The Great White Desert “Pale sky, white land; like somewhere past the end of the world” ― Rinsai Rossetti

The Rann of Kutch is a salt marshy land in the Thar Desert in the Kutch district of western Gujarat. It lies between Gujarat in India and the Sindh province in Pakistan. It comprises of around 30,000 sq. km of land which includes The Great Rann of Kutch, The Little Rann of Kutch and Banni grassland.

The Rann of Kutch is famous for its white salty desert sand and is reputed to be the largest salt desert in the world. ‘Rann’ means desert in Hindi. The Hindi word is derived from Sanskrit/Vedic word Iriṇa (इरिण) attested in the Rigveda and Mahābhārata. As early as 325 BCE, Alexander the Great was aware of this area. The inhabitants of Kutch are called Kutchhi and have a language of their own with the same name. Most of the population in Rann of Kutch comprises of Hindus, Muslims, Jains and Sikhs.

The Rann of Kutch region is also home to a range of ecologically rich wildlife such as the flamingos and the wild ass that can be spotted around the desert often. We did not spot any flamingos during this trip, but I have posted some lovely photos of them in another post I made on our visit to Narayan Sarovar. Rann is also a part of a few sanctuaries such as the Indian wild ass sanctuary, Kutch desert wildlife sanctuary etc. It is a paradise for wildlife photographers and nature enthusiasts alike.

The autorickshaw dropped us at 5:00 am at the Railway Station, next to the Reception Center

The reception center for Rann Utsav at Bhuj. The overnight Volvo sleeper bus dropped us off at the unearthly hour of 5:00 am here! We were apprehensive of the early morning overcast sky and the swirling mist.

Waiting for the Centre staff to arrive
The next leg starts!

The 80 km road journey to Dhordo was initially slow due to heavy mist. Fortunately, it started clearing as we proceeded towards our destination. We were told it was a normal phenomenon and sun would be out around 10 am.

A much-awaited tea halt at Loriya. Sumptuous milk cake made from camel's milk.

Local handicrafts

We met a fellow motorcycle traveller here. He had been on the road for nearly 6 months! The bike looked well equipped for all contingencies.

The bus ride continues
The route from Bhuj to Dhordo

Dhordo Tent City. The whole city comes up during the tourist season (around Nov to March). It is dismantled due to strong winds blowing across the Rann in the summers.

The Reception "building" is huge, crowded but very efficiently managed!
The staff was extremely courteous and helpful, a departure from most Government-run places.
The Tent City is huge - its a considerable distance to our tent.

By the time will reach our tent, the sun is blazing. But not uncomfortable, as yet.

The whole City is draped in colourful panels with local designs and patterns.

The City is well covered by electric cars for a efficient environment-friendly commute.
A small 3-wheeler electric autorickshaw
Our lodgings

Considering that the tent city is in existence for a very short period, the effort which has gone in to make the Utsav comfortable has to be appreciated. The tent city glows like a jewel against the night sky. Clusters of tents are put up around a circular area. Even though one is in the desert, or it very near it, supply of water and power was uninterrupted, The tents were spacious, bed linen and towels clean. The overall management was impressive.

The warmth of the early morning sun is welcome.
Time for some fun and frolick!!

Time is always at a premium during the stay here. So many things to see and to do. So one has to be selective in their choices!

The Three Musketeers out in the City

The food in the City is served in a huge hall. Excellent dishes, but pure vegetarian (unfortunately for the non-veggies). It was always a 5-Star spread for all meals. It took the first meal we had to realise that Gujarati traditional dishes are heavy! They required an extra "mile" for digestion. Preparing meals for the whole City would not be an easy task, but was again managed very well.

Savouring local dishes

The traffic-free streets of the Tent City provided ample opportunity to walk past beautifully illuminated buildings at night.

The City comes alive at night

The White Desert is only a short drive by bus from the Tent City. The narrow road to this destination was jammed with tourist buses and taxis as dusk approached. It actually took us over half an hour to cover a few kilometres! But the patience was amply rewarded once we could see the splendour of the desert stretching in front of us.

Ride on the camel cart makes up the last leg of the journey
Views of the White Desert seen while the sets on the horizon
The salt crystals

Day 2

On the bus for sightseeing in and around Bhuj.

The approach to Pryag Mahal Palace had numerous buildings which still showed the after effects of the massive earthquake of 2001. Beautiful architecture destroyed, but surprisingly survived the 7.9M shocks which nearly flattened the town, leaving nearly 19,000 dead and 167,000 injured! A tribute to the design of these buildings.

Next door to the Aina Mahal, in the same walled compound, is the giant Prag Mahal, which may at first seem slightly out of place at the far western edge of India, looking more appropriate in France. But then again, globalization is not a new phenomenon.

