Tuesday, January 9, 2018

Trip to Kutchh - Part-3 : White Rann of Kutchh and Kalo Dungar - Dec.2017

In continuation of Trip to Kutchh - Part-2: Narayan Sarovar-Koteshwar-Lakhpat Fort - Dec.2017

On the previous day, we had got a message from a friend and his family from  our neighbouring society who were also on trip to White Rann that they had to face lots of problems due to a massive traffic jam leading to White Rann. There was a heavy week-end rush from local tourists as also outstation tourists due to Christmas vacation. They also faced the  same type of problems while visiting Kalo Dungar with traffic at stand still for over an hour. As a result, they had to abandon the visit to Kalo Dungar. 
When I reported this incidence to our owner-driver, he said that during tourist season (October-Febraury), a lot local tourists make a day visit to White Rann and Kalo Dungar on week-ends. Coupled with the Christmas vacations when a large number of outstation tourists visit these places, the traffic problem get accentuated. He assured us that since we are visiting these places during the week days, we would not face heavy rush of tourist vehicles.
Bhuj to Hodka (64 kms)
We had planned to make a reservation in Gateway To Rann Resort as soon as their reservation opens at the end of August 2017. While the Resort advised us through E-Mail the date of opening of their on-line reservation, unfortunately, we were late by one hour by which time the Resort got fully booked for our dates.
The advantage of Gateway To  Rann Resort was that apart from relatively lower tariff compared with the adjacent but pricey Tent City,  it was located in Dordo village from where  the entry gate to White Rann was hardly 4 kms. Having lost out in reservation, we had to book the alternative available resorts. So we had booked Rann Visamo Village Stay (@4500/- on twin sharing basis inclusive of tea/coffee, breakfast, lunch and dinner) at Hodka village which was located 23 kms away from White Rann.
We checked out from the hotel at 10.00 am and proceeded to Hodka. On the way, we stopped at Bhirandayari village to take permit for White Rann of Kutch. There were two Bhungas where three counters for issue of permits were located. We submitted a simple application form duly filled in with a copy of Aadhar Cards. There were queues at the counters but got the permit within 30 minutes.
 Bhirandiyara village. On the right are counters in the Bhungas for issue of permit for White Rann.
The road to the left goes to Hodka and the straight road goes to Khavda village.
We reached Rann Visamo Village Stay near Hodka at around  11.30 am and checked in our reserved Bhungas. We were served tea/coffee in the traditional cups.
Some information about the Bhunga which was given to me by a staff of Rann Visamo is in order here. Bhungas (round mud huts) are mostly built in around the salt deserts area (northern and eastern part of Kutchh district) which have extreme climate. It is a circular mud house and are constructed independent of other bhungas. In other words, Bhungas do not share a common wall nor does have corners which makes it earth quake resistant. The walls made up of stones with mud plaster are not very high. But the conical shaped high roof covered with thatch, overhangs on the round wall to ensure that heat is not passed inside the bhungas. In the hot summer, there is coolness inside bhunga. In winter, the small windows, the low height door and the mud plaster on the walls prevent room becoming too cold. During cyclonic weather, the round shape with cylindrical roof  does not create obstruction to the strong wind thus preventing the collapse of the bhungas.
During our two days of stay in bhungas,I experienced that during the day time when it was warm outside,  it was very cool inside the bhunga. On the other hand in the night when the temperature drops quickly, it is comfortable inside the bunga.  I noticed that bhungas and mud huts used by the locals do not have fans. 
Bhungas (Mud house) in Rann Visamo Village Stay.

 Inside our bhunga.

Chonical roof seen from inside the bhunga.
Visit to White Rann
After lunch, we started from Rann Visamo for White Rann at around 2.00 pm to reach well in advance to avoid high traffic in the last 4-5 kms stretch of  road to White Rann expected ahead of sunset. We had a smooth drive up to BSF check point which is 1 km before the entry gate to White Rann. No vehicles are permitted beyond the entry gate except BSF/VIP vehicles and Rann Safari bus.  Tourists have either to walk a further 2 kms or take a camel/horse ride to reach the Viewing Tower in the White Rann. There is also the option of travelling in electric toy train to Viewing Gallery.
Entry Gate to White Rann. From here it is a 2-km to reach the Viewing Gallery of White Rann.

Camel carts waiting for the tourists after the entry gate.

Camel carts ferrying the tourists on a mud road intersecting White Rann to and fro Viewing Tower

White Rann as clicked from the Camel Ride. There is something in nothingness.

