Road Journeys – Bhuj, the Gateway to “Rann of Kutch”: Kalo Dungar (Black Hill) & White Rann

After driving almost 400 km on odd and even roads, we reached Bhuj at or around 8 pm. Bhuj is one of the biggest cities in Gujrat with all modern amenities and plenty of Hotels and eateries, but not tourist friendly. The infrastructure developments are to accommodate the business requirements of the industrial hubs in Gandhidham and surroundings. After dropping in one of the hotels of choice, we stepped out for a sumptuous and delicious meal. A restaurant offering North Indian cuisine attracted us. After finishing, we decided to know the facilities of site visits, most of which are far from the city.

After enquiries from different sources, we found, there was no arrangements by the tourism department, in absence of which the private tour operators charge exorbitantly. Also, it is categorically alarmed, not to dare travelling in own vehicles because the roads in the Rann are very miss-leading and no helps are available in case of mishaps. Kutch is one of the least populated districts thus the logic is very tactful. The bargained package offered was at Rs. 12,000/- for a two days sight-seeing which included White Rann, Kalo Dungar and some local sights on day one and Lakhpat, Narayan Sarovar and Mandvi beach, the other day.

Bhuj-Kalo Dungar-Rann-Lakhota-Narayan Sarovar

Bhuj-Kalo Dungar-Rann-Lakhota-Narayan Sarovar

On perusing the road map and GPS, I decided to opt driving all through despite of the threats. Driving on Delhi-NCR roads helped me dare take the challenge. The local sights in Bhuj did not impress me much hence, we decided to start early morning to Kalo Dungar and drive all the way upto Mandvi in a whole one day.

Tourist Friendly

Tourist Friendly

As per our plans, we left the hotel as early as 7 am. After enquiring the route we started for Khavda, from where the permit for entry to the White Rann is obtained. A road straight leads towards the famous India Bridge, a few km from Pakistan border. At a junction, we stopped for re-confirmation where we luckily met an SI in Gujrat Police. The officer, a Haji Muslim in his late fifties was the authorized permit issuing official, posted at the same Permit Post. He was waiting for the bus however, readily accepted our offer to accompany us. On our way we talked all about the administration, tourism, prospects of common Gujratis and reportedly good governance in Gujrat etc. etc. Honestly, the officer was quite diplomatic but the pain and anxiety in the community, of the infamous incident, could be easily noticeable. We were benefited by his guidance about the roads that helped us amend our program schedule accordingly.

GP Check Post at Khavda

GP Check Post at Khavda

Hoarding for RAAN UTSAV

Hoarding for RAAN UTSAV

After dropping him at his post and collecting the Permit, we travelled towards the road to India Bridge, the road was excellently kept by the Army. A few km prior to the bridge, a right turn leads towards Kalo Dungar, after passing by a village, a hilly track with serpentine road takes up to the very famous Dattatreya Temple situated atop the hill. The height is though less than 500 metre, the uphill drive is not for faint hearted. Very narrow, no barricades, lowly hanging cliffs and bushes, angular steep inclines and sharp turns make the drive very difficult and treacherous. I have however, recently experienced much dangerous inclined and curvy track while driving uphill to the Jakhoo Temple in Shimla.

Panorama of Kala Dungar

Panorama of Kala Dungar

Kalo Dungar or Black Hill is loaded with multiple mythological stories, one out of which is regarding Lord Dattatreya and the wild Jackals, who are fed there since 400 years and strangely the Jackals reach the particular spot every time for relishing the meal.

Compiled from Wikipedia:

“This is probably the only place in Kutch from where a panoramic view of the Great Rann of Kutch is possible. Since it is located very near to the Pakistan border, there is an Army post at the top; beyond here, only military personnel are allowed.

Dattatreya Temple

Dattatreya Temple

Dattatreya Insight

Dattatreya Insight

The Kalo Dungar is also famous for a 400 year old Dattatreya temple. Legend says that when Dattatreya walked on the earth, he stopped at the Black Hills and found a band of starving jackals. Being a god, he offered them his body to eat and as they ate, his body continually regenerated itself. Because of this, for the last four centuries, the priest at the temple has prepared a batch of prasad, cooked rice that is fed to the jackals after the evening Aarti.

Another, legend has it that there was once a holy man named Lakkh Guru residing at Kala Dungar and worshiping the Lord Dattatreya. He used to feed wild jackals. There came a day when he found he had no food, so cutting-off a part of his body he offered it to the jackals, saying, “Le ang!’ (Take body part). Over the centuries, this got corrupted to ‘Long’.

The Peak of Black Hill

The Peak of Black Hill

A story in December 2010, reported strange phenomenon observed at Kalo Dungar, when some visitors noticed that their vehicles were hurtling down the hill at speeds over 80 kmph which was very strange. And this too, with the ignition switched off. The phenomenon was brought to the notice of the collector during the recently concluded Rann Utsav. The collector sent his team to get a first-hand experience and after finding that the claims carried some substance, a team of experts from the Gujarat State Disaster Management Authority (GSDMA) was called to study the phenomenon.

