Here’s some of what the Lonely Planet – India chapter Gujarat has to say about the White Desert (Rann):
“West of Khavda and north of Hodka, the white desert is the one accessible corner of the Great Rann of Kachchh – the 30,000-sq-km desert between the Gulf of Kutch and the mouth of the Indus River in southern Pakistan. A 1.3km trail leads from the parking area to the viewing tower over-looking the great salt expanse. During the winter months, when the water dries up, the place is mesmerising.”
KAPOORS ON THE ROAD
It was only a half-hour drive to the White Rann, to the edge of the great salt expanse where we had to pass through a checkpoint manned by the Indian Border Security Force (BSF). The checkpoint is considered one of India’s ‘first lines of defense’ because of the proximity to the border with Pakistan. There was a fee to enter the area, but that is because it is considered a nature reserve of sorts.
As we approached the entrance gate we passed by a large zone where a major handicraft exposition had recently been held. Workers were dismantling dozens and dozens of tents and other structures - it was apparent that there must have been huge crowds attending the fair. I was actually pleased that we’d missed it, I don’t think we would have enjoyed the hubbub. This is a remote region, sparsely inhabited, I prefer to see it in a quiet state, rather than a busy one.
We left Mr. Singh behind with the van and made our way to the trail that would take us out over the salt flats. We had to dodge the touts offering camel rides and/or camel-cart rides. We’d had such little opportunity to do any walking since arriving in Gujarat that we all felt we’d prefer to walk to the viewing tower rather than ride. If we were tired after exploring the Rann, we could always get take a cart-ride back.
Most of the people who arrived around the time we did took camel carts or individual camels in order to get to the viewing tower and out on to the salt flats. That meant things were quiet as we walked and we could look ahead and to the left where some of the carts and camels were walking. There wasn’t the same action on the right side of the trail, perhaps because there seemed to be more actual salt on that side. It certainly looked more white, but that might just have been a because we had arrived so late in the day.
It quite busy when we finally reached the viewing tower and none of us was tempted to climb up and deal with all the selfie-taking locals. We wandered around for a little while, had a look off into the distance where there was a stark nothingness all the way to the Pakistani border. Of course, we couldn’t see that far, but it was out there just the same.
We decided to walk back, it had been good to stretch our legs and we didn’t really fancy riding in a cart or hiring a camel. I told Donna and Duncan that we’d get them on camels in the Thar Desert near Jaisalmer in Rajasthan, and that would be a much more ‘authentic’ experience that anything they’d find here.
On the way back, some young girls asked Donna if she would pose for a photo with them and they were thrilled when she agreed. There were several groups of teens still coming to the site, and when they saw Donna posing, each and every one wanted a turn with her. When it began to back up a little, they turned to Duncan and he obliged as well. Anil looked clearly Indian so they passed him by, some asked me to pose but I wasn’t in the mood and shooed them on to Donna who seemed to like the attention.
By the time we were getting back, things were shutting down around the entrance area, but I desperately needed a toilet before the half-hour ride back to the Rann Visano Resort. The Border Security Guards wouldn’t let me use their facilities. Rats! When we got to the van, I explained the situation to Mr. Singh and he ended up driving us over to a nearby posh resort. I walked by the men at the entrance, they didn’t stop me, I think because I was clearly a foreigner, and then asked the receptionist for permission to use the washroom in the lobby. To my clear relief, the waved me on. Phew!
On the way out, I stopped to thank them for accommodating me, and noticed some cute posters behind their desk. The last photo I’ve shared with you is of the poster – it shows clever photos that visitors have taken, or maybe professional photographers took them, but the salt looks sparkling white in mid-afternoon. Completely different from how we saw it, but I did enjoy the evening light and the fact that the crowds had thinned out by the time we’d arrived. All good.
I searched for some information about the desert fair (Rann Ustav), that had just wound up a few days before we arrived. It turns out it’s an annual fair, for this winter it ran from December 1, 2019 until February 20, 2020. If you’re interested in seeing some great photos about the fair and the desert, click here: