મંગળવાર, 8 માર્ચ, 2011


Kutch in Gujarat is known to be the second largest district in India and is sparsely populated. It is a dry belt with the Great Rann to the north and the Little Rann to the east. The Great and the Little Rann of Kutch are also the breeding grounds of Flamingo, Pelican & Avocet and home of the rare Indian Wild Ass, which is now a protected species. In Kutch, I found India’s some of most exquisite handicrafts like embroidery, tie 'n' die fabrics, enamelled silverware, etc. It all started, as I couldn’t suppress any more my quest to ride to India’s westernmost corner. I chose the Greater Rann of Kutch (GRK). It constitutes the northern part of Kutch region and spreads from the Rajasthan-Gujarat Border, along the Indo-Pakistan border region to Lakhpat in the west, near the Kori Creek.

Once, not so long ago, GRK was a vast stretch of water, an inlet of the Arabian Sea. Then the area got silted up leaving flatlands which glitter with salt. When the monsoon drives the sea inland, and floods the Rann, handsome wild asses gallop across the saline desert and huddle together on the little hillocks, called bets, which become islands in an inland sea.

I divided the GRK into four divisions on the basis of accessibility:

(i) Nadeshwari (Abode of Goddess in the middle of Rann)
(ii) Dholavira (Archeological site of world fame)
(iii) Khavda (Gateway to India’s some of the most unexplored regions)
(iv) Lakhpat (Erstwhile seaport)

I reached the first post of BSF at around 6 pm. The men there were very friendly and were awed by the fact that I came on a mobike all the way from Delhi. They showed me the way to Nadeshwari. While starting from there for Nadeshwari temple, I asked them if I have to submit my camera and mobile. They promptly persuaded (and not forced) me to submit the same because of the security reasons. They also informed me that both the things would be captured if I take them beyond this point. Nadeshwari is basically a shrine of a Goddess. The way to reach the place makes you ride in the middle of nowhere in GRK. Jeep tyres made the dirt tracks that I followed. The BSF men instructed me to keep to my right or I’ll end-up in the custody at the Border. I followed the ‘rightest’ track I could see, as I had no intention to cross the border. The tracks were full of mud and it was very difficult to ride on them. The scenery was breathtaking. The sun was about to set and for miles I could only see the brownish-red muddy plain landscape. The red color of sunrays and very light brown of mud gave a peculiar mix. It is actually a vast, featureless, endless salty terrain. I missed my camera, dearly that day. I reached the second post of BSF at 7.20 pm. It was pitch dark. I parked the bike before their tent and introduced myself. The men enquired about various things and I answered them to my sincerest extent. Then they asked to check the luggage to which I readily agreed. I showed them each part of my luggage. They took away the knife that I brought for cutting the lemons. BTW, it is always good to carry lemons, sugar and salt of which I carried only the former two, as I knew salt will never be a problem in Kutch :-). They told me to ride straight and after a while I was supposed to see some bulbs. I had absolutely no idea where I was heading for. Riding was difficult. All the lights that I have on my bike were on. After riding for about 400 meters I saw some lights. I parked the bike before the gate and went inside to ask whether I can stay. Seeing a stranger, a lot of people congregated as if I was being exhibited there. Language was a big problem. Nobody understood what I meant. Then one servant who had served in Rajasthan came out of kitchen. He could get my words and did an unpaid translation for me. I was showed the way to the third BSF post. “How many posts does BSF requires to check my identity”, I wondered. It is a rule in the temple to register every staying person with BSF. The post is only few meters away from the temple complex. The BSF men appreciated the spirit and asked me to take rest at the temple.

Few moments later, while lying down on my bed, I was wondering, why do people live in so remote places? For the sake of information, the temple has food facility. It is served twice a day. Free of cost. For staying, they don’t have rooms but a big shade. I slept there. It was cool. I guess, it will be difficult for ladies. They may have some alternate arrangements for ladies too but I didn’t see even a single female inhabitant there. To explain you the whole place, it appears like a cow shed at first glance centered by two temples. One old and abandoned and the other new and currently consecrated. Both temples have no architectural significance but the following of the goddess is simply unimaginable. The place has a separate running cowshed. The caretakers offered me a cot, quilt, etc., which I never needed as I was equipped. I was about to doze off when two BSF men, who met at the second post, approached me. They courteously asked for my passport and other documents that I was carrying for identification. They informed me that at the border, things are very difficult if a stranger comes and stays and information of my stay here at the temple will have to be passed on to the H.Q. at Dantiwada (Gujarat). I complied. The documents were returned to me after about 30 minutes with apologies for botheration and the two personnel bade me goodbye for rest of the night. It was 9:30 pm but since it was not possible to converse with any of the men in the temple complex (the translator for me disappeared) so I thought it is best to sleep for an early start tomorrow.

After a relaxing nights sleep, I got up early in the morning and had my daily chores completed, behind a bush, out in the wild, on the silt of Rann :-) Although, the place has a small doorless bathroom which is hardly covered. Water, of course, is not a problem, but it tasted like brine. The temple has a freshwater tank and luckily it was filled. I offered Puja to the Goddess Nadeshwari at the temple firstly at 5:30 am and then at 8:00 am. After exploring the place a bit and enjoying the antics of wild assess I thought it best to move on to the second section of the Rann instead of exploring the Pakistan Border. Yes! A bit about wild assess first. Wild asses are bigger than the donkey but smaller than horses. Mules will be best to describe them height-wise. They are well built and grayish. A white line runs on the back to the tail and stomach portion is also light in color. They are great runners and I could see it for myself when I chased them with my bullet. They become out of sight within a matter of minutes. I had to use the expertise of BSF men to spot them again. After collecting my camera and mobile phone and clicking few photographs of the Jalol village and adjoining Rann I started for the second section – Dholavira.

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