Educating about an Extinct Specie

Educating about an Extinct Specie

 My observation, three years later in November 2013, I didn’t experience anything unusual while driving down the hilly track. Except, that despite of the reporting in 2010, administration did nothing to modify the track into safer for driving.

Water beyond the Marsh

Water beyond the Marsh

The hillock is visited by most of the tourists for experiencing the panoramic and breathtaking 360 degree view of the Rann whereas the locals out of devotion and legends connected to it. A few steps ahead is the parking, the temple is though main attraction but tourists hastily pay obeisance to rush towards the edges for viewing the enthralling scenery. Due to vast emptiness around the hill, it is very windy.

Safer Place to View the Surrounding

Safer Place to View the Surrounding

India Bridge from Black Hill

India Bridge from Black Hill

Far on the left, appears the blurred shadowy view of the famous India Bridge, beyond which lies the international border of the friendly state. Our Jawans stand with pride and vigil on the long stretched limitless and rugged border, protecting the nation and its nationals from any unwanted incidents. The vast white deserted land shimmers in the extra bright sun, retracting persistent viewing. Even the widest camera cannot capture the vastness in one frame.

White Desert near India Bridge

White Desert near India Bridge

After an eyeful viewing, we stepped down to head towards the White Rann to see it from as close as possible. The permit, already obtained was supposed to be submitted to the BSF post at White Rann. On the way back, I couldn’t resist driving towards the India Bridge. Reaching closer, we found the bridge was no exception than any other road bridges, but its importance was multifold hence well guarded by the armoured BSF Jawans. I stepped out of the car and talked to one of them. My good luck, the Jawan belonged to Haryana and on looking on a Delhi number car, amicably talked and even allowed to cross the bridge upto the next post. Photography of the bridge is however, strictly prohibited. The Pakistan border from the bridge is though far-far away, the security arrangement was commendable. After lungs-full breathing in the no-man land, we crossed the bridge back and conveyed our gratitude to the Jawan, both for allowing us to cross the bridge and also for their selfless and immaculate service to the Nation.

Tariff for White Desert

Tariff for White Desert

Our next destination was the much applauded White Rann, exclusively after the Amitabh Bachhan’s campaign. We reached back the gateway, Khavda again and drove towards the Rann. The road is though narrow & single after Khavda but quite well maintained except few pot holes and gradients at some patches. The famous Raan Utsav was about to start from December hence, a lot of mending and preparations were at pace.

Luxury Cottage at the Rann

Luxury Cottage at the Rann

A colony of luxury cottages painted in multi colour, representing the colours of Gujrat was standing in rows amidst the barren land. A dusty track reaches upto the check point, where a team of BSF were busy in a routine of checking the permits allotted at Khavda by Gujrat Police. After the formalities, the vehicles are allowed to run on the barren flat landscape towards the much awaited white vastness.

Vast Vastness

Vast Vastness

The Natural Formation

The Natural Formation

Nothing was visible on the track due to dense cloud of fine dust engulfing the surrounding. Reaching closer, we found few more vehicles parked and enthusiasts with cameras, clicking repeatedly. Come closer and the infinite vast white scintillating flat land covered with a blanket of crystallized layer of salt particles reach out upto the horizon in contrast of the deep blue sky beyond.

Colourfully White

Colourfully White

Crispy & Creamy

Crispy & Creamy

Sometimes, the harshest could be pleasantly soothing and romantic, picturesque without scenery and colourful in whiteness. Witnessing the illusion of the Rann is simply magical, you have to be there to experience the mystical sensation and I’m sure you will dive into the romanticism of utmost pleasure.

Spoiling the Natural Beauty

Spoiling the Natural Beauty

Pitiable Devastation

Pitiable Devastation

It was so pitiable to walk on the beautiful, unexploited, natural formation of thin layer of heavenly crispy substance. It was very pathetic to see the rugged foot prints of earthly creatures on the virgin land. The cruel pug marks of horses and camels and abstract boot prints of the civilized society added only in defacing the prolonged natural formation. I preferred to capture the magnificence in my camera without contributing in further devastation.

The Journey Continues ……

  • Rann is in my wish list. Enjoying your posts on Gujrat !

    • AJAY SHARMA

      Wish, your wish fulfil soon. Thanks for enjoying the series.

      Keep travelling
      Ajay

  • Anupam Chakraborty

    Dear Ajay

    It is your yet another beautiful post with some very good observations.

    I have some queries, if you please share.

    How long this salt desert remains underwater and when does it dried up, I mean when from the season starts. Is it early morning or evening visit, which is the perfect time? Do they require any ID etc for issuance of permit? I am inquiring this because of its proximity to Pakistan border.

