I remember reading about the term “mirage” as a child in school and always imagined it to be a magical thing. As our bus trudged on the soft part-sand-part-mud path, outside the window a thin white line started appearing on the horizon. The nearer we approached the brighter and broader the line became. Settlements on them started to become visible now, with smoke rising from the kitchen chimneys. Then, in a blink of an eye, entire settlements vanished, just like that. It was the precise moment I realised what I imagined as a child was indeed true – mirages are magical.
Welcome to the white desert!
We alight from the bus and see a few camel carts waiting ahead that will tow us towards the glistening, gleaming white expanse in front of us. People around me jostle and run towards the carts to secure a seat. Not really a fan of having animals slave for me, I check with the operator if we are allowed to walk the distance and he nods in agreement. My partner and I start walking towards the white-as-snow horizon, with the late afternoon sun beating down on us. The brown earth below our feet slowly starts turning white as we enter the salt pans that is the Great Rann of Kutch. Caked salt encrusts our shoes as we walk deeper into the desert with the wind howling around us and blowing up tiny particles of salt. The air tastes of the sea.
As far as the eyes can see, it is a whiteout, with the contrasting blue sky adjoining it and people walking around, posing for pictures. We find a spot and sit down waiting for the sunset that we have come to witness. We were told that the sunsets and sunrises here are something not to be missed. As the sky starts turning the colour of liquid gold, I can see why a sunset here is so talked about. The hues change every minute and with it, the salt gleams like diamonds all around me. Unlike the famous Salar de Uyuni that turns into a giant mirror when it rains, Rann of Kutch is a dry salt pan and hence devoid of much rains. But it definitely makes up for the awe-inspiring landscape with its spectacular display of the dusk and dawn, as I was to witness the next morning.
After a good night’s rest, we are taken back to the Rann – which means desert in Gujarati – early in the morning. The temperature has dropped considerably, and we are wrapped in down jackets to keep the chilly desert wind at bay. The same landscape today is misty with light morning fog and surreal pink glow across the horizon. Winds blow even stronger than last evening but without any hint of the salt this time. Tiny insects lie buried, with their bodies preserved in the salt, at our feet. The calm of the morning is broken by the cacophony of people filing in from various nearby camps to catch the sunrise.
The blush on the horizon turns to rose and a slice of the sun’s circumference starts becoming visible. Almost as if on cue, the whole desert falls silent. Every single person present there, is witness to the collective wonder unfolding before their eyes and I guess just like I feel short of words in describing what I felt in that very moment, everyone else did too. Against the grey and pink sky, with the misty white desert, and howling winds, the big ball of orange makes its appearance sharp on time.
I will be honest, there is no adrenaline pumping activity to do here, there is no souvenir that you can take back home, but just being here, in this expanse that is larger than I could have imagined, is an experience that can’t be found anywhere else. There was a calm and a knowingness that there is something much greater out there, and even in a barren place like this, even if there is no one to witness it, it doesn’t stop being the way it is – awe inspiring! And this was certainly no mirage.