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A Backpacker’s Guide To Travel In Kutch

Kutch was never on my agenda, and little did I even know about it — except for the fact that savvy tourists often fly here in winter for spotting the rare migratory birds. But for a backpacker, Kutch had very little to offer.

My fear (of Kutch not being a backpacking destination) moreover started haunting as soon as I neared Kutch. Local transport here suddenly became a rarity, and the distance(s) from one tourist attraction to the other — totally unbelievable. I was spending more time standing on roads while trying to hitchhike, than seeing places.

To disappoint you, even more, remember that during peak tourist season, finding an accommodation may moreover become a challenge, have you not done an advance booking.

But despite all challenges, Kutch is an amazing place to travel. And the deeper you explore the region, the better it turns out to be. Sharing some of my first impressions of backpacking in Kutch, to help you plan your holiday better.

Great Roads But Disappointing Transport

If there is one thing that impressed me most about Kutch is its perfect roads. Even the narrowest streets leading to an unsung village were found in a perfect condition. But then, the disappointing public transport system and the long distances was something that made backpacking in Kutch a challenging experience. Every time I had to travel from one town to the other — even if they were only 60 kms away from each other, I had to spare at least 6 hours.

Moreover, public transport – right from the state government buses to a rickety Chakda (the local motorcycle rikshaws of Kutch) – never ran on time. It may also be possible that the scheduled bus may never arrive the destination (as it happened to me a few times) especially if the clock has gone past 3 in the afternoon.

Be Prepared To Hitchhike

I think it is because the public transport in Kutch is so poor, people are accustomed to hitchhiking – and even offering lifts. Even though I looked no less alien to local people – with a 50 ltr rucksack and an action camera flashing in one hand, no one felt shy of stopping for me. From trucks, to private cars, to motorbikes – I rode on everything. And everything equally worked.

At times I moreover found that hitchhiking was perhaps a better and faster option to travel inside Kutch than waiting for long hours for buses. I remember it took me more than 7 hours to reach Dholavira from Chobari Village in Kutch (a distance of nearly 120kms) as I relied on public transport. On my way back, when I hitchhiked, I covered the same distance in less than 4 hours. So hitchhiking is apparently going to be your rescue option, if you’re going to be backpacking in Kutch.

Local People Make Backpacking Easy

Kutchi people turned out to be one of the most hospitable communities I’ve ever come across while travelling in India. Almost every villager I met opened their doors for me and offered a smile. Some even offered tea and proposed to a stay in their house, should I wish to do so. During my entire two weeks of travelling inside Kutch and the little Rann (a part of which is in Kutch and a part in Saurasthra), I met unaccountable number of people who were willing to go out of way to make me feel welcomed – whether it was about waiting with me for hours, until I found a transport, or driving me 30 kms in a completely different direction to drop me somewhere.

If by far, I always believed that people in Himachal Pradesh are nicer and kinder than you may find anywhere else in India, from now on, I’d like to list Kutchi people in the same category.

The Heart Of Kutch Lies In Its Villages

One of the best charms of travelling in Kutch is exploring its small and hidden villages. Though of course it’s pretty impossible to sightsee them on foot, you can always rent a motorbike in Bhuj, or from one of the locals, by befriending them and building an assurance. I took someone’s 100cc Honda for a day, and used it to explore the nearby villages. And it turned out that almost every village in the area had its own local art and crafts form. I explored Copper Bell art, Lacquered Wood art, and even Rogan Painting – a local art form that is almost exclusive to a village called Nirona and has even made its way to the White House as a gift to President Obama from Prime Minister Modi.

Don’t Travel All The Way To Dhordo Tent City Only To See White Desert

One of the prime interests of people visiting Kutch is to see the White Desert. Walking on those crystal salt beds and watching the sun rise and set is indeed a magical and a lifetime experience. But be aware of the fact that you can access the White Desert from pretty much the entire Kutch, for it stretches endlessly to a 10,000 sq metres distance. So don’t bother going all the way to Dhordo or attending the Rann Utsav, and rather explore it from any other location, as convenient to you – because no matter where you see it from, it’s going to look the same.

