Destination: Little Rann, Gujarat
Distance from Mumbai: 630km via Ahmedabad
Distance from New Delhi: 1000km via Jaipur-Chittorgarh-Udaipur
Best time to visit: Oct-March (temperatures are low)
Stay options: Lot of camps / resorts at Viramgam and Zainabad.
What is Gujarat known for? With this question in mind, we packed our bags, picked up the key to the BMW 320D and left Mumbai after a heavy and fulfilling breakfast comprising of what Maharashtra is known for – a buffet of sorts comprising of wada pav, missal pav, masala buttermilk and a few add-ons. With over 600km to cover before hitting our resort for the night, we quickly made our way to NH8 that leads to Gujarat and finally to New Delhi.
Past the infamous Godhbandar junction, traffic started easing up and soon, the 320D Luxury Line started eating away miles at a rapid pace with its engine slotted in the 8th gear. Worthy of a mention is a helpful fact – if you plan to visit Gujarat in your own vehicle, do not forget to tape up the right side headlamps. As per traffic rules in the state, every vehicle’s right headlamp needs to have a 4-5 cm wide yellow tape – this they say helps to cut down the glare for the oncoming traffic at night. Really?
If you are driving to Gujarat from Maharashtra, try filling up once you cross the border as fuel is much cheaper with petrol being cheaper by almost Rs 5 and diesel by just over 2 – this as of 1st June 2014. We also picked up a few refreshments from the numerous highway shops but finally took a break at the famous fuel pump cum restaurant junction at Sugar & Spice (after Valsad) but had a bad experience – this place for sure can be skipped.
Most part of the highway on this route is pretty good with certain stretches allowing you to cruise at good speeds without interruption at all. Infact, post Mumbai, you can maintain an average speed of 75-80km/h without a fuss and in the process enjoy beautiful vistas around, especially of the hills and winding roads. I was also particularly looking forward to the Vadodara-Ahmedabad expressway but unfortunately the expressway was witnessing road resurfacing work at numerous places.
By 5pm we had exited the expressway and took the outer ring road around Ahmedabad for the excellent 4 lane highway to Viramgam. Viramgam is 70odd km away and though it has a few places to stay, our resort for the night was booked at a small rustic village called Zainabad. The little Rann is just a few km from here and being an off-season, the complete property of Desert Coursers was at our disposal. Mr Modi had won the same day and as a result, the whole village wore a spirited look with free sweets being distributed to everyone – this was also our sweet dish for the night!
We woke up pretty early to avoid the late morning sun and drove towards the Rann. While in season one needs to obtain a permit from the officials, our guide was helpful enough to lead us to a new ‘short-cut’ route that was just 10km from the resort. Thankfully, the 320D didn’t touch its under-belly as we left tarmac for the unpaved dust road to the Rann.
For the uninitiated, there are two Ranns in Gujarat – the main Rann and this, the little Rann. This place, essentially a salt marsh, is famous for being the world’s last refuge of the Indian wild ass, also known locally as the Khur. The place is also home to the Indian Wild Ass Sanctuary. The little Rann is also infamous for salt panning / farming and Shrimp farming, both of which are discouraged by the government as it is considered a threat to the ecology of the region. For us, the area promises an endless bed of hard dried up earth and we enthusiasts usually refer this to as India’s own version of the world famous Bonneville Salt flats.
Within a few minutes, the dirt road gave way to isolation and barrenness but not before we got a sight of a local nilgai. We also drove past some of the salt farms and then drove deep into the Rann. Its often said that if you don’t have a reliable guide or a GPS with way-points, its pretty easy to get lost in the middle of nowhere. Mobile network is weak and as you drive into the Rann, it disappears as well. This place is beautiful but dangerous at the same time!
It is advisable to carry and apply a lot of sunscreen lotion and have a boot full of water bottles. While one gets tempted to drive around at high speeds, be careful of wet patches, especially after rains. If you get stuck, the nearest help can be miles / hours away. We spent a couple of hours here and drove back to our resort for late breakfast. Our journey back to Mumbai was uneventful save for a detour that we took to capture the famous tropic of cancer that passes through the NH8 highway near Himmatnagar.
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