It was a hot day in March 2011 when Arvind Singh first beheld the desolate beauty of the Rann of Kachchh. It is a sight he hasn’t been able to forget. Kilometre after kilometre of bare white salt flats lay gleaming under the sun. With not another soul in sight, Singh felt a sense of carefree abandonment that he never knew existed. It was just him, the wild untouched beauty of the land and his bike. “As soon as you enter the Rann, the mystery of the land takes over. Deceptive mirages and wicked illusions greet you at every step. But the exhilarating feeling of holding the gas at full throttle while the bike achieves the very limit of maintainable balance is profound,” says this Pune-based engineer who visited the Rann earlier this year with 29 other biking companions. It is the sense of complete freedom that comes with cruising through this unique terrain that has made the Rann of Kachchh the new favourite destination of bikers. As some say, “The Rann is now the new Ladakh.”
Like the Nevada salt flats in the USA, especially the Bonneville flats, the Holy Grail of land speed record attempts, the Rann, too, offers bikers an opportunity to test their limits. It isn’t easy riding with the sun beating down and the hot air roasting your skin. “But a true-blue biker doesn’t give a damn. The Rann is pretty much considered the testing ground for every biker in the country,” says Singh. However, there are no tracks, no markers, no ants or snakes — it is literally like a dead man’s place and very easy to lose yourself in, as Singh found. “My friend Adarsh and I were making our way through dust plumes and heat waves and before you know it we were completely disoriented. Thankfully, he had a GPS device with him that reunited us with our companions, or we would have joined the Rann’s inventory of carcasses,” he says.
The Rann is not your regular off-road track. It has two parts, the Greater and the Little Rann. Of these, it is only the latter which can be traversed by bike. During the rains, the salt flats of the Little Rann fill with water, and as the summer dawns the moisture evaporates to reveal a smooth, glistening white surface. “On such a surface your bike can achieve its maximum speed limit. But the Little Rann is not completely dry — it still has some wet patches, so you can’t hold your top speed constantly,” says Kanwardeep Singh Dhaliwal, a biking enthusiast from Ahmednagar who first visited the Rann in 2009.
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If the Rann throws challenges at you, it also rewards you with experiences to cherish for a lifetime. Dhaliwal and his friends will never forget the night they spent in the Little Rann under a canopy of stars. It was ethereal, they say, being in a bare landscape with no light to be seen on the horizon. “Our night halt was a temple that simply appeared out of nowhere. Legend has it that the temple is dedicated to a man who fought for seven days even after losing his head,” reminisces Dhaliwal about his trip.
The highlight of the trip, for many, is a visit to Dholavira, a site of the Harappan civilisation. And you can boast of your very own “Nat Geo” moment if you spot a pack of elusive wild asses on the way. For others, the visit to a security post on the India-Pakistan border is the defining moment of the ride. It isn’t easy getting permission to visit the post and tour organisers need to get this in order weeks before a trip; it is imperative to leave behind all electronic equipment before the visit. “It is overwhelming to visit the India Bridge and see the jawans on duty even in these harsh conditions. If that doesn’t make you feel patriotic, what will,” says Pune-based software engineer Arun Pawar, who made his first trip to the Rann earlier this year.
Corporations like bike-maker Royal Enfield have realised the attractions that this exotic, inhospitable terrain holds for bikers. They have been organising tours to the Rann for the past two years now. “The first year we went with 15 people, and this year the numbers doubled to 30. So you can see that the interest in the place is on the rise,” says Sachin Chavan, deputy general manager (marketing), Royal Enfield. Each year, the mysterious landscape throws up a new lesson for the tour organisers. “We realised that punctures were a huge problem because of the thorny bushes that dot the Rann. So we put in measures to secure the safety of all riders,” Chavan adds.
The bikers, too, have added to their own set of lessons, the first of which is to have a well-maintained, well-serviced bike. “After Ahmedabad, there is no service station or shop where you can get spare parts. Also, one needs to stock up on drinking water and food, as there is not much support in the Rann,” explains Dhaliwal. And if you ever decide to embark on a trip through this forbidden land alone, be sure to carry a GPS device with you, or you could bid adieu to your return to civilisation.
The best time to visit the Rann is between February and March when the surface dries out a bit. For a moderate Rs 15,000-20,000 (including fuel), you can have the experience of a lifetime. Bikers like Singh and Dhaliwal can’t get enough of the terrain and promise to go back every year. “It doesn’t matter how many times you go there, as it will be a great big adventure each time,” concludes Dhaliwal.