Gujarat and Kutch

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a house in Kutch

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A Kutchi woman in Bhuj

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a visit to their village…….

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Please click below for an article by yours truly on the above subject  –  http://www.hindu.com/mag/2010/04/04/stories/2010040450320800.htm

Please click below for more colorful pictures of Kutch –

http://kutchngujarat.shutterfly.com/

Rann Utsava Kaleidoscope of Kutch and its colours

We are awe struck by the endless white expanse in front, shimmering under the full-moon night, as the kutchi musicians on stage score a perfect background piece to this phenomenal natural setting. Great Rann or the White Desert as it is called has been shaped by a mix of geological processes and is a part of Kutch district. It is believed that once the Great Rann was part of the Arabian Sea, then an uplift turned off the sea water flow but turned on the Indus River in thus making this area a freshwater lake. Then, the devastating earthquake of 1819 plugged the Indus water inlet due to the formation of “Allah Bund”, a natural dam caused by the quake. Now, it is the hand of south-west monsoon winds that strokes this masterly work by driving in sea water which on receding leaves this salt-encrusted white canvas.

Kutch lies on the western tip of Gujarat flanked by Thar Desert and Arabian Sea. Conceptualized by Chief Minister, Shri Narendra Modi, who had the vision to promote such a panoramic landscape with intriguing history and culture that is steeped in vibrant colours, TCGL (Tourism Corporation of Gujarat Limited) has, in the past six years, opened up this unique region to rest of the world by organizing the annual Rann Utsav for three days in the first week of December.

We sign-up with TCGL, fly out of Chennai and land in Bhuj on a pleasant afternoon, the weather certainly not bad for a town on the fringe of a desert. Bhuj airport looks compact and has that typical ambience and smell of any desert-town airports, be it Timbuktu, Arizona or one of the Middle-eastern locations. The best pool of TCGL personal is handy to help us get oriented. A scrumptious Gujarati-thali taking care of our hunger-pangs, we are all set for day-one of the Utsav at the centre of Bhuj town.

In proud anticipation of their culture being showcased right in their hometown, locals in festive mood are milling about and scampering for seats and standing room in every conceivable space around the pretty Hamirsar Lake. As the Sun sets, illuminations take over, fuses in a carnival atmosphere. Fittingly, as the Chief Minister Modi flags-off the Utsav, the bedecked floats start to roll, musicians and dancers frolic on the streets around the lake showcasing the rich colours of Kutch to the gathered and the dignitaries among who some are from abroad. As the pageantry winding to a grinding pace, well into the evening, we board TCGL arranged buses and head to Dhordo, 80 kms north of Bhuj, the venue for the next two days of the Utsav.

The “Tent City” is one huge settlement that has about 400 tents and will house over 1000 guests for the next two days. The tents offer star facilities that include a/c, heater, hot water for bath and even Wi-Fi. We get hot-chai served at the tent-zipper at the strike of chilly-dawn. The tent-city in itself is self-contained and offers various facilities. Multi-dining-halls cater to the needs of such a large presence. The TCGL staff with Walkie-Talkie make sure the place is running smooth and are ever ready to help anyone in need.

Our day-two starts with a guided-tour to Kala Dungar, the highest point in Kutch at 462 m. The sight from such an elevation is breathtaking as the desert and the skies merge and become circuitous. With Pakistan only a few kms away, this is the farthest point a civilian can get to as we see military trucks constantly roll by the tortuous roads. This hill also houses a 400 year old temple for Dattareya and we are told that the priest here feeds the prasad to jackals after evening aarati. Our next stop is at a village named Hodka, inhabited by Meghwal community. Here, we get to see our first Bhungas, the circular grass-roofed mud huts of various communities in Kutch. They are extensively decorated both in and out with paintings of varying pattern and glittery mirror-work.

In the evening, camel-carts line up under the full-moon night for a lumbering ride into the White Desert. For the next two hours, we are under the spell of diverse forms of Kutchi music and dance being played out on stage, leaving an ethereal bliss.

Day-three offers a host of tours to choose from – Narayan Sarovar, a temple with one of the five holy lakes of the country; Koteshwar, a temple for Shiva right close to the border; Lakhpat Fort, an ancient port city; Mata No Madh, a temple for Goddess Ashapura; Indo-Pak border; Chhari Dandh, a place for birders and Dholavira, an excavated Indus valley civilization. This writer chooses to go with the last option and endure a trip of almost 550 kms on a single day, with stretches testing bone-strength and gravity. But the 4500 year old site more than makes up for all such niggling factors, as it offers insight into an exemplary feat of engineering and town planning of an advanced civilization. Considering the age of the place, finding terracotta chips, beads and fossils still scattered around the site leave an eerie feeling. A museum at the site exhibits artifacts found intact, including the widely known Harappan oxen seal. Following morning, buses leave one last time from the Utsav site only to return yet again in the coming December to celebrate Kutchi colours and sounds in a much more sprightly manner.

Outside the Utsav, with more time and resources on hand, Kutch offers a mind-blowing array of adventure and experience. Kutch has one of the largest concentrations of artisans. Keeping Bhuj as base, numerous villages that specialize in embroidery, block-printing, mirror-work, silver jewellery, pottery and so on can be explored. Myriad ethnic communities live in the district and their life-style and music would be of much interest to those with such leanings. As for wildlife, fossil park in Dinodhar, Flamingo City near Tuga and the Wild Ass Sanctuary in the Little Rann of Kutch on the eastern part, home for the handsome wild-ass, wherein numerous waterfowl including the two kinds of flamingos can also be seen would greatly satisfy an adventurous soul.

Fact-file –

Bhuj is well connected by air especially from Mumbai and by rail

www.gujarattourism.com, TCGL Chennai Office 2536 6613

For independent traveling –

Hotel Prince (02832-220370) and Hotel ilark (02832-258999) in Bhuj offer clean accommodation

Visiting certain areas may require police permit, to be obtained at Bhuj

Littele Rann of Kutch – Rann Riders ( 9879786006/9925236014; www.rannriders.com) at Dasada, 90 kms from Ahmedabad offer jeep safaris to the sanctuaries in addition to offering a wide range of tours and facilities at their resort