Hodka and White Sand Desert
On the third day of our visit to Great Rann of Kutch we never thought that day was going to be the most exciting day of our visit to the Rann.
On our way to Hodka village, where our night-stay had been planned, we visited a few villages like Bhirandiyara, Ludiya, and Khavda in the Banni and Pachcham region of Kutch, stopping over a few small shops where they sell some of the beautifully crafted handicraft items and dress material. Inside small huts where their showrooms are set up cute, charming, little, village girls, dressed in their traditional village attire adorned with a number of finely crafted ornaments hanging from their arms, necks, nose, ears and head, manage the business very efficiently. Our driver told us that the livelihood of these villagers which depended on the tourists shopping at their places had greatly improved due to the vision of our Shri Modi, who, as the Chief Minister of Gujarat, had done a lot to attract tourists to Gujarat.
Visiting these villages, we proceeded to Kalo Dungar, the black hill, the highest point in Kutch – some 1300 feet altitude. At the entrance to the viewpoint, there is an ancient (now rebuilt) Dattatreya Temple.
Kalo Dungar offers another fabulous panoramic view of the entire Great Rann of Kutch, the sea, and the border with Pakistan in the far distance (which can only be viewed through a powerful binoculars). A lot of tourists were there at this viewpoint. One can have a camel ride here and also have pictures dressed in the traditional folk attire. The village musicians played their traditional instruments and sang along with them very melodious, rhythmic folk songs. I enjoyed their music and conveyed my personal appreciation to them.
BSF army people monitor this place as it is close to Pakistan border, and on the day of our visit, the unit members were all from Tamilnadu. If one had the right binocular, I was told, one could view the famous Dolavira, the recently discovered and excavated township belonging to the Harappan civilization too. I was sad that I couldn’t include Dholavira in our itinerary, which was already jam-packed.
From Kalo Dungar, we had another long drive to Hodka village. It was a deserted road, smoothly laid, vehicles passing by occasionally, and vast salt mash covering on either side of the road. You may look at the beauty of the road in the picture alongside.
In Hodka, there are several farm houses designed to be resorts for the tourists. These farm houses are, typically, beautiful mud huts – called Bhungas - with all modern amenities.
We stayed in one such Bhunga for the night. Just opposite to our resort, a huge stage had been set up, and every day, there were dance, music and other cultural programs as part of Rann Festival.
That evening, we went to the white sand desert which was close by. One needs to take a permit to go inside. Vehicles can reach up to a point, beyond which one can either walk down the three-fourth of a kilometer distance or use camel ride or horse-driven open cart drive.
On either side of the road, one can see vast stretches of dry land covered with white salt deposits.
People arrive in groups and groups. Some engage in playing, some just walk down, some sit in secluded spots, and many on the viewing tower at the far end. The panoramic view from top of the viewing tower is awesome, and people waited anxiously for the sunset. We thoroughly enjoyed our visit to this white sand desert, and it was a rare opportunity in life.
In deserts, days are hot and nights are cool. When we returned back to our resort, it was already dark and cool. Several artists were performing on the stage opposite to our resort. The entire place looked heaven on earth. We got excellent vegetarian food at the resort.
I learnt from websites that the Banni region, in the middle of Great Rann of Kutch, form an island of some 3700 sq. kms, merging some 40 hamlets, surrounded by the Great Rann of Kutch covering some 12000 sq. kms, was once upon a time a fertile area due to rich water from the Indus River flowing through the region towards the Arabic Sea. It also used to be home for a variety of wild animals like leopard, hyeana, fox, wild boar, bluebells, gazelle, etc. And that, people from Sind, Marwar, and even Persia migrated to Kutch in ancient time, the major migration taking place during the 15th and 16th centuries when Bhuj was established as the capital of Kutch region by the Jadeja rulers. Banni region was also the destination for ‘Maldharies’ (the cattle herders) and they lived along with their cattle, cows, buffaloes in ‘bhungas’ in small hamlets. Even today, on almost all roads, one can see cattle crossing the roads or grazing among the dry bushes in large numbers. Importantly, those animals get the first use right for almost all the roads.Everything seems to have changed for this region after the great earthquake in 1819. A fertile land had turned into a desert.
To be concluded in the final part...