Friday, 17 January 2020

The Drive to the Fort City of Kumbhalgarh & more - By Shalini Sinha


Having spent a couple of days in Udaipur, Kumbhalgarh – the birthplace of Maharana Pratap was next on our itinerary. Kumbalgarh is about a 2 and half hours’ drive from Udaipur (approximately 85 km).
City Palace, Udaipur



The Drive:

We started for Kumbhalgarh just after breakfast (around 10:30am). The car punctually reported at our home-stay at Udaipur. It is advisable to either drive on your own or take a tourist taxi (as we did) for the onward journey.
Enroute to Kumbhalgarh we decided on visiting Haldighati which is situated mid-way between Udaipur & Kumbalgarh (about an hour’s drive from Udaipur).
As you head out of Udaipur, the landscape changes. It is a very scenic drive with farms & village homes on both sides of the road while in the distance the majestic Aravalis rise as guardians of the land. The air is crisp and fresh. We rolled down our windows and soaked in our surroundings. It tends to get dusty in places especially when another vehicle passes by. The rural roads are narrow  two-laned (or at places just one & half lanes). This is not a very busy route hence you will not experience any traffic snarls or delays.

Travel Tip: There are no pit-stops along the way so it is advisable to carry your bottle of water and some snacks (especially if you have children travelling with you).

First Stop: The Haldighati Museum:

About an hour or so later we arrived at the Haldighati museum. This museum is dedicated to the erstwhile Rana of Mewar - Maharana Pratap. At the museum you will find the life of Maharana Pratap’s depicted through paintings and wall sculptures.
Haldighati Museum

The museum tour is an immersive experience. The audience is first shown a short informative movie about the infamous battle of Haldighati which was fought between the Mughal army and the army of Maharana Pratap. This short film is followed by the immersive tour where you are led in a group from one room to the next. Each room depicts a scene from the battle. The guide narrates a bit of the story leading to the scene followed by a taped recording and sound and light display of what conspired. We meandered from room to room awestruck by the beautifully hand-sculpted exhibits. It is like walking through a history book in three dimensions. A must visit especially if you are travelling with children (we enjoyed it too). 

What More?
The premises has a small lake with paddleboats. We did not do any boating or further sight-seeing here. There is a small souvenir shop where you can pick up some small souvenirs if you haven’t already. Haldighati is known for its rose perfumes and they have an outlet selling this product too. 
Sugarcane Juice extraction

We did stop for some sugar-cane juice here. The juice is pressed by a unique cow-press. The children enjoyed watching the cow go around the press extracting the juice. 


More Information:
  • The immersive experience tour lasts approximately an hour.
  • Food and drinks are not allowed inside. 
  • There is a SBI ATM on the premises and it is advisable to keep some change cash for the onward journey to Kumbalgarh.
  • The “Chetak Samadhi” the final resting place of Chetak is located close by, but we skipped visiting this memorial.
  • Camel rides and tea-stalls & small food stalls are located just outside the museum.

Next Detour: The Haldighati mountain-pass:
At this point it is important to mention that the place Haldighati gets its name due to the unique turmeric coloured soil found in this region. This mountain-pass is situated in the Aravalli hills and connects the Rajsamand & Pali districts. Our driver drove us to this pass (now a metalled road passes through this pass). One can stop here to take a few photographs before proceeding onwards.
The twin Persian wheels

Enroute to Kumbalgarh: 
At this point Kumbalgarh is about an hour away. We wanted to drive leisurely through the picturesque rural setting of the farm hinterlands traversing both sides of the road. The landscape is dotted with irrigation wells, sugarcane farms and lush wheat fields. We chanced upon a farmer irrigating his field with unique cattle powered water wheel (Persian wheel). He sat on the bough manoeuvring his bulls to go around the wheel which kept the irrigation in cycle (see picture attached). The children were fascinated by this and we stopped to get a closer look. The farmer obliged the children with a ride on the wheel for a small tip. This was a unique experience for us all. We realised that the folks around here are very friendly and obliging. Hence make the most of this drive to soak in the unique vibes of rural India. 


Arriving at Kumbalgarh:
The last stretch of the journey is a winding drive. The hills unveil themselves in all their glory. The air becomes cooler as you ascend the ghats. Soon resorts, hotels and restaurants start dotting the landscape and you know you have arrived at Kumbalgarh.


