This is our first bike trip as a couple, so we are learning as we go but we started the trip with a rookie mistake – we didn’t leave early enough. We woke up late, underestimated the packing time, and started at 11:30 am !! The sun was blazing and we were cooking in our jackets and we had to weave through painfully slow moving traffic. So lesson one, to all you future bikers, do not leave post 7:00 am from any city, sleeping in is just not worth it.
Our first stop was Sarkhej Roza, a monument built around 500 years ago, just 10 KM away. In my three years in Ahmedabad I had not managed to visit this place, and was very keen to check it off my list. This is where we made our second rookie mistake – you cannot go sightseeing with a bike full of luggage. So we took turns standing by the bike whilst the other person ran in and took a few photos. Not fun at all. So lesson two is separate your journey from site seeing – reach your base, dump your bags and then step out to explore the city.
Sarkhej Roza is a tomb and mosque complex built around a large artificial lake – for one of the Sufi Saints who laid the founding stone of Ahmedabad. It then grew into a hot bed of Sufi activity – there is an annual sufi music festival there too, which is again something I missed during my three year stay in Ahmedabad.
Anyways I had built this place up in my head and was disappointed. Like most Indian monuments it is in disrepair, poorly maintained and the mosque has been take over by a sect of people, who have added things to it, painted over the stones and even allowed petty shops to function from within. The other two monuments ( there is no information as to what they are) overlook the lake and provide for great photo opportunities. My advice is to go here during sunrise or sunset, when the sun is not beating down on you, skip the mosque entirely and get some great photos. If possible also go right after the monsoon when the lake is full.
So feeling quite ashamed at our rookie mistakes we set off towards Dasada, 86 KM away. The ride is through major highways so it is quite boring, though there are plenty of birds to spot on the way. In my case I have to keep pinching the Other so he stops spotting birds and looks at the road.
We finally reached Dassada at 2, tired and hungry, just in time for lunch. We stayed at a resort called Rann Riders. For 8000 Rs, (old rate – as of this season they have made it 8700 rs) they give you three meals and a safari into the little Rann as well as a tiny little mud cottage. The whole resort is artistically designed with some very beautiful details but with a manicured landscape, there are bamboos and bougainvillea in the middle of the Rann, but once again if you don’t think too much it is quite enjoyable. The cottages are circular leaf printed mud huts with just enough space for the beds. Each cottage has a little porch with two swings, which makes for a nice nook to have your tea and a chat. The back of the cottage opens int0 a little dressing/ luggage storage area with a bathroom. They have tried to do something nice here – the glass shower area overlooks a tiny walled courtyard, which has some seating and a open air rain shower. It looks beautiful – very Auroville with trees all around. The wall is high enough so that no one can peek in, but unfortunately it lacks finesse. There was no hot water in either of the showers. The outdoor rain shower was caked with god knows what, and there was just a trickle of water. Imagine standing under a shower after a dusty safari to be greeted by a trickle of ice cold water, which just doesn’t get warmer no matter how long you stay under it. So then you run inside, and the shower inside is no better and the temperature is less than 15 degrees C!!
The food offered however was yummy, no complaints. It is your typical DBRS ( dhal – baati – roti – sabji ) but with perfect masala and great service. So I would rate this place 3 out of 5 and that is just for the lack of hot water and poor condition of the showers, it would have so easily got a 5 otherwise.
The highlight of our trip however was the safari. The little Rann of Kutch is a great saline lake, which is flooded during the monsoon, and dries up the rest of the year. When flooded, it has a series of islands which support its wildlife – it is also a wild ass sanctuary and infact the largest wildlife sanctuary in India. Despite the desolate landscape it supports a healthy population of wild ass, nilgai, and a whole host of birds – both migratory and resident. The sanctuary is also home to wolves, hyenas and foxes which are however very rare to see ( we obviously didn’t see any, and are not surprised, it took the other a year to spot a wolf in the wild while he was filming them ). The biggest threat to the park is its boundaries being encroached by agriculture, salt mining and shrimp culture. Habitat loss is common due to agriculture around all national parks and wildlife sanctuaries as graziers and nomads shift towards a settled lifestyle. The Other’s last film, walking with wolves – available on Netflix was based on this, but set in northern Karnataka. Salt panning – using borewells to create shallow pans which yield salt on evaporation however is a larger problem and I don’t think there are enough checks and balances in the system – a sanctuary doesn’t get the treatment a national park does. We saw several salt pans during our safari and the driver was elusive with his answers. Apparently a considerable portion of India’s salt does come from the little Rann ! Now it is my turn to laugh at all of those who laugh at me for buying organic rock salt, and choosing unprocessed salt !! Ha !! There is a specific species of prawn endemic to the little ran and this is farmed extensively, again damaging the eco system – so it is best to avoid eating prawns in this area including Ahmedabad , unless you are very sure of the source.
We drove through agricultural fields for quite a bit, the black soil in that area is used to grow mostly cotton and castor, with a sprinkling of jeera, before driving onto a mud road through a village. The villages here belong to another India, children are so excited to see a vehicle and run behind it waving and screaming “ bye – bye” till they are enveloped in a cloud of dust. Idyllic villages, swings beside tiled roof houses, children rolling tyres with sticks… a 1000 stories, a 1000 mental images.
We entered the Rann, and it was breathtakingly desolate – a vast flat expanse – dotted with a few bushes. We were lucky to see a few wild ass immediately, but they soon ran into the bushes due to the sound of the jeep. The beautiful creatures resemble the donkey in size and shape but look like white chocolate with a coating of milk chocolate just at the top. We then drove along the Rann – nothing as far as the eye can see, no roads at all. I have no idea how our driver found the way back. We then spent a considerable amount of time at a water body ogling at flamingos. Pelicans and cranes. The flamingos are strange birds, they have their heads buried in the water /mud at all times, and move at the same time. They reminded me of robots from a science fiction movie. We then moved further into the Rann and saw a herd of Nilgai and sun set over them. It was breath taking. According to me there is no where else in the world except Kutch for sunsets and night skies.
I made the mistake of bringing a pink sweat shirt for the cold and was banished inside the jeep. The other got out to get some good shots of the Nilgai. And then suddenly we heard a hrmffff… and large male wild ass appeared from a bush, hardly 10 feet from him. They both stood still, the wild ass was curious and completely unafraid. After a bit of a staring match, he lost interest and moved on, and then a wild boar darted our from the bush.. it was the others day !!!
Happy and elated we headed back, oof this is long post – more coming up !!