Open empty spaces as far as the eyes can see can be beautiful. It adds a sense of calmness and tranquility to the soul. That’s the reason why deserts are beautiful and urbanites living in concrete jungles and cramped up apartments visit such places where one can see the skies and land meet far on the horizon.
Not far from Ahmedabad, just 90 kms away, one can find the rarely explored Little Rann of Kutch, which is 5,000 square kilometers of salt desert rich in biodiversity and housing several species of birds and mammals. It’s sparse, with varied landscapes and islands of greenery and lakes. LRK, as it is known in short, is the only place on earth where the endangered wild ass still lives in its natural habitat.
Wild Ass Sanctuary
There are 3,000 wild asses living in the Wild Ass Sanctuary in Little Rann of Kutch. This is a sturdy animal which can run long distances at high speeds. It is about one metre tall from shoulder to the toes. Since the Little Rann of Kutch doesn’t have trees or bushes, one can easily see these animals from a distance. Because of the open views, it is difficult to get close to the wild asses as the animal is skittish and moves away as one tries to get closer.
Little Rann of Kutch is also home to 32 other mammals, the Chinkara, two types of foxes, the Indian desert fox and the White Footed fox, the black buck, Nilgai, jackals and Indian wolves among others. Several rivers which drain into the Gulf of Kutch pass from the Little Rann of Kutch forming water bodies where there is vegetation and related birds and other species.
During the winter months, several migratory birds come here to the salt lake in LRK. One can see hundreds of cranes from Siberia, both the common and the Demoiselle Crane, the blue tailed bee-eater from Europe, the houbara bustard from Iran and Iraq and many other birds nesting in the reserve each year. In Total, around 75,000 birds can be seen during December and January in Little Rann of Kutch.
One can see these animals and birds on a jeep safari or even a horse safari. Hotels nearby all provide jeep safaris. One can venture out to the sanctuary in one’s own vehicle but it’s not advisable as the flat arid desert lacks roads and it’s easy to get lost in the vastness of the place.
The resort employs locals to make local cuisine like rotla, thick flat bread made out of Bajra, a millet along with chaas, buttermilk and other dishes from the area.
Rann Riders, Dasada
If you want to enjoy a horse safari and also modern stay intertwined with local culture, ambience and food, you should visit Rann Riders in Dasada which is on the edge of Little Rann of Kutch. This is a beautiful resort spread across a large area where you will find round Kutchi huts with a thatched roof, mud walls and bamboo furniture including chairs, tables and beds made by tribal craftsmen. Despite the rural appearance, the amenities are modern with western toilets, hot water, air-conditioned rooms, showers, fixtures and all comfort. The reception area is beautifully done up with small mirrors embedded in mud designs on the walls. The curtains, cushions and other furnishings are hand-embroidered and the huts have a swing outside on the porch where one can sit and relax.
There is a huge lounge area and a dining area, both beautifully done up in local style. The resort serves amazing local foods and lots of seafood, procured from salt lakes and other water bodies nearby. They also serve tasty vegetarian and non-vegetarian dishes. The resort employs locals to make local cuisine like rotla, thick flat bread made out of Bajra, a millet along with chaas, buttermilk and other dishes from the area. They also serve North Indian and other Indian cuisines, here.
The owner Mujahid Malik is a descendant of Baktiar-ud-din, who was given 24 square miles jagir (lordship) of Dasada and surrounding villages in return for military services provided to the Sultan of Gujarat in the 15th century. He was given the title Malik which the family uses as their last name. Mujahid Malik also owns highly prized Marwari and Kathiyawadi horses which one can ride either for just a short while or also for a horse safari when staying at Rann Riders. If one knows how to ride, the horse safari experience is a much more pleasurable one. There are also jeep safaris available at Rann Riders. The staff and guides at Rann Riders are well informed and trained and the food and ambience is amazing.
Amazing local foods and lots of seafood, procured from salt lakes and other water bodies nearby.
One can buy beadwork jewellery, embroidered pieces and other arts and crafts from local artisans who visit the resort to display their wares. From here Modhera Sun Temple is just 45 kms away. Apart from Konark Sun Temple, this is the only other sun temple in the country. It’s a beautiful sandstone temple with a step tank which has 108 shrines.
The vastness of the place and the quiet surroundings at Little Rann of Kutch can fill your soul with a peace which one needs to experience here. Winters here can get cold but it’s also the best time to visit the Little Rann of Kutch. The place gets flooded in the monsoon season and is inaccessible from June to August.
Sonal Kellogg is an independent journalist, writer and food critic.
All photos by Pankaj Upadhyay