For Royal Enfield highway warriors, the Rann of Kutch counts as one of the holy grails of motorcycling apart from Ladakh and Western Ghats. So, when the call came asking if I would like to join, it took me about half a minute to commit a week of my life to the ride. The 3rd edition of the Royal Enfield Tour of Rann of Kutch was underway the next day.
The Highway to Nowhere
Impatience grew among the riders as they stood in the centre of a hundred cameras of curious Amdavadis waiting for the flag off. DCP saab finally arrived and with one happily short line let us all loose on the smooth dusty highways of Gujarat. Twenty Royal Enfields revving together on the road is a sight nothing on the road can avoid taking a second look of. Soon we were on the open highway and heading towards the edge of the Little Rann. The Classic, despite my apprehensions, was performing superbly. Handlebar and frame vibration at high speeds is markedly lower than the Machismo 500 and the acceleration is really smooth. The motorcycle took to the highway like a fish to water and before we knew it, we were at Zainabad.
Riding in sand is tricky, something that we learnt later than evening on a short excursion to a small wetland nearby. The front of the motorcycle tends to wobble like Jell-O while the instinctive reactions of releasing the accelerator, braking and putting your foot down actually end up making the motorcycle more unstable. The answer is surprisingly simple to understand and fiercely difficult to assimilate. Plant your ass on the seat, sick your knees to the tank, refuse to put the foot down and hold the handlebar like you are holding a 2 day old baby in it. Don’t be worried about the wobble, it’s going to be okay. Lesson learnt, it was time to hit the Rann.
The Little Rann
No amount of pictures and videos can prepare you for the Rann – an endless expanse of brown and grey stretching across a horizon of absolute nothingness. There is nothing to hold your gaze, no breaks in this open canvas to rest your eyes on. The ground absolutely flat as far as the eye can see but with cracks so wide, it can take your entire hand in. We were not prepared for it, not even close. But the moment we saw, we knew exactly what it meant for us. Open, unencumbered road! Since there are few tracks and the surface is completely flat, you pick a direction and twist the wrist. Within seconds, all 20 motorcycles were in 20 different directions exploring the Rann. We rode to the horizon, turned back, picked another direction and repeated the same. There is absolutely no other place in India (and I guess one of the few in the world) which gives you this incredible freedom. That alone makes the Rann a must visit place for all motorcyclists.
Soon, we were riding towards the centre of the Rann, Medak Bet (bet means island in the local language). We were pushing ourselves to the limits with speeds going up to 90 kmph. The limits were only our own and not the motorcycles’. They would have happily done over 120 but the constant wobble and the fear of being thrown off kept us in check. This was our very own peep into the world of off road rallying. After a working lunch at a temple on the other edge of the Rann, we headed towards Dholavira, a place where time stands still and the surface shuffles between a sea and a desert.
The Big Rann
One of the perils of an organized tour like the Royal Enfield Tour of ROK is that the dates are decided in advance and it is notoriously difficult to predict what the Rann will do before it actually does it. Rains fill up the Rann every year with enough water to allow medium sized boats to be used. Then the unforgiving summer sun slowly evaporates the water leaving behind a salt pan large enough to cover Goa and Sikkim three times over. There is, of course, that twilight zone when the water is just about dried leaving the Rann a muddy, gooey pan of mush. We were in the Rann at just that completely inappropriate moment because the sun decided to work slower this year. Shame.
To get to the big Rann from Dholavira, we have to pass through two BSF checkposts – Macchi and Karni. For some, the access to these posts became the best part of the ride. BOP (border out-post) Macchi is accessible through a largely stony path fit only for high ground clearance Shaktiman army trucks. The motorcycles were being tossed around like stragglers on a state bus. The access to the Rann from Macchi was extremely muddy and one of our motorcycles got almost immediately. When your motorcycle gets stuck in the Rann, you pray there are at least three others to help because this is the time when you feel the weight of every gram of the heavy Enfield. Karni was a different ballgame altogether. None of us had ridden through that quantity of sand before. A few riders fell, few others got stuck and most threw up enough dust from their rear wheels to have their own private desert. The training of day 1 came in handy as everyone tamed their beasts and the day ended with no casualties of any kind.
The White Desert
Day 4 took us to the far north of Gujarat to a little tourist village called Dhordo. With summer almost upon us, we thankfully had to encounter no tourists. The government Gods, however, played truant and disallowed us to visit the international border at Veghakot. Unfazed at having spent a good 6 hours at India Bridge waiting for the permissions to come in, we headed to Kala Dungar which is the highest point of the Rann with incredible panoramic views. The White Desert will have to wait some more. As evening descends, we are being guided by one of the locals to a part of the White Rann which is supposed to be dry. The bikes fly through the flat space.
The Rann wasn’t dry though. Most motorcycles got stuck in the mud barely 15 minutes later. Instead of dampening our spirits, that put us into a whole different mood. The slight wetness and low grip meant the wheels were sliding – perfect for a stint in drifting! Soon enough, rear wheels were sliding all over Rann throwing up wet salty soil up and testing the resolve of the riders to let go of the front wheel. Drifting is an experience unlike others while riding. You are attempting to let go of the control of front wheel rather than trying to arrest its movement. Once the fear of loss of control is gone, the fun factor goes up multiple notches. Soon, we were making circles, then shortening their radius then making multiple donuts. It was getting more and more fun. Then the sun decided to set.
The Rann in the dark is an animal even the locals fear. It didn’t take long for us to realize that as six riders including me got separated from the main group. There were no milestones or markers or lights to guide us. Phone signal was patchy at best and even a call didn’t help because we simply had no coordinates. A stroke of pure good luck brought us back to an alternate track and allowed us to regroup. Lesson learnt: respect the Rann.
The Return: Lost Again
Return journeys are the worst, even more so when you are backtracking the entire way. We had a promising start with all motorcycles carrying through without getting lost or breaking down for half the day. The Enfields got into their groove and roared past 120 on the smooth 6 lane highway. Then then jolt! A 50 metre span of a bridge had escaped the attention of the road engineers and had grown craters from the moon. Riders flew over their motorcycles. One of the older 350s suffered the brunt with a bent front wheel rim. He was reduced to 60kph for the rest of the trip. The real fun began when we touched down on the Little Rann. Despite having a local jeep escort to ferry us across, we were thoroughly and completely lost. We were going in circles, eating dust of other riders and tripping over the unknown terrain before the GPS finally kicked in. By the time we hit a trail we could follow, half the motorcycles were already drawing from the reserve tank. We were on the edge. The desert Gods were lenient to us and we lived to tell the tale.
The Rann brings back the primal joy of motorcycling completely unencumbered by highways and maps. When you are on the Rann, you are like that 16 year old who has learnt how to control the motorcycle for the first time. That 16 year old who doesn’t care which direction he takes. He just wants to ride.
(You can check out Abhimanyu’s blog here)