Kachchh, India’s wild west, is a geographic phenomenon. The flat, tortoise-shaped land, edged by the Gulf of Kachchh and Great and Little Ranns, is a seasonal island. During the dry season, the Ranns are vast expanses of dried mud and blinding-white salt. Come 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 coarse grass, which provides fodder for the region’s wildlife.
The villages dotted across Kachchh’s arid landscape are home to a jigsaw of tribal groups and subcastes who produce some of India’s finest handicrafts – above all, textiles that glitter with exquisite embroidery and mirror work. In spite of the mammoth earthquake in 2001 that destroyed several villages, the residents of this harsh land have determinedly rebuilt their lives and are welcoming to visitors.