Rann of Kachchh

IMG_0171Frankly, Rann of Kachchh somehow did not fascinate me before in my life, I perceived and assumed it will be an arid place with hot winds, without putting much thought into why do people even get so excited to visit it. Very ignorant of me, or so I chose to be for unknown reasons. It all started with a bunch of people in my group planning a trip to this place in the Republic day long weekend. It was then that while putting up the event for them on our group website and page, I came across beautiful images and ofcourse some information about the weather there. So it was going to be chilly, and colourful…to my surprise (ya I know how ignorant I am!!). The photographer in me literally wanted to run to the Rann..to capture all it had to offer.
Our group however this time did not follow a single common plan, We were 8 people traveling to Gujarat, but we got divided into 4 groups due to different choice of number of days, things to do, accommodation and also budget. I have tried to trace all of our itineraries into a single map, and the days spent vary from 6 – 3. Some added 2 more days to the long weekend, while some just opted to spend only the weekend.
Guj trip Map

Group 1 itinerary: (Red dot)
21st morning – Land in Ahmedabad, hire taxi -> Adalaj -> Modhera -> Rani ka Vav in Patan -> Haveli in Sidhpur -> Halt for the night at Toran Resort
22nd – Dholavira ruins & Little Rann
23rd Check into Dhordo Tent City -> inclusive packages for Bhuj sightseeing, Prag Mahal, Aina Mahal, Cenotauphs -> Night walk at Rann (full moon)
24th Tent City Package activities -> Kalo Dungar
25th hire taxi to Mandvi -> Vijay Vilas Palace -> Mandvi Beach -> night train to Ahmedabad
26th spend day in Ahmedabad, food and shopping -> evening fly back to Bangalore
Cost of 2-3 nights at Tent City – INR 13,000
Per head Approx total cost of trip – INR 35,000-40,000

Group 2 itinerary: (Brown dot)
21st morning – Land in Ahmedabad, public transport -> Ahmedabad city -> Adalaj -> night train to Bhuj
22nd Check in to hotel Oasis in Bhuj -> local bus to Mandvi -> Vijay Vilas Palace -> Mandvi Beach -> back to Bhuj in bus -> night stay in Bhuj
23rd pick up bus to Dhordo Tent City from Bhuj -> Prag Mahal, Aina Mahal, Cenotauphs in Bhuj as part of package -> check in to Tent city -> Sunset & Night walk at Rann (full moon)
24th Tent City Package activities -> Kalo Dungar
25th back to Bhuj -> Kutch Museum, Ramkund -> shopping in Bhuj -> night train to Ahmedabad
26th spend day in Ahmedabad, food and shopping -> evening fly back to Bangalore
Cost of 2 nights at Tent City – INR 13,000
Per head Approx total cost of trip – INR 25,000-30,000

Group 3 itinerary: (Green dot)
23rd land in Bhuj -> pick up bus to Dhordo Tent City from Bhuj -> Prag Mahal, Aina Mahal, Cenotauphs in Bhuj as part of package -> check in to Tent city -> Sunset & Night walk at Rann (full moon)
24th Check out Tent City -> Bhujodi village for craft shopping -> Kalo Dungar -> taxi to Nakhatrana (J.P. Resort) for night stay
25th taxi to Lakhpat Fort -> Narayan Sarovar -> Koteshwar Temple -> Nakhatrana -> Bhuj -> Vijay Vilas Palace in Mandvi -> Bhuj -> evening flight back to Bangalore
Cost of 1 night at Tent City – INR 6,500
Per head Approx total cost of trip – INR 25,000 – 30,000

Group 4 itinerary: (Blue dot) this one is mine, so I can give more detailed costs
22nd land in Bhuj in evening -> Check in to hotel Raj Mahal in Bhuj -> dinner -> night stay in Bhuj
23rd walk to Prag Mahal, Aina Mahal -> Sharad Baug -> check out of hotel -> hire taxi to Hodka village -> Bhujodi Village for shopping -> check in at resort Mehfeel-e-Rann -> Kalo Dungar -> Night walk at Rann (full moon)
24th taxi to Kutch Fossil Park -> Lakhpat Fort -> Sunset at Rann, Moonrise at Rann -> evening at Rann Utsav shopping campus
25th taxi back to Bhuj -> check in to Divya Jyot Hotel -> Ramkund step well(missed Kutch Museum due to steep timings) -> taxi to Mandvi, Vijay Vilas Palace -> Ship building yard -> Mandvi Beach
26th check out from Bhuj -> morning fly back to Bangalore
Per head Cost of 2 nights at Hodka – INR 4,000 | Cost of stay in Bhuj – INR 1,200
Per head Flight BLR – BHUJ – INR 12,000 – 18,000
Per head Taxi fare for 3 days – INR 3,900
Per head Approx total cost of trip – INR 25,000 – 35,000

