Rapture and Romance at the Rann Utsav
A riot of colors
Every year Gujarat comes alive with the joyful celebration of the Rann Utsav which has elicited very good response from the international tourism industry, due largely to some smart packaging and innovative marketing of the Rann Utsav by the Tourism Corporation of Gujarat. I was witness to the last year’s Rann Mahotsav, which was a riot of colors. From enchanting desert safaris to the more ethereal Rann by Moonlit, the festival had everything that a mega carnival could boast of.
This fascinating festival gets better and better every year, with something new on offer for the curious tourists. The hype surrounding the festival is aptly summed up by the Minister of Tourism – Honorable Shri Jay Narayan Vyas thus – “The 2011 Rann Utsav will be at par with some of the world’s most talked about festivals like the Mardi Grass at New Orleans, the Rio Carnival and the Oktoberfest in Germany. The idea is to promote native culture of the great Rann of Kachh”.
This year’s festival will be held from the 9th of December. The Utsav will ceremonially take off from the mesmerizing backdrop of the shimmering Hamisar Lake with arrangements for more than 400 weather proof tents that are likely to be set up in the fascinating tribal village of Dhorodo catering to the exacting needs of the discerning international travelers.
The center of Hamisar Lake is conspicuous by numerous royal cenotaphs, which has been built using the finest variety of red sandstone. The intricate carvings on stone reflect a high degree of craftsmanship. Amongst the largest cenotaphs is the one dedicated to Rao Lakhpatji’s Chhatri. A closer look at the memorial reveals that with the passing away of Maharao Lakhpat, as many as 15 of his beloved consorts too gave up their life in the funeral pyre.
Apart from showcasing the very best of traditional Kacchi culture and heritage through dance, drama and folk songs, the authorities have also made elaborate arrangements for excursions to fascinating places like Dholavira, Narayan Sarovar, Ludiya, Chhari-Dhan and Dhinodhar that will provide fascinating insight to the unique lifestyle of the people of Kutch. Apart from the exotic culture, what makes the Rann Utsav so special is the barren landscape. This western-most part of India is virtually an island, indeed during the monsoon period from May it really is an island. The Gulf of Kutch divides the Kutch from the Kathiawar Peninsula while to the north Kutch is separated from the Sind region of Pakistan by the Great Rann of Kutch.
This low lying marshy area is virtually barren due to the salt in the soil and one will find vegetation only in scattered islands which rises above the salt level. It is hard to fathom that during the dry season the Rann is a vast expanse of hard dried mud. However, with the start of the monsoon in May, it is flooded by sea water. Here in the Gulf of Kutch you will come across Flamingoes and Pelicans during the winter months. In the Little Rann of Kutch, there is the rare and endangered Indian Wild Ass that roams about unhindered. The sheer isolation of the Rann of Kutch is what draws the discerning traveler to visit this part of the world.
One of the highlights of the Rann Utsav is the horse race. The horses along with their owners gather at the earmarked horse track and there is an air of excitement among the crowds as the final whistle is blowed. The horses are brilliantly adorned with colorful pompoms and reins. Speed is of essence in the racetrack and with a view to intensify the entire race, the race track is laid on a straight course.
After the adrenalin pumping horse race it is the turn of the native dancers of Kutch to take the stage on the festival grounds. The sheer innocence of the cute tribal dancing girls are very apparent and for a majority of them, it is their first brush with the outside world. They are shy and reticent. But make no mistake, when they take on the stage these girls mean business and come with all guns blazing with their intricate tribal dress pattern and miscellaneous make up which literally evokes images of Australia’s famed aborigine dancers. Apart from tribal dance performances, some of India’s other renowned classical dance forms like the Kathakali and Bharatnatyam too are performed by expert dancers. The festival goes on well past midnight with the moonlit sky above shining through in all its sublimity, creating a kaleidoscopic vignette.
Bhuj, the headquarters of the Kutch district is an integral part of the Rann Utsav itinerary. In the days of yore, it used to be the capital of the erstwhile Jadeja kings. As guests of the Rann Utsav, you will be taken on a whistle stop tour of the major tourist landmarks of Bhuj and other places surrounding the city like the Rao Lakkha Palace, the Aina Mahal, Sarad Bag Palace, the Kutch museum etc… The new city is gradually being developed and the sight of the quintessential Camel drawn carriages carrying goods and merchandise on the narrow lanes and by lanes of Bhuj is an unforgettable sight for the first time visitors.
The people of Bhuj lead a colorful lifestyle and some of the most fascinating tribals of the state of Gujarat like the Rabaris, the Ahirs, Meghwals and Vankars reside in Bhuj and its surrounding areas. In the days of yore the state of Kutch had direct trading links with the African and Portuguese merchants and traders. If historical records are anything to go by, there was a thriving slave trade in Kutch, which was banned in the year 1834 by the British East India Company. Nonetheless, a few Africans managed to obtain residency status in Kutch and Bhuj thereby imparting a unique charm to the cultural landscape of the city.