Don’t Miss The Barren Crack-Land in Little Rann of Kutch

Kutch is popular for two things and moreover offers two very distinct natural phenomenon: one of them is the White Desert and the other one is the barren crack-land of Little Rann of Kutch (or LRK). Spread around an area of five thousand square kilometres, also known as The Wild Ass Sanctuary, LRK gives you an exceptional landscape – of a barren crack land. Here you can also learn about the process salt farming, and even spot some beautiful migratory birds. It’s to LRK where Mahatma Gandhi moreover started his ‘Dandi Yatra’ during British Raj. Getting into LRK is however, restricted, as it comes under the jurisdiction of Indian wildlife, and one requires to obtain a permit to trespass. But if you’re visiting one of the few temples located inside LRK, one of which is VacchRaj temple, where I’d stayed, you can pretty much access it without having a need to obtain any forest permits.

What Else?

I’d recommend making Bhuj your base, and do day trips to a few other places of interest from Bhuj. But as I said earlier, if you’re visiting Kutch region during the peak tourist season (i.e between November and February) book your accommodation in advance. I can recommend Hotel Odhav (if you’re looking for something on the decent) or Royal Guest House (if you’re looking for something cheap.  Both places are located very close to the city center, making it easier to get to and from the Bhuj Bus Station. 

From Bhuj, three easy day-trips I tried, and moreover recommend are:

  1. Exploring the local villages and Kutchi Art form. For this, I’ll recommend visiting Nirona Village (4 to 8-hour tour).
  2. Visiting the White Desert near the tent city of Dhordo (4 to 8 hour tour).
  3. Exploring the Ghost Town of Lakhpat (4 to 8 hour tour).

Have more questions? Leave a comment below. 

Filed under: India

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Shortly after my first real nine-to-five job, I left that lifestyle behind, and with it, everything that didn't fit in my backpack. I've learned that this world is too big (and too interesting!) to stay in one place. I believe that with a little courage and inspiration, everyone has the power to follow their dreams. Just as I've followed mine!

28 Comments

  1. Hey Dev,
    Everytime I go through your blog I feel like reading your posts over and over again. They are fantastic and your writing skills draw more attention. Kutch was never on my bucket list but the way you have described it and the guide has really transformed my mindset. One day I will be there for sure!

    • Thanks for a motivating comment Pooja. Didn’t know I write so well, lol.
      Thanks again for writing. Cheers!

  2. Darshana says

    Hey Dev,

    Your blog is wonderful. I am myself a Kutchi and felt really good to read about my homeland and people. Thank you on behalf of everyone here. Great Work and keep going.

  3. Hi dev, I’m on a bus to bhuj as of now and this is an absolutely spontaneous trip, first one all alone on my own too. And Stumbling upon your blog seems to be the best thing tonight, you’re absolutely rocking this page man cheers! Anyway regarding tomorrow, I’m concerned about how can I get to the rann, the white desert basically. I’m short on cash so hiring vehicles is out of option. Any other local transport means you’d like to suggest. And like you said, I’m not willing to travel all the way to dhordo to see the white desert so what other options do I have, closer to bhuj and cheaper to go to. also any suggestions regarding mandvi beach? A reply asap would be really appreciated. Thanks! Ps hope you’re having a good time travelling!

  4. Hi Dev This is fantastic. I am planning to visit Kutch from chandigarh with my parents. I am visiting from the US, so definitely bitten by the offbeat bug 🙂
    Haven’t decided # days yet but would be great if you could help with itinerary. With respect to transport, would prefer to just get a cab for the duration of our travel

  5. Pallavi says

    Hi Dev – Thanks for this blog. Quite insightful. I am planning to go around Kutch for 4 days in N2 weeks. We are a family of four (two kids aged 10 & 7) and will be hiring a car from Ahmedabad. Our initial plan was to go visit Wild Ass sanctuary in little Rann of Kutch. We are planning to stay st either Desert Courses or Eco Tour camp. Spend one day at Rann Utsav. Remaining two days cover India-Pak border, Kalo Dunger, Bhujodi, Kutch museum, Aina Mahal, etc.
    But after reading your article I have second thoughts on Rann Utsav. Could you provide other suggestions instead to cover White dessert and also maybe comment on my other plans. You talk about permit in your response to other comments on this blog. What is the permit for? Budget is not a problem. Appreciate your guidance.

