Great Rann Of Kutch

The salt marsh and its surroundings are a paradise for birders in every season

Uday Kiran

Great Rann of Kutch

The grasslands in the distance. The jagged cracks in the ground. The land covered in a sheet of white. The night sky encrusted with a million, twinkling stars. Welcome to Great Rann of Kutch.

The salt desert covers an area of around 7,500sqkm. While the Banni grasslands are its star attraction, where over 350 species of birds have been recorded, the Naliya grasslands are one of the last places to see the critically endangered Great Indian Bustards. Banni has also been marked as one of the places in India where the Asiatic Cheetah can be relocated.

Plan Your Trip

Getting there

Air

Bhuj Airport is the closest airport (69km).

Rail

Bhuj Railway Station is the closest railway station (68km).

Road

You can drive down from Bhuj (69km) or Ahmedabad (390km). The roads are in good condition.

best time to visit

Winters (November to February) are the best time to view migrant birds. The temperature varies from 2°C to 20°C. March and April are also good months to visit, especially if you want to see resident birds and mammals, as most migrants would’ve headed back to their breeding grounds. Temperatures tend to touch 45°C and beyond during the day in these months.

Monsoons pose a challenge for travellers since the Rann gets flooded, making it difficult to navigate. However, if you want to view passage migrants, you can visit when the monsoon is almost about to end, that is from the first week of September to October. This is also a great time to photograph the landscapes around Great Rann of Kutch - the greenery of the landscape, the streams and the canyons make for some great images.

Stay

CEDO (Centre for Desert and Ocean) Homestay, Virani Moti 

Jugal Tiwari, an ecologist who has been working for wildlife conservation in this region, runs this homestay. Safaris into the Rann are arranged by the homestay. Tiwari and his team of naturalists, including his relative Vaibhav, are very knowledgeable so ask if they would accompany you during the safari. You can also ask for Mohammed Bhai, a guide from the local community who knows the entire area very well.

CEDO offers comfortable, air-conditioned rooms at ₹4,500 for two persons per night (inclusive of all meals). The food is simple, vegetarian fare (mostly Kutchi cuisine). A safari with a naturalist accompanying you would cost ₹3,750. The homestay normally arranges for packed breakfast during the morning safari, and if an entire day’s outing has been planned, they can also provide you with a packed lunch.

http://cedobirding.com/


Epicenter Homestay, Lodai 

The homestay has three huts that can accommodate two people each and one dormitory for four to six persons. Accommodation costs ₹3,500 for two persons per night (inclusive of all meals).

They also arrange safaris, which cost ₹5,500 per safari, inclusive of the fee for a naturalist to accompany you. The food is vegetarian fare.

Bookings here can only be done via email.

epicenterhomestay@gmail.com

Kutch Wilderness Kamp, Bhuj 

The resort is fairly new and is run by the Rann Riders group, which makes it a reliable option to stay. Accommodation costs ₹4,500 to ₹5,000 for two persons per night (inclusive of breakfast). They also arrange Jeep safaris (for upto five persons) at ₹3,500, horse safaris (for three hours) at ₹3,500, bike safaris (on a Bullet) for six hours and three hours at ₹4,500 and ₹3,000 respectively, and camel cart safaris (for upto six people for 2.5 hours) at ₹2,500.

http://www.kutchwildernesskamp.com/


Shaam-e-Sarhad Village Resort, Hodka

The resort is situated in Hodka village (24km away from Banni grasslands and 65km away from Bhuj). Shaam-e-Sarhad promotes endogenous tourism and is a great place to stay if you want the real cultural Kutch experience. The resort is community-owned and managed and is only open from October to March every year. Accommodation costs ₹4,000 to ₹5,300 for two persons per night (inclusive of all meals; taxes extra). The food served here is vegetation Kutchi fare.

 http://www.hodka.in/

See|Do|Shop 

  • Tall grass is a major feature of Naliya grasslands, which makes it the perfect habitat for antelopes. However, the land has been heavily encroached upon by solar power farms and other projects. In spite of that, it is one of the last places where you can see the critically endangered Great Indian Bustards and the endangered Lesser Florican. In 1992, the place was declared as the Kutch Bustard Sanctuary or the Lala–Parjan Sanctuary and the grasslands house a large variety of fauna. Tourists are not allowed during the monsoon, because it is the breeding season of the bustards and the floricans.
  • At Banni grasslands, on the periphery of the Rann, you will come across eagles, falcons, harriers (Montagu's, Pallid and Marsh Harriers are quite common) and buzzards (especially the Long-legged Buzzard). You will also be able to spot many small birds, like wheatears, larks, pipits and shrikes. If luck favours you, you might get to see the Stoliczka’s Bushchat, the Cream-coloured Courser, the endangered MacQueen’s Bustard and the Spotted Sandgrouse as well.

  • Banni is the only place where you can spot the Grey Hypocolius, a winter migrant to North-west India. It has been recorded only at a couple of Miswak (Salvadora persica) patches around the area.
  • Banni is also one of the very few places in the country where you can see the rare and critically endangered Sociable Lapwing, which spends its winters here.