Kumbalgarh – Sightseeing and more:
We arrived at our destination at around 3:15 pm, couple of hours behind schedule. There was a nip in the air, and unlike the temperature at Udaipur we realised that at night the temperature would plummet further. After some hot tea and pakoras we contemplated whether we ought to attend the light & sound cultural show at the Kumbalgarh fort. It is highly recommended, especially if you want to learn about the history of the region. The show commences at 5:15 pm but we wanted to relax after the drive and decided to give it a miss.

Day 2 Activities in and around Kumbalgarh:

The Morning Jungle Safari:


We woke up early next morning, to discover that due to fresh snow-fall in the Northern regions the temperature had plummeted to the single digits. Our safari started almost an hour later than scheduled around 7:30 am. The guide informed us that the usual sightings were of deers, sloth bears, hyenas, wild boars, macaques and the occasional cheetah. 
When we entered the forest it was still dark. The drive is a very bumpy roller-coaster ride on a single lane forest road which the expert jeep drivers navigate with ease. One has to hold on tight to avoid being bumped around. 
After having driven for about 20 minutes the first rays of the winter sun started filtering through the  jungle foliage. It was an enchanting sight. We sat mesmerised by the myriad hues that unveiled as we made our way through the forest. Large glistening webs, partially frozen streams, dead logs stretched across the river-bed, colourful foliage strewn across the forest floor added to the untainted beauty of the place. We were so mesmerised by the exquisite beauty that surrounded us that we did not miss having not seen a single animal. The drop in temperature had kept the animals away. 


You are not allowed to get off the vehicle at any point, but are allowed to take photographs from the confines of the open jeep. There is a forest pit-stop mid-way through the safari. Here you can hop off the vehicle and grab a cup of hot tea or coffee. The sun felt nice and toasty. From this point on, we sighted some animals & birds. We saw a family of macaques basking in the sun, jungle babblers, kingfisher, cormorant, an eagle to name a few. Our guide informed us that the Reserve authorities will be introducing some Lions to the reserve soon.

We exited the Reserve forest gates around 9:30 am and a 15 minutes’ drive brought us back to our abode. 

Ranakpur Jain temple:
Ranakpur Jain Temples

After resting for about an hour we drove to see the Ranakpur Jain Temple. It is situated about 35 km away from Kumbhalgarh (about an hour’s drive). It is a pleasurable drive through the hilly roads which traverses through villages and lakes and sleepy hamlets to get you to the Ranakpur Jain Temple. Roll down your window glasses, soak in the cool air, put on some nice light music and enjoy the drive.
Kalp-vriksha leaf
We arrived at the temple around 1ish and decided to have lunch at the Cafeteria located on the premises (lunch hours close at 1:30pm). They serve wholesome satvik meals at a small price.
A stairway to heaven

Post lunch we explored the temple precinct. Audio guides are available at a charge. We decided to explore the temple on our own. Cameras & cell phones are not allowed. There are safe lockers available for storing them. Cameras can however be taken by paying a small fee. I will not delve into the beauty of the place. There are a lot of pictures and the history available online too. It is a must visit for all visitors. We spent about and hour and a half here before making our way back to Kumbhalgarh.


The Kumbalgarh Fort:
Magnanimous Kumbhalgarh

We arrived at Kumbhalgarh an hour before the closing of the Fort (Fort closes at 5pm). The sun had started dipping into the horizon and we wanted to catch the view from the top of the fort. It is an arduous climb up the wall and not recommended for anyone with knee problem, breathing issues and for the elderly. Once you’ve reached the top you are treated to the breath-taking view of the entire valley. There are several temples dotting the premises which one can explore. 
The Great Wall of India (36 kms)

If you have missed the Sound and Light show at the fort the previous night you may want to squeeze it in on this visit. The timing is just right & tickets were available when we enquired.
However, we had our dinner plans at the local home of our guide and we skipped the cultural show.
Looking at the Shiva Temple through the Fort Wall


Dinner at a Local Home:

We had some nice evening chai, relaxed a bit and made our way to the local home for a home-cooked meal. Our host’s home  was a simple village home setting. The ladies sat around the fire preparing makki-ki-roti (flattened corn bread). We were accorded a very warm welcome. The family room was set with a durrie (mat) for us to sit. The meal was hygienically prepared with some delectable local produce. We had makki-ki-roti, homemade Rajasthani red garlic chutney, some vegetarian dishes and made to order local chicken curry. It was all flavourful and scrumptious. Sitting around the warm hearth on this cold winter night we completely relished the food.  To finish off the meal there was a yoghurt digestive “dahi ki rabadi” which hit just the spot. We were offered some home made jaggery for those with a sweet tooth. This was yet another unique experience for us.
Our souls were completely satiated with the sights & sounds of this beautiful place and the genuine warmth & welcoming nature of the local folk. 

