I came across a Facebook event, just like that, which said- The Great Rann Cycling 2018, organised by #Curiouswheels. The ‘curiosity’ got better of me and I read up all about the event. It was an interesting event spread over 5 days, cycling(which I absolutely love) in the Great Rann of Kutch ,for a pretty decent price. As usual, I tagged most of my like minded friends but most of them had some or the other reason to give this offer a pass, except for Rahul Nene ,who was equally excited about this as I was. Few quick calls to each other,confirming our participation to Curious Wheels, deciding the modes of transport to and fro to Bhuj, sending out mails to clients for unavailability from 24th January 2018 to 29th january 2018 and we were good to go!!!
So we set off on the 23rd January towards Mumbai. A train from Dadar at 00.05hrs on the 24th January would take us to Bhuj on the same day at 19.00hrs to the Neelkanth Bhavan in Bhuj ,where we were to assemble and get acquainted. Due to the train timings we had to miss the evening ride in and around Bhuj which the other members of the tour did.
We met everyone at the dinner table and after quick introductions and a simple meal , we were briefed about the ride that was about to start the next day. Anurag and Neeraja ,the organisers, from Curious wheels were pretty clear about the dos and donts during the rides.
It was a random bunch of people from various cities. Shekhar and Smita from Mumbai, Ravdeep from Delhi, Mahitha, Lavanya and Kishore (our room partner for the tour) from Vizag/ Vijaywada , Rohit and Dhananjay from Mysore.
Day #01_ 25th Jan 2018 _05.30 hrs
An early start. First cup of tea at a local tapri and we were all charged up. We went to the ‘parking’ zone to pick up our cycles.These were organised by the team of Curious Wheels from Ahmedabad. All the cycles were hybrids_ UT_ H2 .
So, since my first cycle was the same brand, I was pretty happy on that front for sure!!!
We had to cover a distance of close to 60 kms today. head West from Bhuj and reach a place called Fossil Park near Bibbar. After a quick photo session and All the best wishes to each other , we headed out.
Got a feel of the excellent roads to follow ahead as soon as we covered a distance of just 5kms…Perfectly tarred roads with mild traffic… The initial few kms were spent in getting used to our cycles, getting to know people while riding, looking around. The first stop for photos came soon at a nice bridge over a dried up river.
Since a few of us were a little faster than the others, Rahul decide to go down to the dried up river to take some lovely pictures of a few cowherds who had got their cattle there.
Soon the first of many ‘Chai’ stops happened for everyone to reassemble. Unfortunately, Rohit and Dhananjay went ahead so they missed this break. An impromptu visit to a nearby dam too happened .
Moving further ahead the next assemble point was Loriya check post from where we were supposed to move towards Bibbar. This was a distance of about 25 kms from the start point. Further up ahead it was lunch time and we stopped at a lovely ‘picnic lunch spot’. Under a tree, with castor fields around. A bit ironical for a lunch spot I must say!!!! Over a good meal of Theplas and aloo sabji and some outstanding sweet Mawa for dessert , we had a nice chit chat session.
Dragging ourselves after a satisfying meal we were back on our rides . Next stop would be a few kms ahead at a small village called Nirona, to see 2 art forms.
- Rogan art– It is a type of painting done by mixing Castor oil solution with different dyes to create some absolute masterpieces. This art form is done only by a single family in the whole world in this small village nestled somewhere in Bhuj!!! click here
- Copper bells– This was a place which ‘sounded’ beautiful!!! All types, sizes, varieties of copper bells producing the most mesmerising calming sounds ,from bells made from iron scrap and then coated with copper to make them sound just right!! http://gaatha.com/metal-bells-of-kutch/
After getting awed by the art forms and spending a few bucks on shopping for a few souvenirs, we headed further towards Bibbar. This time , me and Rahul really pedalled hard and took a considerable lead. After a while we thought that we were lost and started asking for directions for Fossil Park. After not getting any response from the locals, we thought of taking refuge on the road under some shade. The only shade available were a few road laying pipes!!!
Thankfully, after a few minutes we could see our fellow mates cycling and we were back on our way towards the destination for the day. A ride of another 15kms approximately from our rest spot and we had reached ‘Fossil Park’.Here we were to stay in the traditional Bhungas.
This basically is a staying facility built by a person called Mr.Soda who has collected a lot many fossils around Bhuj and converted a small portion of this facility into a personal museum. It was another eye opener about some things that were unaware of. It was truly a moment of OMG India!!!
An mouth watering and most awaited snack of authentic Kutchi Dabeli awaited us. After the snacks we freshened up and reassembled for the next day rides briefing,followed by another authentic Gujrati dinner.. A few more dos and donts by Anurag and we were all awaited the next morning to cycle on a new exciting route.