The Viewing Gallery appears to be the latest development in White Rann as it looks new.  It is made up of steel structure with staircases on two sides. The height of the Viewing Gallery is equivalent to a three storied building. Tourists can have 360 degree view of the unending White Rann. The vast salt desert lies on a flat land tapering towards the horizon thus giving a feeling that the earth is round.

Even though we reached at 3.00 pm in White Rann under a strong sun with a clear sky, the gentle breeze made the weather pleasant.  One needs to bring eatables and water bottles from entry gate as no hawking/food kiosks is permitted in the White Rann. Rest Room is located at the entry gate..

 Viewing Gallery in White Rann.
View from Viewing Gallery towards Entry Gate.
View of White Rann from Viewing Gallery. 

 We were on the White Rann for nearly 4 hours taking rounds of walks  in all directions. From a distance, it looks like snow covered flat land. White Rann is made up of salt granules which become hard as the winter set in. But how the flat land get transformed into White Rann (desert)?

The mud-filled flat land at sea level altitude becomes a swamp during monsoon. Post-monsoon, swamp slowly dries and by December, due to complete evaporation, the saline content of the swamp water dries up as white patches and turns into salt granules.

During our walk on White Rann, we came across some patches of swallow water, somewhat longer patches of soft salt land and rest the hard part. It is the soft patches on White Rann where one has be careful while walking over it as below the surface of white salt lies water. After all, it is a wetland.  In some places, there could be knee deep water below the surface of white salt. Probably, in this part, the total evaporation has not completed.
White Rann of Kutchh - Miles to go to reach the end of White Rann.
Softer patch of White Rann as one can see the foot marks.
The salt granules deposited on my shoes's sole. The salt can be removed only by some hard rubbing.

By about 5.00 pm, the tourists started coming in large numbers for sunset viewing. The Rann Safari bus and other VIP vehicles also followed suit. By 5.30 pm, every vintage point on Viewing Gallery and the surrounding areas had been occupied by the tourists. The sun was to set in at 6.20 pm. We continued to roam in White Rann as we had decided to watch the sunset from about 1 km away from Viewing Gallery in the middle of White Rann. The sky was almost clear and was excellent for sunset photography.
Tourists throngs in Viewing Gallery and around for watching sunset view.

Sun is about to set in over White Rann.
Sun sets over White Rann.
Sun almost sets in over White Rann for the day.
White Rann after sunset.
After sunset light over White Rann.
 As usually happens at any sunset watching points in India, most of the large crowd of tourists were in a hurry to start their return journey. Due to limited accommodations in the White Rann region, most of the tourists would have come from Bhuj/Mandvi/Gandhidham as a day trip and they would be eager to go back as early as possible. There was heavy crowd of tourists  around Viewing Gallery to catch the transport in the form of camel/horse carts, electric toy train etc to take them to parking lots located outside the exit gate. We were not in a hurry to go back as we had to cover about 1 km from White Rann to catch the camel cart. Also we had decided to take a break at the temporary shopping complex in Dordo (near Tent City) to see Kutchhi handicraft items and to have tea at fast food stalls in the complex.
After inspecting the handicraft items and looking at the number of fast food stalls, we decided  to visit the shopping complex once more the next day after return from Kalo Dungar. We reached Rann Visamo at around 8.45 pm.  After freshening, we had thali dinner at our resort. The resort had arranged the musical programme of the local artists with camp fire. However, we were too tired to sit for the camp fire after a sojourn of nearly 4 hours in White Rann. 
 Temporary shopping and fast food centres on both sides of the road in Dorodo (near Tent City).
One of the shopping and fast food centres in Dordo.
Kalo Dungar-India Bridge-Handicraft Village (50 kms from Hodka) 
Today was an easy day for us as we had lined up to visit Kalo Dungar, India Bridge and a handicraft village, all in our driving route. We will have free time post-lunch. Taking into account the tourist rush, our owner-driver suggested to start early so as to avoid traffic  jam especially after Dinara village when the road turns into a congested single lane for a km or so. Thereafter, it is winding hill road up to Kalo Dungar. Generally, tourists prefers to visit this place in evening for viewing sunset over the vast expanse of White Rann visible from the Viewing Point.
Early morning visitor on a tree near our Bhunga - Probably, it is White Bellied Robin.