  6. Hi Dev
    Here…a teacher frequent traveler looking for co-traveler if anyone traveling to Bhuj Kutch on 1ST AND 2ND NOV, 2017. if you find anyone please do refer i am reaching on 2nd at Bhuj morning by train.
    Looking forward

  7. Surendra Mannem says

    Hello Dev, I’m planning to visit Kutch in Nov 2017, definitely not for festival. i’m from Hyderabad, i have 2 complete days in Bhuj and i’m solo traveler, i have very limited budget, can you suggest me the best possible itinerary for 2 days.

    I want to explore the places in 2 wheeler is that safe, to travel alone on bike, such far.
    I tried to contact you on Facebook, but didn’t find you.

    Mine: https://www.facebook.com/nani.mannem

    Please revert.

    Thanks,

  8. Hey Dev, Nice writing style, you have informed a lot, in short! about kutch and the people there.

    I am a photographer, planning to ride with my fiancee coming December (we are marring the next year). As we have plans of shooting late in the evenings and camp at the villages over night and continue our journey.

    Could you shed some light on this please!
    Thanks in advance!

    Cheers!!
    Vinay

  9. Soumya says

    Hi Bro
    You are really Inspiring
    Bro, I’m plant Kutch on end of January…
    So my plan is to hire bike from Bhuj and make road trip to Dholavira, through Ekal Ka Rann. But Bro, I dont know where the place “Ekal Ka Rann” lies in the Map….
    Can you help me with that…
    Bro and also how best can I plan this road trip and stay for 2 days… My interest is only to witness the White Dessert… Will 2 day be enough… Can we tent anywhere in between… And how far can i expect my expense…. Please Help Bro…. Thanks a Lot…

  10. Deepshikha says

    Hi Dev,
    I am a solo traveler largely dependent on public transport. As I have come to know dhordo and those high rated tents are waste of money so I am not interested in investing in them at all. though i would like to visit the white desert. I will be staying in Bhuj so will be commuting to and fro Bhuj. What do you suggest?

    • Subhashree says

      Hi deepshikha /Dev

      I have the same question . Could any one please reply me also to my mail id below asap. I need to book hotels accordingly for december 24th

  11. Hi Dev,

    Read your article and found it very interesting, did try contacting you via Facebook messenger. Planning to visit the white desert in the first week of December. As you said and heard from the people, not too keen to stay in the desert city, Dhordo. Could you please suggest on a stay at Home, Shaam-e-sharahad. Also, if I can see Ekal Ka ran. I will have 2 days there and not keen to see other places in Kutch like Mandavi or palaces, please suggest and guide.

    Thanks in advance.

    • Hi Meeta, not sure about Shaam-e-sharahad as I never stayed there. But here’s the thing… Since White Rann is a patch of big white desert and looks the same from every direction, it doesn’t matter where you stayed. I’d say, to avoid travelling too much (since you’ve only two days) visit Ekal Ka Rann only and from there, try exploring LRK (because LRK is closer from Ekal Ka Rann than from Dhordo). I will connect you to a person who runs a guest house near Ekal Ka Rann, he may help you. Abhay:9033038810 | The guy runs motorbiking tours in Gujarat and Jammu | Feel free to say my name, he knows me well.
      Enjoy 🙂

  12. Preeti krishnan says

    Hello
    I am planning a trip to Kutch in December 2017 for 3-4 days. Could you suggest a possible itinerary. I’m looking forward to experience the rann utsav and visiting dholavira apart from the white desert experience. Also what is lakhpat about if planning to visit there?

    • Hey Preeti, Lakhpat is a town of riches before Gujarat earthquake of 1819. Today, it’s a mere Ghost Town. I’d suggest you do a day trip to Lakhpat from Bhuj, it’s a lovely place to visit. Other than that, do not miss the White Desert, it’s a highlight, you won’t find such massive white secret anywhere else in the world. Rather, skip Rann Utsav, it’s a tourist trap, organised by bureaucrats and rich travel agents, covertly making a lot of money, in the name of promoting local tourism and art. The prices in Rann Utsav are unbelievable. Rather, explore white desert from some other spot, while staying in a smaller hotel/homestay and benefiting the locals directly. But whatever you decide, I’d recommend please, “DONT MISS WHITE DESERT!”

