Introducing Kutch (Kachchh)
Kutch, India’s wild west, is a geographic phenomenon, full of rugged, fiery beauty. What appears an endless desert plain running dead straight for the horizon, is in fact a seasonal island. The tortoise-shaped land (kachbo means tortoise in Gujarati) is flat and dry, but the villages dotted throughout the dramatic, inhospitable landscape feel like pre-partition Pakistan, and the tribal villagers produce some of India’s finest folk textiles, glittering with exquisite embroidery and mirrorwork.
It’s edged by the Gulf of Kutch – a dangerous, swirling sea – and Great and Little Ranns. During the dry season, the Ranns are vast expanses of hard, dried mud. Then, with the start of the monsoon, they’re flooded first by seawater, then by fresh river water. The salt in the soil makes the low-lying marsh area almost completely barren. Only on scattered ‘islands’ above the salt level is there vegetation – coarse grass – which provides fodder for the region’s rich wildlife. These grasslands are under threat from the gando baval (crazy thorn tree), which is spreading across the Rann at an alarming rate, threatening to destroy fragile ecosystems.
The Indus River once flowed through Kutch – and along the route once inhabited by the 5000-year-old Indus Civilisation – until a massive earthquake in 1819 altered its course, leaving behind this salt desert. A mammoth earthquake in January 2001 again altered the landscape, taking some 30, 000 lives, and destroying many villages completely. Although the effects of the tragedy will resonate for generations, the residents have determinedly rebuilt their lives and are amazingly welcoming to visitors.