Information on Bhuj :
Bhuj, a flourishing walled city is the most important town in the Kutch area. Bhuj was the capital of the former state of Kutch and now it is the headquarters of the Kutch district. Bhuj was chosen by Rao Khengarji I as his capital in 1549. This city was greatly destroyed in the earthquake in 1819 and 2001. Bhuj derives its name from the Bhujiyo Dungar, a hill that overlooks the present Bhuj town. Bhuj is situated at the base of the fortified hill and partly round the lake. Bhuj has also been described as the Jaisalmer of Gujarat and is also very much similar like Bundi in Rajasthan. Within the walls there is maze of enticing alleyways and many examples of fine Gujarati architecture, exuberant temple decoration and colourful inhabitants. This place is a paradise of handicrafts and lifestyle lovers. There are some villages in Bhuj which are rich in craft and culture. Embroidery is the most important handicraft in this region.
History of Bhuj :
Bhuj was the capital of the former princely state of Kutch till 1947 AD. The Rajput rulers of Kutch came from Sindh in the late 15th century and settled at Bhuj. Rao Khengarji I chose the strategic location at the base of Bhujiyo Dungar and founded the city of Bhuj in 1548 AD. The need for better security arose only after the decline of Mughal power. In 1723 AD, Rao Godiji constructed the massive fort with gates and 11 meter thick masonry wall, surround the whole town. The city wall was also armed with fifty one guns. The British took over the fort in 1819 AD and acted as peacemaker between the Kutch rulers and Bhayad Jagirdars. The treaty with the British resulted in peaceful period in the history of Kutch and the state thus became prosperous with surplus funds, enabling the rulers to undertake public and royal building projects. Rao Pragmalji, who ruled Kutch from 1860 to 1876 AD also undertook various projects like the improvement of Mandvi harbour, construction of roads and irrigation works, hospitals, schools and jail. He also built the Prag Mahal and Ranjit Vilas Palace at Bhuj and Vijay Vilas Palace at Mandvi.
Tourist Attractions in Bhuj :
The various tourist attractions in Bhuj are Cenotaphs Complex, Kutch Museum, Kera, Prag Mahal, Aina Mahal Palace and Lakhpat etc.
Kutch Museum :
The Kutch Museum, formerly known as the Fergusson Museum, was founded by Maharao Khengarji III in 1877 AD. This museum was built by the state engineer Sir Ferguson, and thus named after him. This museum remained a private exhibit for the Maharaos till independence and was renamed as the Kutch Museum. The Kutch museum is the oldest museum in Gujarat. This museum is built in the Italian style and located in picturesque surroundings on the banks of the Hamirsar Lake. The museum has a large collection of Kshatrapa inscriptions, various archaeological objects, arms and specimens of various crafts of the Kutch region.
Cenotaphs Complex :
The Cenotaphs Complex or Chattardi was built of red stones. These tombs were ruined by the successive earthquakes since 1819. The complex built for Rao Lakha in 1770, is one of the largest and finest complex. This complex is in the shape of a polygon with balconies and an intricately carved roof. Some other cenotaphs belongs to Rao Rayadhan, Rao Desai and Rao Pragmal. These cenotaphs served as memorial grounds for the royal family.
Kera is mainly known due to the 10th century old temple of Lord Shiva. This temple was damaged in the earthquake of 1819. In its original form this temple must be very beautiful as it can be seen from the remains of this temple.
Prag Mahal :
Built in the 1860s and 70s in a Venetian-Gothic style, Pragmaljis Palace has pointed Gothic arches, classical colonnades and European truss timber roofs. The massive staircases and deep passages are floored with colourful Minton tiles and lined with handrails on classical balusters. The highlight is the Darbar Hall, which has Corinthian pillars, moulded ceilings, huge Venetian chandeliers, Greco-Roman statutory, classical balustrade galleries and ceiling murals of Shakespearean characters. The furnishing is in the Victorian-Edwardian and art deco style. The Hall, which has a collection of hunting trophies, has now been converted into a museum.
Aina Mahal Palace :
Aina Mahal Palace was built by Rao Lakhpatji in 1750 AD. Aina Mahal is a part of a large palace complex. It is a two storey building with Darbar Hall, hall of mirrors, and suites for royal family. In the 18th century, the Rao Lakhpatji sent a local craftsman Ramsingh Malam to Europe to perfect his skills in glassmaking, enamelling, tile making and iron founding. After he returned back, he constructed the Aina Mahal with the hall of mirrors of Venetian glass. The Hall of mirror has white marble walls which are covered with mirrors and gilded ornaments and the floor is lined with tiles. The design and decoration of the Aina Mahal was due to the efficiency of Ramsingh Malam. The platform above the floor is surrounded by a series of fountains operated by an elaborated system of pumps below a Venetian chandelier. Aina Mahal is a unique example of an Indian palace built in the mid-eighteenth century with European influence.