What makes the Rann Utsav so special is the once in a lifetime’s opportunity to savor the splendid isolation, the remoteness and the warm and friendly attitude of the host communities. There are many who are initially skeptical about embarking on a visit to Kutch, dismissing it as just another stretch of barren desert in the west of India. But once they land up here from some of the world’s most prominent metropolitan cities, they begin to appreciate the mysterious natural and cultural landscape.
The mandarins of Tourism Corporation of Gujarat have carefully chalked out the itinerary for the Rann Utsav so as to make the entire festival as exciting as it can possibly be. Visits to Banni and Ludia, both renowned for their ethnic culture are an integral part of the package. While Banni is an amalgamation of tribal dwellings that are conspicuous by their traditional “Bhunga” hutments with a majority of the tribal dwellers engaged in traditional village crafts, Ludia is the bastion of the Harijan community who are renowned for their intricate wooden works and embroidery. You will also have enough chance to come in close contact with other ethnic communities like the Sodhas, the Lohanas and the nomadic Rabari tribes.
The Rabari people in particular are a mysterious lot. A Rabari can be nomadic or semi-nomadic. In Kutch, there are about 2500-3000 Rabari families. There are two types of Rabaris – the Vagadias from Eastern Kutch and the Dhebarias from the Anjar Taluka. The white dress is common to all Rabari men. Rabaris are illiterate. They have blind faith in religion. They are lovers of nature. They worship Mataji Sikotara, Momaya, Loladi, Bhed, Vankol, Amba, Khodiar and Hinglaj. Women do household work while the men folk are mostly in the desert with their sheep and camels. Rabaris do not trust doctors and use only Ayurvedic medicines. Rabari women do very interesting embroidery like Toran, Thela, Popat, Blouse, Gagra and also intricate decorations for Camels.
An early morning in Kutch finds the Rabari camped in tarpaulin shelters, preparing for their annual migration they call the “Dang”. This is when groups from five to fifteen families set out with their livestock in search of greener pastures. The wander from autumn through the following spring, during the dry months between the Southwest monsoons. There is urgency to get all the work done in preparation to decamp. Women run barefoot over stones and thorns, chasing lambs. The shepherds pound the ground with their staffs and curse the sheep as they corral them into makeshift pens. Each shepherd has a slightly different call, whistle or shriek to call his flock and the noise is deafening. Then one watches the gentle firmness with which a herdsman will get a reluctant goat to suckle a kid and realizes how precious these animals are to the Rabari.
By day the Rabari men guard their animals from wolves and jackals. The forests are also crawling with bandits. At night the Rabari herds them together with their other’s livestock for protection against thieves. A pistol or a rifle is essential for protection, but most Rabaris have only their staffs and sling shots. Besides stealing animals, the bandits often kidnap women for ransom. Apart from exploring exotic tribal culture, the waste lands of Kutch is rich with varied wildlife like the endangered Indian Wild Ass, Wild Boars, different species of Foxes etc… The festival authorities conduct enchanting camel safaris for the benefit of the visitors. On prior information, the festival authorities are even prepared to go that extra mile and conduct a tour to the world’s only exclusive Wild Ass Sanctuary. All in all, the enchanting tribal villages, a fascinating culture, a highly evolved artistic tradition and rich folklore makes a visit to the Rann of Kutch an unparalleled tourist experience. An experience of an India you never knew existed.
Traveler’s Fact File
By Air: Regular flights operate between Mumbai and Bhuj
By Rail: There are two daily trains between Ahmedabad (8 hrs) and Mumbai (16 hrs)
By Road: The Gujarat State Transport as well as private buses ply regularly between Bhuj and other major cities of Gujarat
Tented accommodation on twin sharing basis is available at a competitive rate. The tariff is per person, inclusive of accommodation, food, Rann Safari and conducted tours.
AC Tent Tariff for 3 Nights – 4 Days is Rs. 9,500/-
Non AC Tent Tariff for 3 Nights – 4 Days is Rs. 8,000/-
3 Nights – 4 Days Rs. 9,500/- Rs. 8,000/-
Extended Rann Utsav from 13th December, 2011 to 8th January, 2012
AC Tent Tariff for 2 Nights – 3 Days is Rs. 7,000/-
Non AC Tent Tariff for 2 Nights – 3 Days is Rs. 6,000/-
1 Night Stay is priced at Rs. 4,000/- (AC) and Rs. 3,000/-(Non AC).
For any further information and reservations for the Rann Utsav, please feel free to contact:
Tourism Corporation of Gujarat Ltd.
Block number 16, 4th floor, Udyog Bhavan, Gandhinagar, Gujarat
Tel: (+91-79) 23222523, 23222645
Fax: (+91-79) 23238908, 23222189