Tucked away in the northwest corner of India’s western-most state Gujarat, 50km from the Pakistan border, lies the haunting Rann of Kutch. This unbelievable white desert is a snow-dusted plain, a beach, and a magical desert. On one side, it extends many miles to the country’s border. On its nearer fringe sits Dhordo, the quintessential frontier town of all but 500 people whose only claim to fame is the marsh. And their talented womenfolk.
The Kutchi women are innately talented in fine embroidery where geometry leaps from their imagination onto a piece of cloth effortlessly and without so much as an outline. Floral motifs and intricate mirror work is their hallmark, and they pour their heart and soul into shaping a piece that you can’t resist taking home.
The government of Gujarat has recognized this. Dhordo is now home to Rann Utsav, a three-month celebration of arts and the Kutchi culture, set against a mesmerizing white desert. We visited this festival in winter 2015, and look forward to the festival in 2016 as well.
We took in the expanse of the desert, marveling at the miles of silence and white as the salt crunched beneath our feet. And when we turned around, the salt flat turned into a perfect canvas for a riot of color and activity at the Rann Utsav. As we wandered into the artisan stalls, we were struck by the variety on display.
Sheesha (mirror) work embroidery shimmered on everything from bedspreads and chaniya-cholis (Skirt-Blouse Ethnic clothing wear) to fancy handbags. Intricate block prints adorned pretty kurtis (tunics) and dupattas (a long stole). Delicate lace and all types of beads were turned into unique adornments for clothes, wall hangings, quilts and even funky footwear! The Kutchi artisans have another unique claim to fame – their leatherwork, which they take pride in because they create it from scratch. And we could see that love and pride in the leather handbags and wallets on display.
After all this pampering for the material body, we rounded a corner to the next section. Stunning wood carvings from one of the hamlets in Kutch lined the shelves, all the Hindu deities manifest in their various forms. To cap it all, elegant pottery was right next door. It is hard to resist a mix-and-match session with these beautiful hand painted patterns!
The Utsav caters to a multi-day stay with around 400 tents pitched in Dhordo for the festival with traditional music and dance shows in the evenings. The eateries dish out famous Gujarati fare. It is a perfect setting to spend some time with your favorite artisan, and take home a little bit of the stories from the white desert with you back home.