“Aapne Rann nahi dekha, to kuch nahi dekha,” says Amitabh Bachchan in an ad promoting Kutch and Gujarat tourism. Post this endorsement, many people have visited this vast expanse of barren land and have wondered at nature’s marvel. However, following a particular itinerary during Rann Mahotsav, not many people get a chance to experience the wilderness and mysteriousness of Rann.
So, it was a happy coincidence listening to the story of a friend who recently visited Rann in its natural state of wilderness. When he was sharing his experience of spending a night on Rann under the sky full of stars, and of mysterious connection that he felt with that place; I remembered, not that I have forgotten or will ever forget that particular day that I spent on Rann.
Rann happened to me when Gujarat featured nowhere on a traveler’s wish list. It was visited mostly by tourists on the holy pilgrimage visit to Dwarka and Somnath. It was when most of my classmates were leaving Gujarat for good, but I was somehow looking for a reason to stay back, even if it was for a few more days. The day I had to leave, I realized that I had missed on visiting the White Desert even after living in the state for good two years. As the Delhi-bound Shatabdi pulled out from the Ahmedabad station; Ankita and I boarded a night bus to Bhuj.
The next few days were nothing short of an adventure. Post reaching Bhuj, we realized that we were the only tourists in the month marred by excessive heat and humidity. It was weird to know that the entire district knew of our arrival. Needless to say, it made us vulnerable. But having traveled solo in certain states already, we were ready for all sorts of experiences.
As expected, our travels in and around Bhuj threw a variety of experiences; from a sneak peek into the hard life of village women and problems faced by people staying close to the border, to the vibrant tradition of handicrafts and textiles, and the architectural marvel of Aaina Mahal and Prag Mahal.
But, the best moments were during my stay on the White desert. One particular memory of those days is etched in my memory. Undaunted by the excessive heat and possibility of sunstroke, I kept walking into the desert one day. I wanted to walk as much as I could and get lost into the desert. I wanted to walk enough to reach the border which of course, was not possible.
During the day, visibility was decreasing every passing second when suddenly, a strong wind storm filled the entire space with salt. I could no longer see anything except the dreamy whiteness and it was becoming increasingly difficult to walk. I sat down contemplating and waiting for the storm to pass.
As I sat there, I felt someone around, someone big and powerful. I called out to check if anyone was there but there was no sound – just a deafening silence. The strange feeling was growing stronger, I was amazed for I was neither drunk nor doped, not even sleep deprived but perfectly in my senses, yet I was feeling something weird around. And, then, I saw someone coming towards me, he sat with me and we chatted for hours. It was strange, for I was discussing my deepest fears and my life with a complete stranger. But, in his presence, I was getting amazing clarity about things and was feeling more confident of my existence, of making it through my life. I remember thanking him for listening to me all the time and for his insightful suggestions. I told him how happy I was to meet him and he replied by saying that he feels the same.
I don’t recall anything more; when I came to my senses some time later, I could no longer find him around. As I walked back, I found Ankita and our driver Minaj terrified. I was told that I was away for many hours in a bad storm that prevented them from searching me. I enquired if anyone walked out before me. Not believing them, I checked the entry register at the check – post. No one, except us, had entered Rann that entire week. Strange was the fact that I could not recall his face or any other thing about him, even after talking to him for hours.
I was so overwhelmed that I could not talk anymore. Hours later, when we were driving back to Bhuj, I saw a smiling face in those shining stars; I realized who I met on the Rann.
On retrospection, I still don’t know, for sure, if I actually met HIM or was I dreaming all along. All I know is, on this particular day, an atheist was turned into a believer. People do a pilgrimage to find HIM, but I found HIM there, waiting for me. For arranging this meet, I would always be grateful and Rann, you will always be special.