FOOD:

idli

Cocktail idli

Bhuj is famous for Dabeli, but finding a good Dabeli in Bhuj was not in my fate this time. Having a non-foodie companion does not help either. Our Taxi driver was also the most clueless guy and had basically no idea about a good Dabeli. We tried some in Mandvi at ‘Joshi dabeli’ thela which was again a wrong place. Group 2 apparently liked the Dabeli at Mandvi beach. I had a good enough one at Rann Utsav food stalls.
Farsani Duniya is a must visit in Bhuj, ask anyone for directions. Try to buy most of farsan items, all are equally good.
Green Rock gujarati thali is overrated, costs as much as it would in Bangalore, minus the good location or seating whatsoever.
Restaurant at Hotel Oasis is amazing with its south indian specialities, trust me when I say that as you won’t find those food items anywhere in South India itself. Cocktail idli-a truly amusing combination of spices I could not figure out, Chettinad masala idli to name some.
Meals served at Hodka/Mehfeel-e-Rann were awesome, Bajra Roti with Ghee and jaggery…yummy. Sabji was mostly undercooked, hence untouched by me.
Vegetarian food only, at best you might spot eggs through your trip.

STAY OPTIONS:

rann stay
As all of us took up quite different stay options depending on availability and affordability of the accommodation, here are some insights about them:
Rann Utsav Dhordo Tent City Accommodation – Costs about INR 13,000 per night for a twin sharing tent, one bed extra costs a bit more.
http://www.rannutsav.net/accommodation/
In all it is not a bad deal, unlike the reviews you will read on trip advisor. The cost includes scrumptious and freshly prepared meals, coordinated trips to most of important places of attraction, pickup and drop facility from Airports/Stations, with many other amenities within Tent campus.
Hodka Village, Mehfeel-e-Rann – This place offers an authentic mud hut stay, decorated Kachchhi style, neat and clean, well-maintained and extremely cordial service with absolutely no flaws. Costs about INR 2,000 per night including all 3 meals in a day. They accommodate your taxi driver without any questions (I think they have tie-ups), food for driver will also be provided without any extra costs. Tea is really nicely done, if you are a fan of perfectly prepared Chai. The hut facility in all is very scenic and comfortable.
hodka
Nakhatrana, JP Resort – According to Group 3, this was an excellent location to be in, as most attractions are merely at 1 hour distance from here. Lakhpat, Narayan Sarovar or Bhuj or Mandvi. They basically were able to cover all these 3 locations while their 1 night stay (2 half days).
Bhuj, Raj Mahal Hotel – A not so good looking or neat place, but as we got it for a good discount, costed INR 800 for a twin sharing room for 1 night. Worked. Walkable from Bhuj Bus station. All tourist atttractions mentioned in this post are at walkable 10 min radius from this Hotel. Reaching here from Airport or Railway Station may cost between INR 100-120.
Bhuj, Hotel Oasis – This is located slightly away from the central area of Bhuj, but you can manage to walk into most of town from here. Costed between INR 800-1,000 for 1 night. They have a good restaurant I already mentioned.
Bhuj, Hotel Divya Jyot – This facility is horrible for the price, worse than a hostel, rooms are almost without much privacy, you can hear the reception area all the time, with screaming guests. Its location is very near to the Airport though just 2 kms, auto will cost about INR 60. Costed INR 1,400 for a night (supposedly discounted)

ATTRACTIONS:

rann sun moon
Rann of Kachchh – Undoubtedly the most special thing of this trip. First tip is to carefully find a taxi guy who is really knowledgeable about which spot to take you to. Mostly you will find them along with Tent City packages, or if you are lucky to find one in Bhuj. Our taxi guy was clueless and repeatedly took us to all the most touristy spots only, heavily crowded, even at the Rann. Little Rann of Kachchh is way better to be at so I heard, try go there instead. The Moonrise is one of the most beautiful sights you’ll come across, plan for a full-moon night.
chi lamps
Luckily on our first visit to the Rann a night before full moon, we had a wonderful surprise – a group of people lighting and sailing off Chinese lamps into the sky. I tried very hard to capture on my cameras..but in vain (I just don’t know how to get my cam settings for the night!). What a beautiful sight was it, I wish it went on..they were apparently having a photoshoot going on there.
chi lamp 2
A night before full moon, the moon is almost full and rises early for you to be able to capture its image, so it was a good time anyway.

kalodungar sun moon
Kalo Dungar – Don’t  know why it is named as a ‘Black mountain’, it hardly appears so, but being the highest point in Rann, is definitely a breathtaking sight from here. Evening is a good time to visit this place, as you see the misty vast expanse of Rann of Kutch Lake that blends into the horizon. You can only wish that such a sight is of the Arabian sea from here..its not, its the lake enclosing Dholavira site. Life like installations of animals found in the area are displayed at Kalo Dungar.
kalo dungar

