Little Rann of Kutch Wildlife Sanctuary is a desolate area in western Gujarat, close to Dasada and around 100 kilometres north of Ahmedabad on an ancient trading route.
Covering a staggering 4,950 square kilometres, it is one of India’s largest reserves, with a diverse landscape – an impressive mixture of arid, and treacherous, salt flats, desert grassland, scrubland, lakes and marshes. Little Rann of Kutch is a sanctuary for the endangered Asiatic wild ass; one of the few places where the ass survives in the wild.
A member of the horse family, the wild ass is tall, more than a metre tall at the shoulder, chestnut brown and white in colour, agile and exceptionally fast. The Park is also home to chinkara, blackbuck, nilgai, wild boar, Indian wolf, jackals, hyena, fox and jungle cat, and numerous smaller mammals.
Birds found here include steppe, imperial, and short-toed eagles, Houbara bustard, flamingos, pelicans, storks and cranes. You can expect to see large flocks of larks and other dry-land birds such as sand grouse, coursers, plovers, chats, warblers, babblers and shrikes. The best birding is in the winter months from October to March, when quantities of waterfowl gather. This is the time when demoiselle and common cranes, and lesser flamingoes are seen in incredibly large numbers. The wetlands also attract large numbers of waterfowl. During the monsoon when the park is closed, the salt pans flood, and at other times of the year a thin, hard surface layer hides treacherous quicksand.
Surrounding areas worth a visit include, Lake Nawa Talao, the village lake of Dasada, the wetlands near Patdi Fort, Viramgam Lake and Surendranagar reservoirs – all of which offer great winter birding opportunities with regular sightings of rose-coloured starling, green pigeon and lesser florican. Slightly further afield is Nalsarovar Bird Sanctuary and famed Sun Temple of Modhera.
Nalsarovar Bird Sanctuary lies 44 kilometres from Dasada and Little Rann of Kutch National Park. This 105 square kilometre sanctuary comprises a large lake and its surroundings, and is renowned as one of the finest birding sites in West India. As well as the extensive variety of birds seen in large flocks at the lake, and their predators such as marsh harrier and fishing eagle, you can also see numerous passerines in the neighbouring bushes, grasslands and fields. Sarus cranes are also frequently sighted.
The 11th century Sun Temple at Modhera is one of the finest shrines in West India. It was constructed by the Solanki Rajput kings, using the donations of devotees who practiced the ancient tradition of sun worship. The magnificent temple features amazingly detailed carved arches and pillars that rival the temples of Konark and Khajuraho. Although the temple is not as large as some others, it is nevertheless extremely beautiful, and well worth a visit.