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.
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:
- Exploring the local villages and Kutchi Art form. For this, I’ll recommend visiting Nirona Village (4 to 8-hour tour).
- Visiting the White Desert near the tent city of Dhordo (4 to 8 hour tour).
- Exploring the Ghost Town of Lakhpat (4 to 8 hour tour).
Have more questions? Leave a comment below.