  • The grasslands of Banni are one of the best places for you to see Common Cranes in very large numbers. At dusk, it’s a treat for the eyes when thousands of them take to the sky against the golden light. While you will be able to see them almost as soon as you enter the grasslands, look for them near waterbodies like the Chhari Dhand Lake, located at the edge of the grasslands.

  • Banni also has a hilly thorn forest where you can look for rare birds like the White-naped Tit. Keep a lookout for Marshall’s Iora, White-bellied Minivet and woodpeckers. Do walk around this forest patch, it is one of the best places to spend time in Banni. Post sunset, you can also spot the Sykes’ Nightjar and Indian Nightjar on the road while driving back in the dark.

  • Make sure to visit the Gulf of Kutch coast to see blue waters completely covered in pink, thanks to the flamingos. The small waders and flamingos are used to the fishermen and often allow humans to watch them from close quarters. Birds here include the Crab Plover, gulls, terns, the Pied Avocet, Oyster Catcher, Dalmatian Pelicans, sanderlings, redshanks, greenshanks, sandpipers, and the like. 

  • However, Banni is not just about birds. You can see other animals like Indian Wolf, Golden Jackal, Indian Fox, Desert Fox, Desert Cat and Jungle Cat on drives here. You will also be able to spot Indian Jirds burrowing by hillsides, Spiny-tailed Lizards, even hedgehogs (after dark).

  • The sunsets near the lakes in Banni offer breathtaking views you can photograph.

Good to know

  • You can plan your safari in three ways. One, head to Banni at around 6am (during winters; you could start earlier in summers if you need to) with a packed breakfast and return to the resort by 12pm for lunch. And then head out again at 3pm and get back by 7pm. Two, take a trip to Naliya in the morning, follow it up with lunch at Mandvi town and then drive 15 km from there to the beach/coast and then head back to the resort. The third option is to head to the eastern side of Banni for an entire day of birding with a packed breakfast and lunch and then return to the resort in the evening.
  • The phone connectivity, including Internet speed, in Virani Moti is quite good.
  • The quality of roads inside the village is average.
  • Virani Moti has a petrol bunk and a few ATMs as well.
  • There is always sufficient water available at the homestays. 
  • There are no washrooms inside the grasslands.
  • There are various medical stores in Virani Moti; however, the nearest hospital is in Bhuj.


What to pack

  • Winters are very cold; especially in the grasslands. Warm clothing is a necessity.
  • Forest-friendly colours are the best – olive green and brown work well.
  • Carry hats, sunscreen and shoes since the safaris can be very dusty.
  • Binoculars and a field guide to birds are essential.

For photographers

Since the Rann and its surrounding areas are mainly open, you will be able to view wildlife from a distance. However, it also means that the wildlife can spot you from that distance. It is good to have lenses of a focal length of 400mm or higher to photograph birds. Most safaris are done via Jeeps, and it is suggested you place a bean bag on the Jeep window while photographing. Homestays may provide beanbags; please check in advance. Do carry a wide angle lens for habitat shots. Carry a tripod to shoot sunsets. 

In Between Safaris

  • If you are spending the entire day in Banni, take a break to visit the Kiro Hill. It is a prehistoric volcano and is home to some amazing fossils. Jugal Tiwari of CEDO has a collection of fossils and is a great source of information on the geological history of the region. 
  • Take a walk along the Khaadi river gorge, especially if you are visiting Banni in the monsoon. It is also a great place to look for Spotted Owlets and Indian Eagle Owls, and you can spend an evening doing just that.
  • If you see camel herders around the grassland, do stop and have a chat with them, and maybe share a cup of chai with them as well. Be warned, though, camel milk is an acquired taste.
  • You can visit Bhuj and soak in its architectural beauty. Bhujia Fort, Hamirsar Lake, Prag Mahal, and Aina Mahal are some of the more popular tourist destinations here. 
  • You can also coincide your visit to the Rann with Rann Utsav. It is an annual three-month long festival that showcases the culture and traditions of the area. Visit Rann Utsav’s official site (http://www.rannutsav.net/) for details.
  • In the evening, you can visit food stalls nearby in Virani Moti for some yummy Kutchi dabeli.


Budget per person

Renting a Jeep for a day would cost between ₹3,750 and ₹5,570 (including the fee for a naturalist to accompany you). Stay on a twin-sharing basis in a mid-range resort would cost ₹4,000 (including all meals). So, a four-night trip would cost ₹25,000 per person. Personal expenses, and air/ rail/ road travel to and from the resort will cost extra.

Uday Kiran - Photographer and Wildlife Enthusiast

Uday Kiran

Photographer and Wildlife Enthusiast

Uday is an amateur photographer and a wildlife enthusiast. He loves taking time away from the corporate jungle to visit actual jungles. He spends most of his time studying scientific names, calls and songs of his avian friends, and observing their behaviour.