A few years ago we made a trip to the lesser known cousin of the Great Rann of Kutch, the Little Rann of Kutch. I must admit that it was a case of mistaken identity but after the initial disappointment washed over, we were quite awed by all that the region had to offer in terms of wildlife, history and warm hospitality.
In summer temperatures in the Rann rise up to 50 degree Celsius making it inhospitable for tourists and the brief monsoon erases signs of the desert leaving it water logged. The salt desert is formed when in the month of October the rain water evaporates leaving behind a layer of crystallized salt on the surface of the land. The salt makes the land infertile and almost nothing grows here except for a smattering of springy scrubs and thorny bushes. According to unverified local statistics, almost 70% of the salt consumed in India comes from the Rann of Kutch.
Like a lot of others, our interest in the Rann of Kutch was awakened by the manner Big B, in his signature baritone, narrates the story of the magical full moon nights, pink flamingoes and a life full of colors in the starkly white and barren salt desert of Gujarat. However, something that we did not find clearly spelt out in any travel book/ blog/ website till we actually visited the place is that if you want to spend a full moon night in the desert or attend the Rann Festival that goes on for the most part of winter and spring months, you must head to the Great Rann. But if you are in the mood of some spotting some exotic birds, you must head to the Little Rann of Kutch.
Geographically these are one single mass but while the Little Rann of Kutch, home to wild foxes, deer, donkeys and a wide variety of birds, both migratory and local is actually a sanctuary known as the Indian Wild Ass Sanctuary, the Great Rann of Kutch is miles and miles of surrel salt desert. The Little Rann of Kutch lies about 90 kms west of Ahmedabad while the Great Rann of Kutch which lies about 300kms further westwards, closer to Bhuj.
A safari in the denuded Rann is nothing like any other safari that you might have been on. At first sight, the cracked mud flat with its glistening salt cover stretching as far as the eyes can see, appears completely deserted but look carefully and out of the white will appear the khurgads i.e. wild donkeys after which the sanctuary is named. A detour to the shallow marshes reveals flocks of migratory birds such as cranes, egrets, cormorants and of course flamingos. If you are lucky if you might even get be able to spot the elusive foxes and sambhar deer. But the wild sightings apart, the Rann itself will leave you mesmerized by its vastness and its stark landscape punctuated by the tiny salt pans where the salt workers quietly go about “farming” salt with their long rakes.
The Little Rann is ideal for a weekend trip from Mumbai, Jaipur or Ahmedabad. We took an overnight train from Mumbai after finishing office on Friday evening and did the safari on Saturday. On Sunday, we visited Modhera and Patan before catching our train back to Mumbai on Sunday night.
Modhera is about 50 kms further north from Dasada and Patan, another 35 kms north from Modhera. The little known Sun Temple of Modhera is an exquisitely carved sand stone structure with a deep tank lined with steps and 108 small temples along its inside walls. To understand the carvings and the history of the temple, it is best to hire a guide (around Rs. 250).
Patan another 35 kms away has what is probably the grandest step well in India, Rani ni Vav. Built in 1050 AD by queen Udayamati of the Solanki dynasty, the well is a humongous structure consisting of steps, pillars and intricately carved figures of gods, goddesses and apsaras going several stories below ground. Patan is also home to the weavers of the famous Patola saris and a visit to the weaver’s home is a must to get a glimpse of these exquisite masterpieces being painstakingly created thread by thread.
When to visit:
The best to visit the Little Rann of Kutch is from mid October to March. The summer heat makes it inhospitable to visit April onwards. Tourist can enter the sanctuary only during the daylight hours. The best chances of spotting animals and birds during safari are early in the morning or around dusk.
Getting there and around:
Ahmedabad, located about 130 kms away, is the closest airport to Little Rann and travel time from Ahmedabad to Little Rann is about two hours.
Two of the most popular entry points into the Little Rann are Dasada and Dhrangadhra, lying about 30 kms apart.
Entry into the sanctuary is charged per vehicle for up to five people. It is necessary for sanctuary guide to accompany visitors on safari which is charged separately. If you are not travelling by our own vehicle, I would recommend choosing one of the resorts on the outskirts of the sanctuary in either Dasada or Dhrangadhra that offer all inclusive packages for accommodation, meals and safari.
The closest railway station from Dasada is Viramgam (located nearly 35 kms away). From the station you will easily get vehicles taking travelers to Dasada village on shared basis. Dhrangadhra has its own railway station situated 16 kms away from the Little Rann. Trains from both Mumbai (650 kms away) and Delhi (1000kms away) stop at these two stations.
To cover Modhera and Patan on the same day, it is better to hire a private vehicle.
Roads in this area though single lane highways are largely in good condition.
Where to Stay:
There are a lot of resorts in the vicinity of the sanctuary that offer eco stay options in rustic mud cottages decorated with glass work and furnished with colorful handiwork of local artisans. A few also offer camping and home stay options and all offer safari options.
A few popular ones near the Dasada entrance are Rann Riders and Desert Coursers.
Near the Dhrangadhra entrance, you can stay with Eco Tour Camp.
P.S. : I am still refining my knowledge of birds and also animals. So, do feel free to correctly identify them for me in case you spot any discrepancies.
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