Rann of Kutch

It all started 6 months back when I met Deepak Yagatey in Basavangudi while having Davangere Benney Dosey. 🙂
Deepak told me about the Glowing white salts of RannOfKutch and his biking experiences in Gujarat/Rajasthan, which made me go totally nuts about the ROK road trip.
Jan-March is the best time to do the Rann Of Kutch trip so we had to wait for almost 6 months for the right time. A mail chain started off in January and 6 of us finalized on the trip. We were only 6 because a few guys had planned for Rajasthan trip on the same dates, to attend a friend’s wedding.

Our original plan – (In Black)
Actual Route – (In Blue)

So finally on 20th Feb, we parceled 4 bikes (using Goods On Wheels) from Bangalore to Ahmedabad. But just a day after we sent our bikes, Shaz had to back off from trip. The equation came down to 4 Bikes 5 Bikers.

25th February – This day was almost similar to the day we started our Himalayas trip. We packed our bags, called each other to make sure we dint leave anything behind. I was a little nervous, felt butterflies in my stomach :-).
Subhash, Hegde and Shaz came till JP Nagar BIAL Bus stop to give us a send off.
Although it was a little late, we all met up just in time and checked in our luggage. Our flight was Go-Indigo Bangalore-Ahemdabad direct flight departure time 17:45PM local time.

We landed in Sardar Vallabhbhai International Airport, Ahmedabad at 8PM. Weather in Ahmadabad seemed almost like in Bangalore.
From airport, we hired a prepaid Auto (Paid Rs:80) to reach the railway station. 

We collected our bikes at the railway station, our bikes were all in good shape, not even a scratch. But we had to pay Rs:1,500 as parking charges for 4 days. 
We checked into Hotel Twilight (Rs:1100 for a 2 Bed AC Room), which was exactly opposite railway station, and later had super delicious dinner at Sukh Sagar.
26th February – We got up early at 6, thanks to Sathish who woke us all up early. We packed our luggage and started off at 7ish. Our plan was to travel as much as possible before heat kicks in. We took a small break on the Highway and had Sev/Papdi and other chats for breakfast. (Well, people have Chats as breakfast in most parts of Gujarat).
We drove through Sanand -> Viramgam -> Patadi and took a deviation before Dasada towards Kharaghoda. On our way, we met a biker who was driving back from Bhuj, he said he didn’t find many bikers on the way. He gave his number just in case if we needed his help.

Baraclava and Sunscreen to beat the heat on Highways

As we reached Kharaghoda, we had first glimpses of Salt factories. We knew we were very close to the Little Rann, but a localite [Mr. Savshi Takur] advised us to take permit before entering Little Rann. He suggested us to stay at ‘Bhavani Farms’ for the night, he also offered us a stay in his house if we dint get accommodation at Bhavani farms.
Now, we had to go back almost 10 KMs, near Bajana to get permission to enter Little Rann. The officer at Bajana Wild Life Sanctuary told us that the entire Little Rann is a conserved area and biking is not permitted in LROK.
He offered us a Jeep Safari into Wild Ass Sanctuary for Rs:2,500. We asked him if we could see the salt producing units, the Sun Set and spend some time in dark after Sunset for which he agreed.
The safari was actually worth it, to start with we saw the most amazing Mirages on vast plain marsh lands. And then we spotted many Wild Asses, our driver kept chasing them for a while. Wild Asses are actually beautiful to look at. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hHQZepALpHQ
We then went on to see Salt Producing stations in Little Rann, we were offered some amazingly tasty Tea by workers at Salt Units.

Villagers at the Salt Producing Unit

We saw Sunset from a place where there was 360 degrees of Rann around us. We shouted and ran around in the deserted LROK. It was almost 8 PM when we reached back the Bajana Wildlife Sanctuary office.
While coming back to wildlife sanctuary, a localite told us about Peepli Dham, and suggested us we could stay there for the night. Peepli Dham was another 15 KMs from Bajana. 
We drove across narrow country roads to Peepli Dham. It looked majestic with a tall Temple doom and had a neatly maintained premise. Temple staff were very kind and helpful, we were offered free dinner and accommodation. We left our luggage on bikes, so that it would be easy for us to start off early morning.
We called the biker guy (whom we met in the afternoon) to ask him whether biking was permitted in LROK. He told us that biking was indeed allowed, but warned us we might get lost.
27th February –It was a pleasant coldish morning and we started our ride at 6.00AM. Our challenge for the day was to ride across LROK i.e. from Dasada to Rappar. We reached Kharaghoda at 7.30 and asked the villagers for directions to Dasada, the villagers told us we may as well cross LROK starting from Kharaghoda.
And as we entered LROK, it was Woahhhh!!! amazing scenic beauty; hundreds of kilometers of plain mud in front of us, no vegetation at all, just plains,  the whole area remains under water for almost half of the year, and now dried up and looks like a big barren land.

