10 Things to do around Bhuj , Kutch

Bhuj is the gateway to Great Rann of Kutch. Most people head directly to Rann of Kutch with a short lunch stop over in Bhuj. We came in from Dholavira, 5000 year old Indus Valley Civilization site some time in the afternoon and had half a day for Bhuj Sightseeing. Bhuj was nearly flattened after the earthquake in 2001. Over the years, it is slowly recovering from the massive devastation. We stayed at the Devpur Homestay which is nearly 30 kms away from Bhuj and did day trips to Mandvi, Koteshwar, Narayan Sarovar.

Bhuj Sightseeing

  • Visit to Prag Mahal and Aaina Mahal 

These Mahals give a peek into the erstwile life style of the Jadeja Kings who ruled Kutch. These structures are still recovering from the damage inflicted during the earthquake but are still worthy of a visit. They are closed in the afternoons and can be done in about 2 hours.

Palace of Mirrors-Aaina Mahal, Bhuj, India

The 250 year old Palace of Mirrors or Aaina Mahal located in the corner of Hamirsar Lake in Bhuj is nearly in shambles after the devastating earthquake of 2001. A small part of it has been restored and opened to public.

Prag Mahal in Bhuj ~ A Photo Essay

Prag Mahal was built in the 19th century in Bhuj. The construction of this Italian Gothic style palace was commissioned in 1865 by Rao Pragmalji II the ruler of Jadeja Kutch clan at that time. It was finally completed during the tenure of his son, Rao Khengarji III.

  • Hamirsar Lake

The lake can be seen from the top of Prag Mahal. It is in a very sad state with muddy waters and dried up from the corners. The migratory birds love the lake and I shot some of the best pictures of birds here. Go down to the lake only if you want to photograph birds or see them from a close distance else give it a missBhuj Sightseeing Hamirsar Lake

  • Kutch Museum

Kutch Museum located next to Hamirsar Lake is the oldest museum in Gujarat. The museum has an interesting collection of stones, slabs, seals, musical instruments, embroidered textiles, weapons and several objects from the tribal culture of the state. The main attraction is the 7 tusked snow white elephant or Airavat. Can be done in an hour if you are not a museum buff.Bhuj Sightseeing Kutch Museum

  • Swaminarayan Temple

The original Swaminarayan Temple where Swaminarayan had installed the idols himself  built around 1822 was destroyed during the Bhuj Earthquake in 2001. The sparkling new temple made from marble has been constructed near by with sponsorships from devotees. It was closed by the time we reached and hence no pictures from my side.

  • Royal Chhatris

Located a little ahead of the Kutch Museum and Hamirsar Lake, most people tend to miss this spot. The entrance is not clearly marked and it is in between residential houses in an open field. One of the best finds in Bhuj and the entire Kutch area

Royal Cenotaphs (Chhatris) of Bhuj, India

It was a hot sunny afternoon in Bhuj and after the visit to Aaina Mahal and Prag Mahal Palaces we were cooling off next to Hamirsar Lake munching on street food. The migratory birds were having a good time in the muddy waters of the Hamirsar Lake and as we went closer they flew off to the other side.

  • Shopping

Bhuj has some interesting shopping options. Shroff Bazar is the place to visit to pick up local block printing stuff and also other knick knacks. Bhujodi Handicrafts village at the outskirts of Bhuj has several stalls set up by local artisans with block prints, embroidery and patch worlk material. Also visit Shrujan, Kala Raksha or the outlet of one of the several NGO’s who are working towards enabling local artisans

Bhuj Shopping

Day Trips from Bhuj

Bhuj is central to all the sights in Kutch and some places can be visited in a day while the others may require an overnight stay

Scenes from the Salt Desert: Great Rann, India

The Great Rann (desert in Hindi) of Kutch extending across India and Pakistan is a near infinitum (7500 sq kms) stretch of white salt desert across Western Gujarat. During monsoon, this entire salty clay area of 7500 sq kms is filled with water which largely dries out leaving behind a layer of white salt on clay.

5 Things to do in Mandvi, India

Mandvi is a port city in the Western Part of India in the Kutch, Gujarat region. It is famous for its beaches and centuries old ship building yard. Once upon a time walled city, the ruins of the walls can be seen while driving around.

