I woke up with a start at 3 am. Someone, or something had turned on the lights in my tent. I looked up at the lamp overhead as it swayed ominously in the wind. It was loud. How had I been sleeping through this ruckus?, I thought to myself as the windows of my tent flapped loudly and noisily against the canvas. The poles holding my tent in place creaked and I could hear the cyclonic winds howling through the desert. Wait. I’m at the Rann Utsav. In Kutch. It’s the end of February. Just yesterday I’d read a news report about how the flamingos of Kutch had abandoned their eggs because of the hot and dry NorthEasterly winds that had been blowing through the region. And now it’s pouring (the carpet at the foot of my bed is soaked) and I’m afraid my tent is going to blow away, leaving me clutching at the blanket in this strange land just beyond the village of Dhordo. I lay awake for hours, watching the desert weather wreak havoc around me, finally falling asleep when the rains subsided just before a very cloudy sunrise.
At the beginning of the year, we made a travel resolution to see more of our own country. India is several countries in one, with every state speaking a different language and practicing a different culture. But India is also filled with natural wonders, and our recent road trip in Australia has made us start enjoying the great outdoors a whole lot more. The Rann of Kutch is a unique desert. A seasonal salt marsh covering over a whopping seven and a half thousand square kilometres. We definitely wanted to witness this stunning land mass covered in sparkling white salt grains for as far as the eye can see.
Seeing as it’s far away, and takes some knowing of this complex terrain, the Rann Utsav is a convenient and unique way to see it. We chose the 1 Night, 2 Day package for a quick glimpse into this pop-up city that runs between December and March each year. From the time you arrive at the railway station or airport in Bhuj, to the time you leave, you leave everything to them, and look after you they do. Unfortunately, Charles couldn’t make it at the last minute, so I decided to go ahead and embrace the great adventure – travelling as a solo female in India for the first time, and taking an overnight train to do so.
Stepping out of the Bhuj Railway Station, at 1:30, I found a board outside a tent welcoming me to the Rann Utsav. Sitting in the air conditioned cocoon was comforting, as were the efficient staff who seeing as the next bus pick up wouldn’t be until 2:30 pm, quickly arranged a private vehicle to take me to the Tent City. A bottle of water, mango juice and some local snacks were pressed into my hands with a smile as we set off on the hour and half long journey to the village of Dhordo. Little did I know I was about to experience the immense hospitality of Gujarat that I’ve always assumed was an exaggerated stereotype.
The road from Bhuj to Dhordo is an unwavering poker straight, albeit bumpy path. We hurtled down at full speed when suddenly the car screeched to a halt. The driver looked at me and asked if I spotted the camels. Huh? What? Where? He backed up down the road, and turned off into the arid expanse of nothing but shrubs and cacti that lay beyond. And we soon turned up at a clearing where an entire herd of camels stood around regurgitating the shrubbery. My driver tried looking for some camel milk to get me to try it, but couldn’t find the camel keepers. So to make up for it, he drove me to a spot that’s famous for Khoa – a milk cheese that’s a sugary sweet and very fatty treat. Further enroute we stopped at what was a strange indicator of the bright and colourful decor of temples in Kutch. Kind of like children’s drawing and playdough models, if you ask me. However, I was really glad to have been shown on all these detours, and pleasantly surprised when the driver declined my tip, saying it was his duty to be hospitable as an employee of Rann Utsav.
Arriving into the Rann Utsav tent city, I was once again thrilled to find the surprisingly decent aesthetic quality of the tents, arranged in tiny clusters basis categories, king sized beds, moroccan lanterns, coffee and tea with a kettle, air conditioning, a seating area, and lovely safari-esque attached bathrooms. With a couple of dining areas, little displays all around about the various attractions of Gujarat, several activities, this tented city was clearly a holiday destination for the Indian tourist. I however longed for something a little more authentic.
So when sunset rolled around, I rushed to the entrance to grab a spot on the camel cart that would take us into the White Desert. Read all about my experience at the White Rann of Kutch here.
Around dinner time, rain showers played spoilsport to the “entertainment” that had been scheduled for the night (all the same for I wasn’t too thrilled about the prospect of traditional dance being performed to Bollywood hits). The dinner buffet included in the package was a decent spread of Kutchi cuisine as was breakfast. Having stayed up through most of the night thanks to the freak weather change, I reluctantly pulled myself out of the warm bed and shivered my way through an ice cold shower (hot water clearly means room temperature in Kutch). I had to get going because the drop to the airport included a tour of Bhuj.
The tent city is definitely a unique way to see the Rann of Kutch, but I’m interested in a more DIY option the next time around for something more authentic. To be fair, I did visit towards the fag end of the festival. However, I’m really glad the Rann Utsav and Gujarat Tourism have upped their game and have found a way to make this natural marvel more accessible to the tourist.
The 1 Night 2 Day package in a Premium AC Tent at the Tent City, Rann Utsav costs 8,900 per head on a double sharing basis between December and March each year. This post was made possible by Gujarat Tourism and the Rann Utsav. Opinions, as always are our own.