It is always a difficult prospect to wake up early after a long day of riding, coupled with a heavy meal and almost a night out driving around the roads of Mumbai. But with a tight schedule like ours, there wasn’t much time to sit back and enjoy, especially so early in the itinerary. By 0830 the next day, we had already packed up and were bidding our farewells. This was perhaps the one of those rare days when we did not have any fixed destination in mind – we wanted to cover as much distance between Mumbai and Bhuj as possible. Bhavesh had suggested a potential stopover at Viramgram, a small town around 100 kms from Ahmedabad towards Bhuj. The best thing about riding in Gujarat is the general state of highways throughout the state – huge, well laid roads and relatively less traffic. However, this is more or less compensated by the severe lack of civic sense, especially when it comes to road usage. We had a pretty much nondescript day, just munching miles on our bikes. For lunch, we had our fill of dal bati and sev tamatar, at the same time reminiscing about Bhavesh’s advice from the last night in Mumbai, which we had ignored then – “This is probably the last time you are going to have a chance to eat any non veg food in the next couple of days, you should probably have some now”. Viramgram had quite a few hotels dotting the highway – we stopped at one of the “budget” options, that seemed clean and decent. The rooms were barely tolerable, but we just needed a place to crash before heading out early next morning. Had some overpriced food at the restaurant downstairs, and went off to recharge ourselves for the next day.
Our host for the next day was a quaint little resort called Sham-e-Sarhad, in the Hodka village near the Rann, around 340-odd kms from Viramgram. Courtesy an early morning start, and delightful roads, we were soon cruising along at triple digit speeds.
Missed out on a left turn towards Bhuj near Samkhayali and found ourselves on the Palanpur road which goes towards Rajasthan. Finding the next U-turn and returning to the Bhuj route cost us around 20 more minutes. From Bhuj, there is a deviation towards for Dhordo – we found ample number of road signs and markers directing us towards the Rannotsav. The landscape gradually transforms into empty, barren land with chunks of stone strewn around – even in December, the heat was very much noticeable. Roughly 50kms after Bhuj, there is a 4-way intersection. Everyone visiting the Rann needs a permit issued from the BSF permit office here – they take a look at your identification papers and vehicle papers, and issue a 24-hour permit. Once we were done with the permits, we started off towards Hodka. The road was mostly in decent condition, considering the extremely desolate landscape. We did not encounter anyone else on the roads except for a couple of cowherds with their animals. Did not find too many mile markers here for Hodka, though there were a couple of boards for Dhordo. Luckily, we could spot a dusty sign board for our resort and were able to find it without much fuss.
Sham-e-Sarhad is a unique resort, it is owned and operated by the local Hodka village community, and aims to promote a sustainable tourism model where even the locals can participate. We got to stay in amazing mud bhungas, inspired by the traditional designs of the huts that the villagers have been following for decades. These mud huts are amazingly insulated from the extremes of the outside temperature, you get to enjoy a cool afternoon even when the sun is blazing outside, and similarly it remains comfortably warm inside at night even though the temperatures outside have dropped drastically!
At Kutch, we stayed at the Shaam-e-Sarhad resort, which is an indigenously run resort meant to promote the participation of the local village community in local tourism. The accommodation facilities like the local mud hut, or 'bhunga', local cuisine, locally made handicrafts and regional music – these help to promote self sufficiency in the village community as well as encourage cultural interchange between the tourists and the locals.
We were welcomed with a scrumptious lunch consisting of authentic local cuisine – and I would like on the term “authentic” here because these dishes were actually cooked by the locals themselves. To be honest, we had been a bit sceptical about a traditional, fully vegetarian Gujarati lunch, but the food was simply so good that we had no complaints whatsoever!
Post lunch, we started off towards the Rann. Dhordo was just getting ready for the much hyped Rannotsav, a massive area was cordoned off for the tent city, colorful lights and banners everywhere, food outlets and souvenir shops had sprung up on both sides of the roads.
