About Kutch: To visit a land of stark beauty
The name Kutch is derived from kachbo, which means tortoise in Gujarati, and signifies the shape of the landmass. Unique in its geographic stationing, Kutch is a desert capped by a gulf of the same name. The land is dependent entirely on the passing of seasons – it is dry and arid in summer, a saltwater marshland in the monsoon (followed by freshwater flooding) and a cold, white desert in the winter. The land is almost infertile due to the salt content of the soil, and the only vegetation for miles comprises of swathes of low grasses and shrubbery which support the fascinating wildlife of the region.
The people of Kutch are the Gujaratis of the backwaters, for the population comprises of an eclectic mix of tribes and castes which are unlikely to be found in the state which is otherwise known for its burgeoning almost-metropolises. The land has in fact been occupied since the time of the Indus Valley civilization, primarily in Dholavira – one of the ancient cultural loci of its time – a center for crafts. Till date, the people of region produce and export some of the finest textiles and handicrafts, renowned for the incredibly detailed mirror work; very sub-caste and tribe has its own signature motif and design of the mirror work.
Image credit: Sagar S Bhanushali
The textile industry in Kutch is not limited to mirror work; bandhni, batik, bela and block printing, camel wool weaving, knife making, leather art, silver work, pottery, rogan painting are just part of the diverse ancestral artistic industry in Kutch. To understand these forms of art, as well as their impact on the economy and lives of the people, one must undertake a pilgrimage of the handicraft villages. Nirona, Bhujodi and Hodka are some of the villages worth visiting.
The most amazing feature of Kutch is the manner in which both the indigenous peoples and the state government have worked together to ensure that the heritage of the Kutchis remains unspoiled. The rural way of life has been preserved without question, and by welcoming tourists in their midst, the people of Kutch work to simulate their simple living conditions, eating habits and pure relationship with nature for them. They welcome visitors into their homes, a prime example being the coastal village of Mandvi which has preserved the four hundred year old ship-building industry of the local Kharva tribe – even today they continue to build small wooden boats which fuel their livelihoods (and those of the local fishermen). The beach is pristine and an absolute pleasure to walk upon.
Image credit: Swiatoslaw Wojtkowiak
In order soak up the best of the Ranns of Kutch, one must visit Kala Dungar which is the highest point in the region. If one visits by day, they will have the opportunity to witness the temple priest feeding the jackals which are native to the land. However, if one visits at nighttime, they will be rewarded with some of the most fantastic vistas of Ranns in the moonlight – indigo sky, full moon and the white salt of the desert shining as far as the eye can see. Another perk of visiting Kala Dungar is its proximity to India’s border with Pakistan.
Image credit:Flickr Rann Utsav
The Little Rann of Kutch is a great introduction to the melding of nature and human life, for it is home to the salt pans where local peoples extract salt for livelihood and the Wild Ass Sanctuary. The Sanctuary is not only home to the Indian Wild Ass, but also draws in thousands of migratory birds every winter. The Great Rann of Kutch however supports the majority of the Kutchi ecosystem – from the Kachchh Great Indian Bustard Sanctuary (and its eponymous inhabitants), to Chari Daand (a wetland conservation project and sanctuary), to the Kutch Desert Wildlife Sanctuary and the Banni Grasslands Reserves. The Fossil Park in Haripar, and the fossil belts in Khadir, Kuvar and Pachchham are home to ancient fossils of forests and fauna dating back to the Jurassic and Cretaceous periods.
Image credit: Chitra Shastry
There is many a legend associated with the Rann of Katch. The Banni Reserves are known for the Chir Batti, or ghost lights which appear at night in varied colors and seem to play hide and go seek with the astonished witnesses. The Rann is also famous for its mirages, wherein the heat rising from the sizzling beds of white sand takes on the appearance of an endless lake. The Koteshwar temple of Shiva is also famous for its many origin stories.
Image credit: Uttam Pegu
The Rann Utsav held every year in winter is a live celebration of the arts and culture of the Kutch region. Dances, music and handicrafts are promoted by the state government and the locals in order to build both tourism and an outsider’s knowledge of the Kutch and its heritage. A tent city is set up in Dhorado to accommodate the influx of visitors, and they are treated not only to a taste of the culture but also the cuisine and the sights around the region.
The land of Kutch is beautiful. The exquisite artistic traditions, the fascinating history and the amazing natural habitat beckon visitors to come and witness the spectacle. The inhabitants are warm and welcoming, the food delicious and unique, and the land itself beyond the simplicity of mere words. It is truly a joy to visit Kutch and live in the way of its people.