Entering Little Rann Of Kutch

We had a quick photo session and started off, we followed the truck tire marks heading North-West. After an hour, we stopped for a tea break at a salt producing unit. (These are small huts with a small family. All they do is pump out water using bore wells and dry them under Sun so that water evaporates leaving behind the Salts).
We continued biking North-West, I had a Mariners compass, so I was the directing others.
After an hour or so, we were Lost. !!!  We knew we were close to a place called ‘Wasraj’, but we somehow felt we were circling. Believe me, compass is of no use. You can’t make out the directions at all. Every place looked similar, heat was kicking in and the Mirages added to the confusion. We knew we were lost. Crossing 100KMS in LROK in 4 hours seemed impossible.

Just as we lost all hope, we saw a guy on bike, carrying a Petrol can far off from us, we drove towards him and asked him if he could lead us to Wasraj and Rappar. He introduced himself to us as ‘Sukhdev Singh’, he was more than happy to help us. He asked us to follow him. It was like ‘Catch me if you can’, he was speeding at almost 100 kmph on a muddy Rann, and it was tough catching up with him. Sukhdev took us to Wasraj within 15-20 minutes. I wonder how people out there remember the directions.
@Wasraj- Sukhdev told us about the history of Wasraj Mandir – Some hundreds of years ago ‘Wasraj Maharaj’ used to be the Kshatriya king of ROK. Moghuls invaded their villages and took away all the cattle. Wasraj maharaj waged a battle against the Moghuls. In the battle, Wasraj’s head was chopped off by enemies, but Wasraj managed to fight with his head chopped off and brought back a bunch of cattle. In remembrance of his heroic death, a mandir was built and named it Wasraj mandir.

Sukhdev took great care of us, we were offered free lunch and took a stroll around the temple for a while. Later Sukhdev suggested us to go towards Radhanpur instead of Rappar. Because the Rann towards Rappar is very deserted and in case of a puncture, we will be left helpless. Sukhdev showed us the way and we started driving towards Radhanpur. We had another quick photo session and Little Rann looked even more beautiful along this way.

After another 2 hours of biking under hot Sun, we reached the National Highway near Santalapur.
At 4 PM, we were another 160 KMs away from Dholavira, we raced on awesome roads on the NH14, took a tea break near Rappar at 6.00 PM. The state highway (from Rappar –Dholavira, 90 KMs) was equally as good as the NH roads .

At a stretch where we had another 25 KMs to reach Dholavira, we came across the ‘Greater Rann’. Vast area of white salts, spread across thousands of square kilometers. An amazing view, the place looked like a piece of Moon. It was damp in some parts and it was dark since there was no Moon visible. We played around for a while, and thought of coming back to this place in the early morning.
We reached Dholavira at 10 PM, we had booked a couple of cottages at ‘Toran Tourist Guest House’, we had nice dinner and watched the thrilling India-England World Cup match at the guest house.
28th February – We got up at  4.30 AM and drove 25 KMs so that we could see The Greater Rann under Chandni Roshni. 

White Salts of Greater Rann

We got back to Dholavira, had breakfast and took a guide tour to watch the famous Harappan Civilzation Ruins. The road to Kala Dungar from Dholavira was cut off, due of 5 feet water log in ROK. So the only way to reach Bhuj was via Rappar.
We spent some time near the Greater Rann (Close to BSF near Dholavira) before biking towards Rappar.  Sudhi- Our 5th rider was waiting for us at the ROK White Salts near Rappar. Our plan was to reach Bhuj for the night, but we goofed up at Rappar. We stopped at a Petrol bunk, and after filling petrol we got to know we dint have enough cash to pay. And the Petrol pump guys dealt only with cash. And to add to that, the only ATM in Rappar was out of cash.
The bank guys took almost 2 hours to put cash in ATM and it was 8.30PM when we again started riding towards Bhuj. Since we were running out of time, we decided to halt at a place called Bhachau.
We booked 2 rooms at ‘Hotel Shital’, which looked more like ‘Hotel Decent’ (from Jab We Met)!.
We also had a tough time parking bikes inside the elevated parking area, because the parking area only had tall stairs without any slope to push the bikes).
1st  March – We reached Bhuj in the afternoon, had Gujarati style breakfast on the highway. We had to get Bullet Engine oil in Bhuj since Arjuns’s bike was running low.
Bhuj never looked like a place which was hit by a massive earthquake in the recent past. We visited the famous Swami Narayan temple in Bhuj. We had a discussion whether to go to Narayan Sarovar/Lakhpath or to Mandvi/Dwaraka, later we decided to stick to the current plan i.e go to Mandvi.
It was almost 6 in the evening when we reached the Mandvi beach (Wind Farms of Mandvi). We did the Camel ride, Horse ride on the sea shores and we watched the Sunset at the beach.We decided to stay in Mandvi town for the night.
Mandvi town looked almost like the locality shown in Delhi 6(movie), with small gullys packed with Temples and Mosques. We had our dinner in Hotel ‘Osho’, which everyone in the Town recommended us to go to. And the food was mouth watering, the guy who served us food was like forcing us to eat more and kept serving delicious food. He even scolded us like a mother scolding children to eat more.
After a heavy Burrpy dinner, we took a rickshaw and went to a local talkies to watch a 2nd show movie- ‘Tanu Weds Manu’. Movie was boring, but our idea of a timeout was served. After the movie, we walked back to our hotel in narrow roads. We could see people hanging out in their ‘addas’ and having group talks even at 12.30 in the night.
2nd March – We visited the famous palace at Mandvi, where Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam was filmed.

