Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Bhuj - a tourist attraction in Gujarat

Bhuj lies at the heart of Kutch peninsula. In the past Bhuj was the feudal state of Jadeja Kings and the capital of Kutch Island. Now it is the Head quarter of Kutch district. Previously, it was the capital of Khengarjir (1st) in 1548. In 1723 Rao 1st Deshalji walled up the city of Bhuj. Around 1948, the 35x4 ft wall was demolished following expansion of the city. And most of the ancient glories of the city had been washed away due to the 1819 British invasion and earthquake which led to raise 6 meter high 80 Kms long sea waves that marooned the city. Only a few houses were left. People of Bhuj rebuilt their homes and hearts fighting against a harsh nature. But natural calamity vandalized the area time again and again as the place is situated in an active seismic zone.

The topography of the area is like that of a turtle (a table land). Tourists come for expedition around October -March. But during February -March, people come from all over for the Kutch festival. One can have a glimpse of the culture and ethos of Kutch at the festival.

Another earthquake on 26th January 2001 devastated Bhuj once again killing 20,000 people and damaging properties worth billons. Bhuj is limping back to normalcy since then, with the help of national and international agencies.

Indian Air Force's biggest and busiest air base is in Bhuj.

Places to see in Bhuj:

Ancient story is the brother of Seshnag, Bhujanganag lived in the Bhujia Fort on 75 meter high Bhujia hill from 1718-41. There is the temple of Bhujanganag. Bhuj derives its name from Bhujanganag. Till very recently the entrance gate of the city used to remain closed from sunset to sunrise. During that time, the old city was in the core of the Alampanna Fortress. In the Fort, there is Rao Lakkha Palace, founded in 1752, with Durbar Hall, Aina Mahal, ivory-jewelled doors, Chinese-tiles basements, mirror fitted stone walls, paintings, gold and silver ornamentations, country made and foreign musical clocks besides several other articles of wonder. There is also red sandstone Durbar Garh Rajmahal Palace built by Mirza Maharao Pragmalji (2nd) in the year1860.

At the north of the city on the banks of the lake is Maharao Palace of Dutch and built in Kutch design and style Aina Mahal of the 18th century. The Tourist Office, is here at Aina Mahal. The name is justified by the fact that a million lights reflect a single source all over the 15meter long Aina Mahal.

The 2 million pound worth collections of Maharao Singh Madansinghji are found in the museum on the 1st floor of this Mahal. See the coin collections of a native state (1617-1948). The miracle watch of the Mahal is simply magical. On the 1st floor of the palace, the Fuvara Mahal and Hira Mahal are splendidly magnificent.

The hall of entertainment was called the Rangmahal was the leisure and pleasure court of Maharao. Several instrumentalists, maestros, dancers and lyricists used to present their performances for the Maharao. Fubara is the artificial fountain that sprayed water to maintain soothing temperature in the house. The private chambers of Maharao, the Hira Mahal is enriched with needle work, the orchestra of clocks, and the wood and ivory engraving on the doors.

On the 2nd floor, the marriage venue of Maharao Khengarji of 1884 full of gold cot with gold bed, gold utensils, shield and swords bejeweled with diamonds and gems, crystal plates, silver-plated articles will enthrall you in surprise. Except Sunday this is open from 9-00 am 12-00 pm and 3-00 pm to 6-00 pm.

To the east of Hamirasar Lake, amidst beautiful garden is Sarad Bag Palace founded in 1867 now converted to a museum, where the personal collections of Maharao is displayed. The coffin that brought the dead body of Late Maharao Madan Singhji from Europe in 1991 is now on display in the museum. Except Friday this is open from 9-00 am 12-00 noon 3-00 pm to 6-00 pm.

To the south of lake is the Mahadev Gate, to the west of College Road is
Ramkunda Tank, to the east Indian Folk Art and Crafts Museum, near market, are some places worth visiting.

