Leaving my hotel as ‘google maps’ told me to, I found myself in the heart of the slums of Vardara. Turning around, I tried to back track back towards the bus station near my hotel. I was completely lost, I was forced to stop and ask two police men, who quickly pointed me in the right direction. Once I was back to pretty much where I started from, I shoved google map directions out of my mind and headed north on the major road.
Within 50 kilometres north of the city, I came across a sign that fitted perfectly with the direction I wanted to go in. This allowed me to cut off a largely populated city I was hoping to avoid. In actual fact, it was the same town, ‘google maps’ had originally wanted me to go through.
Travelling further into the country side I found myself getting aroused by the amazing scenery laid out in front of me. I was passing camels pulling wooden carts down the main road, with their drivers dressed in white cotton pants and shirt with a waist coat and a huge red turban carefully wrapped on their heads. Colourful motorcycle tuk tuks, overflowing with people, drove between villages stepping in for what local buses should be doing.
I had just spent two long days riding up from Goa on the main highway, covering over 700 kilometres. I found myself almost falling asleep with the boredom of the lack of scenery and culture. As I hit Mumbai, the heat mixing in with the chaos of the intense traffic, I felt as if I was at work for a change and not following my own dream. Then finding myself in the state of Gujarat, where they are proud to display their culture and craft, it soon didn’t feel like a chore.
Stopping at a road side cafe, I topped my water up and grab a cold sugary drink to energised myself. Skulking away from the sun, I stood in the shade. Still dripping in sweat, I watched the locals stop to stare at my motorcycle. It wasn’t long before I was approached by a man who spoke good English and wanted to know all about my motorcycle and I. It was the first time that a local asked me if I was sponsored!
Turning off the main road, I head towards Dhrangadhra. I rode through a tiny village which I got completely lost in. Having found myself in the middle of the village, I had to push through the jambed packed streets, bristling with people, bicycles, tuk tuks, scooters, cars and then me. Following my nose, I turned down a street and eventually found myself back on the right path.
I arrived at Dhrangadhra and pulled over at what I thought was a good landmark, outside Indian Oil petrol station on a round-a-bout. I call Mr Devjibhai Dhamecha, a famous photographer and conservationist for the preserving of the ‘Little Rann’ especially the ‘Wild Asses’. He also runs the town guest house and safari out into the salt plains of Little Rann Sanctuary.
Mr Devjibhai Dhamecha told me to just to ask people and they will direct me to the house. Pulling outside a small shop I call out to the owner. He tells me to turn down an alley way. I follow and stop to ask again, they tell me to turn left again. At the corner I was stopped by a man on a scooter, He explained to me he was theson of Mr Devjibhai Dhamecha and the guest house was the one with his mother standing outside it. Finally!! I was just too tired for this game.
I pulled up outside the house and she beckons me to push my bike inside, then tells me to sit down. A ‘chai’ was placed before me, and then a plate of chapatis, an Alu (Potato) dish and rice. It was perfect timing as I was starving. Afterwards, I was shown to my room. I could finally get out of my hot sweaty motorcycle gear.
My room was upstairs from the family home, it was a worn blue washed concrete building. I had a simple toilet and bathroom at one end. Peeling of my damp clothes and changed into my off road gear, I grabbed my camera and took off for a walk. Walking down the quiet streets, I turned several corners to find myself watching women washing their clothes in the streets.
Taking photos of buildings, small details – feeling people watching me, I slowly turned around. I could see the colourful woman peering around the corner. Quietly talking about me and my camera. I showed my biggest smile and they returned it and said hello.
After turning a few corners I was once again surrounded by women, asking me to take photographs of them. When I tired from taking everyone’s photo I moved onwards to the next group of people.
Eventually I made my way out to the main shopping road, finding everyone extremely friendly and welcoming. All quietly watching me and whispering about me. I got the idea that not many tourist stop in town and actually visit the township. Making my way back to the guest house, I had to lie down, trying to find refuge from the heat.
Later that night, two Australians and one Irish man arrived. The two Australians had just come back from the Little Rann and was able to tell us all about their trip, which helped us to form a plan of attack for the next day.
Rising early, we leapt into the rusty, worn Jeep with MrDevjibhai Dhamecha at the wheel. We drove deep into the ‘Little Rann’. Our first stop, was the end process, where the salt is collected at one of the depot. Walking down the railway tracks, I could walk around the piles of salt. We walk back to meet Mr Devjibhai Dhamechaonce again at the local chai shop, where all the men gather for breaks and to watch the cricket. When we left they all made a hand symbol of riding a motorcycle and went brim brim. Laughing, I waved goodbye and Mr Devjibhai Dhamecha explained to me that he had told them about me. This happened through out the day – I could hear him telling everyone we stopped to talk to and even on the phone!
We moved further into the desert, driving over deeply cracked earth, some sprinkled with salt. The temperature rose as the mirages thickened on the horizon. We stopped at a man dressed in black dress shoes, rolled up tight brown pants, a white shirt and a waist coat. He was working pushing the salt around once a day to ensure that a crust doesn’t form and to help create nice round balls of salt. He silently walked in a steady pattern around the pond, standing in ankle deep water ruining his beautiful shoes. I read an article where it was stated, when they cremate a salt panworker only the soles of his feet remain as they have spent many years absorbing salt.
‘Wild Asses’ appeared from the scrubby bushes to come and relax in the desert. Now I’m not talking about naked run away blondes, I am talking about an animal that looks like a horse cross with a donkey. But in actual fact, it is just a horse with a sandy coat and has an erect dark mane, that continues in to a dark brown strip running the length of his spine to its tail.
Moving across the barren dried up lake we stopped at large fields of flat salt lakes, where people had gathered up the dried salt into long straight piles. Then they came along afterwards, scooping them up and dumping them into large piles at the end of each line.
Mr Devjibhai Dhamecha then drove us over to show us where the workers live in a make shift camp. The main family area was a canvas tent. There were two other houses, made of straw. I guess there were three different families living here, each with their own cooking facilities. Everyone wanted a photo of themselves and each of them were extremely excited to see themselves on the tiny 2 inch screen. One took a photo of me using my camera.
We then headed back to the main camp on the edge of the Little Kann for lunch. We got shown to our traditional kooba’s (huts). I was completely excited, as this was going to be my home for the night, listening to nothing but wind, completely away from the chaos of Indian villages.
After a peaceful night in the desert, we arrived back into town the following morning, right in the middle of Holi celebrations. I couldn’t help it but grab my camera and joining in on the fun. Even though I didn’t have any pigment to plaster anyone with, I was soon the target for many children with hand primed and ready for smearing colour on my face.