For some reason The Little Rann of Kutch had been one of the top places in India I’d been looking forward to visiting. Then, everyone we met in India that had been had sung its praises. It’s such a unique landscape yet so diverse at the same time.
Kutch is actually a huge part of the Southern state Gujurat and can be split into 2 main areas: the Great Rann and the Little Rann. The Great Rann is where you’ll find the villages and tribes that work the salt flats. Gujurat is the third largest producer of salt in the world! The Little Rann, however, is more like your average arid desert and is home to a host of wildlife. Namely it’s the last residing place of the Indian Wild Ass.
Our home for the 2 nights we were visiting Kutch was Desert Coursers. I’d been looking for some budget accommodation options online for months and hadn’t seen anything. When you take expensive accommodation and the usual ‘white tax’ entry fees, Kutch would have been pushing our budget. Luckily I stumbled across a blog post talking about Desert Coursers and singing it’s praises. I got in touch with Dhanraj, who is probably the most solid guy we’ve met all India and arranged our stay. He worked with our budget to allow us to have 2 nights plus our safari entry and all of our meals – super accommodating.
The resort is a mud hut style eco village found near Zainabad, around half an hours drive to the Little Rann. Zainabad itself is only a tiny village and so when residing back at the ecovillage you can hear nothing but the birds chirping! The huts were kitted out with electric, AC, hot water showers and were genuinely nicer than a lot of hotels we’ve stayed in. It’s also surrounded by bushes and plants, making it great for some down-time wildlife watching or reading a book on the swing chairs outside.
Dhanraj’s staff prepare a very complete selection of foods (spicy and non spicy) at breakfast, lunch and dinner. The water is cold and safe to drink, they have a strict no plastic bottles policy! Dhanraj is the perfect host and nothing is too much of an ask. He literally helped us organise the next two weeks of our stay in India, phoning up people from all corners of the state for advice. He was brilliant! Brad said to me at one point ‘this guy is like the King of Gujurat’. It was only later that day I found out that he actually is part of the royal family – Prince Dhanraj. So modest and kind though, he was one of the highlights of our stay.
He asks you exactly what you want to do and when and ensures his expert drivers are around to take you off on your adventures. For us, it was a 7am drive to the lake and a 4pm drive to the Little Rann.
Not part of the reserve/protected area, therefore no permit required, is a lake. The lake is around 15 minutes drive from the eco village and is best explored early in the morning when the birds are most active and the farmers cows haven’t been brought over to drink. Our driver was an absolute beast, his vision is like 20/20 insane and he knows his birds inside out. He knew every single species we drove past and could spot a bird (what looks like just a pebble to us) from over 500 metres away.
The lake, apparently, usually covers a vast area but this year the rains have been very little and it’s not even a quarter of its usual size. Supposedly Gujurat saw less than half its usual monsoon rains and this has had a huge knock on effect, especially to farmers who have nothing else but their crops to survive off of. When driving towards the lake you’ll notice the noise of the birds (they will be the common cranes) and the pink splodges in the distance (the flamingos!). Our driver was great and drove us as close as he could to the birds without scaring them off. Then when approaching the lake you’re allowed to get out of the jeep and walk to the water. Though, the flamingos never get any closer, somehow they creep further away from you without you even realising. These are the first flamingos I’d ever seen in the wild, another new species to tick off the list (the hypothetical Indian wildlife list that is).
The lake has a huge amount of bird species visit. Some other species we saw during our visit was; marsh harrier, red-necked falcon, tawny eagle, pelican, spoonbills, kingfishers, hupos, bee eaters, egret, heron, Eurasian roller and a host of other small birds. We also saw our first wild ass, albeit a couple of kilometres away. Plus a herd of nilgai, including a couple of huge blue bulls (large male nilgai). So much life around this one body of water, I can only try to imagine how busy the lake gets on a year the rains have provided!
The Wild Ass Sanctuary
After such a great morning and a relaxing afternoon at the eco village, Brad and I were buzzing for the evening Safari. We had the same driver again, which was perfect since he was awesome, and off we popped towards the Sanctuary. We stopped off at a couple of areas, which our driver must have known we’d see some wild ass at, first. The wild ass had foal a few of months ago and so their young are still relatively small and curious. We walked on foot towards a herd with many young ass and watched their nervous faces stare back at us in the golden evening light. Mummy ass just munching away at the grass, clearly many a two-legged creature have approached her before. A beautiful creature living its life in the last place on Earth it safely can.
Then we proceeded into the desert plains. The expanse of dry land becomes clear once you turn the corner and can’t see anything but mirages and dirt for as far as the horizon stretches. This landscape is scattered with arid, bushy trees which provide the home and grazing for some of the animals living here. You’re most likely to find animals taking shelter in the shade of the trees than in the empty expanse of land between them, so the drivers efforts are concentrated there. You can find a number of mammals in this desert including Indian Wolf and Hyenas. We wanted to have at least one predatory sighting and then we would be content.
The sun starts to set at around 6pm so the half an hour before and after this become the prime time for spotting anything. Our driver knew where the hyenas were nesting this year and drove us to 3 burrow sites just before the sun started setting. We turned the corner and Brad yelped that he’d seen a hyena run into the bushes! I was kicking myself since my observational skills are not that great and I’d totally missed it. Luckily we stuck around for a while and after letting the excitement die down drove back towards where we’d seen the first one. Then, there, clear as day – a wild hyena! How bloody awesome is that!?
On top of that we then saw the very shy desert fox (no pictures though, it darted out of sight instantly). The only predators we didn’t see, not that we will hold a grudge, is the wolf and the jungle cat. As soon as the light fades it is crazy how much life emerges from seemingly nowhere. Owls just start popping up absolutely everywhere, literally! Nightjars sitting in the middle of nowhere blending into the ground too well. Bunny rabbits hopping around the trees. It was amazing. Its a shame that the moon was full as the night sky in this region would blow your socks off I’m sure. Unfortunately the moon was like a second sun and it meant many stars weren’t visible to us still. Next time we’ll time our stay with the cycle of the moon, Brad will make sure of that.
We arrived back at the eco village at around half past 8 in the evening with the biggest grins on our faces. What an insane experience! Driving around an empty desert, at night, surrounded by all these creatures. We had the most amazing time and on top of all of that, we got to come back to the village and eat/drink chai with the friendliest of people from all around the globe (Africa, France and India).
On our final day Dhanraj made it clear we were to relax at the village and not feel rushed to leave our hut for check-out time, since our bus wasn’t until 4pm. He even invited us on another trip to the lake, along with some of the other guests, which we said ‘hell yes’ too. We enjoyed this beautiful sanctuary one last afternoon, eating the great food and planning what we’ll do on our return. The Little Rann is our idea of heaven, we loved it here and it lived up to my expectations a hundred times over. Its places like here that make all the difficult and challenging places worth it. Not every place you turn up to is what you expect and you don’t enjoy all of them. But a gem like this will be somewhere you remember forever!