Land’s End ~ Koteshwar , Narayan Sarovar & Mata No Madh

During our road trip in Gujarat we drove until Land’s End the western tip of India that merges into Arabian Sea. We visited Koteshwar, Narayan Sarovar, Lakhpat Fort and Mata No Madh traveling about 350 kms during the day.

Footsteps into a 5000 Yr Old Civilization, Dholavira, India

Stories of Indus Valley Civilization would often transport me beyond the classroom during my student days. I would conjure up imaginary stories of love and life while my teacher’s voice would apply intermittent brakes on my flight of fancy.

 Travel Tip

Bhuj is connected by rail and air from Mumbai and Ahmedabad. It is more of a transit location and most people end up staying in Great Rann of Kutch, Mandvi or Homestays and Resorts in the outskirts. In 2017-2018, Rann Utsav will be held between Ist November 2017 and 20th February 2018. The 5 full moon nights are 4th November 2017; 3rd December 2017,  2nd January 2018 & 31st January 2018, 2nd March, 2018

Prag Mahal in Bhuj ~ A Photo Essay

Prag Mahal was built in the 19th century in Bhuj. The construction of this Italian Gothic style palace was commissioned in 1865 by Rao Pragmalji II the ruler of Jadeja Kutch clan at that time. It was finally completed during the tenure of his son, Rao Khengarji III.

Prag Mahal is built using sandstone from India and Italian Marble. It was extensively damaged during the Bhuj Earthquake of 2001 and has not recovered ever since due to paucity of funds. The lack of proper upkeep is apparent all over and even the multi crore Bollywood movies being shot here (Lagaan starring Amir Khan) has not changed its fortune greatly.

Opening Hours: 9am to 12am; 3pm to 6pm.

Entry Fee :          Rs 20 + Camera Fee of Rs 50

Visit Duration:   1 hour or so. Combine with Aaina Mahal located next to it and avoid visiting on Thursday when Aaina Mahal is closed.

Prag Mahal

The clock tower at the corner of the building lends the Gothic look to the building.Prag Mahal

As we waited around to enter Prag Mahal, pigeons flew around the buildingPrag Mahal

On the other side was the living quarters which have now been rendered unfit for living. The pretty ornate Jharokhas stood outPrag Mahal

Finally, we made an entry through the entry hall that led to the staircase leading to the higher floors and the clock towerPrag Mahal

The Durbar Hall was closed and other halls were under renovation. Got a glimpse of the hall on the top which was used as a music room. The paint was peeling all over and it was a sad state of a one time well maintained palacePrag Mahal

We stepped out into the clock tower viewing area. Bhuj looked beautiful from the top. My gaze stopped at the Gothic styled windows peeping out of the roof where the pigeons were seated; not quite appreciating human intrusion. Prag Mahal

As we were walking down; I could spot a lot of parrots peeping out from corners; swinging on ropes and poles. The otherwise worn out Prag Mahal looked beautiful while the sun was busy playing hide and seek.Prag Mahal

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Royal Cenotaphs (Chhatris) of Bhuj, India

It was a hot sunny afternoon in Bhuj and after the visit to Aaina Mahal and Prag Mahal Palaces we were cooling off next to Hamirsar Lake munching on street food. The migratory birds were having a good time in the muddy waters of the Hamirsar Lake and as we went closer they flew off to the other side. We were walking along the lake towards the Yellow Chilli Restaurant when tomb like structures in a barren field to my right caught my eye. We crossed over and then made our way through a huge crack in the wall  to get a view of the structures which were elaborately carved and appeared to have seen better days. The main entrance seemed to be on the other side but it was worth the walk in the hot sun.

The umbrella shaped dome structures are popularly known as Chhatris in India which were built in memory of royals. These are commonly found in Rajasthan and some parts of Madhya Pradesh and Gujarat which are connected to Rajput lineage. The Chhatris in Bhuj were constructed sometime in the 18th century by Jadeja ruler Rao Lakhpatji. The one with a blue dome with jewelled work strongly influenced by Turkish architecture is dedicated to him. The structures were severely damaged by the Bhuj earthquake in 2001 and are currently being renovated though at a slow pace. Walking through construction material, boulders and stones we found stones that depicted royalty as well as images of gods and goddesses. Some of them were exquisitely carved and you begin to wonder whether they are being honoured the way they ought to be.

