When I was initially planning my trip to Gujarat, particularly around the Rann of Kutch region, I felt hopeless. Every place in the Rann of Kutch charged at least a couple of thousand Rupees for a night. And this did not include food. Some generous tourist homes, however, offered complimentary breakfast but their price tag was way over my budget. “I’d never be able to travel to this part of my country, if I couldn’t find sponsors,” I remember wondering.
The only option for me was to stay in the nearby towns of Bhuj and Gandhidham (with neither of the cities having anything interesting for a traveller like me) and do day trips to Great Rann of Kutch (GRK) and Little Rann of Kutch (LRK). But it didn’t sound feasible. At least not for someone who was backpacking and had to wait for long hours hitchhiking, thanks a poor public transport scene in Kutch.
Read: Kutch Travel Guide
In order to explore the White Desert in the Great Rann of Kutch and the barren crack-land of The Little Rann of Kutch, I had to stay as close to them as possible. It was particularly important for me to stay inside, or at least closer, to The Little Rann of Kutch, for I knew there was no public transport available inside its entire five thousand square kilometre area, and then a friend suggested to me exactly what I was totally looking for – a way to stay in the Little Rann for not just in budget, but for free!
Well, before we get to that, be known that those wanting to travel inside the Little Rann of Kutch are required to stay only outside of the forest area, in one of the safari camps, as the Little Rann of Kutch comes under The forest reserve (Little Rann of Kutch, also known as the Sanctuary of Wild Ass is the last refuge of the Indian Wild Ass ‘Khur’ and hence a protected piece of land). And anyone wanting to visit the Little Rann of Kutch is required to get permission from the forest department and is allowed a visit during daytime and under the permitted time, but there’s is one place that allows you to stay inside the Little Rann of Kuch, and it is moreover the same place that allows you to stay there for free.
Located right in the middle of the Little Rann of Kutch lies the popular Vachhraj Dada Temple, a local deity for the Rajput community living around the Little Rann of Kutch. Anyone visiting the temple is considered a pilgrim and is therefore exempted to obtain a permit from the forest department.
Located right in the middle of the Little Rann of Kutch, Vachhraj Dada temple offers a perfect place for budget travellers to stay and explore the area, all for free.
Vachhraj Dada temple (locally pronounced as Vaachda-dada) holds a high religious significance among the local Rajput community of Gujarat. And anyone visiting the temple is considered a pilgrim and is offered free food and a bed.
Located at about 21 kilometers inside the Little Rann of Kutch) from the nearest town of Zunzuwada, towards the east, the place moreover offers a total no-man’s-land experience. You would be far off from any civilization, except for the people in the temple, and a few hundred cows that live inside it.
If backpacking, you’ll get the public transport only up to the towns of Zinzuwada and Palsava, located on either side of the Wild Ass Sanctuary. From there, you’re required to hitchhike in order to reach Vachhraj Dada temple. Hitchhiking should be no problem, due to the frequency of private/commercial vehicles that keep visiting the temple.
The Story Of Vachhraj Dada
Vachhraj Dada temple is dedicated to a folk deity and an eminent warrior-hero of the region named ‘Vachhraj’. The story has it that Vachhraj belonged to the royal family of a Rajput ruler, some 900 years ago. On the day he was getting married, he heard the news that some dacoits were looting and taking the cows of a village inside the Mehsana district of today, to butcher them. He left the marriage ceremony incomplete to fight the plunderers, in which he attained martyrdom. According to the legend, it is believed that Vachhraj’s head was cut in the fight by the sword of an enemy but even after that his body kept fighting against the people for hours and killed them all. A temple was built in his memory.
The 3500+ cows living inside the premises of the temple today are moreover believed to be belonging from the same family of cows that Varchraj saved fighting.
What To See And Do In Little Rann of Kutch
Despite being located in the middle of a no man’s land, there is enough to do around here. Expect to see some of the most amazing sunsets and sunrises along the horizon, you’ve seen in your life.
Other than the sunsets and the barren crack-land, stretching along a few dozen kilometres in any direction, you can visit the many salt farmers working in the little Rann’s many salt farms.
A few kilometres from the temple also takes you to an artificial river stream, running around the area, where you can spot migratory water birds like cranes, pelicans and flamingos. Hundreds of them. Night walks on the other hand, around the area, can take you across an Indian wolf or a desert fox, if you’re lucky. I sure wasn’t!
Getting To Varchraj Dada Temple
If you’re visiting by public transport the best way to get to VachRaj dada temple is from Ahmedabad. Take a train from Ahmedabad to Viramgram (3 hours) and then a bus from Viamgram to Zinzuwada (2 hours). From Zinzuwada, there’s no way to get to VachRaj dada but by hitchhiking. Since tourists keep visiting the temple, and is only about 15 km from Zinzuwada, finding a lift should not be a problem. It’s advised not to walk on your own in LRK because of the risk of losing your way.
From Bhuj, you can take a train or a bus to Gandhidham and then a bus to Palsava. Now, as I said before, the best way to get to the temple is from Ahmedabad, because the distance from Palsava (the nearest point to the temple, from where no public transport is available, is at least three times the distance from Zinzuwada). From Palsava, you will have to hitchhike again.
PS: Since VachRaj dada is basically a Byre (or a cowshed) and there’s no grass available inside the entire region of LRK, trucks full of dried hay leave from either side of LRK every 2 hours, and can be used for hitchhiking.
As mentioned above, The Little Rann of Kutch (or the Sanctuary of Wild Ass) comes under the jurisdiction of Indian forestry, therefore you’re required to obtain a permit to access it unless of course, you’re visiting the Vachhraj Dada temple. Consider it as one of the perks of travelling in the religious country India.
So if you’re motorbiking or are travelling in a group or solo, and someone representing the forest departments stops you for questioning, make sure you’ve properly rehearsed the answer they’re expecting to hear.
I was even told by locals, inside the temple, that a few regular tourists even do camping inside the Little Rann, and around the temple premises. Upon being questioned, they give the customary excuse of visiting the temple, as the original intention behind their visiting Little Rann of Kutch. Doing so, they get away with the penalty. Crazy, but true!