While I had been planning to be in the whites of snow after my exams, I found myself in the whites of the salt desert. A full moon in the white desert at Rann of Kutch was the newfound wish.
We booked our tickets for a private bus to Jodhpur while drinking cappuccino in Socials Odeon. The bus arrived at our Jhandewalan boarding point one and a half hour late at 9:45pm.
Remember V from Hyderabad whom I’d met on my trip to Chandrataal? Well, my company this time again was him. So, we reached Jodhpur after a 12hours journey with only a tea break at 4 in the morning. Once in Jodhpur we straighway headed to the roadways bus stand only to find there was no direct bus to Bhuj. And so we took a bus to Sanchore (district Jalore) instead. After passing through numerous villages of Rajasthan all filled with colourfully dressed women we finally reached there at the end of the day. From here we get tickets to Bhuj, have dinner and wait for the bus again. At 10pm, we are in the bus to Bhuj.
And finally after more than 24hours of journey we are in Bhuj. Initially we explore the option of taking an auto till Rann to cover the distance of about 80kms for Rs1600. However, we settle for a bus till Bhirandiara for Rs 30. Even though we immediately get the shared jeep till Rann, we walk out and ask for a lift from a local who gladly offers one. After a few hours, we are walking towards the white desert. To our dismay we find that the places to stay in the tent city at Dhordo are not only too expensive but mostly already booked. Exasperated I sit on the footpath refusing to get up. From the other side of the road a BSF jawan shouts that I got tired and then helps us find accommodation at Gorewali. We get settled at Vera’s place, take a bath and rest for the day.
In evening, car drops us till entry point at Rann. We shift course from the road and move onto the salt flats getting deeper into the white desert till sunset. The moon takes a long time to appear in all its shining beauty. Afterwards we walk back the entire way under the moonlit sky( a distance of about 12kms). On the way many a people stop to offer us a lift or just to stare probably because we were the odd one out. On returning we sit around the fire and then retire to our beds a little later.
The next day after tea and breakfast we leave for Bhirandiara. We walk a ten minutes distance and ask a truck to drop us till there. The short truck journey came to an end quickly and from Bhirandiara we catch a bus till Khavda ( I memorised the name by rhyming Khavda favda!). At Khavda we take a jeep to drop us till lower point of Kala Dungar(black hill, the highest point in Kutch). I leave my heavier bag with Raja, the driver, and we start walking uphill. After a few minutes we find the road packed with cars and that’s when V suggests going into the mountains to reach the Dattatreya temple at the top. We asks a local who immediately gives a no problem certificate and thus we head into the hills away from the road making our own path and a little trek of our own. After a two hour walk and sighting a wild rabbit we reach the destination at 2:30pm.
Raja meets us at the top and brings us back. Now that he has become V’s friend by now, he also arranges for our stay at Gandhi nu gaon(Gandhigram), which according to me is a better option to stay at than in the overpriced places at Rann. Raja even gets milk for us to drink later. In the evening we walk around the small lake/johad in the vicinity of the village and then another after dinner( when a dog follows us, needless to say I was scared).
We woke up early, or I should say I woke up early, for V anyway gets up at 4 in the morning everyday. We sat next to the chulha to have tea. Then Kawarabai calls me to her house and we sit and chat for a while. After getting ready, we did tripling on a bike to reach Khavda. From there we catch a bus till Bhuj where we reach at 3pm. Once in Bhuj a Gujarati thali is gorged upon in lunch which was too filling and too sweet. And then we figure out a bus till Jaisalmer which we board at 5pm. It turns out that it is the same bus we’d taken from Sanchore. It also became clear to us that Kutch is better connected with Jaisalmer rather than Jodhpur.
And that’s how we moved from the white desert to the golden one. We’d decided to skip the few places “should be visited” in Bhuj as also Mandvi beach( which according to V had black sand and not worth visiting since there are better ones and therefore evoked no interest from my side).
We reached Jaisalmer in the morning at 8am and even then it was covered in thick fog and was quite cold. We got to know that it had been raining for the past two days. We arrive at the Hanuman circle which is the centre of the city, have tea at a shop and then walk around looking for a place to stay. The auto driver who had dropped us to the circle helps us find a hotel. After getting ready we go the fort when we discover that our program for the dunes has been arranged for that very day and not the next day. We explore the jain temples and the maharaja palace in the fort, have lunch at a cafe nearby and then head back to the hotel in the afternoon. From here begins our acquaintance with Barkat Ali who drives us to the point for camel safari and jeep safari. After sunset we reach our tent at Sam dunes. While this much was fun, the entertainment program turned out beyond our taste and we escaped soon as we got the chance.
The next morning we strike a deal with Barkat Ali and leave from Sam dunes to Tanot. From here onwards it is V who drives till Tanot and from there till Longewala. At Longewala, V’s Pakistan rhyme takes a turn as he chats with a jawan about the war and the tanks and other weapons.
On our way back we stop for lunch at Ramgarh after which I sleep for about an hour. When I wake up we’d almost reached Barkat Ali’s village Chatrel where we stayed for the night. No sooner had the car stopped in the village and we got out that the kids in the village surrounded us and women peeping out of their houses to look at us. We were the centre of attraction in the village. It was here that V’s and mine made up marriage story reached new heights. Now it wasn’t just how long we’d been married but also why we didn’t have kids! A woman in the village suggested that I should have kids to play with. Another gave me a blessing for a son. And so on and so forth.
Since Barkat’s house didn’t have a toilet, V had to go out in the open early morning. I was directed to the neighbours toilet. After tea, we go for a walk around the village getting invites for tea from all sides. Later we leave for Jaisalmer. Somehow I left the village with a heavy heart and the place suddenly evoked in me memories of my own birthplace.
At Jaisalmer, we had best mirchi vada, bread pakoda and pakodi with tea( from a stall next to bam bam bhole tea stall and near Chauhan and Swagat travels in Hanuman circle). After we’d filled our stomachs, we reach Gadisar lake, which is dirty and could have been skipped really. However, our next place which was Patwon ki haveli was worth the visit.
While we were still considering how to go back to Delhi we also paid a little visit to the Mandir palace( now part of it converted to a hotel). I postpone the return to Delhi for another day and we decide to make it to Bikaner as well. And thus, we board the bus to Bikaner at 2pm and reach there at 8:30pm. Almost the whole of this route is under construction(as of Jan 2017) and full of dust. We find a hotel, have food and after a prolonged shower retire to our bed.
We wake up early and from the window of our room I see jalebis being made in the shop right opposite to our hotel. The shop, Chotu motu Joshi, appears to be a famous one. We get kachori, jalebi and V’s everyday favourite samosa. Since it’s already too much of sunlight by now, we get our caps on and walk to the Junagadh fort(at a distance of 1km from railway station road). Once in the fort we did a thorough inspection of almost everything. It was four groups to one.
Then we head to the prachina cafe within the fort area which meant a long wait for tea and sandwiches. Later, we head to Lalgarh palace( which was pointless). And then walking and taking an auto and again walking, getting lost in the market and finding out way, we finally return to our hotel. We rest for a while and then in the evening it’s time to get a bus back to Delhi( from Rani bazaar).
It’s cold when I wake up and we are almost in Delhi. And so, here I was back to the plains!
Note: pictures other than those marked @mk belong to V.