Wednesday, December 30, 2009

The horizon, dry cracked earth and us - Rann of Kutch

We stared into the vast expanse of land in front of our eyes. Dry, cracked - cracked as if an earthquake tremor had left its marks behind, spreading out as far as we could see, meeting the blue and slightly pink skies at the very end. The landscape at the start was broken by a few shrubs here and there, and then by the salt pans. At this point, there was nothing else but us, the faint outline of a faraway hillock and the horizon in front of us. The sun had beaten down upon us strongly through the day, and the air was laden with the dust from the earth. This was Rann of Kutch.

The Rann of Kutch - trying to capture the vastness of it!

Calling it beautiful wouldn’t be right. The Rann doesn’t match the stark and harsh beauty of the deserts of Ladakh or the soft undulating curves that one imagines a picture perfect desert. But there was something about being in this dry, near barren, expansive, and literally ‘no-man’ land.

A friend reminded me of the story, 'Love Across the Salt Desert'. How could i have forgotten the love story set in the heart of this place. The author describes it beautifully... The monsoons had, so to speak, forgotten to land. The Rann lay like a paralysed monster, its back covered with scab and scar-tissue and dried blister-skin. The earth had cracked and it looked as if chunks of it had been baked in a kiln and then embedded in the soil-crust. Then one day the clouds rolled in like wineskins and the lightning crackled and the wineskins burst. Though two years have passed since the drought ended, everyone remembers that it first rained on the day when Fatimah entered the village. This is how she came...

The Rann in perspective

During monsoons, the Rann of Kutch is flooded with water, being at a very low-height to the sea. The Rann becomes accessible only in the drier seasons, and even then may be not entirely. The jeeps that venture inside could easily get stuck, as the dry top level hides beneath it soft and mushy clayey soil layers. There are no well defined roads or trails. Yes, there were jeep tracks from visits before us, but how our driver found his way through and how the other locals find their way to the salt pans was beyond our grasp. The desert is also broken by several salt pans were locals make salt from the ground. Coming back after watching the sunset, I kept asking our driver if he could find his way back.

Getting directions from a local chakkada

The quintessential dirt driving jeef safari picture

Our visit was actually to the part of the desert known as the lesser Rann, which lays a little interior to the area called as the Rann. The Lesser Rann is home to the ‘Wild Ass’ also called Khar (ye ye, I see you laughing, and btw did you know that Jack Ass is also a variety?), the Nilgai Antelope and Chinkara deers. On our safari on the first evening we saw glorious herd of both the wild ass and Nilgai. We didn’t realize how nice our sightings were until the next day, when for quite a long time we saw only loners or pairs. The Rann is also famous for migrating flamingos, visitors from Siberia.

A herd of Nilgai antelopes

A herd of Wild Ass

Cranes taking flight

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

My 3 travel secrets

There has been a travel tag going around and I have been tagged by Cate and Neha for it. The tripbase Blog Tag is to share my 3 travel secrets. Here they come!

The Armenian Church, Singapore-
It was a hot day. I was walking around the so called ‘civic district’, using a tripod to take photos of myself, (and yes, to timer pose is funny!). My friend had mentioned a big church in the center of Singapore, and I thought this one was it. It is a white building, and could easily have been a bungalow. The main room was circular broken by long rectangular windows with wooden shutters, revealing the hot day outside. A ceiling fan whirred slowly. A painting of Jesus was the only thing indicating that this indeed was a church. It was a place more for peace, silence and introspection if you will. A place one could contend time in…

Inside the Armenian church

The Armenian church

A secluded beach in Hvar-
Mustacho is a restaurant and a beach along Hvar’s coastline. It is less of a secret really, but is less frequented because it’s farther away from the Hvar town and people (tourists) are too lazy to walk up to this one. We decided to go in search of it on our first evening. The walk to the beach was very beautiful, as the houses thin away leaving behind the trees and natural greenery of the island. The first sight of the restaurant (at night) was a blaze of lights amidst a crescent of dark waters. We were its only dinner guests and it was gorgeous to sit by the open sea, hear the sound of the waves and dig into our food. The walk back was even better, as we stumbled our way through the dark, with nothing but the stars for some light.

The temptation in Hvar is to jump to the famous islands of Bol and Brac. But if you keep your eyes open, you will see smaller signs for not so popular beaches. I can't speak for all of them, but our gamble on one proved to be the best!

Another secluded beach in Hvar as I don't have photos of Mustacho

Lost in the smaller villages of Sikkim
Kewzing in Sikkim is just another small hill town. But go beyond the market area, and you’ll find that some locals have thrown their homes open to travellers to give u a taste of their lives. The homestay in Kewzing was the highlight of our trip to Sikkim a few years back. We went on hikes, sat amidst hidden stupa ruins, watched Mt.Narsingh as we sipped morning tea, ate wholesome healthy meals, sang in front of bon fires.

The house we stayed in, Kewzing

These homestays are a means for these villages to generate income to support themselves, but are still not mainstream tourists stop, making it an ideal off the beaten track stop. There are homestays in the area of Dzongu also in Sikkim.

Please dont forget to see Cate's 3 travel secrets and Neha's 3 travel secrets. Thank you guys for tagging me!