Khursheed Dinshaw (India)
I was crunching white salt under my feet at the Great Rann of Kutch, which is located in the region of Kutch in the state of Gujarat, India. The only time I stopped was to happily scoop a bit of the salt in the palm of my hand (Fig. 1), before continuing to walk deeper into the vast expanse of this natural wonder.
The legendary Great Rann of Kutch is a seasonal salt marsh that is also known as the White Rann or the Rann of Kutch (Figs. 2 and 3). The area is counted among the world’s largest salt deserts (Figs. 4 and 5).
A B Wynne of the Geological Survey of India had crossed the White Rann in the year 1872 AD In a memoir, he wrote:
“The Rann’s flat unbroken surface of dark silt, baked by the sun and blistered by saline encrustations is varied only by the mirage and great tracts of dazzlingly white salt or extensive but shallow flashes of concentrated brine.”
Looking back on the geological history of the region of Kutch, it was formed almost 18 million years ago. At that time, the sea covered the area and the land mass was hidden beneath the waves. With time, internal geological changes resulted in the land being uplifted above the sea. These geological modifications included volcanic eruptions a result of the earth’s tectonic plates moving towards each other, as a result of continental displacement when Indian and Eurasian plates collided.
In the nineteenth century, Kutch attracted British officers with its varied landscape and unique rocks in the barren hills. The Bombay Gazetteer in the year 1880 AD mentioned:
The region is believed to be the bed of an arm of the sea raised by some natural convulsion above its original level and cut off from the ocean. It was a navigable lake during Alexander’s time (325 B.C.) and a shallow lagoon at the date of the periplus (3rd Century A.D.) and there are local traditions of sea ports on its borders.”
The cycle of seasons and their change in temperatures continue to form this distinctive white desert in Gujarat. During the monsoon months, which start in June and end in September, the mudflats of the White Rann are covered with water. Post monsoon, as winter approaches, evaporation results in the hardened salt crust (Fig. 6). During summer, the sun shines over this vast expanse almost creating a mirage kind and a truly surreal feeling, all the result of Halite, Sylvite, phosphorite and gypsum chemical beds that can be seen at the Great Rann of Kutch.
Visitors get to view the desert in a different way, depending on what time of day or night they visit (Fig. 7). At night, the area turns into a stargazing paradise. One can clearly see constellations like the Great Bear and the Orion. During the day, this exceptional salt expanse enthralls visitors from all over the world, who flock to soak in its magic. The transition from dawn to dusk and vice versa is a highly coveted time.
Every year, The Tourism Corporation of Gujarat Limited (TCGL) initiates the Rann Utsav. This is a festival where visitors can stay in luxurious tents that are erected some kilometers from the White Rann. They can visit the desert and the best time is during sunrise and sunset (Figs. 8 and 9).
Another highly recommended time to experience the Rann of Kutch is on a full moon, when the white salt glistens and bounces off moonlight. However, it is always advisable to carry a hat, sunscreen, drinking water and a jacket or shawl when visiting the area as, during the day, it is very hot but, as sunset approaches, the temperatures dip with cold winds greeting visitors.
All photographs are by Khursheed Dinshaw.