After the breakfast, we started the journey at around 8.30 am for Kalo Dungar. The journey was smooth except the last 4-5 kms which is winding hill road. We reached Kalo Dungar at around 10.00 am. From the parking lot, it is about 500 metre of walk on easy steps to reach the viewing point. Since the weather was hazy, we could not clearly see the  vast expanse of White Rann to capture in the picture. So was the case with India Bridge which otherwise is clearly visible from the Viewing Point at other times. However, Dholavira Lake (also called Rann of Kutchh Lake) was clearly visible. There are walking trails around Kalo Dungar for those who wish to enter into a bird sanctuary.

There is Dattatray temple located just before the highest point of Kalo Dungar. It is said that those who can wait for the late evening arati have the chance of seeing jackals coming near temple to eat the Prasad.
Viewing point at Kalo Dungar.
View of Dholavira Lake from Viewing Point.
Panoramic view from Viewing Point. The right side of the mountain  really look like a kalo dungar.
 India Bridge (18 kms from Kalo Dungar).
After spending an hour or  so on the Kalo Dungar, we commenced our return journey by which time, the crowd of tourists had swelled. A 18-km drive to North-West took us to India Bridge, the last point where tourists are permitted. The photography is totally banned around India Bridge area. The BSF jawan would plead the tourists to leave the cameras and mobiles in their respective vehicles. For visiting beyond India Bridge, one requires a special permit which is issued only in Bhuj. With special permit, tourists can go up to Zero Point, a further 80 kms of drive (Indo-Pak boundary). On enquiry  with BSF, we were told that the authorities have now stopped issuing special permit. 

Ludiya Craft Village (20 kms from India Bridge)
From India Bridge, we commenced our return journey to Rann Visamo. It was already 12.30 pm and we were expected to be there for lunch time between 1.00-2.30 pm. Since we had time at or disposal, we visited Ludiya Handicraft Village which is located about 2 kms after Khavda village. Most of the houses in the village are in reality the place for handicraft, woodcraft and pottery works. We first visited the huts of embroidery and mirror works. The ladies were already doing embroidery works. We soon found that most of such works which we had seen at Dorda Handicrafts village were more of less of the similar designs. There were not much variety of works.

Next, we visited the woodcraft work centre which specialises in wood carved furniture. We saw the hand carving work being done on wooden planks for central/side table tops. We also saw the finished product of wood carved furniture work. Most of the tables and chairs used in the resorts around White Rann were made from such woodcraft works from the nearby villages. There were many more places to visit in the handicraft village but we gave a slip as we were getting delayed for lunch.
A part of Ludiya Handicraft village.

It looks like a residential house in Ludiya village. In reality, it  is a kind of a showroom for the wood-carved furniture.
Handicraft Centre, Dordo (20 kms from Rann Visamo).
 After a afternoon siesta at Rann Visamo, we decided to revisit Handicraft Centre at Dordo village. We left Rann Visamo at around 5.00 pm and reached Dordo well before the sunset. The stalls for handicrafts products were getting opened as most of the visitors visit the stalls after watching sunset at White Rann. There are  many fast food centres along with handicraft shops.
After completing visiting almost all the stalls, we went to see a photo exhibition of tourism in an adjunct pavilion. Next to it was a library which was set up for the Rann Utsav. The library had mostly the books on travels. We spent sometime in the library reading books relating to travels in Gujarat. We left Dordo village at around 8.00 pm to reach Rann Visamo in time for the dinner.
To Bhuj - Rudrali Dam - Sharad Baug (65 kms).
After the breakfast and some last minute shopping of embroidery purses which were made by the family members of the owner of Rann Visamo, we checked out at 10.00 am.

Today, we had planned to visit Banni Grassland on our way back to Bhuj during our final lap of the trip. However, our owner-driver told us that to travel inside Banni Grasslands, we required high ground clearance vehicle like SUVs whereas we had a car - Indigo Manza with us. Also, for bird watching, we had  to be in Banni Grasslands early morning. So the visit to Banni Grasslands was ruled out. The owner-driver suggested that on our way back to Bhuj, we can make a short detour to visit Rudrali (Rudramata) earthen dam.

After a drive of  46 kms on NH.341 towards Bhuj, we reached Rudramata Dam. It is an rock-filled earthen reservoir on River Khari. One can witness from the road on the top of the dam as to how the dam has transformed its neighbouring area into an oasis as against almost barren and flat land that we noticed on both sides of NH.341.
Rudramata Earthen Dam.

