The historic town of Bhuj is centred around the large Hamisar Lake that adjoins the old walled city and palace, and characterised by the Bhujia Fort nestled on the hills to the east, and a web of narrow, bustling streets that form the colourful bazaar.
The walled city of Bhuj was established and founded as the capital of the princely state of Kutch in the 1500s. Since then it has been attacked six times and faced a number of major natural calamities, including cyclones, earthquakes and severe drought. After Independence in 1947, Kutch was unified with the rest of India, and eventually became a district of Gujarat. Today, Bhuj is the district headquarters of the Kutch district; the largest district in the country.
DARBARGADH PALACE COMPLEX AND HAMISAR LAKE
The Darbargadh - or royal palace complex, lies at the heart of the old walled city, both of which suffered immensely during the 2001 earthquake. The complex comprises the original 16th century Aaina Mahal - an enchanting structure featuring carved sandstone jharokhas on its exterior and a glittering mirrored interior, and the Italian-gothic Prag Mahal palace constructed in the 19th century, which includes a 45ft clock tower from which you can view the entire city of Bhuj.
While much of the city wall has crumbled, the five heavily armored gates still stand as a proud reminder of the strict regulations that were enforced right into the 1950s: At 9pm each night, the gates were locked and the keys were handed to the Maharao. However, if you lived outside the walled city - as our family did - and you had been inside watching a late-night movie at the city theatre, you would be granted special exit through a guarded window in the gate!
Flanking the old wall boundary is the 28-acre Hamisar Lake, constructed to catch the flow of three rivers and fufill the needs of the city as it was established. Hamisar attracts flocks of flamingoes and pelicans as well as many townfolk who come to gather at the water's edge, but it relies heavily on the scarce monsoon rain; a good monsoon is the cause of great celebrations.
Wander through the archway at the foot of Darbargadh's palace complex and immediately enter Bhuj's bustling market scene. Merchants offer vintage textiles such as embroidered patches and blankets as well as antique furniture and trinkets. They jostle alongside modern electrical and goods stores, chai rooms and cloth houses that serve both local and tourist needs. The old vegetable market is located here and further down you'll find silver shops filled with antique treasures. Explore the narrow side streets and you'll find beautiful Kutchi shawls of export quality; Saifee's - Bhuj's institutionalised ice-cream parlour; Farsan Dunia - a lovely bakehouse selling traditional sweet and savoury snacks such as pakwan, shankar pala, fafada and namkeen, and the original Khavda, Bhuj's famous sweet-house, selling their 'melt-in-the-mouth' Mesur sweetmeat and even a sugar-free Khajurpak.
BHUJIA HILL AND FORT
Rising on the eastern outskirts of the town lies the Bhujia Hill, named after the snake-god, Bhujang - the mythological protector of the land. Jadeja rulers fortified the hill in the 1700s as a defence post for their capital. The fort was occupied by the Indian Army until they shifted to a new campus following the 2001 earthquake. Today, the fort is partially in ruins and reclaimed by wilderness, but one is able to clamber up the steps to trail the wall and look out upon the town of Bhuj.
OTHER HISTORIC BUILDINGs and relics
Bhuj is full of historical treasures, although many were ravaged by the 2001 earthquake and require a little bit of help to discover. A heritage map, developed by Gujarat Tourism, is available. Sites of particular interest include the Old Mint (Kutch had its own currency), Fateh Mohamed's House, the Ramkund Stepwell, the Kutch Museum and Alfred High School, Sharadbagh Palace and Garden - which houses a wonderful collection of Kutchi silver, the Old Court, Jubilee Hospital and the Royal Cenotaphs. The best idea is to hire an auto-rickshaw for a few hours and explore to your heart's content.
VINTAGE TEXTILES AND ANTIQUE FURNITURE
In addition to the small merchants in Shroff Bazaar, there are two noteworthy specialist collectors from whom you can purchase some real treasures. Mr AA Wazir has a fine collection of museum-quality textiles from Kutch and beyond, and is a mine of information on Kutchi arts. Ramnikbhai of neighbouring Mirzapur has a vast warehouse of antique furniture - both colonial and ethnic, as well as doors, pillars, brass pots and vintage curios. His service includes full restoration and international shipping.