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  No Man's Land
  Along the Himalayas
  Gisborne Rally
  Rann of Kutch
  Scaling Heights

It was 5th Jan, 60kph’s anniversary and I was in Ahmedabad without my bullet for the past one month, but was hell bent on going for a ride so picked up the only two-wheeler I could access in the city, my cousin sister’s 100 c.c Kinetic Honda.

A friend suggested a wildlife resort 120 kms. from Ahmedabad which was perfect, as riding the kinetic on the highway would be a different ball game altogether and my idea was to spend a couple of days in leisure doing nothing and not riding.

The ride was not comfortable to start with, handling the kinetic is no way near to comfort when riding on high speeds and passing trucks do ruffle up the scooter’s balance. But overlooking that it gave me the freedom to be on the road when I desperately wanted to.

Gujarat’s dry and arid landscape is monotonous, not offering any change barring the occasional yellow mustard fields and the characteristic thorny bushes looking like green walls on both sides of the road.

The wildlife resort was more on the likes of a luxury adventure camp and way to expensive for my idea of unwinding. I asked the resort manager if there were any other interesting places I could see in the nearby area. He of course gave me a discouraging answer “ Where will you go? After this, starts the Rann of Kutch, there is nothing interesting about the desert”.

The statement of the resort manager with tented accommodation costing 1400 bucks was like a blessing in disguise. I pulled out the map and started to ride towards the Great Rann of Kutch. All of a sudden the ride had a mission, the curiosity to see the Desert. The idea of unwinding gave way and the anxiety of not knowing where my destination was going to for the night made the ride interesting.

After riding for another 80 odd Kms. I reached the last town after which the Great Rann of Kutch starts. On interacting with locals, who provide the most reliable information about the vicinity, I learned that the desert was frequented only by trucks, which ply to and fro to the salt pans which thrive in the Rann.

The locals were amused at my curiosity to see the desert, probably they are so used to it that the desert doesn’t interest them or they thought I was being foolishly brave or naïve to ride in the Rann alone.

As I was riding away from the town, the trees became less frequent and so did the traffic, but at one small lakes before the desert, I had company of around 5,000 migrating cranes. After riding for 70 kms. the road gave way to dirt tracks, small salt pans formed by dry water bodies were frequent and eventually everything gave way to a flat, barren landscape stretching as far one could see. The stillness and the emptiness of the desert was unnerving, but at the same time breathtakingly beautiful.

I kept wandering on the dirt track, which was getting tougher to ride on, thanks to the sand, when I saw a small board for a temple. I followed the track and reached the temple. It was surprising to a temple in middle of nowhere, but soon I realized that I had ventured too far in the desert and the temple was close to the Indo-Pakistan border and is frequented by BSF (Border Security Force) and not locals. Immediately I was questioned on what I was doing there, my honest answer of just wandering to see the desert wasn’t satisfying to the already suspicious BSF personnel.

They checked my belongings, matter became worst when they found maps of Indo-China Border which looked like satellite maps given to me by Martin (60kph member from Chezh Republic) before the Ladakh trip for the lake circuit and simple things like camera, cell phone, lonely planet atlas further raised their suspicion.

They politely told me not leave the temple until they do a background check on me, few left taking my camera, cell phone and maps and few stayed back to guard me. Next, several questioning sessions or interrogation started by the Watson’s trying to solve an espionage case. Sherlock Holmes finally arrived at midnight with armed BSF personnel and after two hours of questioning everyone realized that I was not a Pakistani or Afghani either entering or leaving India through the porous border!

Next day at 8 a.m Sherlock Holmes came to see me off, and to compensate for the confusion, he showed me a route right in middle of Rann leading towards the next town which the Army trucks used, so I was riding right in middle of the desert which I saw the previous evening.

On reaching the town I checked if my camera roll was exposed by the BSF? Thankfully not but they did erase some entries in the address book of the cell phone and had made some calls to friends and family in the address book. Panicking on the thought that these calls would have worried the poor souls who unfortunately know me, I rushed to the nearest STD Booth, which was 45 kms. away. Was relived again after making several calls that no one had received phone calls from BSF in middle of night. (Shreekant and Alok were the two 60kph members I called) I think the BSF guys were just fidgeting with the phone and were trying to make calls where there was no network signal.

