Visiting Great Rann of Kutch was on our bucket-list since long, but we kept it pending because every-time we would browse through internet seeking places to stay, how to reach etc., the Google Baba showed us itinerary which would cost us Bomb! It always seemed that the trip to Kutch is more of a luxury trip with extravagant packages, and there is no scope for backpackers on a shoe string budget like us.
But Good news! that’s not true Guys! I mean partially yes! sure you can splurge if you want, but you can also backpack and witness this natural unique beauty, We will tell you how!
So we are back from our trip to Rann Utsav 2018-19, and it costed us less than 7K for two nights in Rann of Kutch ( Bhuj to Bhuj)for two person, including stay, food, travel and permit charges. Since we are couple traveler, the safety and hygiene was also kept in mind along with budget. This blog is for backpackers who wish to see Rann of Kutch during peak season that too on a budget!
The Great Rann of Kutch
Great Rann of Kutch is the largest salt marsh in the world, spread over 7500 sq k.m. in Kutch region of Gujarat, India. Every year the Government of Gujarat hosts a three month festival during winter , known as Rann Utsav. This year the fest started on 1st of November and will be there until 20th Feb 2019.
The fest exhibits the rich art and culture of the Kutch region of Gujarat, and visiting the place during full moon is a magical experience. We got lucky on this part as unknowingly our visiting dates coincided with full moon dates.
While planning for this particular trip we checked the prices of stay options on Gujarat Tourism site, but even the lowest tariff costs more than INR 5000 per person. And that’s exactly when our online travel community came to rescue, one of our traveler friend Fayaz, helped us with stay options and finally the long due plan of visiting Kutch materialized.
The best way to reach Rann of Kutch is to reach Bhuj by air or by train and from there the white desert is around 85 k.m. The only hitch is Ex-Mumbai there are only few trains, and they take minimum 14-15 hours to reach Bhuj which means one will reach Bhuj in afternoon, so keep that in mind while planning your trip.
We booked our train tickets from Mumbai to Bhuj beforehand but we did one mistake, it was day after our planned date which we noticed only few days before our scheduled trip. So we cancelled that ticket and booked a tatkal ticket to Ahmedabad , which is well connected to Mumbai via bus and train. We reached Ahmedabad at 6 in morning and took an A.C bus (INR 600/- per person) to Bhuj which took seven hours. We reached Bhuj at 2 in afternoon, and took a layover in the city. We utilized the day by exploring Bhuj, there are many things to see in Bhuj, but since we had limited time, we covered Prag-mahal, and Bhujodi. Unfortunately Aina mahal was closed owing to the Eid holiday.
Next day morning, we left from Bhuj to White desert on our rented bike, which is around 85 k.m away. There are few agencies in Bhuj which provide bikes on rental basis, we hired from Desert Eagle rides. As we had two rucksacks with us , we booked an Avenger which costed us INR 1200 per day. The other options to reach White desert is to take public buses or sharing minibus till Hodka and then again for Dhordo. But en-route Rann of Kutch we didn’t spot even a single government run bus which says a lot about frequency.
If you are a seasoned traveler you can hitchhike all the way till white desert but again it will be time consuming and since we are a couple traveler, renting a bike seemed more reasonable for us. It gave us freedom to enjoy the journey and driving from Bhuj to desert was a delight. The roads are well maintained and almost straight throughout and it took us 1.5 hours to reach our home-stay which was just few k.ms away from White desert.
We pre booked a home stay in Gorewali, a village few k.m. before white desert. Our host Karman ji and his son Rajkumar was waiting on road to take us to his place. Happy family home stay offers two types of rooms, one room with a common toilet outside (INR 1500 per night) and three bhungas, the traditional mud houses of Kutch with attached western toilet (INR 2500 per night) including all three meals.
We got one of the bhunga for 2K per night , which is a very good deal, considering on internet every stay started off with 5K almost double price.After freshening up we had our lunch at our stay and rested for a while. In evening we left to witness sunset at white desert
The White Desert
We left for white desert at quarter past four and as soon as we approached the Rann Utsav arena, we could see colorful flags fluttering and beautiful decorations all around. The traditional folk music was playing in backdrop and whole environment was very vibrant.
We drove through the fest arena with plans of visiting it afterwards and reached the BSF checkpost. Being the restricted area, one needs to have a permit to go further to see white desert. There’s a building just beside the BSF checkpost where you can get permit. One has to fill a basic form and show a valid I.D card to get a permit, the counters are open from 10-1, and 2-5.30, the charges are 100/- per person and 25/- and 50/- for two wheeler and four-wheeler respectively.
During entry, BSF personnel objected on carrying big camera stand but after little chat left us with the promise of not using it. So, do not carry camera stand while visiting white desert, however smaller gorilla stands are perfectly fine.
We reached white desert just on time as sun was still in sky, the place is beautiful and it feels you have arrived on some other planet. You will see endless white carpet of salt till horizon.
We witnessed sunset and moon taking over and the whole transition process was magical. It was a day before full moon and as soon as moon rose up in sky, the white desert started shining in moon light.
Time passed very swiftly and after spending three hours in white desert, We left to check out rann utsav fest arena.
Rann Utsav festival arena is quite big with 100 stalls showcasing art & crafts of Kutch and Gujarat, stages for live performances, an online library set up etc. The arena is equipped with free Wi-fi and has free toilet and drinking water facilities.
