Kachchh (Kutch)

The scenic Maliya Miyana bridge, across salt marshes often filled with birds, gives a beguilingly attractive impression of the gateway to Kachchh. Yet this region is climatically perhaps the least appealing of Gujarat, and it is certainly the most sparsely populated. It is well and truly off the tourist trail. The various communities such as Rabaris, Ahirs and Meghwals each have a distinct dress that is still an integral part of daily life, and each practise a particular craft, a fact that is being fostered and promoted by a number of co-operatives and NGOs. For the adventurous traveller willing to forego such luxuries as hot showers and reliable bus timetables, Kachchh offers some fascinating opportunities for adventurous, life-affirming travel.

The central peninsula of Kachchh is surrounded by the seasonally flooded Great and Little Ranns. The Gulf of Kachchh to the south, a large inlet of the Arabian Sea, has a marine national park and sanctuary with 42 islands and a whole range of reefs, mudflats, coastal salt marsh and India's largest area of mangrove swamps.
The
Kachchh Peninsula
is relatively high, covered with sheets of volcanic lava but with often saline soil. Dry and rocky, there is little natural surface water though there are many artificial tanks and reservoirs. Intensive grazing has inhibited the development of the rich vegetation around the tanks characteristic of neighbouring Sindh in Pakistan, and there is only sparse woodland along the often dry river beds. The wetlands are severely over-exploited, but some of the lakes are important seasonal homes for migratory birds including pelicans and cormorants. The
Rann of Kachchh
in the north runs imperceptibly into the Thar Desert. A hard smooth bed of dried mud in the dry season, some vegetation survives, concentrated on little grassy islands called
bets
, which remain above water level when the monsoons flood the mudflats.

With the arrival of the southwest monsoon in June the saltwater of the Gulf of Kachchh invades the Rann and the Rajasthan rivers pour freshwater into it. It then becomes an inland sea and Kachchh virtually becomes an island. From December to February, the Great Rann is the winter home of migratory
flamingos
when they arrive near
Khavda
. There are also sand grouse, Imperial grouse, pelicans and avocets.

Local traditional
embroidery
and
weaving
is particularly prized. When the monsoons flooded vast areas of Kachchh, farming had to be abandoned and handicrafts flourished which not only gave expression to artistic skills but also provided a means of earning a living. Mirrorwork, Kachchh appliqué and embroidery with beads,
bandhani
(tie-dye), embroidery on leather, gold and silver jewellery, gilding and enamelling and colourful wool-felt
namda
rugs are available.

This is edited copy from Footprint Handbooks. For comprehensive details (incl address, tel no, directions, opening times and prices) please refer to book or individual chapter PDF
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