    Thanks for sharing.

    • AJAY SHARMA

      Dear Anupam,
      Thanks a lot for reading the posts consistently and responding with so rich comments.

      The marsh of salt layers are perennial and no water body around upto miles. Winter, I understand is the best time because of very arid and hot atmosphere.

      As Nandan already sugegsted, any valid photo id is sufficient for Indians and Passport required for foreigners for obtaining the Permit at Khavda.

      We visited it in the day time, nights are dark except on full moons. Also, it is not permitted to enter after sunset in ordinary days except when the Rann Utsav is on.

      Keep travelling
      Ajay

  • The great Rann, indeed one can only experience it (and then kind of feel that it is done, what next). We didn’t stay in Bhuj since it is quite away from the Rann. So I beat you on that. We stayed very close to Rann and it was worth it for sure. It is strange that people are offering packages of worth 12,000 via the fear-route, not done.

    Everything where one needs to go by car is drivable. Interestingly after the India Bridge, we saw a small cold-drinks/biscuit kind of staff manned by Indian Army. Very friendly and warm people.

    Kalo Dungar had a lot of people because it was a holiday I guess in our case and the drive up and down is indeed very very hard. We had a local guy with us else we would have parked much before but the guy kept on telling us to drive, drive and we would finally reach the top. It is very dangerous and probably government should organise better ways (may be a those small 20 seater buses with a fee).

    All in all, a treatful post.

    @ Anupam – While Ajay answers your queries, let me add my 2 cents. The season is Winters since in Summers it is just too hot. So that would be Nov – Feb end. The place is accessible during all times of day, though I saw people jumping on the Rann (it was kind of slushy in December end) I don’t think it is something which is advised. There is a 20 feet road strip which goes inside the Rann for a KM or so and one can walk there and go till the end. Yes, you need an ID. I think in our case, we showed the Driving License.

    Yes, it is close to border but crossing Rann (with or without ID) is fatal.

    • AJAY SHARMA

      Thanks a lot Nandan for your appreciations. I guess, the strip of track you have witnessed during your visit was for the Rann Utsav. There was no such track during our visit in Nov and entire white land was just virgin except those rugged foot prints of man and animal.

      Kalo Dungar is often visited by locals for its religious importance even by foot. True, I too experienced the uphill drive treacherous and dreadful, as I also mentioned in the post.

      Regards
      Ajay

  • Anupam Chakraborty

    @Nandan – Thanks for adding your 2 cents. Also thanks for reminding about how the borders between Pakistan and India operate in a perpetually tense mode.

    @Ajay- I still have a doubt, especially for the heat, if it is morning or evening visit that suits perfect.

  • Nirdesh Singh

    Hi Ajay,

    Thanks for bringing back the memories of Kalo Dungar and Great Rann. I missed going to the India Bridge but your account more than made up for it!

    Nice photos!

    • AJAY SHARMA

      Dear Nirdesh,
      Thanks for the re-visit with me. Keep showering your blessings thus motivating to write more.

      Keep travelling
      Ajay

  • Vinuta

    Hi Ajay,

    I have been following your blog for quite sometime. Do you know of any jobs which pay for traveling!! It is so boring to be tied down to the desk. :)

  • AJAY SHARMA

    Hi! Vinuta,
    Thanks a lot for your interest and following the logs. Yes, there are many such jobs where you are paid for traveling. BUT, that will rather be a job and not a real care free travel. Indeed, compulsive sitting is boring and that is why traveling is required. Hope to see you share few of your travels here soon. Keep following and putting your valuable remarks.

    Keep traveling
    Ajay

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  • Sunil

    Hi Ajay,

    Hope you fine, I am planning to visit kutch, in this year end.Your polite elucidation make reader bound to read.

    I like to know few thing from your vast experience on travelling.
    1) What are major hurdle you face during driving.
    2) Hows the road condition there internal edge of gujrat.
    3) Is there any area, which need to avoid to travel in night.
    4) What are the other spots near to kutch which need to cover.

    thanks

    Sanju

    • AJAY SHARMA

      Hi!
      Thanks for the appreciation &b wish you a great journey. To answer your queries, since you have not mentioned your start point; I would say, either`from Mumbai or Delhi NH-8 throughout is excellent and so is the State Hwys. So road condition no worry.
      Avoid night drive always in general in Kutch due to its sparse population & lesser to no amenities in times of help needed.
      Kutch is a large district however, mainly visited for the White Rann other worth visiting places are Bhuj, Kalo Dungar, Mata No Madh, Lakhpat, Narayan Sarovar, Pingleshwar, Mandvi etc.
      All the above distinations are briefly described in my other series.

      Keep travelling
      Ajay

  • raushni

    Would like to know regarding the availability of day trips to the great rann from Bhuj along with the contact details of the travel agencies if possible.

    Thanks for the great report

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