Cycling to the Rann of Kutch: 7 days on Fury Road
New Year’s Eve. It’s about 530pm. I’m right at the end of the cemented pathway and some enthu cutlet has convinced me to let him have a spin on my bike. There are a few people around me and far more are still making their way from the last police barricade. The path to the end is filled with families and more families. It’s a battleground where camels and donkeys dominate the arena. But while all this happens, I find myself surrounded by a silence that lasts for miles around me. This is the Great Rann Of Kutchh, one of nature’s greatest gifts to Indian soil. For about 40km in every direction, one can only see salt. The purity of the salt can be debated, seeing as it hasn’t been commercialised yet. There is some shady scene on the side but nothing big enough to make the news. In a few minutes I’ll be invited to a fancy tent rented by a college group from Bangalore. Once inside, we will pursue a fresh bottle of Bombay Sapphire. At the turn of the final hour of 2016, I would be cuddling with my helmet in the back of my parents’ car whilst in the middle of a deep, deep sleep.
Hypothesis Every bike trip has three parts: say One, Two and Three. Once the idea pops up, a bit of day dreaming is mixed with hours spent on Google Maps. If the idea persists long enough a route is outlined and we move to part Two: full of build up; tons(?) of practice, a few blogs and a thorough reading of Bradley Wiggins’ autobiography.No doubt, after One and Two, comes the inevitable last third. To be able to adapt to the life back at home is probably the toughest part of the tour, and it’s easy to pick up a fondness for general slackness and lots of tea. Sitting at home – getting back on the job…the reckless life of the city. It is a bit of a trouble, honestly.
I sort of blurred the lines between Two and Three, wherein I fit a shorter, less painful trip. It’s my attempted hack of travelling without getting burdened by emotions of nostalgia and easing into a pain-free recovery. In December, once I returned from Sri Lanka, I filled my time while jumping from one phase to the next with an impromptu trip to Gujarat, a 600km bike ride from Ahmedabad to Kutchh.
Observation I flew in from Delhi (took me two attempts) with the plan to not speak during this tour. A silent tour would be a gruelling, more challenging experience and I would be saved from the torture of answering the same questions again and again. Sadly, after Day 2 it was impossible for me not to speak. The Gujaratis are far superior at bargaining and getting their price, and the handicap of speech was just too much for the wallet to handle. If I kept this on, I wouldn’t have enough money to last me till the end. So that’s that.
Well, nothing really happened in the 6 days it took to get to Kutchh. I spent most of my free time hiding from the heat. The road was a magnificent 4 lane highway with a brilliant scope for headwind and intense boredom. Cycling through a desert doesn’t generate a lot of excitement, and it always ends up being a tricky game of patience. It was really hot for most part of the day, and the further west I went – the hotter it got. Temperatures would float around 35°c and often it felt like I had my head inside a blast furnace. This really was Fury Road. Once in Bhuj, I had enough time and money to watch a movie in the local hall. 30 bucks for popcorn and another 30 for a plate of samosas: Dangal was the first film I’ve watched alone in a theater and it was a cake well baked.
Righto, back to the scene. I didn’t have enough money to pay for a room in Dhordo, the nearest village from the Rann. I had just enough to get on a bus all the way back to Delhi. Without any room for expenditure, I was forced into spending the night on the streets. I had carefully picked an isolated bus stand a few miles south of the village. But not tonight, No Sir! My parents arrived at the scene with every intention of surprising me on New Year’s Eve. And rightly so. They picked me up and we drove back to Bhuj, where a massive bed and a bubbling hot shower awaited me. Oh it was lush!
The next day I spent all my time catching up on the latest Karan Johar interview. Most lunch breaks had been at dhabas with a tele, and almost always my hunger wall would coincide with his show. Yeah, bit of a nasty habit. In the evening we drove back to the Rann, just in time to catch the sun setting over the white canvas. The overwhelming amount of white needed no addition to it. Salt Flats are a marvel of Nature, with the Bolivian Salt Flats being the largest in the world. Indian soil has been graced with one such salt plain but the Gujaratis have massacred it in an attempt to promote tourism. The commercial success of their tourism has taken away from the serene atmosphere of the Rann, but nonetheless it continues to amaze the weary traveler.
At the end of the first week, I split ways with my parents and headed to the Bhuj bus stand. Eager to wave goodbye to Gujarat, I put my bike at the back of the bus and made my way to Palanpur, the city closest to the Rajasthan border. Back on the bike, I convinced myself it’ll be a good idea to try a small climb with the panniers. You know, just to see how it is. Mount Abu was on the way to Udaipur and I decided to take that little detour. Needless to say, it was a horrible idea. Nearer to the top, it seemed like I’d swallowed a ball of pain, really. It is very clear to me now that a Manali-Leh self supported ride isn’t something I need to think about anytime soon.
Mt. Abu was fun. It was quite crowded. My best guess is most of them were Marwaris running away from the heat. I was slightly amused when I walked into a Dominoes outlet on the main market. It was pure vegetarian. Pure. There were a few places serving meat so I asked one of the servers what the deal was. Turns out, as a highly religious town, there is a police barricade on the main road dividing the veg from the non veg. To bring any meat across the ‘line’ would be a criminal offence. So I was told. Anyway, I rode to a nice corner of the lake and enjoyed that pizza perched on a high wall.
There on, another bus to Udaipur, where I would be hosted in a very comfortable room at my friend Rajveer’s new hotel, Raj Kuber. I spent two days riding around and eating lots of ‘authentic’ food. One of the cafes screened Octopussy everyday since some of it was shot in Udaipur. Can’t complain, seeing as I sat through most of the movie and enjoyed my dinner. I didn’t get to do many things in Udaipur because of a mild cold that soon turned into 102° fever. After two days in bed, I rode to where my parents were and stuffed the bike in the back of the car.
We made the long journey home the next day, with Monday eagerly waiting for me. After all these weeks after cycling every day for three months, this little hack wasn’t so successful. Gujarat wasn’t a pleasant experience and as my mum says, ‘You probably pushed yourself too far.’ Pulling out 900 km out of the blue was really pushing it too far.True as it may be, the view of the Rann is still crystal in my head and that canvas yearns for a revisit.