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India: Gujarat: Adalaj, Ahmedabad, Bhuj, Little Rann of Kutch, Mandvi, Modhera, Nal Sarovar, Patan
Bhuj, Gujarat, India: The Kutch kingdom
by Prakash Bang, Editor in Chief
Bhuj, formerly sacred to the snake Bhujang, was established by Rao Hamirji in 1510 and was made the capital of Kutch State by Rao Khengarji I in 1549. After 1590, when Rao was forced to acknowledge Mughal supremacy, Bhuj was known as Suleiman Nagar among Muslims.
The walls of the town were built by Rao Godji I in 1723 and the Bhujiya Fort by Devkaran Seth in Rao Deshalji I's time. Bhuj has been attacked six times. In two cases the defense was successful and in four it failed. In 1728 an attack by Sarbuland Khan, Mughal Viceroy of Gujarat, was repulsed by Rao Deshalji I, and, in 1765 Mian Ghulam Shah Kalhoro was, by a timely display of the strength of the fortifications, induced to withdraw. During the civil troubles of the reign of the Rao Rayadhan III, Bhuj was thrice taken, by Meghji Seth in 1786, by Hansraj in 1801, and by Fateh Muhammad in 1808. On the 26th March 1819, the hill fort of Bhujia was captured by a British detachment under Sir William Keir.
After independence of India in 1947, Kutch State acceded unto the dominion of India and was constituted an independent commissionaire, Kutch State. In 1956, Kutch State was merged with Bombay state, which in 1960 was divided into the new linguistic states of Gujarat and Maharashtra, with Kutch becoming part of Gujarat state as Kutch district. Bhuj is the district headquarters of Kutch District - the largest district in India.
On 26 January 2001, the city was struck by a major earthquake which caused a great loss of life and property. Many parts of Bhuj were demolished due to the extensive damage whilst others were repaired.
Bhuj is indeed the gateway to Rann of Kutch (White Desert) and that was our very purpose of visiting Bhuj. It has an airport and served by direct flights from Mumbai. An hour's flight saw us at Bhuj airport. It was around 8 AM when we landed. For those interested, please note that the State of Gujarat is a dry-state. Carrying and consumption of alcohol is strictly prohibited. The enforcement is pretty tough. However, those tourists wanting to enjoy their sips can do so by getting a permit, which are issued at the airport itself on showing the boarding ticket and a photo-id. The fee was only Rs 100 and is valid for a week. Liquour shops are limited and are open for business only in the afternoons. It's not a good idea to carry your bottles in baggage as sniffer dogs at the airport can easily trace them out; if you are unlucky that is.
We would be exploring the Rann and the neighbouring villages for the next 3 days. We had booked an Innova (a MUV) and would be sharing between the 4 of us - me and my 3 enthusisatic cousins. We left for the coastal town Mandvi directy from the airport; and explored Bhuj on our way out on the 3rd day.
We left our camp post breakfast. Enroute Bhuj, which was only a 90-minute drive, we made a brief halt at Rudramata Dam and were in Bhuj town at around noon. Bhuj is home to historic buildings such as the Aina Mahal and Prag Mahal and the amazing Katchi sarees (intricate tie & die technique). Since our flight to Mumbai was at 5:30 PM, we just had time on hand to do that.
Prag Mahal is named after Rao Pragmalji II, who commissioned it and construction began in 1865. It was designed by Colonel Henry Saint Wilkins in the Italian Gothic style, and many Italian artisans were involved in its construction. The palace artisans' wages were paid in gold coins. Construction of the palace, which ultimately cost 3.1 million rupees, was completed in 1879 during the regency of Khengarji III (Pragmalji II's son) following Pragmalji II's death in 1875, the local Kutchi builder community (mistris of Kutch) were also involved in construction of Prag Mahal along with Colonel Wilkins.
The 2001 Gujarat earthquake severely damaged the palace. In 2006, the palace was burgled, with thieves stealing antiques worth millions of rupees and damaging other items throughout the palace. However, the palace and the tower have been repaired, and its tower and clock are now open for public viewing. Visitors may enter the main palace halls and ascend the bell tower, which offers panoramic views of the city.
Aina Mahal is an 18th-century palace and is located next to the Prag Mahal. It was built by Rao Lakhpatji in 1761. The chief architect and designer of Aina Mahal was Ram Singh Malam, who was assisted by mistris of Kutch in its construction. Aina Mahal was constructed with marble walls adorned with gold lace and glass. The walls of the palace are of white marble covered with mirrors separated by gilded ornaments with shades of Venetian glass. The palace was damaged in the 2001 Gujarat earthquake. However, a portion of the palace which was not so badly damaged has been restored and it houses the museum, displaying the bed room, music room, court room and other antique works of art, paintings, arms, palanquins, etc. Sadly it was Thursday and remained closed for public viewing. So be it.
From the palace grounds, we moved towards the city centre - to enjoy Kutchi street food and shop for sarees for our wives back home. We savoured kutchi dabeli & samosa finishing them off with soda pop and later spent an hour at Bhoomi - the saree store. Poorer by a few thousand rupees, we were at the airport in time to catch our flight back home.
Bhuj Image Gallery Photo viewer
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