It was our second day in Bhuj. The previous day, we had been to Kalo Dungar and the Rann of Kutch (White Desert). Today our plan was to stay in Bhuj and check out the town center area during the first half of the day. The second half was then reserved for a drive to Mandvi. The town center area has quite a few places to visit, most of them surrounding a 450 year old man-made lake of Hamirsar. We started by heading to a grand temple called the Swaminarayan Temple of Bhuj. The community that practice the Swaminarayan faith are well known to build grand temples all over the world, including the one in Chicago about which you can read here. The one in Bhuj was no less, as we were in awe of the intricate marble carvings, the cleanliness inside the temple, and the overall organization.
(the grand gates of Swaminarayan temple, Bhuj)
(the beautiful temple in white marble)
(the carving work is exquisite)
As we walked around the temple, we came across walls which had carvings depicting stories, almost like the ones in a comic book. There were no words or text, simply figures of gods and kings all placed in a sequence, narrating a chain of events.
(walls around the temple had carvings depicting stories)
(the famous Krishna god with Radha)
After a peaceful few minutes inside the temple, it was time for us to head to our next stop, the Bhuj Museum. This 19th century museum is the oldest in Gujarat and is the ideal place to learn about the history as well as the cultural identity of Kutch. There are life sized models of tribal Kutchi people and their homes, in addition to other artifacts such as textiles, artwork, musical instruments and ancient currency among various other things. One of the most stunning artifacts that we saw was a hand stitched embroidery design of an elephant. The amazing part about this design was that firstly it was tiny (almost miniature sized) and secondly, even though it seemed like colours were used to fill spaces, we realized upon closer inspection that everything was stitched. The threads were so intricately close to one another that it seemed like someone had used a brush to fill various spaces with colour. Truly spectacular art, which unfortunately is slowly dying as we go into the 21st century.
(lovely Rangoli outside the museum)
(the grand door of the museum)
(intricate embroidery design native to Kutch)
(this is a miniature elephant completely stitched, no colour or print)
(another example of stitched patterns only found in Kutchi embroidery)
(very intricate and beautiful embroidery)
After a good 90 mins in the museum, we headed to our final stop of the morning, the Prag Mahal. This mahal or palace was built in 1870’s and has a very Italian gothic design to it. Some pictures we took could be confused as pictures of Florence or Emilia Romagna. But they are very much from India, and of the Prag Mahal. The entire palace is covered in Italian marble and sandstone from the neighbouring state of Rajasthan.
(The Prag Mahal)
(Prag Mahal front side)
(a slight feel of royalty)
Even though the palace could do with some renovations (some parts seem to be in a dilapidated state due to the 2001 earthquake), many of the beautiful carvings were intact. There were some brilliant works especially on pillars throughout the palace. Even more amazing was a 150 year old canvas painting on the ceiling of one of the hallways, still in decent condition even today.
(lovely stone carved pillars)
(a 150 year old canvas painting on the ceiling)
(the current prince of Kutch, and his predecessors)
(carved out of a single piece of marble)
(more stone carvings on pillars)
(beautiful paintings on ceilings seen throughout the palace)
(walking through the corridors of the palace)
In the palace, there was a 45 meter clock/bell tower, which we climbed via a narrow and winding set of stairs. It was an easy climb though and once we were on top, we got a good view of the Bhuj area.
(a watch tower with Roman clock)
(steps taking us up to the top of the watch tower)
(view from the top of the watch tower)
(view from the top of the watch tower)
(parts of the Palace need restoration)
(view of the Prag Mahal from the top)
We also walked through various rooms in the palace, some were bedrooms, common areas, and we also saw the past prince’s sports equipment. The most grand part of the palace was the Durbar or the Court room, which had expensive chandaliers hanging from the ceiling and stained glass painting on some of the doors. We finished touring the palace in about an hour. Next, we walked a few steps to the Aina Mahal or the Palace of Mirrors. The Aina Mahal is located right next to the Prag Mahal. But for some unexpected reason, it was closed. My advice to you if you plan to visit: Please check in advance to see if Aina Mahal is open, it seems to be closed on an odd weekday.
(the grand Durbar or Court hall inside the palace)
(Aina Mahal was unexpectedly closed for some reason)
We planned to come back to Aina Mahal on another day. But for the time being, it was lunch time. We headed to a thali restaurant called Toral, which was situated at our hotel (Hotel Prince). Toral turned out to be an excellent choice, as it had some of the best Gujarati food that we have ever had. Their jalebis are a must, as they are as crispy as potato chips.