Shalini and Sanchit
To replicate their experience, click here and we would love to design a travel plan for you that would include everything your heart desires to see in Rajasthan and Gujarat.

Monday, 30 December 2019

MUST VISIT HANDICRAFT VILLAGES OF KUTCH - By Shameera Somani



Against the vast arid desert of Kutch what catches your attention is the splash of colours worn by the nomads and tribals. The handicraft villages of Kutch have a treasure trove of attractions with myriad colours, textures and ornamentation and are a must visit for culture and art connoisseurs. Steeped in history that dates to the Indus Valley Civilisation these traditional handcrafted products are not just great collectibles, but they also provide a glimpse of the region’s rich culture and topography. Set off on a handicraft trail to explore the best of Kutch handicrafts and witness the making of these diverse art forms as artisans painstakingly demonstrate their craft.   

SUMRASAR where ‘Stitches Speak’


At the heart of this village is Kala Raksha a social enterprise that is engaged in hand embroidery preservation. After the 2001 earthquake that ravaged Kutch, the tribal women made applique narratives as a medium of self-expression and a source of livelihood. Women don’t trace patterns on fabric but count the warp and weft and use their imagination to embroider intricate patterns on sarees, dupattas, stoles and other items. Each piece is a unique work of art whether Suff, Khaarek, Paako, Rabari or Mutava and takes weeks to months to complete. Do visit their museum where more than 40 types of embroidery styles not just from Kutch in India but from neighbouring countries like Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan and so on have been painstakingly researched and catalogued. They also have an outlet from where you can pick exclusive products that have the traditional embroidery but have been contemporised to suit modern sensibilities and taste. 


NIRONA which has a White House connection

This village is known for its Rogan Art, copper bells and lacquer making. The walls of the White House have a Rogan art painting which was gifted to former U.S. President Barack Obama by Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Gafoorbhai Khatri and his family have been instrumental in safe guarding this 300-year-old art form which frequently features peacocks, floral motifs and Tree of Life. A Khatri family member will gladly demonstrate this art by mixing castor oil and natural dyes and use a metal stick, instead of a paintbrush, to make intricate designs and patterns on fabric. 


If you want to see pieces of scrap metal being transformed into bells which chime to the tunes of Sa Re Ga Ma, then do visit an artisan’s workshop from the Lohar community here. Traditionally herders tied these bells around the necks of cattle to keep track of them but now they have been ingeniously used to make windchimes, artefacts, door bells and even keychains. 


The Vadha Community of Nirona uses lac or lacquer, obtained from an insect resin, to adorn the kitchenware like spoons, spatulas, rolling pins. Heat generated due to the hand turning of a lathe melts the lacquer on wooden products creating psychedelic designs or patterns. Tribal women sell dolls made with rags of leftover embroidered fabric, tribal jewellery and other knick- knacks here.  

















BHIRANDIYARA for the Tropic of Cancer
A camelcade walking along the Tropic Of Cancer

This village is known for its mava, a concentered milk product, which is used to make Indian sweets or mithais. The Tropic of Cancer passes near this village so do stop for a photo opportunity. Step into the architectural marvels of Bhungas, traditional circular homes with thatched roofs, where despite the blazing summer you will find them cool and refreshing. Watch the artisans create magic with thread and needle and pick and choose from a potpourri of embroidered garments, bandhani dupattas, patchwork quilts, footwear, bags and other gewgaws. 


LUDIYA or GANDHI NU GAM for a mélange of handicrafts

Dressed in colourful traditional attire of ghagra and mirror work kanjari blouses the women and girls from the Meghwal community will welcome you to their bhungas and cajole you to buy their wares. The village ‘otalo’ or square is where they assemble to sell a mix of embroidered garments, tribal jewellery, woollen shawls, woodwork and other paraphernalia. 

KHAVDA VILLAGE for embroidery and applique work

Qasab an NGO known for its exquisite hand embroidery and patchwork products like handmade dolls, cushions, quilts, hand bags, fashion accessories and so on is located here. The traditional embroidery designs have been used on an array of products with a contemporary twist in terms of the patterns, choice of colours and style to suit the urban palette. The prices are steep, but they have an exclusive collection to die for. 

