry and Bajra Rotis.
Soon after this, we were back on the highway, but this time, it was different. There were no dusty roads. We were on an endless tar road with mounds of salt on either side. This region we were told is the salt pan of India. After a certain point, we were back on a dusty track, crossing villages, till we finally arrived at the 12th century Madapol Gate that used to be the main entrance to the Jhinjuwada town. This was our entry point into the Little Rann of Kutch and finally, the actual safari began.
As we kept driving for miles, all we could see around us was a vast mass of brown desiccated land that seamlessly merged with a clear blue sky. Just before sunset we spotted a pack of the Indian Wild Asses. Galloping faster than our jeep, the animals were running at an average speed of 80 kmph. The closer we got, the faster they ran. After this chase that lasted for an hour, we drove across the barren region, till we came to a salt harvesting site. The team from Renaissance Ahmedabad Hotel had set up a makeshift kitchen that served salt tea and samosas. While we enjoyed our tea break, we were taken around the site by a local farmer, who spends half the year in this region to extract salt that is then sold to multinational companies at throw-away prices.
The last leg of our jeep safari was towards the partial wet land where lakhs of flamingos had gathered as it was the beginning of breeding season. A sea of pink heads was visible at a distance and we could hear the squawking of these beautiful avians. Driving and walking on this part of the Little Rann of Kutch is not a great idea because of the slushy soil, so we had to view these birds through binoculars. By then, the sun had started to set and it was time for us to head back to the city.
The long day ended with a Bento Box meal from Renaissance Hotel’s Kuro - The Asian Bistro that usually caters to the expat Japanese clientele in Ahmedabad.
Day two of our stay began with an elaborate breakfast at R Kitchen (the all day-dining restaurant) and a tour of the hotel. Like most hotels, Renaissance Ahmedabad has all the modern amenities and services. But what sets it apart is the architecture and decor that imbibes Ahmedabad’s culture. With wallpapers that are printed with the city’s map, colour-stained glasses inspired by windows found in the old city and photographs of iconic monuments to a wall that replicates steppedwells of the region, the history of the city is well showcased.
Next, we headed to the Sabarmati Ashram that’s in the heart of the city. It’s a humbling experience to visit the place from where Mahatma Gandhi started his struggle for the freedom of India. Many of his belongings have been preserved. His weaving and writing paraphernalia that includes two writing desks, a spinning wheel and an ink pot are left untouched in his room.
Following the ashram visit, we headed to the House of MG, a boutique hotel with a terrace eatery called Agashiye. We were told that Agashiye serves an award-winning Gujarati thali. However, we wanted to sample the food to believe what was told to us and we were not disappointed! With this royal meal, our Navigator Tour curated by Renaissance Hotels ended, and we headed to our next destination.
Rooms Rs 7,000++ upwards. (The writer was at Renaissance Ahmedabad Hotel by invitation)