The entrance towards tent city Dhordo, at the Rann of Kutch. Dhordo is where the famous Rannotsav is organized. For a few days, it's almost as if an entire city springs up in the middle of a desolate desert. To read more about the visit to the Rann, please read the last blogpost from my blog – link is in the bio.
It was all very enticing and definitely contributes a lot towards the revenue coffers, but it makes the entire RoK experience a bit too commercialized. Crossing the tent city, we reached the entrance of the Great White Rann. Parked our bikes outside and walked towards the white desert. The road continues for about a kilometre into the desert, surrounded by the white salty desert on both sides. At the far end of the road, a multistory platform provides a great vantage point, just to appreciate the vastness of the desert. We walked around a bit, clicked a few pictures, but decided to explore a bit more about the desert on our bikes.
There is a road which runs parallel to the Rann, we started off on that, hoping that somewhere ahead, we would be able to ride into the white desert.
Most of the road was constructed on a raised level, with both sides dug up into ditches – it took us almost 20 kilometers to find a somewhat easier entry into the desert. Did not turn out to be such a good idea – most of the area was soft, marshy soil that was not at all suitable for riding on. Within a few minutes, my rear tyre had sunk in by quite a few inches – it took us a lot of effort to push the bike out from the sand and onto solid ground.
After this ill advised venture, we returned back to the “official” Rann, and walked towards the platform at the end of the road. Enjoyed a jaw-dropping sunset from the top of the platform, and saw the blood red horizon transform into dull gray.
The Rann turns much more mysterious and beautiful as the night descends – even with a half moon, the endless expanse of white has a faint, almost ghost like glimmer that just cannot be described by words.
Made a mental note to plan a trip back here on a full moon night, and walked back towards the gate where the bikes were parked. Back at the resort, alongside dinner, we were treated to a delightful performance by local folk music singers. It is interesting how almost every community has their own distinctive form of music – makes you appreciate the diversity of our country much more!
Local folk music night at the Sham e Sarhad resort – a good way to come in touch with the local culture and traditions. We often visit many places, but don't have the time, or the inclination to appreciate the nuances of the local traditions and way of living. This is perhaps just a small way to break that stereotype and help the travellers connect more with the locals! To read more about the visit to the Rann, please read the last blogpost from my blog – link is in the bio.
It was time to bid goodbye to Gujarat the next morning. We started off the day with a delicious breakfast of soft, warm parathas with probably enough calories to last the entire day. But then again, when you have to ride 600+ kilometres in a day, you are allowed certain leeways, especially when it comes to good food. We had hit the roads by 9:30, which was a bit later than we had planned to. Even though the food had been consistently good over the last 2 days, Bong genetics don’t allow us to stay off non veg for too long. We were kind of craving for non vegetarian food, something that is not easily available in Gujarat ( unless you know where to look properly, I am told). Palanpur, the last town in Gujarat before we enter Rajasthan, was roughly 400 kilometers from Hodka, and we were desperately hoping to be able to cross into Rajasthan before lunch time. Even though it was a really long stretch, Gujarat’s awesome roads allowed us to rip off like crazy. Notwithstanding the occasional suicidal fool, and a really dangerous stretch where the traffic was diverted into one single lane because of some road repair work, we were able to maintain decent ( and I mean triple digit decent ) speeds throughout. We did almost make it to Rajasthan, but had to stop at Palanpur because we were too hungry to continue. Yet one more “pure veg” meal later, finally we crossed over into the 4th state of our megatrip, the land of the famed Rajputs, Rajasthan. It felt weirdly comforting when while riding, we saw a big board proclaiming “Desi V Angrezi Sharab ki Dukan ( Non Veg available )” just at the Gujarat-Rajasthan border. As far as I remember, there were quite a few GJ-registered cars parked in front of the restaurant which had put up the advertisement!
Next up – A slightly longish post covering our entire Rajasthan experience!