Prag Mahal is named after Rao Pragmalji II, who commissioned it and construction began in 1865. It was designed by Colonel Henry Saint Wilkins in the Italian Gothic style, and many Italian artisans were involved in its construction. The palace artisans' wages were paid in gold coins. Construction of the palace, which ultimately cost 3.1 million rupees, was completed in 1879 during the regency of Khengarji III (Pragmalji II's son) following Pragmalji II's death in 1875. The local Kutchi builder community (Mistris of Kutch) were also involved in the construction of the palace.

The 2001 Gujarat earthquake severely damaged the palace. In 2006, the palace was burgled, with thieves stealing antiques worth millions of rupees and damaging other items throughout the palace. Today, the palace is in a "ghostly", "forlorn" state. However, the palace and the tower have been repaired, after Amitabh Bachchan took a personal interest in the restoration of the palace. Its tower and clock have been repaired and are now open for public viewing.

The cracks on the turrets are huge and clearly seen from below.

The visible effects of the earthquake.

The 54-foot Clock Tower.

Aina Mahal (or Palace of Mirrors) is an 18th-century palace in Bhuj, Gujarat, India. It is located next to the Prag Mahal. It was built by Rao Lakhpatji in 1761. The chief architect and designer of Aina Mahal was Ram Singh Malam, who was assisted by local builder community (Mistris of Kutch) in construction. It was constructed with marble walls adorned with gold lace and glass. The walls of the palace are of white marble covered with mirrors separated by gilded ornaments with shades of Venetian glass.

The palace was also damaged in the 2001 Gujarat earthquake. However, a portion of the palace which was not so badly damaged has been restored and it houses the museum, displaying the bed room, music room, court room and other old pieces of arts, paintings, arms, palanquin etc.

Some exhibits displayed inside the Aina Mahal. Priceless, but in dire need of being looked after. Its a crying shame how they are being managed, with dust settling on most items and no sign of any restoration work to ensure preservation for the future.

This exhibit shows the ornate palanquin used by the Maharaja.

The personal sword collection of the Maharaja.

Numerous games and dice. Most modern board games seem to be copies of these ancient Indian games of chance or skill.

Beautifully inlaid ceilings and Belgian chandeliers were everywhere.

A painting of the famous Baji Mastani of the Peshwa Court at Pune.

A vast collection of ornately carved mirrors.

An exquisite door inlaid with ivory.

A request from the Victoria & Albert Museum, London, asking for the loan of the ivory-inlaid door.

The well-appointed Music Room for the Maharaja's enjoyment.

A chariot for transporting the royal family members.

Nights at the Tent City are never boring! There are enough shows going on to keep you entertained late into the night!

The traditional welcoming puppets

Exquisitely handcrafted dolls and animal toys.

The huge indigo blue peacock adorned one of the side panels.

Richa in the company of a Guinness Book of World Record holder who excelled in making the cloth pigeon from a bedsheet-size linen, while swirling around all the while!

Folk song artists entertaining the crowds.

Bharatnatyam dance troupe performing.

Dances in a swirl of bright colours!

A scene from the African jungles.

Day 3

Visit the Hiralakshmi Memorial Craft Park, Bhujodi.

Hiralaxmi Craft Park is the brainchild of Mr. Chetan Shah, Managing Director of Ashapura Group. The seeds of this idea were sown when a delegation of rural artisans was invited to the Ashapura guesthouse to demonstrate their art and artefacts. During his discussions with the artisans, Mr. Shah realized that many of these treasured arts were on the verge of extinction. This was primarily due to lack of an organized forum to exhibit their artefacts and financial support.

Thus, the Hiralaxmi Craft Park was born. Hiralaxmi Craft Park complex is situated at Bhujodi village in Kutch and is spread over 10 acres of land. The park is accessible to the general public free of cost since its opening on December 18, 2005. Apart from a well established and organized forum to display and sell their wares, the artisans are provided with meals, boarding, lodging at free of cost and a daily stipend during their stay at the craft park.

Views of the Craft Park

A visit to see the splendours of the White Desert is one everyone must undertake. The icing on the cake is provided by the numerous other sights to be seen in and around Bhuj, the gateway to the Rann of Kutch. These are places not many tourists manage to reach due to their remoteness and general unawareness of their potential compared to other popular tourist attractions. Definitely a loss to those wishing to see the varied wonders of Incredible India!

And with those pleasant sights and experiences still fresh in our minds, we caught the night train from Bhuj, back to the real world!

And for those who have been enticed to the wonders of Kutch, you can read my travelogue at the link below:

The End

Created By
Ajai Singh



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