      • Preeti krishnan says

        Hello
        Thanks for the reply! I also wanted to ask about little rann and the wildlife sanctuary there. Considering I have three days at hand how would you suggest to distribute the time between white desert and lakhpat and wildlife sanctuary/ dholavira?

  13. Hi Dev

    Thanks for this excellent post for someone planning a trip to the bordertown on a budget. I am planning a trip with my friend to Bhuj reaching there on Feb 3rd. I intend to return from Jodhpur, Rajasthan on 8th. If you gave travelled in that part, can you suggest a cheap way to getting to Jodhpur from Bhuj. I understand it is quite a distance, I am open to making stops on the way and make the trip more interesting.

    • Hey Akash, there’s a train from Bhuj to Delhi which passes through Abu Road or perhaps through Pali as well (or somewhere closer). It leaves three days a week (check on IRCTC), you can go from Bhuj to Pali or whatever other closest station it passes through (can also be Jodhpur itself, even if not Jodhpur, it would definitely be somewhere else less than 100kms away from it), in sleeper class in under 300 Rupees. Get a local bus from there. So Bhuj to Jodhpur in less than 500 rupees is very much possible. Enjoy your trip!

  14. Hi Dev

    Great read!
    I’ll be travelling solo to Kutch, tentatively reaching Bhuj on 6th Feb. I plan on hiring a bike for 3-4 days. I wish to witness the Kutch Utsav but I wasn’t keen on taking the swiss tents as there is no value for money. However, reading your other article has kinda discouraged me to attend the utsav at all. Apparently, carrying my own tent or riding back to Bhuj makes no sense because you can’t enter the utsav premise without booked accomodation?!
    Apart from the Utsav, I wish to
    1. camp out in the white desert for at least one night (11th is a full moon)
    2. since the utsav is out, experience the culture and a village home stay
    3. Cover Dholavira and some of the touristy spots around Bhuj

    What would you suggest? Also, what permits should I keep in mind regarding visiting the exterior parts and if possible, camping out

    • Yes you cannot enter Rann Utsav premise, if you haven’t booked with them.
      1) Camping in white desert is totally not allowed. Also the entire white desert is around border area, so it’s not recommended either.
      2) there aren’t many real homestays in bhuj to speak of (as you find in himalayas) but if you try, you can be invited by a local for sure.
      3) Dholavira as an archaeological site was stupid, but you’d love the 7km road (just before dholavira) that passes through white desert, specially if you’re driving.

  15. Supraja says

    Hi! I’m planning a trip to Kutch next week from Ahmedabad. I will be traveling solo and have 3 days planned for Kutch. Could you suggest things to do, places to stay, and ways to get by? Do you think I should hire a cab from Ahmedabad considering public transport is not easily available?

    • If you only have three days in hand, I’d totally recommend you arrange your transport. Either hire a motorbike to drive (because roads around Kutch are super-smooth and thus give a great biking experience) or hire a cab. For three days, it depends where you want to stay, how much is your budget. If you want it cheap, stay in Bhuj and do day tours to White Rann, Lakhpat (for some history), Mata no Math (if you’re interested in temple), Nirona Village (for some art and crafts). so one day for arts and crafts, one day for white desert, one day for history in Lakhpat can be a good itinerary.

  16. Hey Dev,
    Have 2 queries.
    I am doing a solo bike ride in Feb 10 week. So planning to go to bhuj and lookout for stay. 30 kms away from bhuj though nice, but wondering if there is within the city affordable ? And also available ? Please recommend

    Also, i am planning to go to zero point (beyond india bridge to border) by applying for permit in BSF HQ in Bhuj. Are they still giving? Any info, please pass all.

    Thanks

    • Okay, so the cheapest possible accommodation options will be in the city of Bhuj. Any offbeat farm stays or camping sites will charge a minimum of 1500 rupees per night. You can check Devpur Farmstay (which is run by Devpur Homestay), it are comparatively affordable, though I’m not sure how affordable. The homestay starts from 2500 per night.

      I did not go to zero point, but a local guy told me that they still allow you to go beyond India Bridge, but you need to obtain the permit at least 7 days in advance. Please send me a message at facebook.com/footloosedev and I’ll pass on a guy’s number you can speak to. He will give you the absolute correct info about the permit, and might also help you with a stay around Bhuj.

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