Kutch is not just the largest district in Gujarat. In fact, it’s also the largest to be found in India. Stretching from Rajasthan to the edge of Pakistan and the Arabian Sea it’s a district that’s as diverse as it is big. 

The Great Rann of Kutch is perhaps the most well-known feature to travellers; a flat desert that fills with water in India’s monsoon season but that ebbs and evaporates away to leave salt-cracked plains that stretch far into the horizon. Stand on this expanse and you’ll soon be humbled by its immensity but take the time to explore and you’ll soon find there’s a colourful myriad of cultural hues to found beyond these stark white plains…

1)     For the festival fun of Rann Utsav

Rann Utsav is also known as the ‘White Desert Festival’; a unique opportunity for travellers to experience a taster of this region’s cultural flair. Kutch is renowned for its tribal communities - each with their own music, cultural dress and dance traditions – and so over a three-month period (November – February) the Tent City plays host to a series of folk music and dance performances that showcase and celebrate this rich cultural diversity.

Taking place upon the semi-parched grasslands of the Banni and beneath the winter moon, the festival is a flamboyant affair with colourful fairs and markets and the chance to also admire the craftmanship of local vendors. A stay overnight at one of the tents also makes for a good chance to venture out further to discover some of the other highlights in the region.

2)     For its unique wildlife experiences

There are plenty of unique wildlife spotting opportunities to be found in Kutch. For example, a jeep excursion into the wilderness of the Rann can have you pay a visit to the Wild Ass Sanctuary. Locally known as 'Ghud Khar', these sturdy creatures were once common across north-western India, west Pakistan and south Iran but now are only to be found here.

3)     For its colourful heritage

Bhuj is the closest town to the Rann Utsav festival and also recognised as the principal hub in the Kutch region. Prag Mahal palace makes for a striking and somewhat unusual find as you explore; with a grand facade that takes inspiration from European architectural styles but also interspersed with intricate Indian elements and stonework. The Aina Mahal palace, or ‘Hall of Mirrors’, can also be found next door.

There are plenty of other cultural aspects to the city for those in the know to enjoy. Nearby, but relatively unknown amongst tourists, is the Ramkund Stepwell: a small square well which offers a moment of quiet from the hubbub of the streets; whilst the Royal Chhatardis make for a nice meander thanks to their ornate stonework.

4)     For a taste of its creative cuisine  

If you tuck into local Gujarati fare, you’ll get a taste for India’s exotic flavours and exciting vegetarian cuisine. A traditional Thali Meal can be ordered at many restaurants and encompasses several different dishes served in small bowls, all served on a large platter.

With breads and sweet, sour and spicy chutneys, pickles, ghee and a chopped vegetable salad on the side, a Thali in Gujarati is all about offering variety and creating a balance of tastes, textures, heat and colour between each of the dishes. It can consist of a few steamed or fried farsans (snacks), a shaak (main course with vegetables and spices mixed together into a curry or a spicy dry dish), kathol (braised pulses like beans, chickpea or dry peas), yogurt dishes, raita or sweet shrikhand, rice or khichdi, daal and sweets like halwas and basundi.

5)     For an adventure into the Black Hills  

Fancy a walk with far sweeping views? 25kms north of Khavda lies the Black Hills of Kutch with Kalo Dungar its highest point. Climb to the top of this hill and you’ll soon understand the tremendous efforts that were needed to undertake a crossing of the Great Rann, with the desert horizon vanishing into the sky.

The hill is also the site of a 400-year-old temple to the Indian deity Dattatreya, which legend has it stopped here and fed a band of staving jackals with his body. In tribute to this, for the past four centuries, priests at the temple prepare a batch of prasad and feed this to the jackals after the evening Aarti (ritual). If you wish to visit, hiring a jeep from Khavda is your best option with some easy-going hikes to enjoy around the hill too.

6)     To return home with an incredible souvenir

The elaborate embroidery and distinctive design of Kutch’s handicrafts is something to behold. These can most readily be found in Bhuj in the shape of glamorously embroidered clothing and sprawling quilts, hand block printing, wood carvings and ornate jewellery. However, the town further makes a great base from which to explore some of the surrounding villages where you can meet these artisans in person, see them at work and buy crafts direct from them too. More widely, Gujarat has an immense variety of embroidery styles shaped by each region’s history and culture, with different stich combinations, patterns and colours (and the rules for using them) retaining a special meaning. Be sure to strike a conversation with these local creators to find out what the patterns on their wares may signify.