Prag Mahal & Aina Mahal – Located in the same campus, Prag Mahal & Aina Mahal are opposites that are evidence of contrasting cultures which colonialism brought into India. Aina Mahal is built inside a small portion of the dilapidated state of a Queen’s Residence, which follows traditional architecture and is ofcourse left alone to perish with time. On the other hand, Prag Mahal the completely out of place and the only European style building in the old city of Bhuj, is completely renovated and far better maintained than its Indian neighbour. They keep a bold sign board stating that the Queen’s Residence suffered due to 2001 earthquakes, but is that an excuse or a memorial for the earthquake itself? we’ll never get the logic.
Prag Aina 1

aina1

Few paintings of Mastani, the famous dancer-lover from Peshwa Bajirao’s court are displayed here. Wiki says she was exiled or prisoned somewhere at this site until she died.

Ramkund – A very small step well, almost unimportant. There may be stories about it, required to find someone who can tell you. From this place you can see the Prag Mahal across the Bhuj Lake, where is sits like a stranger in the otherwise traditionally build town of Bhuj.

Sharad Baug Palace – The Palace was damaged in 2001 earthquake, and as you will get used to listening to this excuse for most of heritage sights in this region, you will know how you are slowly being pushed to lose interest in these places. Don’t know why the authorities don’t get this, no tourist – no revenue. The belongings of the Haveli are being showcased in the outhouse of this Haveli, which is the usual aristocratic stuff like china ware, silver ware and dead stuffed wild animals owned by the Maharaja.
IMG_0078

Bhujodi Village – You will read a lot of about this place as one of tourist spots. Turns out our taxi driver did not have much idea and he left us somewhere at the beginning of the village, which had pretty okay sort of stuff to buy, and not such reasonable prices. The real village with all craftsmen is much inside, so please find out and go.
bhujodi

Kutch Fossil Park – This place is much less known, and clearly our taxi guy had never heard about it. Thankfully some road signs helped us reach the location, because when in Kachchh you just cannot rely on the phone network. Airtel stays perennially down. The Fossil collection is amazing, and thankfully a very well informed guide available at your service to explain everything to you.
fossil park

Lakhpat Fort – This place is probably the closest you can get to the Border area, its arid and dry, but offers a beautiful view nonetheless – a vast expanse of sand and sea which turns into nothing with shortcomings of human vision. Definitely a very important place from historical point of view.
lakhpat

Mata na Madh – A typical temple shrine dedicated to a diety/goddess. I was told that its a very holy shrine, where people from Mumbai side walk on foot to reach here during Navratri. I’m not so religious so hardly ever visit such places, because they are so damn commercialised, and lose their real structure or old architecture to cater to large volumes of devotees. Our Taxi driver was hell-bent on taking us there, and he did. Disappointment and nothing else. overcrowded and nothing too beautiful to marvel at. Only devotees know what it means, not me.

Vijay Vilas Palace – A beautiful palace, having featured in many films by now, is being badly maintained by the Govt. and why not, they barely charge a INR 5,000 per hour for holding family functions. That’s it? no wonder they can’t gather funds to maintain this place. When we went there, a tamboo-tent was being set up for some marriage function. Shame. Would have loved to walk to the little hilly side of estate around this property facing the sea, it would have given a nice view of the place. But my companion wasn’t keen as usual in doing anything out of tourist-list. We enjoyed the wind on Palace’s top floor for a while, thank god for that.
vijay vilas

Mandvi Beach – A relatively less crowded beach, you can sight this beach from top of Vijay Vilas Palace. You can see the windmills installed on this beach, which are out of use and in ignored condition. You can try the Dabeli here, please do not litter on the beach.

Mandvi Ship building Yard – If you happen to pass this place, you can view huge ships being built on the side of a very dirty stream of a river, clogged with human waste and neglect.

Dholavira Archeological site – Only one of our groups had been here, and as told it is definitely an important site from historical perspective, being the only place as old as Mohenjo-Daro-Harappa. Try to do it.

I have to admit, this trip was a fail for me as I did not plan it well enough to fulfil my photography endeavours at all. I learnt to follow one thumb rule this time – always try look for a photographer’s company, who will understand the importance of stopping in middle of nowhere just to click a perfect shot. Unfortunately this time even though the planned group comprised of so many photographers, I happened to choose a different itinerary than them. My bad. It was partially due to lack of time, and money as well. As always, even though I hate it, I end up following a tourist trail like crazy..because people often want to “Cover” all places they heard or read about. Its hilarious how I never end up traveling like I want to 🙂 just to please everyone around me.
Full moon light shining on the white ground was definitely a sight I will cherish forever.

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