For a while, I forgot all about lunch admiring everything around. As, I sat there lost in time, my gaze fell on the bird who was hopping from dome to dome and finally settled on one. I wondered if it was the soul of a one whose memory lay within the cenotaphs or a soul traveler like me who is looking through the heart in search of experiences !! If you are following the tele serial “Saraswati Chandra” that is being beamed week nights you will realise that the lead pair were often romancing around the Chhatris. In conclusion, if you are in Bhuj do stop by at the Chhatris and your initial reluctance will soon be replaced by a song on your lips with gladness that you had stepped in there.

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Palace of Mirrors-Aaina Mahal, Bhuj, India

The 250 year old Palace of Mirrors or Aaina Mahal located in the corner of Hamirsar Lake in Bhuj is nearly in shambles after the devastating earthquake of 2001. A small part of it has been restored and opened to public. In spite of being told that this palace is lost its sheen with time and may not be worth a visit, I was quite sure about a visit to Aaina Mahal. The palace built in 18th century by chief architect and craftsman Ramsinh under the patronage of Jadeja ruler Lakhpatji is an amalgamation of Indo-European styles. Though Ramsinh was heavily influenced by his nearly 2 decade (17 yrs) training in Europe on the use of glass, everything used in this palace was made locally.

The building is partially destroyed and the run down staircase led us into a hall through a small passage where the glass fitted and gold plated cannon and palanquin on display have definitely seen better days. The Hall better known as Fuvanra Mahal appeared to be the entertainment room and the musical instruments were organized all around with a marble throne in the centre, presumably for the king. The musicians would take seat on the square divan decorated with an embroidered cover. The lamps all around would be filled with water and a layer of oil that would light up the room while the vibrato and tremolo of the stringed instruments entertained the audience. The walls are complete with exquisitely carved gold plated and ivory doors interspersed with glass and mirrors. It was not shining as you would expect a palace of mirrors to be but yes some of the hanging chandeliers were testimony of the days of yore.

Next to it is the “Hira Mahal” or the state bedroom which had a huge bed standing on pure gold bed posts. The Maharajah had a penchant for luxury and he changed his bed every year which was auctioned off to the wealthiest in his state. The 27 mirrors all across the room inlaid with glass and wood work was immaculate. The bed patiently awaits its turn to be embraced in royal intimacy all over again !!  On our way out, we saw a few reverse glass paintings adorning the walls- Indian scenes depicted in European Style.

Remnant of a fading glory. Keep expectations low and allow imagination to take over.

Travel Tips
  • Timings: 10-12.30pm and 3-5pm
  • Entrance: Rs 20 and additional Rs 50 per camera
  • Time to See: An hour or so
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10 Must Do’s on a Trip to Kutch, India

The Land of the White Salt Desert and exquisite art and craft, Kutch is a quiet haven though often overshadowed by neighbouring Rajasthan. If you are looking for lots of colour, generous doses of history, exquisite carvings, intricate art, flaming flamingos, flying cranes and different migratory birds, then Kutch, India is the ideal place for you !! The pristine beauty of nature comes alive in the warmth of the people, the delicious food of the land, colourful handicrafts and the haunting Kacchhi melodies.

The best time to visit is October to March and preferably plan the trip such that you are in the Great Rann of Kutch around the full moon. The white desert comes alive under the moonlight and the unending horizon merges into the moonlight. Rann Utsav is held every year between November and February portraying Kutch culture. In 2017-2018, Rann Utsav will be held between Ist November 2017 and 20th February 2018. The 5 full moon nights are 4th November 2017; 3rd December 2017,  2nd January 2018 & 31st January 2018, 2nd March, 2018

  • Wild Ass SanctuaryLittle Rann of Kutch is not too far from Ahmedabad (just about 2 hrs) is famous for the Wild Ass Sanctuary and the migratory birds from all over the world who arrive in droves in winter. The otherwise dull surrounding acquires a flaming red along the water bodies when the pelicans decide to flap their delicate wings. A 2 day visit to Little Rann is a precursor to the natural and man made wealth that lies ahead in the Kutch Region. Riding around the Rann, you will see the salt pans where salt is being made from the rich deposits in the soil.

 

  • Great Rann of KutchKutch is synonymous with the Great Rann of Kutch which stretches across India and Pakistan. “Love across the Salt Desert” which inspired the Bollywood movie Refugee is a nice read for anyone intending to romance the virgin white desert that stretches towards infinity. A moonlight night on the Kutch can perhaps unlock the answer to your existence in case you are seeking one. Visit the other nearby sanctuaries specially Chari Daand at dawn to watch the birds playfully move around in water.

