Indian festivals are a cultural canvas for any destination. Celebrated with fervor, most of the local festivals are a delight for travellers and offer a closer look into the heart of the place. The annual Rann Utsav in Gujarat was no different. Spending a day at the makeshift ‘tent city’ of the festival was one of the main highlights of the 4-day self-driving trip with three girl friends, as part of the ‘Wheels of Wander’ campaign by Maruti Suzuki Alto and Outlook Traveller.
The festival is organised by the state at the edge of the Rann of Kutch in a village called Dhordo. The temporary city is set up over 5,00,000 sq meters, so people can enjoy cultural performances, markets, cuisines and crafts, as well as stay back to enjoy the white salt flats at night. The full moon nights are much coveted for visitors, as the moon lights up the marshland with its celestial glow. There are 350 tents in 9 clusters that host thousands each year from November to March. The idea is to showcase the cultural nuances of Kutch, spanning art forms, craft and cuisine to the travellers. Here are few of the aspects of the festival that one can enjoy during the Rann Utsav.
This year, an eye-catching pink and green installation of the words ‘Rann Utsav’ stood tall at the entrance, flanked by decorated camels. The bright colours could not be missed, as every corner wore a signature pink and green of the festival – the parking lot, the branded bags and all the food and market stalls. Even the reception area had an opulent facade and the haat (market) was decorated with upturned umbrellas hanging from what seemed like invisible ropes. The entire tent city was dotted with artistic installations that provided ample photo opportunities for selfie-lovers. From enormous puppets, colourful statues to parked rickshaws, there was a striking vibe to the décor of the festival.
One of the highlights of the Rann Utsav was the haat, or the market, where handicrafts from Gujarat were on display. From magnets to Ajrakh print diaries, local textiles, to handmade bags, one could buy a number of souvenirs. Contrary to my belief that the rates would be skyrocketing, the things were reasonably priced. The best time to stroll around was in the afternoon, when there were no performances and one could spend ample time scanning all the shops.
Music, dance and other cultural performances added another dimension to the already colourful evenings. The musicians played more contemporary than folk themed music, ensuring that many visitors were on their feet. While the Rann Utsav celebrates the region, it intersperses folk music and dance with some Bollywood. The four-month long festival offers a variety to the visitors.
Hardly ten minutes away from the commercial tent city is a large sprawl of salt flats that seems to stretch as far the eye can see. The White Rann extends from Gujarat's Kutch district to Pakistan's Sindh region, spreading over 30,000 sq. km. During the Rann Utsav, it is crowded with tourists and not without a reason. Everyone wanted to witness the sunset over the White Rann. There was room for everyone – pre-wedding shoots, college goers, families and travellers. Despite the large crowd one could find a lone spot to take in the grand departure of the sun below the horizon. Tangerine and auburn hues filled the sky and then the ball of fire was swallowed by the white expanse. Sunsets are always remarkable, but this one was bucket list worthy.
It had only been a few minutes since the sun bid farewell, and it was already time to turn around and welcome another celestial body rising up. Not only had we arrived on the night of full moon, but also it was a once in a lifetime experience of seeing a lunar eclipse in this spectacular setting, making it a full moon, super moon and blood moon. As soon as the sun left, the temperature dipped. A faint red blot appeared in the sky and then darkened. It was pitch dark for some time and then slowly a white ring around the moon started to appear. The moonlight soon washed over the entire Rann, making it sparkle in the cool blue light. We watched in pin drop silence, tongue-tied by the sheer beauty of the spectacle.
We returned to our tents for the night, but not without the sound of traditional tunes in the distance. I could barely understand the words but it was heartwarming to hear music waft towards us to complete this magical evening.