Kutch is the western most territory of India in the state of Gujarat. It’s known for its great Rann of Kutch and one of the largest salt lakes in the world. I traveled through Gujrat in November 2019 on my all India cycling journey and during that tour I also went to the Rann of Kutch.
I was riding towards the White Desert from Bhuj and just after 20 kms one thing that attracted me was the small semi-hut like houses. Soon I entered into a vast plain that is called Bani grassland. I don’t travel to visit only the popular tourist spots of a place but I am more interested in the people and culture of that place. That’s why the traditional architecture of those small villages on the way got my attention.
There are around 45 villages in the Rann where the majority of the people belong to the Sindhi community. They’re a pastoral community and the main profession of those people is agriculture and animal husbandry. Due to the geographical location (salt lake) and lack of rain the area of cultivable land is relatively small. So a large part of their income comes from the milk of the cattle they keep. Their language, custom and the entire way of life is more like that of the Sindh province in Pakistan. Though in schools they don’t have Sindhi language but at home they speak it and in small Madarsas in villages they teach their children Sindhi language and this way they’ve preserved their mother tongue.
Almost every household keeps at least 10-20 cows and buffaloes and some big or joint families have more than hundred animals. During the summer the plains are dry due to the hot weather but after the rains the plains have enough grass for the winter season. So during the four months of winter they take the cattle herds into the vast plains where they pitch a temporary tent to keep the essentials in it and leave the animals free to graze. The animals graze in the open fields all day and they are brought to the cattle corral for milking in the morning and evening. There’s a water pool near every corral where clean drinkable water is supplied through a pipeline and the animals drink water there.
When I was going towards the salt lake I saw some sights like that and even stopped at a couple of places for a chat and I found it really interesting so I decided to spend a day with them on the way back.
I reached the Salt lake or the White Desert by the evening before sunset so I straight away went to the spot where tourists visit to see the lake or the desert. It’s called Salt Lake and White Desert because in summer the area is full of water and it gives you a view of an endless water body but by the start of December the water is dried and during winter it looks like a White Desert. I visited there in November so it was still covered with 2-3 feet water so I could see it as a lake and not the popular White Desert. I spent some time there, it was the beginning of the tourist season in the Rann of Kutch so it was not very crowded but some vehicles were there and around a hundred people I guess. Just after the sunset the wind started blowing so fast that it was getting really difficult to keep balance while cycling because it was a completely open area.
Four kilometers ride back and I entered a village territory and the wind wasn’t that heavy there. Near the Tent City I had dinner at a dhaba where I met two guys from a nearby village on that very road and since I had no place to stay for the night they arranged a place for me in their village where I met some more of their friends who had their shops in the village market. I stayed there for another day, took bath, washed my clothes and spent a very good time with the locals and got to know more about the place and their culture. There’s an eighty years old man with whom I really enjoyed talking because he told me stories of his trips from Kutch to Sindh in Pakistan and way back on camel through the desert before the border stopped movement across the borders.
From there I headed back towards Bhuj and by the evening I reached a Bada in the great Rann and I decided to stay with them for the night and they happily welcomed me. It was a joint family’s Bada where 8-10 people were with over a hundred buffalos and cows. It was the evening milking time so they were busy in that, after the milking a milk van came from Bhuj and they sent the milk to the dairy in that van. They made tea for me from fresh milk and we had a chat over the tea as once the milking and feeding to the calves was done they were completely free.
Two guys went to the village 20 kms from there to get the dinner and rest passed time in gossiping and playing some games. At around 8 pm the dinner came and it was Daal Sabji Rotis Milk and Lassi and everything was very delicious that I felt like home. We all sat down on the ground in circle to have dinner and after that we sat on our cots to gossip and after a couple of hours talking about each other’s places and cultures we went off to sleep out there in the open.
It was an amazing experience to be sleeping in the open in the great Rann of Kutch under the starry sky. Next morning after the tea I took their leave and marched on my journey.