Gujarat, The Rann of Kachch

Little Rann of Kutch and Wild Ass Sanctuary

Covering 1873 square miles the Little Rann, to the east of The Greater Rann or simply Rann of Kutch, is a vast, salt encrusted desert plain that becomes a marsh during the monsoon rains. It is home to nine communities including the nomadic Mir, the Kharapat Rabhari’s, Bharawads, Bajania, Kholi, Patels, Padhars, Jats, and Wadi’s (snake charmers) as well as the endangered wild ass, a petite tan and chestnut relative of the horse that consistently denies the locals repeated attempts at cross breeding and refuses to pose for pictures. Found in loose herds which roam for grazing it is capable of running at top speeds of in excess of 20mph. Rather stop the jeep and try approach it on foot, where it may just sniff the air and allow you a shot with your camera. The reserve is also home to wolves, desert foxes, jackals, nilgai and blackbuck antelope, 380 species of birds including the endangered species such as Mcqueens bustard, sociable plover, Indian courser, the sand grouse, as well as flamingoes, pelicans and cranes during the winter migratory season.

Look out for the Tangalia weaving endemic to this Little Kutch region.

The only place to stay and the real reason for visiting the Little Rann is the eco-friendly Rann Riders (SS)(see below) based just outside the charming little village of Dasada and a stone’s throw from the Little Rann. The passionate and erudite owner Mr. Muzahid Malik together with his helpful and welcoming team, will attend to your every need, and with the amazing activities on offer (such as overnighting in the Little Rann on a camelcart) your experience here will surely be memorable. The pretty resort contains 22 deluxe suites in cottages resembling the kooba houses of the Bajania community of Dasada, and the bhunga houses of the Kutchi Rabari’s. Moreover, they are all designed using locals materials and labour, all with attached bathroom shower, fan and ac, and dry dressing rooms, tastefully decorated and set amidst lush flowering indigenous garden with a newly renovated rim flow pool producing organic food (grown out back) and serving local cuisine – you will be forgiven for thinking this is a mirage. To the contrary, Mr Malik’s family has deep local roots, a committed passion for the area and a real understanding of international tourism and its demands not usually seen in Gujarat. He is a veritable mine of information on the area and can arrange tailored itineraries and bespoke outings and activities by request and is an ambassador of the area having provided invaluable support and insight to many famous artists and authors on the unique aspects of the area. Make sure you ride up front with him on the desert jeep ride.

Rann Riders. Dasada, Distr. Surendranagar, Gujarat, (tel: 09879786006 mob: 09879786006 www.rannriders.com www.littlerannofkutch.com) 22 deluxe suites all with ac and fan, 6 in-house local english speaking naturalists, cultural folk dancing after dinner. Breakfast, lunch and dinner and mineral water, cooldrinks, softdrinks, juices and tea all included. Free Internet,no wifi, V, MC, DC.

Activities: Jeep safaris to Little Rann of Kuchchh for birdwatching and wildlife; Jeep safaris to local villages to view local tribes, communities and culture

Camelcart safaris for the villages; Camelcart safaris with or without accommodation to Little Rann of Kuchcch: stay on the periphery of the desert or lakeside on a camelcart caravan (including dinner, folkdance, bonfire); Horseriding on local Kathwadi horses) half day trips; Photographic tours (vehicles equipped with tripods and beanbags). Rates: Rs. 6,500 per couple inclusive of all food, drinks and 2 daily safaris.  There is an entrance permit to the sanctuary which is currently Rs 1050 per day and includes up to 5 pax.

For special interest tours including photography, tribal and cultural excursions and wildlife in Gujarat please contact the owner Mr Malik at rann-riders@usa.net. Airport transfers (Rs 3000 Ahmedabad) / railway transfers (Rs 2000).

 

 

The warp and weft of the woven word

The Rabari people make some of the most elaborate costumes and folk embroideries in the world. The range of variation in their clothing, jewellery and embroideries expresses their complex histories and subgroups including their migrations and their ever-changing environments. The style with which a craftswoman works is not chosen but assumed – it is a style which evolves over generations of shared and personal experiences and it reflects the continued narrative of a community. Equal to embroidery is the style of their dress and adornment. The style is critical in establishing identity and communicates instantly the community to which the individual belongs with subtle variations denoting status in that community. More than community markers these styles are also languages, which relates values and experiences. Embroidered camels and elephants remind the Rabaris of their roles as camel herders amongst royalty, scorpions and water bearers reflect the harsh life in the desert. Although the Kutchi Rabaris continue to embroider prolifically, many Rabaris today spend a substantial amount of time embroidering commercial cloths instead of their traditional pieces. Young generations look to cities for jobs and not to the time honoured traditions, so if you do purchase know that you are buying a piece of history set in time. Each element: colour, fibre, stitch and weave have meaning and this craft must be seen as a historical narrative of largely non-literate tribal peoples, whose history is unwritten, but rather woven.

