Liz Light walks the Great Rann of Kutch.
The light is extraordinary. The sun bounces off expanses of luminous white crystals and the sky is immense and icy blue with long wisps of pale cloud. At moments, it looks as like a vast frozen Arctic lake rather than a hot, near-equatorial desert.
A road to nowhere, a kilometre long, extends into the flat whiteness. You can trundle along in a cart pulled by an ornately decorated camel or hire a pony, but most people stroll, admiring the phenomena that is the Great Rann of Kutch.
The Rann of Kutch, at 7500sq km, is the largest salt pan in the world. It sits on the edge of the Thar Desert, an inhospitable but fought-over wedge of flat vastness along the India-Pakistan border. Each August it fills with monsoon rain and becomes a salt lake; by December most of the water has gone and the salt remains.
This is India, where no one has a problem with noise, generally, and everyone loves music, in particular. Some distance from the road, five musicians sit cross-legged and play on a tall white plinth.
Ethereal classical Indian music wafts across the blankness. For the Indians here, on the edge of the Rann, this music is normal, nothing special. For me, the unusual combinations and cadences of the sitar, chimes and drums are exotic and add magic to this bright white place.
I crunch across the salt towards the musicians. It is nothing like the sand-sized grains we use for cooking. It is made up of large, sharp connected crystals, a fact I notice when I slip sideways off one sandal and scrape my heel.
The salt forms a layer about 6cm thick. The greyish areas are thinner. I soon learn to tread carefully to avoid breaking through the crust and into the icky mud beneath.
With an artfulness that I have come to expect in India, the musicians are dressed in white but contrast this with bright red sleeveless vests, highly embroidered and inlaid with little mirrors.
The ensemble is topped with vivid turbans, ornately tied with one end sticking up vertically like a mini peacock's tail. They look as exotic as they sound.
Beyond them is a pink and white folly, an architectural construction with echoes of an ancient Indian temple.
It's surreal and out of place in the white desert but the point is its oddness and the need to punctuate the endless nothingness between here and Pakistan.
People crunch over to the folly, pose for photographs, hang around and then wander back to the musicians.
As the sun lowers, the light on the Rann changes from glassy and dazzling to the colour of liquid honey. More people start arriving, in cars and on tour buses, walking down the road to nowhere in colourful groups.
Cameleers and pony-men are busy giving people rides. Sunset is an auspicious time in India; wallets loosen and rupees flow.
Two gorgeous young women walk past, apparitions in bright colour, flashing mirrors and intricate embroidery with long fine shawls cascading from the top of their heads to the ground behind them.
They are dressed in traditional Kutch wedding clothes, not the usually dusty, slightly raggedy garments that village women wear every day as they go about their chores.
The long full skirts are intricately embroidered in bird and floral motifs, as are the fitting blouses they wear secured tightly with string across the back. They look similar enough to be sisters with wide, white smiles, longish noses and black finely arched brows.
There is, it seems, about to be a photoshoot and the photographer has wisely chosen this half hour of magic light. He has the girls running together across the salt, then swinging in a circle, hands linked, skirts and shawls flying.
It is simply beautiful: the girls, their clothes, and the low sun flashing on the myriad tiny mirrors in their billowing skirts.
Behind them, the stark white simplicity of the Rann of Kutch is a magnificently austere backdrop, created by the intricate and magical machinations of time and nature.
World Expeditions has many trips to India, including some that visit the Rann of Kutch. World Expeditions can also arrange air tickets.
Liz Light travelled to India courtesy of World Expeditions.