To get my ticket to the Rann Utsav festival, I had to present a passport and Visa in person at a checkpoint a few kilometers from the entrance. At the gate, I had to once again get out of the car and present my papers to armed guards before being granted admittance. Security is not taken lightly this close to the Indian border with Paskistan.
Once inside, however, we were free to roam, and we wasted no time getting away from the road and surrounding ourselves with Rann of Kutch—the vast salt desert that is home to the festival.
Shikha was dressed to match the desert, and the warm evening sunlight washed over the cool white sand to set a stunning background as we walked into what looked like the world’s largest sugar bowl.I couldn’t imagine a way to make the scene more beautiful, and was eager to start shooting before losing the light. This was our only window, and we knew it would close way too soon.
Shikha took off her shoes, and I laid down in the salt to look up at her, the moon shining over her shoulder.I stood, she reclined. We both reclined.We repositioned, changed perspective, and played with different poses.I changed lenses and zoomed in close.I knelt, she ran away from me…and walked back.We begged the sun to slow down, but stars are no respecters photographers or models. The show was soon over, but the evening was still young.
We followed light and sound emanating from a stage a few hundred meters away.
Along the way, we found a camel, draped in bright orange and blue and wrapped in spangled necklaces stood hitched to a cart garnished like a carnival, its driver resting after a day of ferrying festival goers. Venus shone bright overhead.On the stage, singer Kinjal Dave fronted a dozen drummers, as a thrilled audience held cell phones overhead, simultaneously dancing in circles and filming the experience.
We hopped a short fence to wade into the back of the audience where a cameraman on a platform, seeing my camera, invited me to join him and two others documenting the event, offering me a hand to pull men up. The view from our perch was perfect, but even from my vantage, my equipment was inadequate to fully capture the joyous energy before me.As inadequate as camera was to capture the energy of the scene, so was the photographer unable to fully experience the energy from a tower looking down on it, so when Shikha offered her hand, I left my pack and camera, and followed her into the crowd where we joined one of countless small circles of dancers, each moving counterclockwise, stepping and spinning, arms flying, smiles too large for faces. Well aware of how out of step I was with the rest of the circle, I didn’t care. The drums and the singing kept me spinning, out of time, out of synch, completely in the moment.
When the song ended, we danced our way back to my gear and I climbed back up with the other photographers as a group of local men danced onto the stage and surrounded the singer. As the drums picked back up, the men whirled and spun and the dancing audience fed on the energy on the stage—a flurry of swirling, smiling, happy humanity.We drove back to festival ground entrance where armed guards directed us to the exit, and light and sound faded behind us. A camel cart sped past us on the side of the road.
Venus and Orion watched over us as we raced back across the desert, our driver keeping close watch for wildlife, Shikha and I smiling happily in the back seat, both wishing there were more hours in the desert day.