On the other side of the Rudramata Dam is greenery all over the place.
Sharad Baug Palace, Bhuj
We reached Sharad Baug Palace in less than half an hour from Rudramata Dam. We were lucky that we reached Sharad Baug just in time before it was getting close for lunch time between 12 noon and 3.00 pm. 
After entering the complex, on the left side, there is a big nursery selling saplings of flowers plants and other exotic plants. The palace was the residence of the last Maharao of Kutchh, Madansinhji Jadeja who died in 1991. During the January 2001 earth quake, the top floor of the palace was badly damaged and the other floors have become weak. Hence, the palace is now closed for public. However, the personal collections of Madandinhji Jadeja has been shifted to adjoining dinning hall which has now been converted into a museum.
The museum has some interesting artifacts, paintings, royal furniture, precious metals and stones, trophies, two huge tusks of the African elephants, stuffed tigers and leopards etc which he killed during his hunting days. There is a well maintained garden to relax. Though it is a small museum, it is well maintained and items of displays are interesting. Photography is not permitted inside the museum.

Shaad Baug Palace, the residence of the last Maharao of Kutchh, Madansinhji Jadeja till 1991.

Dinning Hall of Sharad Baug Palace now converted into a museum.

This appears to be a chatri in the backyard of Sharad Baug Palace complex.
Bat among a big colony of bats on the trees of Sharad Baug Palace Complex.

After completing the visit to Sharad Baug Palace, we checked in Hotel Ilark at around 12.30 pm and immediately proceeded to hotel's restaurant for lunch. We had Thali lunch which was tasty. The items of preparation were so many that we could not finish even their first servings. The hotel is located in the busy locality of Bhuj and within one km from the railway station. The hotel's ambience was very good and rooms were spacious and clean. The only drawback was that its surroundings comprised of shops of small scale industrial activities.   
After an afternoon siesta, in the evening, we walked from the hotel all the way to Swaminarayan temple. We had enjoyed the serene atmosphere in the temple a week back and we had wished to replicate it on our return from White Rann which we did. We took an auto to get dropped at the hotel. We had la carte  dinner. All the items ordered were tasty. The price was reasonable.

Kutchh Museum and journey back home.
Today was to be our last day in Kutchh as we would be boarding Bhuj-Bandra Terminus AC Superfast Express at 4.00 pm. So we had time before noon to visit the places which we had missed out. That was Kutchh Museum. Since the museum opens at 10.00 am, we had ample time in the morning to leisurely get up and have a relaxed complimentary breakfast. The breakfast turns out be a sumptuous - better than what we had in Hotel Grand 3D last week. 
We hired an auto to drop us at Kutchh Museum. There was a huge crowd of school children waiting outside for museum gate to be opened. Fortunately, as was our experiences in visiting the palaces in Bhuj, here also the general tourists were allowed to enter separately and buy the tickets at the counters.
On the Ground floor, there are stone tablets, seals, stone sculptures and scriptures. On the first floor, there are sections for tribal cultures and embroideries, weapons, musical instruments, paintings and a picture gallery.
The museum is stated to be the oldest museum of Gujarat being established in 1885 by Maharao of Kutchh as his personal museum.

Stone sculpture with scriptures.
Rass Mandal.

Death stone inscriptions in three languages.

Tribal weaving.

Maushroo weaving using art silk.

Embroidery work of community such as Ahir, Rabari, Banni, etc are world famous.

Embroidery work by Ahir community.

Another embroidery work by Ahir community.

 Soof embroidery.

7 trunk Airavat

Ink Pot.

Next was strolling in the famous Saraf Market, which starts from Prag Mahal. Most of the shops in the street as the name suggests are jewellery shops. In this street, there is an old vegetable market located  in a heritage looking building. We reached the hotel just in time to check out at 12 noon. After which we had la carte lunch in the hotel's restaurant.

Old Vegetable Market in Saraf Bazar.

After lunch, we sat in the lobby of the hotel with baggage as we had still 2 hours to catch the train. Since our train did not have pantry car and with limited stoppages enroute, we got packed in casseroles, idlis and Medu Wadas with sambar and chutney from Sankalp Restaurant which is famous in Bhuj for South Indian food. The items were very tasty.
The train left Bhuj on time at 4.00 p.m. and reached Borivali early morning in time. With this, our 7 days' sojourn to Kutchh came to an end. The Kutchh trip gave me more than my expectations. The people were friendly and cooperative. There was no hassles in dealing with auto rickshaw and  tourist taxi drivers. The staff of the hotels where we stayed was excellent. It is not only the tourist destinations but also the excellent receptions the people connected with tourism give to the tourists which makes the trip memorable.





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