It all started with a glimpse of this Gujarat Tourism Ad …
One look and I was hooked! To see the White Rann on a full moon night became #1 on the ” 100,000 places to see before I die ” list. So Messrs Google and Wiki guruji were consulted on a war footing along with their able assistants Google maps and Trip Advisor to figure out accommodation and food (first priorities of life ), travel options, and full moon dates. Turned out that the full moon was just three weeks away(gasp!!) and if it was missed you had to wait a year ( reasons later).
The task was to convert the Baba , a staunch believer of Newton’s First Law, to a consenting partner in crime .A bit of
drama strategic planning – recurring hints and extremely sweet puppy faces made whenever the ad went on air were all met with limited success till an added carrot of a prospective road trip in the offing was dangled. Now the Baba is a car addict. The kind who the moment you give him a prospect of say travelling 6000 km will turn around and say “We can drive down . Its gonna be fun, trust me”. Two weeks left . Plans began in earnest.
The Place: Dhordo (distance 950 km door to door from Mumbai) approximately 86km from Bhuj is the gateway to the White Desert. From here the White desert is just 3 km away.The mud flats gets submerged under water on the onset of monsoon and starts drying up by October. The best window to visit :Nov-Feb beginning on full moon nights.The Rann Utsav is held here mid Dec-mid Jan. Its cold during winters so heavy woolens are a must. Mar-May is unbearably hot. Permits are required to visit the Banni and the white desert and are issued at a village 30 km before Dhordo ( Throughout the week from 9am-6pm.)
The Travel:Flights- inconvenient timings and costly. Cancelled. Trains :- With just two weeks left for the Republic day weekend, no chance! So road trip it was. Google maps was checked. And rechecked. And re-rechecked. Road conditions googled out .
Accommodation : The trickiest part. There are very few options. Three resorts in the whole region (Two in Dhordo- the last village before the White desert and one in Hodka 27 km before Dhordo. And during the Rann Utsav- the tents put up by Gujarat tourism). Called the Rann Utsav guys- no go. Called up the resort in Hodka- same story. Called up the first resort in Dhordo- repeat. With no hope left called up ” Gateway to Rann ” and was surprised. We managed the last suite in the place.
Packing and stocking: Past road trips had taught us the necessity of feeling at home while travelling. The stuff other than the usual: enough footwear to match all clothes taken; the favorite pillow; the favorite duvet;the favorite cushion; books; Food as if to stock for a famine (you never know when the lowly cup’o’noodles becomes manna); laptops; music cd’s; tripod and the camera ; car chargers for all electronic appliances.
The journey : Started at 3 am on 24th Jan. The Baba chose to drive the first leg. The best part of starting at 3 am is that Mumbai actually sleeps at that hour! Needless to say in an hour and half we were in Gujarat. The first thing that struck us- The roads!! After driving through lunar surface (a.k.a Mumbai Roads) the broad, evenly surfaced and smooth Gujarat roads seemed heavenly! And the by passes helped us avoid all cities/towns other than Ahmedabad and Bhuj .
Barring Bharuch/Ankleshwar ( a traffic nightmare even by Mumbai standards ) the going was smooth . We switched places just before we entered the Baroda -Ahmedabad expressway which is really a driver’s delight. People give you right of way if you are a fast-moving vehicle! We zipped through the highway and in an hour and half reached Ahmedabad (11 am) where we took our first break for an early lunch.
The next leg – the Ahmedabad- Malya route through the little Rann. The landscape changed after Ahmedabad and we were entering the grass lands which started becoming barren n more barren as we progressed further. On the way, a small ” mistake” took us to a small town called Dharangdhra where time seemed to stand still. The pretty quaint little town looked as if it was still left intact from the 1930’s with its old bungalows and stained glass windows. (sadly we took no pictures). It was from here that we started seeing the Gujarat Special “tuktuk” as we named it .
At Malya (3 pm), we shifted drivers yet again. The going continued to be smooth till the Bhachau- Bhuj stretch which was being widened. The ensuing traffic jam was nightmarish and by the time we reached Bhuj we just had slightly more than an hour to reach the Check post for our permits.
Thankfully the Road Gods smiled on us and we zipped through two lane roads with an eye on the clock every second. We made it to the check post with just 5 minutes to spare! What a relief to just stand and stretch!! And somewhere en route to the check post from Bhuj we saw this! Oh and the air was biting cold!
A leisurely half an hour later we reached Dhordo village and our resort which was right next to the Rann Utsav Site. The three star resort run by the Dhordo gram Panchayat was built in the style of a typical village in the Banni (grassland) with Bhungas (round mud huts ) for rooms. With the mud acting as a lovely insulator we found that the room was warm and cosy. The food was simple and essentially home cooked affair- kichdi, rotlas , vegetable curry and a sweet dish for lunch/dinner (yup all vegetarian, and we relished it for 3 days surprisingly ). The other surprise was despite it being one of the last Indian villages before the border we had surprisingly good phone and internet connectivity!
The next day we started exploring the surroundings. The resort in charge told us about a temple in Kala Dungar (50 km away) where jackals were fed food at lunch time! Our curiosity aroused, we set out.The first thing that we noticed was that the population of the region was even sparser than the vegetation. You could go miles without seeing a soul on those roads though we did see wild asses and some migratory birds on the way.
Kala Dungar(literally the Black hill) is the highest point of the Rann and offers an unhindered view of the horizon and we got our first glimpse of the White Rann.We missed the jackal feeding for we reached late ( poor souls were tired)
Miles and miles of salt desert spread out in front of us and sparkling in the sun.The air was that of a carnival with folk music and people dancing all around. We hung around for a bit enjoying the crisp air and the unhindered view of the horizon. In the bargain we also got to watch the most beautiful sunset of our lives!
We returned to the resort to recharge our batteries (both our’s and the camera’s) and to wrap ourselves in heavier woolens before we ventured into the desert again after dinner (11pm). This time under a full Moon and to the most surreal experience of our life. The desert bathed in the diffused glow of the moon light – a huge expanse of white! We soaked in the atmosphere of calm and peace, feeling one with nature. We were there for quite some time till the biting cold made us retreat to the cozy comfort of our mud huts.
Mission accomplished !!!! A good night’s sleep and a good breakfast later we were ready for the road back to Mumbai , back to the hustle and bustle again!