Sunday, October 29, 2017

Kutch Rann Utsav 2017 | A winter carnival in Gujarat

The nights are beginning to get longer, the moon is shining a little brighter, there's a nip in the air, and the heart constantly yearns for a hot cuppa.

It seems to be that time of the year again!

Time to whip out the woollens, hug a blanket to sleep at night, and plan that winter holiday you've been waiting for all this time. Goa, Gokarna, Hampi, or Kerala - there are countless destinations south of the Tropic of Cancer that offer an escape from the gloom and cold of North India. But two years ago, when I was faced with the same question - where to go for a winter vacation with friends - I chose to take the offbeat route. I headed to a place I knew precious little about - a place not too hot or cold, but exceedingly beautiful and known for its hospitality and rich culture.

In the winter of 2015, I travelled through Gujarat, and it remains one of my most amazing travel experiences ever. We explored the ruins and palaces of post-earthquake Bhuj, we watched the sun set on the westernmost beach of India, we met and dined with the most friendly local families, and we gorged on the famous Gujarati thali. Above all, we caught stunningly surreal sights of the white desert in all its glory on a full-moon night.

Kutch Rann Utsav
Sunset on the white desert.

White rann of Kutch
A twilight capture of the White Rann (I added a little light for clarity)


Kutch Rann Utsav - the desert festival of Gujarat

The Rann of Kutch is an expanse of salt desert in the Kutch district of Gujarat. The word "Rann" is pronounced "रण", which in Hindi means "desert". Rann Utsav, or Kutch Rann Utsav, is a winter carnival held on the white desert every year. It has Gujarati delicacies and all kinds of Indian street food on offer, folk dance and music performances, handicrafts exhibitions, ATV rides, and many more activities designed to let tourists immerse in the unique culture and natural beauty of Kutch. The festival boasts of luxurious tent accommodations for those who wish to stay a few nights. There are tents suited to different budgets, all fitted with lavish furniture and fully functional modern toilets, as well as separate dining halls, common recreational areas, a spa and a yoga centre. What started off as a 3-day desert festival some years ago has quickly turned into a 4-month festival, to be held this year from 1st November to 20th February.

Kutch Rann Utsav 2017

Kutch Rann Utsav 2017

Gujarati food and culture
The food stalls were a real crowd-puller.

Chasing the sun in a race against time

We had driven up to the checkpoint near the Rann Utsav venue, only to find a long line for the permit. So we decided to drive up to Kala Dungar, the highest point in Kutch, to catch a panoramic view of the area. But while we were casually roaming about, our driver informed us that it was late in the afternoon and we would have to rush if we wanted to catch sunset at the White Rann. I remember the drive back as the most thrilling car ride of my entire life. We raced for several miles through barren lunar landscape, with not a soul in sight and the sun threatening to plunge lower and lower in the sky with every passing minute. It was a race against time, and we seemed to be losing. We had hoped to catch at least the last rays of the sun before it set behind the salty white horizon. But the faster we went, the farther our destination seemed to be.

Rann of Kutch
We drove at top speed through the vast barren desert to reach the Rann Utsav venue.

Props to our driver, however, for we reached in the nick of time and were able to catch a most mesmerising sunset.

Sunset on the Rann of Kutch

Sunset on the Rann of Kutch

Sunset on the Rann of Kutch

After the sun went down, we headed further into the desert. The moon was soon up in the sky and, despite there being no light sources around, we could see everything on that utterly bright full-moon night. The temperature had dropped drastically in the last hour, and we found ourselves borrowing scarves and extra clothing from each other to keep warm. The salt on the ground was damp with what I assumed was condensation. There was tarpaulin laid out for the tourists to walk on. The whole sight was heavenly, but even after several attempts, I was unable to capture its full splendour on my camera.

Kutch white desert

After a while, we headed back to the Rann Utsav festival area, our stomachs rumbling and hands trembling. We got a bite to eat at the food stalls, looked around at the heritage displays in a hurry (it was getting late in the night) and finally left for our hotel back in Gandhidham. But the thrill of the drive and the calming moon-lit walk on the white desert that followed stayed with us for the rest of our trip through Gujarat.

Packing tips for winter at the Kutch Rann Utsav

While packing for a winter vacation in Kutch, it pays to remember that the weather is sunny and warm during the day but gets progressively colder once the sun sets. It would be prudent to carry a scarf and a sweater/jacket. Also carry extra footwear and wear comfortable shoes while walking on the desert. It's hard to imagine that a salt desert could be damp and muddy, but that's how we found it in many places. Most of our footwear was unsuitable for walking on such terrain, and it got ruined. So keep extra, just in case.

Tip for budget travellers: If you can afford to spend lavishly on vacation, you should stay at least a night in the luxury tents at the Rann Utsav. But if you're looking to travel on a budget and see more of Gujarat on the same trip like we did, just visit Rann Utsav for a day. Start early in the morning so that you have more time to participate in cultural activities and sample the food until sunset, after which you can leave the festival grounds, tired but satisfied. 

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If you're thinking of visiting Gujarat, you might want to read my Memoirs from Gujarat for handy tips, itinerary details, and pictures that will have you lusting (or wanderlusting?). You might also like my travel series on Sikkim, with its picture postcard landscapes, lush meadows and cascading waterfalls.

1 comment:

G S Prasad said...

Very informative blog. Thanks