AJRAKHPUR for hand block printed fabrics

The Ajrakh block printing, which came to Kutch from across the border more than 400 years ago, is believed to date back to the Indus Valley civilization. Using natural colours derived from indigo, henna, turmeric, pomegranate, iron and mud it takes 16 different processes to make this highly skilled, gorgeous fabric. Do visit Ismail Khatri’s workshop where you can witness the block printing process. Pick some Ajrakh stoles, dupattas and mufflers which have even featured on the catwalks during fashion weeks. The Living and Learning Design Centre (LLDC) run by Shrujan Trust comprising of museums, studios and a hands-on gallery where you can try your hand at these art forms is another attraction here.     

KUKMA VILLAGE where artisans spin wheels of magic

Khamir, a non-for-profit organization, provides a platform for promoting and conversing the rich crafts of Kutch be it the bandhani tie and die, pottery, block printing, kala cotton or recycled plastic products is a must visit here. Chat with Rabari women as they clean the kala cotton, native to Kutch, and then spin it into yarns on a charkha. Watch plastic bags being recycled and woven on pit looms to make fancy mats, bags and other products. Do pick the kala cotton products here as they are genuine and not easily available elsewhere.  

BHUJODI the Delhi Haat of Kutch. 

Located 8 km from Bhuj this village is a favourite of tourists, as well as locals for shops here sell handcrafted items at cheaper rates compared to Bhuj. During the Navratri festival, people are known to come from Ahmedabad, Rajkot and other neighbouring cities to shop for chaniya cholis, kedias and other stuff. Ahead of Bhujodi is the Hira Laxmi Park where a platform has been provided for the artisans to show case their wares. If you don’t have the time to visit all the handicraft villages then this is your one stop village to see a kaleidoscope of the several craft forms. The Shrujan store near Bhujodi has an impressive collection of hand embroidered sarees, stoles, dupattas and other trendy outfits. 


Saturday, 14 December 2019

The Gujarati Thali : A Sensory Extravaganza - By Shameera Somani


If you’re confused about what to eat and want to experience a little bit of everything that is distinctively Kutchi, then the Gujarati Thali is what you must savour. An elaborate sensory extravaganza of spicy, sweet, salty and sour delicacies, this platter of assorted dishes will surely appeal to every foodies’ palate. Unlike the Amdavadi (colloquial for Ahmedabad) cuisine which is overtly sweet, due to gur/jaggery or sugar being added to most of the vegetables and curries, the Kutchis like their meals less sweet and use a generous amount of spices. Kutchi cuisine is deliciously diverse with an explosion of flavours. 

‘Thali’ literally means a steel plate or enormous platter in which there are at least 4 small vatis or bowls in which small amounts of various vegetables, curries and sweets are ladled. No sooner have you seated yourself that a group of waiters will start serving you one dish after another starting with the farsan, followed by mains served with varieties of Indian flat bread, and sweets. A word of caution the Kutchis are known for their hospitality and will keep serving you indiscriminately so make sure to gently refuse or on second thoughts why not just cheat on your diet and eat to your heart's content!
First in will be the farsan or snack which are like appetizers- dhokla (spongy, steamed cubes made with chickpea flour and tempered with mustard seeds and curry leaves), dahi wada (ground lentil balls that are deep fried and soaked in beaten yoghurt), marcho bhajiya (chillies coated with chick pea batter and deep fried) and so on. Don’t rush and eat too much of these as there is a lot more to follow for which you will need to have room. 
Next will be an array of 3-4 sorts of shaak or vegetable dishes including a kathol or pulse preparation. Ringna or brinjals grow easily in the dry, arid conditions of Kutch and it’s no surprise to find these on the menu. Sev Tamatar is a tangy and spicy dish made with chopped tomatoes, and sev/ fried chickpea vermicelli and ground spices. Bateta or potatoes are another favourite which will feature prominently on the menu. Moong (green gram whole), chana (chickpeas), chawli (black eyed beans), vaal (lima beans) in both dry and curry forms are the kathol preparations.
“Dal, Kadhi, Kadhi, Dal?”, saying so the server will enquire what you would prefer and ladle it into a katori. Dal is made of lentils and tempered with curry leaves, chillies, mustard seeds and a pinch of asafoetida. Kadhi is made from buttermilk which is then blended with chickpea flour and similarly tempered with spices. These tend to be sweetened with gur or sugar. 
An assorted variety of Indian flat bread is then served. Small round puris, thin and fluffy phulkas, bajra rotlas with dollops of ghee or butter will make you want to just relish these sinful temptations and forget counting calories. Puran poli is another sweet flatbread you will devour. The Gujarati puran poli is distinct compared to the Maharashtrian version which is made with chana dal (chickpea) and jaggery while the Gujaratis use tur dal (pigeon pea) and sugar to make the puran stuffing.
Fragrant rice or khichadi (rice and lentil combination) is then served which you can have with the dal or kadhi. If you have a sweet tooth then you will not be able to resist the pretzel like jalebis which are thin and crisp or a mohanthal the Indian version of fudge made with chick pea flour, sugar and ghee or some shrikhand (sweetened yoghurt flavoured with cardamom, saffron). It is not uncommon for foodies to loosen their shalwar/trousers to accommodate the bulging waist line during the course of the meal.
Adjuncts and accompaniments are also an integral part of the thali. Papads, pickles, chutneys, salads, fried chillies all add the necessary zing and colour to an already vibrant and flavourful thali. Last but not least is the ‘Kutchi Beer’ or chaas or buttermilk which you need to have a glassful to wash down this gastronomical meal. 
This Gujarati magnum opus with a medley of flavours, aromas and textures will promise to stimulate all your senses! The myriad flavours in your mouth, sometimes spicy, at other times sour and of course sweet, can be a sensory overload for first timers, but once you've had it I guarantee that you'll be coming back for another thali!