Day #02_ 26th Jan 2018_06.00 hrs
Happy republic Day!!! Instead of good morning, we wished each other A happy republic Day… The day started with A few tyres being punctured(of the many to follow!!) i assisted Anurag in getting them fixed and soon all of us were on our way towards the White Rann of kutch.The target today was a long ride of 70 odd kms, through a desert bird sanctuary called Chhari, to Hodko and further upto Gorewali where we would be staying. We had been instructed that we need to make good time so that we would be able to capture the setting sun at the White rann, which is truly a spectacle.
Soon we were cycling through a sort of Wetland just ahead of Fossil park. We were greeted mostly small species of birds chirping, like the bee eaters, sunbirds, prinias, robins etc. Me and Rahul had decided to be the rear guard for this day and we ended up chatting with Ravdeep and Mahita all along the way.
Soon enough we reached Chhari village, where the townfolk started giving us bemused looks!! It was a rare sight for them to see 10 people cycling towards the barren land!!!
Soon the vegetation started disappearing and we headed into a barren endless desert. Completely off road dirt track had many of us initially struggling with the right combination of the cycle gears to make it a smooth ride. However once everyone got their combinations right, everybody starting enjoying the ride . We had already decided that the entire batch sticks together for this Chhari patch since its really easy to wander off to the border on this track . Moreover there was no phone range in this patch so all the more necessary to be together.
What lovely sights !! Serpent Eagles, Short toed Eagles soaring over our heads, Barren miles of land all around, Occasional Mirages, Warm breeze to counter the scorching sun and a few wild stray Camels entertained us throughout this Off road trail!!!!
We had to take multiple stops for some fun photo shoots in this arid landscape which was providing us the best possible foregrounds and backgrounds!!!
Unfortunately all good things come to an end and so did this exciting trail. BAck on tar roads now,we made our way towards Hodko which would be our lunch stop as well as a reassembly point of sorts for all the riders to re gather. I must again mention the frequency of bird sightings…. This was one of the most awesome bird sighting days. Eagles, Shrikes, Bee eaters, Plovers, etc were easily being sighted!!
After reaching Hodko and having some refreshments, we headed towards Gorewali, where we would be staying for the night. Anurag kept pushing us to reach this place on time because we had to see the sunset from the White Rann. Once we reached Gorewali, we were taken to Rajkumar nu Ghar. Wow!!! Just Wow!! A small local settlement. A home stay. Extremely beautifully done and very well maintained. We all were so happy to see this stopover that all the exhaustion from the days ride, just vanished!!!
After some quick refreshments all of us crammed up into a XYLO(our back up vehicle) and headed to the White Rann to just reach in time to see the sun set in the white Rann. After the sunset pics and loads of group photos and selfies , we sat down in the Rann and had a great session of gup shup and were entertained by some good singing by Rahul, Lavanya and Anurag.
After a good 2 hour session in the salt fields of the Rann, we made our back to Gorewali to be welcomed by another authentic local dinner by a campfire. It was another great end to another super day of the tour.
Day #03_ 27th Jan 2018_06.00 hrs
After a cold night, we all woke up early to a freezing morning. Todays target- reach the highest point of the Rann_ Kala Dungar, elevation almost 500m abv Sea level via Khavda.
After a lovely unusual breakfast of hot , sweet vermicelli and hot, spicy rice we made our way towards Khavda.
If Day 02 was beautiful this road to Khavda was more than beautiful. An absolute straight patch of road for about 15 odd kms , perfectly tarred, smooth without any potholes with the endless desert on either sides with very less traffic.
This has been the most memorable road for me till date. All of us just couldnt stop praising it to each other.
Endless photos sitting in the middle of this fantastic stretch, posing in the group tee shirts, pulling each others legs, strengthening friendship bonds and having a good time was the order of the day!!! After taking efforts to move ahead we finally came to the end of this stretch. Me and Rahul had to call Sumit, our friend in Pune , whom we missed on this tour.
Since we had a good range to the phone network , I also made some work calls since was out of touch with the other side of reality for 2 days!!!
A small stop again at a local bus shelter to fix another puncture in Dhananjays cycle and we reached Khavda to stop at a random dhabba for lunch. The road ahead was the real test in the entire tour. Soon we would be reaching the ascent to the Kala Dungar. Unfortunately Kishore pulled a muscle here and he was unable to continue cycling hereon.we could sense the traffic now enroute to kala dungar and sure enough we encountered a small traffic jam on the way up. Finally making our way through the jam we started our ascent.
