It is amazing how in one country you can see so much of the world. Especially if it is a country as vivid and diverse as India. I never tire of traveling around its expanse, and it constantly astounds me with something unseen, something completely foreign, often something beyond imagination.
This time, I was blown away by the beauty of the Great White Rann in Kutch – a part of India which has only recently come alive on the traveler maps. In fact, like many other states, Gujarat has let its beauty stay hidden from the world, even when it has a majestic coast line, a sprawling lion reserve, and something as magical as the Rann. Five years ago, someone woke up from their slumber and realised that the Rann was a beautiful place and deserved more travellers. It was decided to run a festival celebrating the beautiful land, and the venerable Amitabh Bachchan was brought in for marketing. The festival now runs every year for 1.5-2 months in winters, which is arguably also the best time to visit this otherwise hot place.
This year, I went to this festival. At the border of the Rann (about 4-5 kms from where the Rann starts), a city of tenthouses has been build which apparently only comes alive during the festival (how eerie it must feel to go there at other times). The festival organisers offer pickups and drops from Bhuj railway station and airport through scheduled buses. They organise all meals within this camp city, along with evening trips to the Rann. If you go expecting more engaging activities only because it is called a festival, you may be in for a disappointment. The biggest charm of the festival is that during this time you can stay in the White Rann till late hours in the night, because in the rest of the year the border control restricts access to 8 PM only.
For me, the trip meant one thing, and one thing only – to see the Rann in the soft white light of a full moon. We were there on a full moon night and on the night before – and those few hours combined made the trip worthwhile. We went once in the evening, riding on a camel cart, enjoying the soft breeze of desert. Where the camel dropped us, we were still on brown sand. But a few steps led us into the vast expanse of whiteness. Walking on it, seemed like walking on a soft marshy land, as the salt has still retained some water. The Rann once used to be a sea, and someday, tired of the loneliness of bearing water, it decided to be a land. It wanted to be walked upon, to be touched, to have people laugh, sing and dance over it. And yet, when it let go of the water, it suddenly felt naked. Empty. It couldn’t completely let go, and there it stands now – holding on to a little bit of water which seeps into your clothes and shoes when you try to hug this land. It is a little annoying, but because you meet it only for a few hours, you put up with it.
As the sun set over this white land, from the other side the moon started taking over – it was a beautiful sight, seeing the sun go down and the moon come up. There are so few empty lands where I can see this takeover.
By the time we returned in the night (at about 9 pm), the moon had completely taken over. The whole Rann now shone in a lovely light. I was concerned that the place would be crowded as everyone would like to see the Rann in the moonlight – but then this land is so vast that it easily engulfed a few buses.
The cool of the salt and the slight nip in the air added to the romance of this unusual landscape. We kept trying to capture images, but the Rann seemed to shrug off cameras with a vehemence. No matter how much I tried, I couldn’t capture what I saw or how beautiful the moment was. After some moments, I would give up and pack my camera. Then in a few minutes I would again be overwhelmed and get greedy for taking back an image. I wish I had the forbearance of not carrying a camera and simply enjoy the moment, but I couldn’t resist carrying it even the next day despite the regrets of one night.
The next night, we went at a time when the camp buses were not there. There were a few people around, but the closest of them seemed miles away. The moonlight was so strong that it cast shadows in the land. That evening, I sang a bit to the salt, lay down on it and looked at the stars, which even though muted with the brilliance of the moon, still twinkled teasingly.
How did I fill my days between these moonlights – I do not know, nor care. I met a few artists and their handiwork impressed me, but not as much as that alluring moon.