Enjoyed reading about the Gujarati Thali? There is so much of culinary magic spread all over Gujarat that a Food Trail through this mesmerising world is a must. Read more about the various gastronomical delights of Gujarat here. Write to us at pooja@gujarattrails.com to plan a Food Tour through Gujarat.

Tuesday, 26 November 2019

JODHPUR-Old Blue City Walk - By Shameera Somani


Jodhpur the second largest city of Rajasthan is where time seems to have stopped still and one can go back to an erstwhile era where the locals live in old havelis, engage in art and craft that are centuries old and meet at the city’s chowks to discuss life’s goings-on and celebrate festivals. The best way to experience this is to go on an Old Blue City Walk. Jodhpur’s more famous siblings Jaipur and Udaipur, which enjoy greater tourist footfalls, have become modern, swanky, with great infrastructure over time. Jodhpur, by contrast, has a laid back, old-world charm about it and is less ‘touristy’ which was a pleasant surprise for us city folks.   

Having explored the Mehrangarh Fort, the cenotaphs of Jaswant Thada and Mandore and the Umaid Bhavan Palace we earmark our last day for the Old Blue City Walk. Our knowledgeable guide Narpat Singh from Rajasthan Routes Trails Pvt. Ltd. meets us on the dot at our hotel. Our walk begins from the Mehrangarh fort which provides a bird’s eye view of the blue city- an ocean of quadrilateral homes juxtaposed to the dusty desert. 

But why were the houses painted blue? Several reasons have been proposed from the blue colour helping to cool down the homes to it repelling mosquitoes, to it being a symbol of Brahmins who enjoyed higher status in the Indian caste system! As we descend the fort, we soon find ourselves in the Old Blue City which is a maze of indigo homes, winding lanes and chowks. Had it not been for our guide we would surely find ourselves lost as it is next to impossible to differentiate houses based on colour or structure which perhaps a local with discerning eyes would be apt at but for first-timers like us, it seems surreal. 

A home with an ornamental blue door and painted entrance complete with the symbol of Om, a swastika (not to be confused with the Nazi symbol), ‘kalash’ (coconut in a pot with mango leaves) has a silver handprint prominently displayed with a garland of marigold. Our guide explains that a woman from this family had committed Sati i.e. sacrificed her life on the funeral pyre of her husband, a practice that has since been abolished. To honour her sacrifice the family has embellished her handprint in silver. It is these narratives and stories which throw light on the practices and traditions of the past that are a highlight of the trip.

As we move ahead, we see doors of homes wide open as women go about with their daily routine of cooking, cleaning, washing and performing religious rituals of arti and pooja. They don’t mind as we try and enter the courtyards of their homes to get a photo or to better appreciate a detail. They smile or seem oblivious as this has now become a routine for them to have ‘guest tourists.’ 
Most of the havelis were built somewhere between the 15th and 16th century and were passed down from one generation to the other. As the family grew extensions were made with a floor added or a wall erected earmarking the distribution of property between two or more subsequent generations. The new generation is an educated lot who are slowly moving to larger cities for jobs leaving behind ageing parents in havelis. Some of these mansions are sold for a petty sum compared to the forgotten riches they hold of antique furniture, paintings, artefacts and curios. Each of the wooden carved doors would easily fetch a handsome amount in antique markets but the owners are either oblivious or at best just choose to lay their hands off it.  
Pigeonholes were an important inclusion while making havelis as they were believed to absorb negative vibes and thus protect the inmates! While something as minuscule as having pigeonholes was taken care of while constructing havelis one may wonder why these magnificent, opulent havelis have open sewers, gutters and lack basic drainage systems. Our guide clarifies that in earlier times manual scavenging or the manual removal of human excreta by human workers was the norm, so a proper drainage system was never planned and functional. Soon this practise was eliminated, and toilets were constructed as an extension or later addition to the havelis, but because they were never part of the original plan were haphazardly designed. 