This was one of the toughest climbs. An elevation of almost 500m in a very short distance had all of us huffing and puffing on the way up. Naturally, there were a few who took a lot of time climbing up all the way on their cycles, but kudos to each and everyone of the riders no one gave up mid way. All of us completed the tough climb and it was pretty much a small sense of achivement. It was sundown when the entire batch reached the Kala Dungar. Coconut water, Lemon Sodas were gulped down while enjoying yet another magical sunset.
The stay facility was pretty basic here since it was the only available option. We were put up in dormitories in the temple complex on the Kala Dungar. We somehow arranged for hot water baths for everyone and everyone freshened up. Kishore got some good medical attention from our very own Dr.Rahul and everyone was impressed with Rahul’s skills. After an extremely basic dinner, we all were up chatting. Anurag had to make a encouraging speech , applauding everyone for their effort. He was pleasantly surprised when all of us were ready to cycle back 90 kms ,the next day back to Bhuj to end an great ride. Deciding an early start the next day for some sunrise photos and time lapses, we bade each other a good night and everyone collapsed into their own dream worlds.
Day #04_ 28th Jan 2018_05.30 hrs
An early start and all of us rushed to the View point at Kala Dungar to witness the sunrise and start the day with a hot cuppa tea. After spending some time on time lapses, sunrise photos and cups of tea, we started our journey back.
As Anurag puts it…You earn downhills!! We had totally earned the downhill from Kala Dungar. Within no time we were down the hill which we had taken quite some time to climb the previous day. Of course, Rahuls cycle had to puncture and further away at another 10kms, Shekhar who had raced ahead also encountered a puncture. After all these events we all finally reached back to the same place in Khavda where we had our lunch the previous day. This time we were here to have breakfast of good tea and good old poha!!! Now was the long ride back to bhuj… This was a tough one since the sun was shining down upon us without any breeze. We had to reach Loriya check post 25 kms from Khavda. We encountered some birding stops on the way. We were also briefed about a Lunch stop in between (approx 15kms away from Khavda) since there would be no refreshment right upto Bhuj.
This was a nice wayside Dhaba with yet another Gujrati Thali meal. Smita bought a box of Bar one choclates, Anurag got a nice bowl of mawa which was finished in a jiffy by everyone and then again we headed towards Loriya. This time the heat was really killing us…. I had a nice ride upto Loriya with Lavanya, we chatted all through out the way.
Reaching Loriya we all took refuge in a police chowky/ check post and waited for the others to arrive.
The police men gladly offered us water and it was a real relief to sit in the shade after a long sunny ride. Smita got a call from home that she had cleared a tough exam and she was almost jumping with joy and had tears of joy. She declared that we all need not worry about tonight’s dinner. It would be on her!!!
Some more tea breaks ahead and we headed for the final stretch to Bhuj where we started. As the 90 kms started coming to an end the feeling of elation of the moments that we had experienced for the past 4 days, the images that we had captured (on the phone as well as in our minds) the wonderful times that we had spent, started doing a recap…Finally touchdown at the Neelkanth Bhavan at 6.00 pm along with the sunset, but of course and all of us were congratulating each other, hugging each other, back slapping one another with a sense of pride and relief mixed. Everyone wished for a cold beer but alas…The dry state had all to offer but that!!! Nevertheless , since Smita had promised us a treat, we quickly made a few searches and zeroed in on a restaurant called Noorani , where we had some awesome Muslim food. It was definitely an apt end to the tour!!
Someone then mentioned Paan and Ice cream and everyone was up for it. Kishore introduced us all to Meenaxi… that’s a type of Paan, before any of you get some other ideas!!! Then a walk to Gopi Gola for some golas and ice creams and we were satisfied in the true sense.
Reaching back to the stay facility we were up for a while to wrap up things, say a few good byes and then call it a night.
Since me and Rahul had a flight from Ahmedabad, we had t0 leave early to Ahmebdabad from Bhuj. The two cities are 350 kms apart so it would be a journey of 6 hours by a taxi. The best part was that Mahita, Lavanya and Kishore teamed up with us to travel to Ahmedabad and the 6 hour journey went past by like a flash. After constant chitter chatter in the taxi and a good breakfast halt we were suddenly at the airport to fly back home.
Looking back it was one of my most memorable journeys in terms of the scenery, landscapes, visual images, routes , making new friends and most importantly enjoying the ride to the fullest. It was one of the most unique experiences for me. I hope to have numerous ones ahead. Thanks to #CuriousWheels, Anurag and Neeraja , for conceptualising this journey, Shekhar, Smita, Mahita, Lavanya, Kishore, Ravdeep , Rohith and Dhananjay for being the best company that we could ever expect from a random bunch of people, Rahul for accompanying me to this event, Rajesh for being a great support guy and most importantly BHUJ ..for being the place that it is!!!