Rann – Bounteous, not Barren (2011)

Rann – Bounteous, not Barren (2011)

Nothing like the Rann to put you in your place. The Rann of Kutch gives you a whole new perspective, bringing home with clarity and poignancy your own insignificance in a vast and wide universe on a lonely planet. As you stand on the parched and cracked earth with nary a blade of grass between you and the 360-degree horizon that sports resplendent sunrises and sunsets, you know you will never be the same person again!

The Rann may seem bereft of life to the beholder, but the bounties of this barren land are apparently boundless. Demoiselle cranes know this desiccated land best. After all, they fly 30,000 miles all the way from Siberia with their just-hatched fledglings to gorge on the nutritious kernels embedded in the cracks. Millions of pink flamingos flock to this land every year to breed and raise their young ones on this generous land. And for the thousands of salt workers who produce a third of all the sea salt our country consumes, this land is the source of their very sustenance.

The Rann, meaning salt marsh, stretches over two million hectares from Gujarat to Sindh province in Pakistan and teems with life — mostly tiny and small, but also some uniquely big game that have all but vanished from elsewhere on planet earth. The Great Indian Bustard, an endangered, elusive and clumsy big bird that is more at ease on land than on its wings, finds refuge in the beyts — mounds with sparse vegetation that dot this land. Graceful wild asses whose gait and features have a lot in common with their equine ancestors literally have a free run of this land, having adapted themselves perfectly to its sparse but brackish vegetation. There are scores of other species of birds and animals — in fact, 81 species of terrestrial birds to be precise, according to the museum on the fringe of the Rann. These include common cranes, kestrels, hawks, lesser floricans, spoonbills, Dalmatian pelicans, pochards, desert cats, caracals, honey badgers, foxes, wolves, hyenas, etc.

Little ‘big’ Rann

We are in Dhrangadra, in Surendranagar district of Gujarat, in the wilderness known as the Little Rann of Kutch. There is nothing little about this rann which stretches over 5,000 square kilometres, sparkles with endless mirages and hosts an amazing variety of wildlife.

In fact, the Little Rann of Kutch is home to more game than its bigger cousin, the Greater Rann of Kutch in the Kutch district. The latter with its blinding and endless salt marshes resembles the ocean of milk our scriptures talk about and perhaps an apt abode for Mahavishnu on his serpent couch, but it is the LRK that bustles with rich and rare variety of life forms.

Every year, the Arabian Sea rushes into the Rann mixing with the river and monsoon waters to form a unique ecosystem. The region remains flooded for about six months and gradually the water evaporates, leaving a rich sediment that is an excellent spawning ground for prawns. Fishing villages come alive for a few months and the region is a beehive of activity.

Devjibhai Dhamecha who runs a resort on the fringe of the Rann with its fetchingly quaint mud kubbas (huts) decorated lovingly with local art is an accomplished wildlife photographer himself, and an amazing encyclopaedia on the Rann ecosystem.

He is also a crusader for preserving a way of life that is rapidly being encroached upon by ‘development’. Everyday, he drives us through the rann both at sunrise and sunset and in-between, explaining its fascinating facets and helping us spot that elusive and not-so-elusive bird or mammal — bluebulls, the ubiquitous wild asses, wild boars, occasional foxes and the Houbara bustard hiding in beyts.

He leads us to the shallow waters where a parade of flamingos wait patiently, balancing on one slender leg and waiting for that chunky fish to float to the surface. In the evenings we drive straight into the desert sunset even as we are serenaded by the cacophonous clamour of hundreds of common cranes gliding past the crimson blaze on the horizon in regimental formations.

(Published in The Hindu on Feb 21, 2011)


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