 

  • Bhuj Hamirsar LakeBhuj was nearly flattened by the devastating earthquake in 2001 but has bounced back beautifully. The entire area was the filming site of Oscar nominated Lagaan specially Prag Mahal. Nearby Aaina Mahal is a fading memory of one time grandeur. While most people tend to miss it,  make a stop over at the Royal Tombs or the Chattris in the middle of the city which are beautifully carved with minakari work. Hamirsar Lake may not be a hot favorite any longer but the migratory birds still find it attractive.

 

  • Mandvi-GujaratWalk on the beach in Mandvi, watch the birds and windmills rotating in circles above the cool water. Take a short camel ride towards the Vijay Vilas Palace and unleash the romantic in you. I dont particularly intend to hurt animals but some times these rides ensure that the animal is fed and taken care of.  The weather is great through the year and is a great place to spend half a day

 

  • Dholavira RoadDholavira has been recently excavated and identified to be a part of Indus Valley Civilization. It is in the corner of the Great Rann on the island of Khadir Bet. A visit to Dholavira is an archaeologists dream and for lay men it is an eye opener for the town planning that existed 5000 years ago. The black tarred road to Dholavira through the milky white Rann is a journey to remember. Stop if you can and feel the whiteness permeate through your being.

 

  • Kala Dungar KutchKala Dungar is the highest point in Kutch. On a clear day, the sun set point here offers breathtaking views of the Rann. If you are here in the morning, wait until noon to watch the Jackals being served by the temple priest. Combine a trip to Kala Dungar with India Bridge the closest border with nearby Pakistan and a visit to some of the handicraft villages on the way.

 

  • Kutch Fossil ParkKoteshwar, Narayan Sarovar and Fossil Park are towards the extreme west. The temple on the sea in Koteshwar and the Narayan Sarovar Lake have many legends associated. Koteshwar will remind you of Kanya Kumari in the extreme south of India though a little less crowded and with Naval forces presence. The Fossil Park closer to Bhuj in Nakhtarana is a great place to know about Kutch Fossils

 

  • Shaam e Sarhad Hodka, KutchStay in Eco Resorts and Home Stays and atleast one night in a mud house or Bhunga as it is locally called. The Bhungas are beautifully decorated with glass and mud art and some of them also have imprints of leaves and flowers that are made with cow dung. Rann Riders, Desert Adventures in Little Rann and Shaam -e-Sarhad, Devpur Home Stay in Great Rann and Bhuj are some of the most popular ones in the area. 

 

  • Rabari Woman EmbroideryVisit Handicraft Villages: A trip to Kutch is incomplete without a visit to a few handicraft villages and workshops. Some of the must visit places are Nirona (Rogan Art, Copper Bells, Lac Work), Nakhtarana (Tie and Dye), Khavda (Pottery), Bhujodi and Ajrakhpur (Block Printing), Dhordo and Hodka (Leather, Quilts, Mud Mirror). The women of the area weave magic with their fingers creating embroidery with such finesse that would put modern machines to shame. I did not know the variety and type of embroidery until I visited these places. Kala Raksha, Shrujan, Khamir are NGO’s who are specifically working in the region to revive and encourage art and craft.

 

  • Mandvi-GujaratEat Local : The cuisine of Kutch is an offshoot of Gujarati but has its own distinct flavours devoid of the overt sweetness of the traditional Gujarati dishes and overuse of tomato and onion like in the case of the other North Indian dishes. Indulge in local food specially the spiced chilly that is served with most meals and while your tongue may be on fire for a while but it will soon be tempered with the variety of curries and dals and the juicy jalebi. Try Osho in Mandvi for a first hand experience.
Travel Tips & Permit
  • Start the trip in Ahmedabad or Bhuj. All the sites mentioned here will take around 10 days to complete.
  • Ahmedabad to Little Rann via Patan and Modhera – Hire a Car for 2-3 days
  • Bhuj – Continue with the same car until Bhuj or come back to Ahmedabad and take a train/Volvo bus from Ahmedabad to Bhuj and then hire a local car for Bhuj and surrounds
  • If there are 3 or more people hire a car for the entire trip.
  • Being a border area, you need a permit to enter Great Rann of Kutch. The permit is available depending on the number of days stay at the check post on the way to the Rann after filling in a simple and submitting a copy of an identification document and showing the original for verification.
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