Bharatiya Sanskriti Darshan :
A Kutchi cultural centre, located further south along College Road (which leads away from the lake past Alfred High School, the Ramkund stepwell and the Swaminarayan temple), the B.S.D. contains an excellent collection of Kutchi folk art and crafts, especially from the more remote regions of the district, collected by a forest service official as he travelled around doing government work. There are also exhibits of rural architecture, paintings, textile arts and archaeological specimens.
Ramkund Stepwell :
Across from the Kutch Museum and behind the Ram Dhun Temple, the Ramkund well is a square stepwell, 56 feet on a side, with sculptures portraying characters from the Ramayana, such as Lord Ram, Devi Sita, Lakshman and Lord Hanuman, as well as the ten incarnations of Lord Vishnu along the walls. On your walk down to the water you experience a sudden calm and coolness not to be found on the road above and in the quiet, you can pause for a while to reflect on your experiences. The Ram Dhun Temple, just in front of the well, is also worth a quick visit.
Siyot Caves :
Dated around the first century AD, Siyot Caves have an east facing sanctum and an ambulatory. Siyot must have been one of the 80 monastic sites that the 7th century Chinese travellers reported at the mouth of Indus River.
Swaminarayan Temple :
Like most Swaminarayan temples, this one has the typical brightly coloured woodcarvings around the building, mostly depicting Lord Krishna and Radha. Located just down the road from the Ramkund Stepwell and the Alfred High school, the temple marks the spot where Swaminarayan sat with local holy men when he came through Bhuj.
Darbargarh Palace :
This historic palace complex, erected in various stages, is an intricate maze. It has three sections separated by open courtyards. The palace is built in typical medieval Rajput style with fabulous carved jharoka balconies, jail -screens and cupolas offering splendid views of the old fort, which now houses a government office and a school.
Hamirsar Lake :
An excellent place to cool off on a hot afternoon, Hamirsar Lake is where people go to swim, or sit under a tree and enjoy the water, as well as where many women do their laundry. Walking along the lakes edge is a great way to get from one place to another, with the Aina Mahal and Praga Mahal, the Kutch Museum, the Ramkund Stepwell and Ram Dhun Temple, the Swaminarayan Temple and the Alfred High School all located very close to the eastern side of the lake; a walk from the Aina Mahal to the Swaminarayan Temple (passing all the other sites mentioned) takes about half an hour. Further around the other side of the lake is the Sharad Baug palace, and the road to the royal chhatardis.
Royal Chhataris :
About a 20-minute walk southwest of Hamirsar lake, through open areas that no longer seem like youre in the city, are the royal cenotaphs (memorials to those not actually buried there and, in this case, not buried at all but cremated). Many of the monuments are in ruins due to earthquakes, but those of Lakhpatji, Raydhanji II and Desarji are still quite intact. The site is very quiet, out in the middle of a field, not surrounded by buildings, and is very peaceful in morning or evening, though in the middle of the day it can be quite hot under bright sun.
Sharad Baug Palace :
The last maharao died in the UK in 1991 and his palace to the east of the lake has been turned into a small museum. A retreat of the Maharaos of Kutch, this museum displays a collection of silver caskets, stuffed tigers, elephant tusks and even Maharao Madan Sinhjis tennis trophies! The folk museum has a re-created Kutchi village in the forecourt and an outstanding collection of beadwork, embroidery, leather articles, woodcarvings, pottery, and historic relics.
Navjivan Nature Cure Centre :
This healing centre, based on naturopathic remedies and M.K. Gandhis ideas of ?nature cure", offers treatment for a wide variety of conditions, using everything from ayurvedic and herbal remedies to panchakarma, acupuncture, meditation, prayer, and yoga asanas.. On the Bhuj-Mandvi road near Punadi Patiya village, the centre also maintains 40 hectares of organic farmland on which they grow fruits, vegetables, and medicinal plants.
Rudra Mata Mandir :
14 kms from Bhuj, on the road to Khavada, this temple, located at a scenic spot on the banks of the river Khari, is the presiding deity of the Maharajas of Kutch - the Jadeja family. According to mythology, it is 400 years old. A stones throw away from the temple is the Garha Safari Lodge, a theme hotel that has a panoramic view of the river and offers an experience of staying in bhoongas, the traditional dwellings of the villagers but with all the modern comforts.
Kutchi handicrafts, renowned the world over, are in abundance in Bhuj, from elaborately embroidered clothing and luxurious quilts to block-printing, heavy silver jewellery and woodcarving. Or better yet, you can use Bhuj as a base for excursions to surrounding towns and villages to meet artisans and their families, see the work being done and buy crafts directly from the artisans themselves. This allows more of the income to go directly to the craftsmen and more importantly, creates a relationship between the maker of an item and its eventual owner, in which each one meets the other, learns something about the others life and shares a bit of their own identity and background. You will quite likely find the personal interaction more valuable than the commercial one and the memory of the visit will stay with you even if you give away what you bought as gifts.