One part of me was upset with all the happenings and wanted to ride back to Ahmedabad, the other told me to put it all behind and continue with the ride. I glanced again at the map and decided to ride through the Little Rann of Kutch, the phone booth owner thought It was crazy idea when I asked him for directions, but in the past 12 hours I have had a crazier experience so to let go of my anger and to make a ride out of it I headed for the Little Rann of kutch.

All my stops to buy bottled water were futile; none of the shops had them for sale. At 4 p.m I was at the last village before the Little Rann of Kutch, I bought two matchboxes from the village to light up a fire in case I loose my way in the desert or if the Kinetic breaks down. I didn’t have any tools or spares with me and even if I had them I hardly knew the mechanics of the scooter.

The locals were amused when I asked them how was the road condition ahead, they told me “What road? The desert and the sand have eaten up the road long time back, there are only dirt tracks now, make sure you cross the desert before sunset!!”

I don’t know what state of mind I was in, overlooking all the sincere advice, I started riding on the dirt tracks of the Little Rann of Kutch. Riding through sand was difficult but not tough by any means, tough was avoiding the thorny branches on the track. Slowly, the loose soil and semi-forested landscape transformed into a flat endless plain of hard soil.

I kept on riding on the main dirt track, constantly hoping that it was the right way out of the desert, but every now and then the main track would break up into several tracks which left me guessing and forget about asking somebody for directions, there were no sign boards either. To check if I was on the right track, I rode in direction of the salt field in a distance. The desert plays tricks on the mind when it comes to distances, what looks like a couple of kilometers away is much further.

Luckily there was one family staying near the salt pans to guard it, I asked them the directions and they told me I was on a wrong track, they told me to turn back and turn left on a certain track. There was no way I could identify the dirt track I rode to reach here, forget about the track from where I had to turn left, so I told him to tell me the way from the salt pan. He pointed at a small mountain 30 Kms. away and told me “ Just keep on riding in direction of that mountain, at the base of the mountain you will get the dirt track which will take you out of the desert”

Now I was making my own road, there were no dirt tracks going from the saltpan to the mountain. I kept on riding in direction of the mountain. The surface of the earth was cracked, very hard and riding on it was as smooth as riding on a tar road. Occasional sand patches and mud patches did appear, which the locals later told me were formed after the 26th January 02’ killer earthquake. As the mountain came closer, desert started playing tricks again, everything looked fine from a distance but when I got closer it was again guess work. Trial and error and I reached the base of the mountain where I touched the main dirt track, which would lead me to the other end of the desert.

The dirt track took me up the mountain and the view while descending the mountain was breathtaking, flat barren landscape as far as one can see, something like ocean of sand. The dirt track gave the feeling as if it was right in middle of the desert splitting it into half. The straight 20 Kms. dirt track was a dream to ride on, but as I was nearing the other end of the desert it again started breaking up into several dirt tracks. But by then I had realised that the smaller tracks were probably leading to the salt pan fields, so a few kilometer ride on the track and if I would see a salt pan field in distance, I would turn back and check other tracks. I lost a lot of time in this exercise, and it was almost sunset time but with trial and error and moments of panic against the clicking clock and fading light, I was out of the Little Rann of Kutch by 6.15. Couldn’t help but shout a “hurray” to the kinetic which was hardly maintained. The irony was the tar roads on the other end of the desert were in such a bad state that riding on no roads in the desert was better!

Next day after doing some cross-country riding I reached Nalsarovar, which is a very famous wildlife sanctuary, home to thousands of migratory birds. But the boats in the Nalsarovar weren’t that inviting for me to go for a water trek, which I had initially planned, as I was still overwhelmed by the stillness and the emptiness of the desert and the eyes of my interrogator.

On reaching back home I called up my cousin sister and told her that I had crossed the Rann of Kutch on her kinetic, she said “ Yeah right! No time for jokes, Bye” and she kept the phone :o)

Gaurav Jani

* More Photos from the ride in the west photogallery *

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