Our shopping at Bhujodi was a complete rip off and we expected the same or even worse at Rann Utsav but we were pleasantly surprised. The prices are quite reasonable and one can take away several souvenirs for their loved ones. We bought handcrafted stoles, copper wind chimes (our favorite), clothes, accessories etc at good prices, thanks to Paresh’s good bargaining skills. While talking with one of the shop owner we got to know that Government charges are mere 100 Rs per day for a stall and that’s why the reasonable rates, A win-win situation for everyone!
We returned back to our stay for dinner, as it was already 9 p.m. Post scrumptious meal we jammed with local kids near bonfire and finally called off the night at 11 p.m. with plans of watching sunrise at white desert next day.
Sunrise at white desert
We woke up early to catch sunrise at white desert, we got ready and left for Rann of Kutch. While driving we got a glimpse of moon, which was about to set and it was a beautiful sight to behold.
Now if you remember, I previously mentioned about getting permit before entering white desert, but here’s a catch, since the counter opens up at 10 a.m, you can visit the desert with your previous day permit, which means you get to save few hundred bucks. So we entered checkpoint, and BSF personnel by this time were familiar with us, they joked how many times we are going to see the same desert, we only smiled back and drove away.
The morning was little colder than evening and crowd was comparatively lesser. We walked our way to the other side this time. The sky was turning into crimson hues in the East and we sat down to witness sunrise. As sun was visible in horizon, the whole desert was glittering in peachy tones, it was beautiful!
We clicked few pictures and decided to climb the tower in middle to get a full view. Near the tower few locals were draping pagdi(turban) and renting Kutchi dress to tourists for nominal charges. Paresh wore pagdi(turban) and we made our way up to the top. From the top the view is amazing, its all white as far your eyes can see.
We tried to make video for our You Tube Channel but all in vain as it was too windy. Around 9.a.m we returned back for breakfast at home stay.
Post breakfast, as we were planning our day, our host’s wife knocked at our door and barged in, she brought traditional clothes along with her and wanted us to wear. For Paresh, it was simple pathani kurta pajama and colorful turban. I got to wear Kanjari(top), ghagro(skirt) and odhla (chunni) and traditional jewelries with the help of her. After getting ready we did a mini photo shoot with them, the locals were giggling seeing us all decked up in traditional attire. For a moment I felt like a newly married bride all over again.
We changed back to our normal clothes and had lunch. for rest of the afternoon, we rested as we had plans to leave for Kalo Dungar in evening.
At four we left on our bike for Kalo Dungar which was 40 k.m away from our stay.
Kalo Dungar (black hill) is the highest point in Kutch (elevation 462 m). From this place you get to see the panoramic view of the Great Rann of Kutch. This place is also very close to Pakistan border and if you come equipped with binoculars you can spot our neighboring country. On the top there is also a 400 years old Dattreya temple.
The roads to Kalo Dungar are in very good condition but are little deserted. We drove through villages which looked like a a movie set, the locals were in pathani kurta sitting in their front yard playing cards and chatting, kids playing in street, girls carrying pitchers on head. As we started approaching Kalo dungar, the terrain changed to hilly and roads became serpentine.
We parked our bike and rushed to see the much sought sunset. The place did not let us down, the view from the hills was breathtaking. The white desert and sky were merging at distant horizon making our jaw drop. The crowd was mostly hanging out at park and benches and top while we chose to walk little further to get a better view.
We left the place as it started getting dark, and it was then we realized the roads has no lights whatsoever. It was quite scary to drive back as the roads like I mentioned earlier were deserted. We prayed throughout and finally when we spotted a car going in same direction we followed it like crazy.
When we reached our stay, the children were waiting for us near bonfire to play Dumb-charades. We joined them and what followed was hours filled with laughter and joy. Soon our hosts came and joined us, on knowing that we will be leaving next morning they went back and came with gifts. They gifted us an embroidered sling bag, itr(perfume), jaggery and mango pickle. We were overwhelmed by their gesture, it felt like we are leaving home.
We woke up and got ready to leave for Bhuj by 8. The whole family of Karman ji surrounded us to bid good bye, as we were running short of cash, they asked us to send money later. They were asking us to stay for more, but it was not possible as we had train to Mumbai from Bhuj in night. We bid them good bye and left the place with promise of visiting them again.
The journey to Bhuj was hassle free and we reached at 10 a.m, we returned the rented bike, still we had time in our hands so we planned to visit Aina Mahal.
When Paresh made this plan to visit Rann of Kutch in August, I was little apprehensive about it, considering the expenses and the crowd. But Now I can confidently say you can travel to this unique natural place in budget and you will not be disappointed. The highlight is interaction with locals, staying at a home-stay in village is the best decision we made. <3
Take Away from Blog
- Rental bike Agency:
- Desert Eagles Rides, Bhuj ( Contact No. 8780240070)
- Charges 1200/- per day for avenger bike
- Happy Family Home Stay, Gorewali ( Contact No. 9427759630)
- *P.S. Don’t forget to mention Paresh’s name , host will treat you like family.
- 100/- per person, 25/- for bike, 50/- for four wheeler
- counter closes at 5.30 p.m.
- Just beside BSF checkpost
- Watch sunset/sunrise at white desert, Witness sunset at Kalo Dungar, Shopping at Rann Utsav,
- Visit Bhuj( Prag Mahal, Aina Mahal, Swaminarayan Temple, Bhujodi).
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Happy Travelling 🙂