Wednesday, February 3, 2016

White Rann Kutch


White Rann

This seems to be a natural phenomenon where the salt in winter hardens and turns into salt dessert. From Wikipedia :The Great Rann of Kutch is a seasonal salt marsh located in the Thar Desert in the Kutch District of Gujarat, India and the Sindhprovince of Pakistan. It is about 7,505.22square kilometres (2,897.78 sq mi) in size and is reputed to be the largest salt desert in the world. This area has been inhabited by theKutchi people.

The name "Rann" comes from the Hindi word ran (रण) meaning "desert".

Malsi Rann Homestay
First night was at Malsi Rann homestay. You will observe and they will probably share that all the huts are circular shaped. It seemed during the devastating kutch earthquake in 2001. These huts are called Bhunga ( and the circular structures stayed more intact then all the other structures e.g. sharp edges.

This seems both observations post-earthquake and advice given by visiting Japanese researchers. You can google a decent amount of literature about this among others  does validate this. Traveling is always a good eye opener. The elders thought process might have either been a coincidence or will thought observations and past experience.

Another interesting thing to note is that the huts walls are mostly made from mud, which works as an excellent climate control in both chilling winter and scorching summer. We stayed there in cold winter and yes the huts were not freezing. Outside the huts was really cold, and the bonfire was a nice warm touch.

Also they shared that the roofs were made with dry grass and a layer of plastic below with wood support. Dried grass is a premium here. And guess what the best wood they say is called Malaysia wood. They didn't know specifically which type, we've got a number of famous trees namely Jati, Cengal and even the very eco-friendly Rubber Wood (from rubber trees)
Hihi this seems to have turned into some civil engineering geography write up.

Now to the stay and experience. This was one of the best homestays. They were very hospitable, friendly, sat and chat with us, and prepared some of the best food.

At night they make a bonfire and seat around it with you, chit chat and share their stories. They have very strict cultural practices but seem open to outsiders / visitors.
Meals are included in the package. So inform before hand if you require less spicy, as Kutch food does seem to on the spicier side. Malsi bhai knows basic English to get around.

One thing that took me time to understand is that it seems there is a rule of thumb that if your driver comes along for the night, they provide basic accommodation and maybe meals (same for Rajasthan).

What we did is got a driver for the day, visited a few places and asked to be dropped off at Malsi Rann. But make sure to make prior arrangements with Malsi bhai if he can take you to the white desert for sunrise and then kaloo dungar (Black Hill). Especially true if you took the one night package with Rannutsav which means sunrise and kaloo dungar is not included. Otherwise maybe take a driver for two days. We initially opted for one night at Rannutsav due to it being way to expensive. And things turned out for the better as we experienced Malsi Rann. Even our driver initially thought we were making things complicated but it was all worth it.

One question that comes up is it necessary to do both Sunrise and Sunset. If you have some spare time and cash yes well worth it.

Do note there seems to be two main areas for viewing / experiencing the white dessert and Malsi Rann took us to another one compared to Rannutsav organizers. The one Malsi took us had a better overall open and vast uncivilized view, but you couldn't walk way to far as the salt started getting soft, like quick sand. 

But the pictures and view are better - you judge. But this spot might not be suitable for larger crowds.

Rannutsav took us to a slightly different spot which was beautiful but there were too many structures like tents, fences that spoils the view. I'm not sure if this obstructions are a norm or was there to an event they were hosting at that time (Gujarat chief minister visit).

Getting a vast open view with the sun on one side and the moon on the other is something.

Rannutsav does offer good cultural shows and a fare of locally crafted goods. But staying only one night would limit your time. WIFI coverage was limited only to the main area and intermittent. No wifi at lodging camps.

Though the event was overall well organised, I found it difficult to get email responses. Calling probably would have yielded better results if you are already in India. One of the things they are not clear about is around what time will you be dropped off at either the Railway Station or the Airport. So what I've figured so far is of you skip the complimentary sight seeing during drop off you could reach the train station at 1pm. Not sure how far is airport. If you are returning via bus then you'll have to take the auto rickshaw to the bus stand. If you go for the 3 complimentary sites namely Aina Mahaal, Sri Swami Narayanan temple and the art craft Bhujodi, maybe by 3.30pm.

All in all kudos to the Gujrat Tourism, organisers and all.


Day 2-6
Kashmir Day2-6
Mostly entry into kashmir is via Srinagar and Jammu mostly. I think people who want to visit Hindu temples mostly enter through Jammu. If you're more info just the view and snow enter through srinagar airport.
Note as far as I know all foreign sim cards will not work in kashmir (yes even if you have enabled roaming). Even prepaid cards bought outside this area in India will not work. So plan accordingly your meet up with your host / guide. We were lucky that our guide made it convenient for us to contact him.

There is a foreigner registration counter after you pick up your luggage. Registration here doesn't seem strongly enforced especially if you are 'indian looking'.. I'm not sure the reason for registration, likely just for precautionary safety.

Heading back to airport
When you arrived and being driven out likely got world notice a long que coming to the airport. The entry to the airport area has security check points, so plan ample time. Some suggest 4 hours. Here it is something like land border crossing where you have to alight from your car and put your luggage into the x-ray machine and security check. Again this is prior to entry to the airport compound.

All airports in India will require to see your booking and photo ID prior to entry

We checked out two hotels at Srinagar, namely Centre Point and Hotel Royal Batoo. Didn't notice much on tripadvisor for Centre Point but it is definitely value for money. They have central heating which they turn on at nights and in mornings. Noticed even Royal Batoo does not on the central heating in mornings.
If you go for Centre Point suggest get with the breakfast option (and maybe dinner if you don't want to walk out). The breakfast is really good. Try the masala omelette.
Both hotels also have shower heaters (commonly called geezers here).

Choose to visit pahalgam, Gulmarg, Sonmarg or all. The most commercialised one with the cable car is xxxx.

Seasons for visiting. The least visited is didn't winter. I guess it's too cold and got can't enjoy the beautiful gardens and blooming flowers. The good thing about visiting in winter is it is less crowded, so you can negotiate better guide and hotel rates. But if you are not local probably do all your negotiations with a good reference on pricing first or pre negotiate with hotels before arrival. Remember got won't have data to check rates online once you arrive.

We got a pretty good driver overall. He owner himself took us around the first few days and did a splendid job. He shared a number of tips to navigate the tourist taps and rates Somehow mid way he deployed his worker to take us around, whose service was just average. So besides getting a good company it is equally important to get a good designated driver.

Interesting either it is hard to get money changers in kashmir or it is not common info. Our foreign credit card and atm card did work at one of the HDFC ATM. Initial try at J&K bank to no avail.

One of the main itinerary for tourist is the boat ride on dal lake. I think it's really worth it if you want to re-live Hindi film scenes. Personally I'd give it a skip of you've have boat ride before.

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