Updated: Jul 16, 2020
It’s been a while since we’ve been out in the wild. These few months of lockdown may have given the planet a much-needed break from humans. But we miss the great outdoors. A while ago, before the pandemic shut down our lives, we took a little trip to the Rann of Kutch. There were two objectives for this trip. The first was to observe the fantastic variety of bird and animal life that calls this 5,000sq.km. desert home. But we’ll talk about the wildlife in other stories. The second was to watch a sky untainted by light pollution and catch the Geminid meteor shower.
Searching for the dark
We couldn’t just choose any old resort. Most of them are set in a cluster to the eastern side of the Little Rann. And while these places look very comfortable, they’re usually too close to villages. Which means light pollution. A little bit of research and we found a small place right on the southern edge of the desert called Eco Camp. A simple, family-run place, focused on giving nature and wildlife enthusiasts experiences of the Little Rann untainted by any distractions. They even promised to switch off all property lights to ensure that nothing compromised our view of the night sky.
We arrived a little after sunset. After checking in, we tucked into a fresh, home-cooked local meal. As we finished, the owner of the camp showed us a raised concrete platform in the centre of the property, which would usually be used as a base for a tent. But for the next three nights, it would be our base for stargazing and spotting meteors. A couple of chairs, mattresses, blankets, water, and a thermos filled with hot chai were placed for our comfort. Just as well, because this was mid-December and the temperature was dropping fast. With no obstruction around for thousands of kilometres, the wind was picking up too.
As promised, all the lights switched off, and we were instantly enveloped in the sort of darkness city dwellers like us rarely experience. It was uncomfortable at first. So we did what people do in these times. We started talking and joking around till we got comfortable being out there by ourselves in the dark. At first, we didn't see the kind of star-filled sky we hoped we would. But the moon set, and our night vision improved. More and more stars became visible. The ones we usually see shone with a brightness we'd never experienced. We fiddled around with our telescope trying to spot Messier 42. And played around with the camera settings trying our hand at astrophotography. Occasionally, we were startled by the sounds of wild animals. Some were close enough for us to hear loud breathing sounds. Did we mention that there were jackals close to our camp? No? Well, there were.
The show begins
We downed some of the sweet, hot chai and welcomed its warmth. And just then something streaked across the sky. We gasped. Pointed. There were a few excited did-you-see-thats! Then for a very long time, nothing. Was that it? No. It's called a meteor shower, remember? It finally began. Soon meteors were streaking across the sky. Occasionally, several meteors would light up the sky at the same time. We forgot about the cold, the camera, and the chai. It was magical. Long glowing arcs of white, yellow, blue, red and green streaked across the sky. The first night we saw about 150 meteors. The second night, during the peak of the shower, we counted over 500. And on the third, another 100 or so. But the most fantastic part of the shower were the fireballs. These were large meteors that caused the entire sky to light up with flashes of green. We’d seen meteor showers before, but nothing like this.
There are several meteor showers that light up our sky every year. They show up on the same dates like clockwork. Check them out. Search for places with dark skies. Make your way there. Get a thermos filled with hot chai or coffee. And look up.