(Some passages taken from Judy Frater’s book Threads of Identity, Embroidery and Adornment of the Nomadic Rabaris (Mapin Publishing 1995).

 

 

A Confluence of Art and Crafts

Gujarat offers perhaps the widest and most diverse range of handmade artifacts and textiles in India. Look out for the following styles.

Heer Bharat

Use to decorate entrances to homes, these horizontal strips are embroidered in various geometric and floral motifs.

Kanjri

Popularized by Bollywood films as cholis, these traditional heavily embroidered backless blouses are worn by the Rabbari women and make a striking statement against the dusty desert backdrop. These are beautiful ether framed or made into cushions.

Patchwork Quilts

Stitched together n geometric shapes of varied textures and colours and peppered with embroidery these are unique Gujarati works and can be used for wall hangings, bed covers and table-cloths.

Brocades

The weavers of the Meshana district are apparently the best in the world and their work is available for purchase all over Kutch.

Mashru

The craft of mixing cotton and silk weaving this is found in Patan and Mandvi.

Handblock prints

Perhaps one of the more popular styles and art forms, dating back to the 17th century and using only pure vegetable dyes and pigments such as turmeric or indigo. Look out for the prized Arjakh range which is also available in Ahmedabad.

Bandhini

Bandhini or tie-dye is not just the product of a bunch of hippies trying to kill time but rather is an art form in its own right and forms the base of a number of other styles on which they embroider or use mirror work.

Metal and silverwork

A long history of metalwork is found in Gujarat, especially in the old utensils in brass and copper such as trays, boxes, chains and nutcrackers.

Patola

After visiting the temple in Patan pop in and see how the art of double ikat weaving is alive and well. Traditional saris weaved by the famous Salvi family are frequently snapped up by royalty and fetch a hefty price for their fine detail and quality.

Leatherwork

In Kutch, look out for camel leather in saddlery, shoes, bags and belts, with all the detail and pattern you would expect from these creative tribes people.

Iraqi dates, Israeli tech, Kutchi soil!

Given their history Iraqis and Israelis refuse to see eye to eye on anything. Not so in arid Kutch where necessity isteh mother of invention, and collaboration. Farmers are growing Barhi, a variety of Iraqi dates using Israeli technology. About seven years ago, Pravin Gala, a local Kutch farmer, imported Barhi tissue to experiment with its local application. Eight more farmers joined in the trials and today with the use of Israeli drip irrigation methods and computerized monitoring systems, there are around 30 000 date palms spread over 60 acres all in different locations.

The quality is so good that plans are afoot to import a 1200 tonne cold storage facility to supply local demand and for export to Europe, Canada, Malaysia and the US. The yield is about 25kg per plant but is expected to rise to 200kg in the next few seasons, more than double the local indigenous Kutch variety which is also not as sweet.

Kutchi Pastoral Groups

Kutch has a number of distinct ethnic indigenous tribes who can be identified by their colours, styles of dress and activities.

The Rabari whom are the largest group rear cattle, buffalo and camels and sell their byproducts such as ghee and buttermilk. They are known for their fine embroidery. The men wear turbans and loose white cotton trousers with skinny leggings, a tight white jacket (khediyun) and a shawl thrown over their shoulder. The Rabari women wear choli’s or backless blouses with black dresses or pleated jackets, usually a bright red head cloth, are laden with heavy silver jewellery and their arms are stacked with white ivory or plastic bangles from the elbow upwards. Child marriages are customary and are performed usually over a 5-day period. Upon the birth of a daughter the mother commences the embroidering of the cloth which will form the most valuable portion of her dowry. In Bhujodi, just north of Bhuj, the Kutchi Rabari weave blankets and shawls from camel wool with the use of pit looms.

The nomadic Ahir are also cattle farmers and originally migrated from Sind. Similarly the baggy trousers and khediyun are typical and topped with a white head wrap. The women dress like Rabaris with more facial jewellery especially the heavy nose rings. The children sometimes wear bright topis or skull caps which is a Pakistani trait.

Also cattle herders and semi-nomadic migrants from Pakistan, the Islamic, pastoral Jats dress in black and the women wear plaits and heavy nose rings. They usually live in makeshift thatch dwellings that can be easily packed up and carried but  some have recently begun to settle more permanently due to land scarcity and

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