Bounded on the north and east by marshy flats and on the south and west by the Gulf of Kutch and the Arabian Sea, the province of KUTCH (also Kuchchh or Kachchha) is a place apart. All but isolated from neighbouring Saurashtra and Sind, the largely arid landscape is shot through with the colours of the heavily embroidered local dress. Kutchi legends can be traced in sculptural motifs, and its strong folk tradition is still represented in popular craft, clothing and jewellery designs. Few tourists make it here, but those who do are invariably enchanted. You can easily head out from the central city of Bhuj – which was devastated by the 2001 earthquake – to villages, ancient fortresses, medieval ports and isolated monasteries. The treeless marshes to the north and east, the Great and Little Ranns of Kutch, can flood completely during a heavy monsoon, effectively transforming the region into an island. Home to the rare wild ass, the Ranns are also the only region in India where flamingos breed successfully. The southern district of Aiyar Patti supports crops of cotton, castor-oil plants, sunflowers, wheat and groundnuts. Northern Kutch, or Banni, by contrast, is semi-desert with dry shifting sands and arid grasslands.
Remains from the third millennium BC in eastern Kutch suggest migrating Indus Valley communities crossed the Ranns from Mohenjo Daro in modern Pakistan to Lothal in eastern Gujarat. Despite being so cut off, Kutch felt the effect of the Buddhist Mauryan empire, later coming under the control of Greek Bactrians, the Western Satraps and the powerful Guptas. The Arab invasion of Sind in 720 AD pushed refugees into Kutch’s western regions, and tribes from Rajputana and Gujarat crossed its eastern borders. Later in the eighth century the region fell under the sway of the Gujarati capital Anhilawada (now Patan), and by the tenth century the Samma Rajputs, later known as the Jadejas, had infiltrated Kutch from the west and established themselves as rulers. Their line continued until Kutch was absorbed into the Indian Union in 1948, though the region has retained its customs, laws and a thriving maritime tradition, built originally on trade with Malabar, Mocha, Muscat and the African coast.Read More
Little Rann Wild Ass Sanctuary
Little Rann Wild Ass Sanctuary
Spanning 4850 square kilometres, the Little Rann Wild Ass Sanctuary, a vast salt-encrusted desert plain that becomes inundated during the rains (July–Sept), is home to an abundance of wildlife, including the endangered Indian wild ass. Usually seen in loosely knit herds, this handsome chestnut-brown-and-white member of the horse family is capable of running very fast. The sanctuary is also home to wolves, foxes, jackals, jungle and desert cats, nilgai and blackbuck antelopes and the chinkara gazelle. Large flocks of flamingo, pelicans and winter-visiting cranes can be seen at Bajana Lake; October to March is the time to see the migratory birds.
The sanctuary headquarters is at Dhrangadhra in Saurashtra, but most tourist facilities are at Dasada, a six-hour bus-ride east from Bhuj and 33km from Viramgam (on the Bhuj–Ahmedabad train line). From Dasada you can rent a jeep (around Rs1500/day) and guide to take a tour of the sanctuary. Entrance fees are paid at the entrance to the sanctuary near Bajana village, thirty minutes’ drive from Dasada.
- Moving on from Bhuj
Kutch is known for its distinctive traditional crafts, particularly its embroidery, practised by pastoral groups like Hindu Rabaris and Ahirs, and Muslim Jats and Muthwas, as well as migrants from Sind including the Sodha Rajputs and Meghwal Harijans. Traditionally, each community has its own stitches and patterns, though these distinctions are becoming less apparent as time goes on.
The northern villages of Dhordo, Khavda and Hodko are home to the few remaining communities of leather embroiderers, who stitch flower, peacock and fish motifs onto bags, fans, horse belts, wallets, cushion covers and mirror frames. Dhordo is also known for its woodcarving, while Khavda is one of the last villages to continue the printing method known as ajrakh. Cloth is dyed with natural pigments in a lengthy process similar to batik, but instead of wax, a mixture of lime and gum is used to resist the dye in certain parts of the cloth when new colours are added. Women in Khavda also paint terracotta pots.
Rogan painting is practised by only a few artisans at Nirona in northern Kutch. A complex process turns hand-pounded castor oil into coloured dyes that are used to decorate cushion covers, bedspreads and curtains with simple geometric patterns. Craftsmen also make melodic bells (once used for communication among shepherds) coated in intricate designs of copper and brass. Silver jewellery is common, featuring in most traditional Kutchi costumes, but Kutchi silver engraving, traditionally practised in Bhuj, is a dwindling art form. The anklets, earrings, nose-rings, bangles and necklaces are similar to those seen in Rajasthan; many of them are made by the Ahir and Rabari communities who live in both areas. The main centres for silver are Anjar, Bhuj, Mandvi and Mundra.
Kutchi clothes are distinctive not only for their fine embroidery but also their bold designs. The most common form of cloth printing is bandhani, or tie-dye, practised in most villages, but concentrated in Mandvi and Anjar. One craft unique to the area is mushroo-weaving (ilacha). The yarn used is silk, carefully dyed before it is woven in a basic striped pattern, with a complex design woven over the top in such fine detail that it seems to be embroidered.
Kutchi pastoral groups
Kutchi pastoral groups
Kutch has the most significant population of pastoral communities in Gujarat. Each tribe can be identified from its costume, and gains income from farming or crafts such as weaving, painting, woodcarving and dyeing. Traditionally, each concentrated on different crafts, although the distinctions today are less clear-cut.
The Rabari, the largest group, rear cattle, buffalo and camels, sell ghee, weave, and are known for their fine embroidery. Most of the men sport a white turban, and wear white cotton trousers tight at the ankle and in baggy pleats above the knee, a white jacket (khediyun), and a blanket thrown over one shoulder. Rabari women dress in black pleated jackets or open-backed blouses, full black skirts and tie-dyed head cloths, and always wear heavy silver jewellery and ivory bangles around the upper arms. Child marriages are customary among the Rabari. In Bhujodi, near Bhuj, the Rabari weave camel wool into blankets and shawls.
The Bharvad tribes infiltrated Gujarat from Vrindavan, close to Mathura in Uttar Pradesh. The men are distinguishable by the peacock, parrot and flower motifs sewn into their khediyun, and the women by their bright backless shirts, kapadun, rarely covered by veils. Mass marriages take place among the Bharvad every few years.
The wandering Ahir cattle-breeders came to Gujarat from Sind, and settled as farmers. Baggy trousers and khediyun are worn by the men, together with a white loosely wound headcloth; the women dress like the Rabaris, with additional heavy silver nose-rings. The children’s bright topis, or skull-caps, are like those common in Pakistan. Today the Ahirs are prospering as entrepreneurs.
The Charans, long-established bards of Gujarat, encompass in their clans the Maldharis, who raise prize cattle, and the leather-workers known as Meghavals. They claim descent from a celestial union between Charan and a maiden created by Parvati. The women are often worshipped by other tribes, as their connection with Parvati links them closely to the mother goddess, Ashpura, who is popular in Kutch.
Said to have migrated from Pakistan, the Jats are an Islamic pastoral group. The men can be identified by their black dress, while young Jat girls have dainty plaits curving round the sides of their faces, and wear heavy nose-rings.