The vast emptiness of the Little Rann of Kutch in Gujarat, India, stretches out to the horizon in every direction. Rann is Gujarati for desert, and for wildlife photographer Devjibhai this is home. Around here he is known as The Desert Man.
Wildlife photographer and safari guide, Devjibhai said: “Each time you come to this place it gives you a new perspective on life. Here you are one with nature. Alone. So your mind is refreshed.”
Devjibhai has developed an intimate knowledge of these 5,000 square kilometres, and patrols them in his jeep, watching over the land and the animals living there.
The Little Rann of Kutch is the only place on earth where the Indian Wild Ass still lives in the wild. To help preserve this majestic animal, the Indian government created the Wild Ass Sanctuary in 1972 and it now has around 5,000 of them living here, along with other rare animals including the Indian wolf, the desert fox and the Nilgai antelope.
There are also flamingos. During the monsoon, the Rann is flooded for about a month and between November and February the water levels are high enough to make it a veritable paradise for bird-lovers. In a major boost to preservation efforts the Rann was declared a biosphere reserve in 2008.
Devjibhai runs an eco camp on the edge of the desert where visitors can stay in traditional huts.Other options include the Rann Riders eco-resort which offers safaris and excursions into the desert and nearby villages.
German tourists Brirgid Fritsch and Winfred Alt explained: “It was fascinating to see how they make salt and to see the Wild Ass. I’d never seen such great animals, and there are a lot of flamingos and birds.”
The desert was once under the sea, meaning there are salt pans all over the region, making it India’s salt factory. But the biosphere reserve status has shifted the focus to providing locals with alternative livelihoods.
Jumed Malik, the owner of the Rann Riders eco-resort, said: “If in future the government encourages people from fringe areas of the desert to get involved in conserving wildlife and acting as guides for tourists, it would benefit them and the preservation of the wildlife.”
Gujarat also has a rich cultural tradition and is known for its stone carvers, textiles and traditional weaving cottage industries. This also offers opportunities for local development.
Craftswoman Meenabhen said: “I have been doing this embroidery for more than 50 years. Before that, our ancestors also did this. And today, with the tourists, we make money for our efforts.”
From wildlife to delicate embroidery, the Little Rann of Kutch is something of a paradise on earth. Devjibhai sums it up: “I will continue to roam here. This is where I was born. This is where I will die. I am happy.”