We travelled on our bikes for most of the day, we came across salt factories on our way. We could see thousands of Wind farms on our way.
Kumar and Sathish got lost for a while near the Ceramic City –Morbi and it was almost 9 when we reached Rajkot.
3rd March – Our plan for the day was to visit Somnath and stay at Gir. On our way to Somnath, we had glimpses of the famous Girinar Parvath. We reached Somnath at 3.30ish. First we saw the Bhalka Teerth, the very place where Sri Krishna was struck by an arrow and killed by a hunter(Vali’s re-incarnation).
And then we reached Somnath, and met ‘Mr. Giri’, (a gentleman at Rajkot gave Giri’s number and told us that he would help us get Somnath Darshan). Mr. Giri was very nice person, he helped us in darshan, we also did abhishek to Somnath Jyothirling. 

About Somnath – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Somnath

Giri took us around the city, and we saw the 3 ShivLings which stand amongst the Sea water. We had tea/pan with Giri.
We bid adeau to Giri and rode towards Sasan Gir in pitch dark roads. We could see lots of Jaggery making factories on the way and we stopped by one of them, just to have a look at Jaggery making process.
A worker at factory warned us about lions, leopards and stories about these man eaters. Our excitement turned into fear. I remember one of his words – "Sher Narasimha ka avatar hei, agar tum raastey mein dekhologey toh Ghabra Jaogey".
With fear and excitement, we drove on empty roads surrounded by thick forests which happens to be the home for 500 Asiatic Lions.
We reached Sasan at 10.30PM and booked an accommodation. But the restaurants were closed, we checked into hotel, put all our luggage in and drove another 5 KMs to a nearby restaurant, which was still open at 23.30 hours. Hotel ‘Shanti Sagar’ stood in the midst of thick forests, it looked very neat and the friendly waiter got us super yummy supper. Sathish had a fall in a ditch which looked pretty deep, but nothing to worry, no major injuries.
4th March – We went out on an Open Jeep Safari (Rs: 1700 for 5 of us) into Sasan Gir forest at 6.30am. Tough luck we coudnt spot lions, but saw Spotted Deers, Sambar, Peacocks, monkeys, wild bulls..etc. But just as we lost hope, a forest guard spotted a Lioness with her 2 cubs, we took a small deviation off the roads and into the forest and we spotted a Lioness with her 2 cubs. Pheww.. what a moment.

After the safari, we shopped at Sasan, I bought a few souvenirs.
During lunch, Kumar proposed his plans to go to Dwaraka and Porbandar. His plan was simply not practical, we had a bit of discussion, finally we convinced Kumar to drop Dwaraka plans. Later we drove to a nearby Lion Sanctuary, and saw three male Lions dozing under a tree. We then biked through Gir forest towards Visawadhar, we spotted a few Lion Paw marks on road.
We crossed Gir forest and reached the State Highway within a couple of hours. Weather was very pleasant as we travelled along the County roads, stopping by at  Fields talking to Farmers, taking pictures.
We stayed at Amreli- Hotel Ram Bharosa. We strolled around Amereli in the evening, we could see lots of Internet Browsing centers, Software Training Institutes in Amreli.
After Dinner, at our hotel, Mr. Noor Mohammad, a house keeper, made beautiful sketches for us.
5th March – 280 KMS to Amdavad from Amreli. We reached Lothal  by noon, (another excavation site of Indus Valley Civilization). Afternoon was scorching hot,  so we rested for a while in Lothal. We reached Amdavad in the evening, checked into Hotel Twilight (the same hotel from where we started off). We visited a few Malls of the city in the evening.
6th March – Last day of our trip, we got up late and all we did in the morning was packed our bags and parceled off our Bikes. After lunch, we went out for shopping to ‘Theen Darwaza’, a Shivaji Nagar kinda place.
We roamed around and did a bit of shopping, and after a while we looked at our watches, it was already 3.30PM !!!
Its 3.30 now and,
    it takes almost 30 mins to reach Hotel and 
    15 mins to settle bills n check out of Hotel and
    our Hotel is 45 minutes away from Airport.
So, if everything goes well we will be in Airport at 5.00.
Buut, luggage Check-in ends at 4.30.
OMG!!! we’re about to miss our flights !!!.

The scene was like in Home Alone- speeding in an Auto rickshaw in narrow and crowded roads, rushing up to the Hotel, packing bags in hurry, running here and there to find another rickshaw, I wonder how we made it, but we just scraped in the last minute. Phew..
As we fastened our seat belts, we were all in great relief.  

We landed in Bangalore at 7.30PM, a final hug and off we go home. Yet another successful Wild ride trip.