Shaam-e-Sarhad: A day at a border village in the Rann

In January this year, we were in Gujarat to be part of the Rann Utsav. The festival held in the Rann of Kutch from November to February each year attracts several tourists. We were to spend an evening at the Rann before we left for Mandvi the next day.

There are several options for accommodations at the Rann. A whole Rann Tent City is set up during the festival where air-conditioned tents are available for tourists. But we wanted a rustic experience in the Banni grasslands and chose to book our rooms at Shaam-e-Sarhad.

Shaam-e-Sarhad literally means ‘sunset at the border’. This village resort is owned and managed by the community members of Hodka village since 2012. This community-led indigenous tourism initiative was started in the aftermath of the earthquake with the support of UNDP. The initial idea was to encourage tourism in the area by starting home stays. But this wasn’t culturally acceptable to the villagers. Instead, together after several brainstorming sessions the community volunteered to construct this completely ecofriendly resort and manage it.

The resort is located around 63 km from Bhuj. We hired a taxi from Bhuj for the entire duration of our trip in the Rann. The resort is open from October to March. It has a limited number of reasonably priced bhungas and tents, so it makes sense to book online well in advance.

Bhungas are mud huts with conical thatched roofs, akin to the African rondavels. Each bhunga has its own courtyard which is fenced off with a mud fence lined by twigs, to provide it privacy . They are decorated on the exterior with the famous lippankaam or mirror mural art of Gujarat. Pigeons on the roofs provide constant music to the residents with their guttural cooing.

The accommodation does not have air conditioning. But the natural cooling properties of the high thatched roofs and the mud walls are very comfortable both in the hot day and the cold night temperatures. We were a group of four girls, and made bookings a little late. So we could reserve one bhunga and a tent. The girls who stayed in the tent had to encounter freezing temperatures in the night, so the bhungas are recommended. As is culturally acceptable here, the toilet and bathroom is a separate construction adjacent to the bhunga, inside the same courtyard. These facilities have been made to cater to Western tourists. Hot water is provided in buckets every morning on request. I remember waking up in the night to use the toilet, only to be stunned by the sight of a million twinkling stars on a clear night sky. The kind of night sky we no longer get to see in the cities.

The locals arrange for three meals a day, and it is included in the tariff. Food is strictly vegetarian and alcohol is forbidden, Gujarat being a dry state. Food is served at fixed timings in their dining hall which has such a colourfully designed ceiling, and the fare served is often a basic rustic Kutchi meal. So breakfast will include poha or upma. And bread and butter might be served if foreign tourists are around. Lunch is delicious — two kinds of roti, two local vegetables, a dal, rice, and lots of chaanch (buttermilk), which is cooling in these temperatures. A sweet dish like sevaii or sheera. follows. Dinner usually is a bajra roti with gud (jaggery), a simple subzi, khichdi and kadhi.

This is usually followed by folk music performances which are organized by a troupe from the Hodka village. It is fun sitting around a bonfire, on charpais, on a cold night, listening to the music played on local instruments, and watching the embers splutter from the fire. If you are in a large group you do end up dancing to the folk tunes.

On the premises you can find a few shops selling local handicrafts including the famous mirror work and Kutchi embroidery. Purses, bedcovers, dupattas and stoles are good as souvenirs and gifts. A tour to Hodko village can also be arranged on request.

What I found remarkable was how volunteers from the Hodka village run this resort. The vilagers are mostly Muslim Halepotras who are Maldharis (cattle breeders) and the Hindu Meghwals who are traditionally craftsmen. They are immigrants from Sindh. In the beginning, women cooked food in their household kitchens, but now the resort has its own kitchen where men do the cooking. Women help every year in replastering the mud walls and flooring. The handicrafts made by them are sold in the resort.

Shaam-e-Sarhad is an excellent getaway when you are looking for some calm. Peaceful, serene and far from the bustling noises of the city, it makes you enjoy the silences and the sounds of the chirping birds. And while you are there, spend the evenings admiring the white expanses of the Rann too.

To plan tours to see the Rann of Kutch in Gujarat, you may contact my friend Deepa Subramanian at Shakti Holidays. Email: Phone: +919840236872

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