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 Sindh (Pakistan), 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. Launching from the central city of Bhuj – which was devastated by the 2001 earthquake – you can explore the region’s craft villages, ancient fortresses, medieval ports and isolated monasteries. The treeless salt marshes to the north and east, the Great and Little Ranns of Kutch, breathtaking expanses of cracked white earth, can flood completely during a heavy monsoon, effectively turning much of the region into an inland sea from July to September. 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 semidesert 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 Sindh 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, making their capital at Bhuj. Jajeda rule was eventually interrupted by a brief period of British domination in the early nineteenth century, and soon afterwards Kutch was absorbed into the Indian Union in 1948. The region has largely retained its customs, laws and a thriving maritime tradition, built originally on trade with Malabar, Mocha, Muscat and the African coast.