Imagine you are walking on the White Rann – a great expanse of stark white salt plains illuminated by a glorious full moon. The air is shimmering with diamonds wafting up from the earth, and you stop to think, “Is it a fantasy, a dream or a mirage?” You can’t be sure though your GPS is showing Dhorodo in the Great Rann of Kutch, just 85 km from Bhuj in Gujrat.
The Rann of Kutch is one of the world’s largest seasonal salt marshes stretching for about 30,000 square km in the Thar desert in Kutch, India and in Sindh, Pakistan. Once under the Arabian Sea until a geological uplift closed off the connection of the sea and left behind a vast lake – it turns into a salt desert in the dry months and gets filled with water in the monsoon months (standing at an average 15 m above sea level).
The locals believe that the Rann changes its moods with the changing hour of the day. In bright daylight it looks like a white desert and transforms into an orange-crimson vista as the sun sets. On full moon nights, it is at its resplendent best as it unfolds into a soft blue shimmery vision. I can vouch for it because I was there and no amount of pictures can prepare you for the real thing.
When the flight landed at the small and quaint Bhuj Airport on the eve of a full moon night, it was anything but dull. Teeming with people, the billboards proclaimed “Rann nahi dekha toh kuch nahi dekha” as I headed to the luggage belt. It took me a moment to realise that standing next to me were Pranoy Roy and Radhika Roy, the first couple of television news. Their presence was like a validation that I was at the right place at the right time.
Bags in hand, I got into the cab and headed for the tent city of Rann Utsav at Dhorodo. As the miles went by on a straight road cutting through Kutch, I got into a conversation with the cab driver and took his recommendations on what to see in the villages around.
We reached the entrance of the Tent City from where I got into a battery operated cart. It took me to my place of stay – a beautifully done up Swiss tent. I didn’t spend much time looking around as I wanted to reach the White Rann by 8.30 – the start of the viewing of the full moon from the BSF check-post about 2 km away.
Once there, I got out of the vehicle and walked onto the kilometre long tarmac flanked by the White Rann on either sides. The night sky was lit up by an enormous moon and there was stillness and silence all around.
At one point, I got off the straight and narrow road, and started walking on the salty surface. It was a surreal experience. The White Rann makes a crackling sound when you walk on it but is wet to the touch when you feel it. Simply put – it is hard salt and soft mud.
I felt like I was walking on a sea that was emanating shimmering sparkles. It was all around me, as far as my eyes could see. There was no sense of distance or space or time as I felt suspended in the timelessness of this stark land. The sense of peace was all encompassing and all pervasive as it soaked into the very depths of my being.
I have no recollection how long I was there or how far my mind wandered off, but at some point I turned around to where the vehicles were lined up to head back. The tent city was twinkling with inviting lights and the strains of folk music in the Kachhi night.
The next morning, I went back to the White Rann again. I needed to see it in the daylight to understand the full impact of what I had experienced the night before. The salt plains stretched into the horizon, and as I started walking on the White Rann, the crunching of my footsteps echoed in the air. I remembered a fragment of a William Wordsworth poem, “The silence that is in the starry sky”. I understood the moment I had lived on the full moon night. It was my Bodhi tree and it would stay with me for life.
Picture Credit : Rashmi B. Nayar
Picture Credit : Kavitha Kanarparthi & Globeracers