‘Asanjo mithdo mulak Bhuj’ or ‘Our sweet country Bhuj’is how the locals describe the Kutchi capital. It has risen like a phoenix from ashes after the devastating earthquake of 2001 damaged several of its iconic monuments. The city with its palaces and museums full of treasures from an erstwhile era, noisy, narrow streets lined with shops selling vibrant textiles, local handicrafts as well as the delectable cuisine will charm its way into your hearts. Whether you are a connoisseur of art, a history buff, heritage lover, die-hard foodie or a compulsive shopper, there is something for everyone!
Dive into heritage at the Aina Mahal
Aina Mahal or the ‘Hall of Mirrors’ was built in Indo-European fusion architectural style by master craftsman Malam during the rule of Rao Lakhpatji in the middle of 18th century. The magnificent interiors of the Darbar Hall or various suites, its passages and balconies will impress you with their beauty and opulence. Since the chief craftsman had travelled around Europe and become skilled at tile making, enamel work and other techniques you will find glimpses of these at the palace. Venetian chandeliers, floors with blue and white tiles, elaborate mirrored interiors, ivory inlaid doors and countless artefacts will evoke a jaw-dropping reaction for sure.
In the main hall or Fuvanra Mahal, you will in all likely hood slip back in time. Imagining the ruler sitting on his throne and watching the dance performances as water fountains gushed and the lamps lit. In the Hira Mahal or the master bedroom, the huge bed with gold bedposts and the wall to wall mirrors are reminiscent of the intimacy and sensual pleasures that the royals enjoyed.
Climb the clock tower of Parag Mahal
The Parag Mahal designed in Italian Gothic style was built in the 19th century during the reign of Rao Pragmaji. Since it doesn’t bear a resemblance to Indian architectural style, you will for a moment wonder if this palace was simply airlifted from some European locale and dropped to its current location. It is situated close to the Aina Mahal in the same courtyard. Sandstone from Rajasthan and Italian marble have been used in its construction.
Like the Aina Mahal, its interiors too are chock-a-block with myriad artefacts, antique furniture and paintings. Take the spiral staircase and head to the top of the iconic 45 feet clock tower. It provides a panoramic view of Bhuj city. Parag Mahal has featured in Bollywood movies like Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam and Lagaan.
Visit the Royal Cenotaphs
The cenotaphs, in the shape of umbrellas, were erected in memory of the royals by Rao Laktpathji in the 18th century. No surprises that when he passed away a cenotaph was erected for him too. The one with blue Turkish tiles is the one dedicated to him. Do look at the intricate carvings on these ‘Chattris’ as referred to by the locals. Floral motifs, birds, elephants, sun, moon and numerous gods and goddesses have all found a place in the detailing.
Take a walk down history at the Kutch Museum
If you want to get a glimpse of the extinct Kutchi script (most of Kutchi today is written in Gujarati script) or the koris which were Kutch’s local currency, then head to the Kutch museum which is the oldest museum of Gujarat. Consisting of two floors the museum built in Italian Gothic style has eleven galleries that provide a window to the art, history and culture of this region. A statue of Airavat or the white mythological elephant is one of the prominent exhibits.
Walk around Hamisar Talav
The manmade lake located in the heart of the city gets its name from the founder of Bhuj, Rao Hamir. The lake has a beautiful garden in the centre and is favourite of locals who like to walk around it, watch the migratory birds. They like to eat some dabeli or ice cream from the several carts found around the periphery of the lake. Every time the lake overflows special ladoos called Megh Ladoos are distributed and puja is performed thanking the rain gods. We visited Bhuj during a drought year and the lake was arid except for a small patch. A flock of migratory birds like flamingoes, herons and rosy pelicans were spotted.
Feast on Kutchi Cuisine
After so much of exploration do set aside time to savour the local Kutchi cuisine which will tingle your taste buds. Whether it is the Kutchi Dabeli (Kutchi burger) or the Khaman Dhokla or Jalebi Fafda no one can eat just one and you will surely ask for a second helping. If you want to try a range of Kutchi delicacies, then the Gujarati Thali is what you should be having. From starters to the main course to the desert to the beverage all will be served one after another. My advice would be to skip your breakfast and build your appetite for a marathon session of eating and drinking at lunch. Please avoid wearing your tight jeans. Instead, opt for something loose as your expanding waistline will find it difficult to find space in them post the gastronomical thali eating session.
Pay respects at Swami Narayan Temple
This magnificent temple was constructed post the earthquake that shattered the original temple and took seven years to complete. Unbelievably the idols in the old temple survived unscathed and were later installed in the present temple. Made of marble and gold the temple has seven pinnacles and a central dome with beautiful carvings. Built at a staggering cost of 100 crore rupees it is the most expensive temple in Gujarat.
Marvel at the architecture of Sharad Baug
The Sharad Baug palace was the residence of the last Maharao of Kutch Madansingh who passed away in 1991. The palace after the earthquake is not accessible to visitors. The adjacent former dining hall has been converted into a museum with memorabilia and collectables on display. The premises of the palace have a vast collection of flowering plants and trees frequently visited by migratory birds.
Go trekking to the Bhujio Dongar
It is from the Bhujio hill located at the outskirts of Bhuj that the city gets its name. The fort built on the hill provides a breath-taking view of the city. The ramparts of the fort will remind you of the Great Wall of China. A museum and a memorial dedicated to the victims of the 2001 earthquake is coming up here, so we couldn’t access the hill. But once complete this hill will be thronged by tourists and locals alike.
Shop till you drop
Bhuj is a shoppers’ paradise and hits a 9/9 on the shopping Richter scale. The textiles, embroideries, handicrafts in a riot of colours will never cease to amuse you. The shops around Anam Ring road and Danda Bazar were our favourite hangouts. Whether it is the bandhani or tie and dye fabric or the Ajrak block prints or the woollen shawls or kala cotton you can never have enough of them. The varieties and options are so interminable that in all likelihood you will be overwhelmed and confused as to what to pick and what to skip. From footwear to handbags to accessories or home furnishings the shops here have several aces up their very able sleeve. You won’t run short of shopping ideas but the cash you certainly will!
This article was first published on http://rajasthanroutestrails.blogspot.com/2019/11/ten-things-to-do-in-bhuj-by-shameera.html