Bhuj: 18 years after the earthquake

Posted on May 1, 2019 by Toothpicker There have been 0 comments

Aina Mahal

Aina Mahal

 

For my first trip to India, I skipped the popular Rajasthan and opted for a 16-day textiles tour around the less touristy Gujarat, which I thoroughly enjoyed. I joined the group in Bhuj after my 5-day textiles workshop, where we spent a few days visiting the city's sights and textiles studios.

Founded by Rao Hamir in 1510, Bhuj was made the capital of Kutch by Rao Khengarji I in 1549. In 2001, a massive earthquake killed around 25,000 in the region, and the city of Bhuj was almost completely destroyed. Although the city was swiftly rebuilt after the disaster, many parts of Bhuj were demolished including some important heritage buildings. And even today, the aftermath of the earthquake is still visible in the city.

 

Aina Mahal

Aina Mahal

Aina Mahal

Aina Mahal

Aina Mahal

 

One of the most popular sights in Bhuj is the Aina Mahal Palace built in 1752 commissioned by Rao Lakhpatji. It is part of the Darbargadh palace complex, but sadly lost its top storey in the earthquake. The chief architect/designer of the palace, Ram Singh Malam, spent 18 years in Europe, hence the interiors are highly influenced by European styles. The main attraction here is the Hall of Mirrors because of the numerous mirrors and glass featured inside.

 

Aina Mahal

Aina Mahal

Aina Mahal

aina mahal

Aina Mahal

Aina Mahal

 

Now a museum which houses the royal possessions, weapons, paintings and artifacts is open to the public. Wandering around, you can find blue and white Delft-style tiles, Venetian glass chandeliers, European furniture, and of course many mirrors! Apparently, Malem established a glass factory in the nearby Mandvi, forged cannons in an iron foundry, and manufactured china tiles in a factory in Bhuj, so local craftsmanship was a crucial feature of this palace. It is a shame that the museum does not seem very well-maintained, and I think a bit of polishing wouldn't hurt either.

 

aina mahal

Aina Mahal

Aina Mahal

aina mahal

Aina Mahal

 

Next to Aina Mahal is the 19th-century Prag Mahal, the largest of the three palaces within the Darbargadh walled complex. Commissioned by Rao Pragmalji II in 1865. It was designed by Colonel Henry Saint Wilkins in a Venetian/Gothic/Indo-Saracenic style similar to two government buildings in Bombay also designed by him at around the same time. The palace is made of Italian marble and sandstone from Rajasthan, and was completed in 1879, four years after Pragmalji's death. The palace's main attraction is its 150 feet high clock tower where visitors can ascend and enjoy a panoramic view of the city.

Aside from the earthquake damage, the palace was also burgled by thieves, leaving it in a rather forlorn state. After filming at the palace in 2010, the famous Bollywood actor Amitabh Bachchan suggested a restoration proposal with the Gujarat state tourism secretary, hence the palace was restored and opened to the public.

 

Prag Mahal

Prag Mahal

Prag Mahal   Prag Mahal

Prag Mahal

  Prag Mahal   Prag Mahal

prag mahal

 

Inside the palace, you can see some eerie taxidermy from the Maharajah's collection and odd bits and bobs that resembles a quirky vintage shop rather than treasures of a palace. The most impressive room here is the exuberant Durbar Hall, where you can admire the vast chandeliers, statues and pillars that have clearly been restored. Personally, I find the palace quite uncanny and would dread to stay here overnight.

 

prag mahal

prag mahal

prag mahal  Prag Mahal  

Prag Mahal

prag mahal

Prag Mahal

prag mahal

Prag Mahal

 

After our visit to the two palaces, we spent some time walking down the streets near the Old Vegetable market in the old town. The Old Vegetable market or Saraf Bazaar is housed in an old British garrison, a colonial structure that dates back to 1883. The building was partly rebuilt after the earthquake, and now it still functions as a vegetable market selling vegetables, fruits, spices, pickles and snacks. We missed the trading market, but it was still fascinating to check out the architecture and see some interesting fruits and vegetables that are on sale here.

 

bhuj

bhuj market

old vegetable market

bhuj market

bhuj market

The Old vegetable market

 

While many cities around the world are becoming more homogenised, it was refreshing to walk around the old parts of Bhuj where you can find different types of shops selling local crafts and services catered to the locals. There are tailors, shoe makers, barbers, grocery stores, pharmacies and stationery shops etc; it is a buzzling place that attracts not only people but cows, too. For the first time in my life, I witnessed a cow stealing a shirt from the shop and the shop owner had to run out to chase it – what a hilarious and bizarre sight!

 

bhuj

bhuj

bhuj

bhuj

bhuj

bhuj   bhuj

bhuj

bhuj   bhuj

bhuj market

bhuj

bhuj   bhuj

bhuj

bhuj

 

Although we didn't stay at the heritage homestay, The Bhuj House (such a shame), but we had a wonderful lunch there. Built in 1894 by an Parsi, Pestonji Sorabji Bhujwala, in Camp - an area located beyond the walled city of Bhuj and directly beneath the fortified Bhujia hill. Though the Parsi house survived the 2001 earthquake, the house was restored in 2012 and opened in 2015. The house features a beautiful Parsi courtyard, and a rooftop terrace with a view of the nearby Mosque.

 

The bhuj house

The bhuj house

The bhuj house  The bhuj house

The bhuj house

The bhuj house  The bhuj house

The bhuj house

The bhuj house  The bhuj house

The bhuj house

The bhuj house  The bhuj house

The bhuj house

The bhuj house lunch  The bhuj house lunch

 

We had a very relaxing and enjoyable Parsi food in the dinning area that overlooks the couryard. The staff also gave us a tour around the homestay after the meal, and it was not to fall in love with this heritage house that is filled with memorabilia and vintage furniture. I would love to stay here if I return to Bhuj again in the future.

 

 


This post was posted in Architecture, Photography, Shopping, Travel, Street life, India, Kutch and was tagged with architecture, shopping, Colonial architecture, heritage, street life, India, Kutch, Bhuj, Gujarat, The Bhuj House

Comments