The beauty of the white desert shimmers in the moonlight. By day, a “desolate area of unrelieved, sun-baked saline clay desert, shimmering with the images of a perpetual mirage.” Equally, there is also a darker side, of salt cured labourers lugging sacks of salt for merchants and vibrant embroidered colour.
During monsoon, the region is covered in water, and over winter, the water evaporates leaving a salty crust that must be seen to be believed.
The salt crunched beneath our feet as we walked on it, and some of the earth gave way beneath us where the water had still not entirely dissipated after monsoon. Before us we could see nothing but pure white land that melted into the horizon. There were no people or buildings in sight, it was like we had reached the end of the earth.
In what is one of the most inhospitable places on earth, you can even stay in a tent overnight and wake up to this beautiful sight.
One of the world’s largest seasonal marsh lands, once shallows of the Arabian Sea, turn into desert during the dry season. Crossing Gujuruat and Sindh Pakistan, 30,000 square km of encrusted salt between the Gulf of Kutch and the Indus River, it is the only large flooded grasslands zone in the Indo-Malayan region.
Perhaps the bleakest, dustiest, and hottest region in India, sitting along the Tropic of Cancer at the end of the at the end of the Luni River, draining the the Aravalli Hills, the Great Rann of Kutch is refuge for the last population of the endangered Asiatic wild ass (Equus hermionus) and supports the one of the world’s largest breeding colonies of the greater and lesser flamingos.
A lake since the Mesozoic, when geological uplift created a vast lake still navigable when Alexander the Great invaded it has since silted into a a vast, saline mudflat.
Yet, during the full moon in winter, the festival of Rann utsav draws tourists to dazzling white salt encrusted desert plains. At Dhorodo in the Banni grasslands, a tent village rises from the sand for the festival. Fringing the Great Rann of Kutch, camel carts take tourists to the salt flats. Food is served in the desert wilderness accompanied by Sindhi Bhajans and Sufi songs.
Many seek the deserts of Rajasthan, but comparatively few cross the Thar desert to witness the magical sunset over salt white sands. Gujrurat’s promotion of Rannustav seeks to change that. Close to the Pakistan order, you will pass several security checks on your visit.
Stay for sunset – it’s magical.
The silence of salt white sand is almost a spiritual experience. You almost need to pick up a handful of sand o remind yourself its salt. The blinding white desert looks like snow but the weather is hot.
As the sun starts to set, the mountain slowly changes from red to grey to black and you will witness the salt reflecting these changing colours of the sun. In some parts, the monsoon water can still be seen, creating a little island in the middle of the salt desert. The sun reflected on the edge of the water, in a ring of bright blue.
I have never seen a landscape like this before. Where the Bolivian salt desert looks like a lunar landscape, Kutch looked like it came straight out of a fairytale, the salt flats glistened steely blue, they felt like you could ice skate on them ever so gracefully. As eagles soared above, the view was both spectacular and peaceful. As the sun came down in a brilliant blaze of orange, I reflected on just how large the world was, and perhaps how I had finally seen a part of the world that felt like it was right on the edge, where past the horizon you could almost fall right off.
Near Dhorodo the Dattatray Temple sits in the Kala Dungar, or Black Hills, only 462 metres it is one of the Kutch districts highest points, but easily climbed. Desolate and bouldered, below is the panorama of salt, you can trek scrub among bulbuls and larks or watch the dramatic feeding of golden jackals at the temple. As the priests call out “Lo-Aang, Lo-Aang”, packs of jackal come to feast from the temple offerings of rice and jaggary.
The pastoral villages of the Banni grasslands also produce some of India’s finest hand embroidery.
“Suf embroidery is counted on the warp and weft of the cloth in a surface satin stitch worked from the back. Motifs are never drawn. Each artisan imagines her design, then counts it out in reverse, thus requiring much detailing. The craftswomen fill symmetrical patterns with tiny triangles, and accent stitches. Khaarek is a geometric style also counted and precise. Paako is a tight square chain and double buttonhole stitch embroidery, often with black slanted satin stitch outlining. The motifs of paako, sketched in mud with needles, are primarily floral and generally arranged in Riding these decorated camels on the white sands of the Kutch is an unequalled experience With a steady hand, a plain piece of wood quickly turns into a vibrant art before your eyes .
The mesmerising rainbow of colour adorns women exquisitely dressed in embroidery made in their homes of picturesque mud-plastered round houses called bhungas lovingly decorated with hand-paintings and mirror inlays.
Each village has its own style of embroidery, the colours of culture glisten heavily embroidered attire. Kutch is one of the most colourful regions of India and offers a glimpse of Gujarat at her exotic best. A rich repertoire of woodcarving, leather crafts and pottery also thrive in the Banni villages.
From the walled city of Bhuj, Medieval forts to the the modern city of Gandhidham, majestic palaces, historic ports, temples, monasteries and pretty beach of Mandvi are close by.
Or visit the sacred lake of Narayan Sarovar, the shore temple of Koteshwar, the Ashapura Mata-no-Madh temple, a number of Jain Derasars, the Gurdvara at Lakhpat and Sufi shrines.
 Cubitt and Mountfort 1991