Luxurious Swami-narayan Temple, park in the island of the lake as well as on the west of the lake, close to the island sandstone Chattish i.e. the memorial temple of Jadeja royal family are added attractions. The huge tomb, made of red sandstone in the memory Mirja Maharao was built by Ram Singh Malam in 1770, who also created the Aina Mahal. The statue had been installed on horseback. There are 15 plaques remembering 15 court maestros who on the death of Rana committed self-immolation or Jahar. Based on the well decorated pillars, there is a gallery encircling the central dome.

The new city is gradually expanding across the wall of the fort. Lanes and by-lanes are all around the city, making a veritable labyrinth. Cars and carriages loaded with merchandise are drawn by camel, in the old city. On either sides are walls with apertures. Decorated houses are in plenty. The Bhuj people don colorful and gorgeous dresses. More than 200 villages around are inhabited by tribal like Rabaris, Ahirs, Meghwals, Vankars. They are very hospitable.

In the past, Kutch maintained a close relation with Africans and Portuguese in the trade of spices and slave trafficking as well. While in 1834 the slave export and trade was banned, a small community of Africans permanently settled in the north of Kutch. In course of time, a new culture of Kutch developed on its own.

Bhuj deserves a special mention for gold and silver enameled meshwork and for Azrok print on cottons. You may also buy as mementos on Kutch tour the dazzling glass fitted embroidered needle work articles; stones, wood and leather products from Shroff Bazar of Bhuj.

To the north of bus stand, opposite Mahadev Gate on the South East bank of Haminasar take is the Pink-stone Kutch Museum. This museum is the oldest (1877) in Kutch (Ferguson museum of the past). The collections are multifarious and enthralling. The silver lock in the shape of the Indian map is unique. Except Wednesday, 2nd and 4th Saturday open from 9-00 am 11-30 am and 3-00 pm to 5-30 pm.

Prag Mahal Palace founded in 1865 with the sculptural assemblage of Mughal-British-Kutch-Italian combination is an example of exquisite ivory-jeweled wooden art. This palace founded by Rao Pragmalji, built by British technologist Col Wilkins. Today this houses government offices. However, the 25x12 meter Durbar Hall is open to all. The paintings of Maharao's family members are displayed in succession. There are stuffed trophies in the Hall hunted by the royal members. You can view the city and the desert as well from above the skyscraping Clock Tower close to the palace.

Jinalaya, the temple complex of 72 Jaina tenements is another important tourist attraction. The doors are plated with bronze and silver and the images of Tirthankaras covered with gold.

Hotels and accommodation at Bhuj

Opposite the railway station, Paradise Lodge; on the way to city at station Road Prince Hotel, Hotel Ratrani,

At bus stand Jay Bharat Lodging, Sagar Lodge, Hotel Ambassador.

At vegetable market, City Hotel, good at fair rate.

Sahara Palace, opposite bus stand; VRP Guest House, opposite taxi stand Ph: +91 2832 221388 .

Lake View Hotel, near Rajendra Park, it has swimming pool as well. Outsiders may enjoy and use swimming pool.
Hotel Park View, Hospital Rd, Ph: 223406

Hotel Annapurna, Bhid Gate

At New Station Rd—Janta Ghar, Neelkanth Guest House,

Hotel Anam Ph: 223397

Hotel Abha Ph: 254451

Garden View, Nityatwnda, Anand, hotels are also there.

TCGL's Toran Runn Resort, Mirzapur Road Ph: +91 02832

At a little distance of Museum, Government Guest Houses Umed Bhawan and Circuit House are situated.
Food: Almost all hotels cater food. Neelatm Hotel, opposite Prince Hotel, New Station Road deserves mention. Green Hotel, Shroff Bazar is famous for South Indian and Punjabi dishes; for non-vegetarian dishes there is Noorani at Dadia Bazar.

Conducted tours from Bhuj

Gujarat Paryatan arranges daily tour of Koteshwar-Narayan Sarovar-Mandvi from 8am to 8 pm.

This article is originally published in Travel India and India Study Channel

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