We are now at a ‘chowk’ or the intersection of four roads which has a peepal tree surrounded by a raised platform and a tall tower with niches to hold diyas or lamps which are lit up during the Indian festivals like Diwali. It is these chowks that become important landmarks for addresses as it then becomes easier to navigate the old city. We notice the Jharokas or overhanging enclosed balconies with intricate jali or latticework from which women could get a sneak peek into the outside world from the privacy of their homes. 
But where could we get an aerial view of the blue city with the hill fort in the background? Soon we find ourselves at a local lady’s home. Our guide introduces us as ‘tourist guests’ and the lady smiles and welcomes us. She even offers to serve some masala chai/tea, but we politely decline as we are hungry for a sweeping view from the rooftop. We soon climb floors and reach the rooftop and our eyes feast on an unobstructed view of clusters of houses in ‘50 Shades of Blue’ with the contrasting golden-hued Mehrangarh Fort in the distance! We are beaming from ear to ear as if we have found an elixir to panoramic beauty and elegance. We don’t want to leave but must. My husband is so mesmerized by the view from the haveli that he aspires to buy one and open a hotel with a rooftop restaurant that has a fantastic view of the hill fort. This idea isn’t his brainchild as a lot of enterprising locals have done just that- converted havelis into hotels, cafes, shops and so on. 


We bid goodbye to the lady of the haveli and set out to explore more. On the way, we see a kiosk where mirchi badas and kachoris are being prepared. These are local delicacies which everyone must try. A little further our guide awkwardly points to a statue of ‘God of Sex’. Yes, you read that right! While it is still considered taboo to talk about sex in some sections of the Indian society this statue brazenly stands on the street in the old city. 
As we walk further, we see a goldsmith hunched over a stone carving a gold ornament. A few steps away we see a craftswoman sticking mirrors and multicoloured beads to make colourful ‘torans’. We walk further and find ourselves near a stepwell called Toorji Ka Jhalra which is not included in most local itineraries but is worth a look. It reminds me of the stepwells I have seen in Gujarat like Rani ki Vav and Adalaj ki Vav. Youngsters, including a couple in bridal finery, are posing to get Instagram and Facebook worthy pics that will hopefully fetch them numerous likes.

We are now near the Sardar Market gateway, on the corner of which is a famous omelette shop that sells different varieties of omelettes and has been featured on ‘Lonely Planet’ screams a hoarding. As we enter Sadar Market, the colourful bazaar is buzzing with locals, motorcyclists are zipping by and shopkeepers are howling to attract shoppers. At the nucleus is the ‘Ghantaghar’ or Clocktower which local guides describe as the ‘Big Ben of Rajasthan’. It was built by Maharaja Sardar Singh about 200 years ago. Sri Mishrilal’s outlet is close to the Clocktower and sells Makhaniya lassi with dollops of fresh butter, which is worthy of savouring. We explore some of the shops selling indigo block print outfits, handicrafts and leather items close by. 

Our Old Blue City Walk has come to an end. The old blue city with its glorious history woven in legends and stories, the astonishing architecture of its winding lanes, historical havelis, shops with craftsmen busy doing what they are best at and delicious cuisine has charmed its way into our hearts. 

If you are the traveller who likes to witness the goings-on of local life up close or heritage and culture aficionado or a photographer wanting to narrate a story through pictures or just the curious sort who enjoy witnessing the extraordinary brilliance in the mundane then the Old Blue City Walk is a must-do. 

Pictures courtesy : Rafiq Somani

Wednesday, 20 November 2019

Ten Things to do in Bhuj - By Shameera Somani


‘Asanjo mithdo mulak Bhuj’ as the locals describe the Kutchi capital has risen like a phoenix from ashes after the devastating earthquake of 2001 during which several of its iconic monuments were damaged. The city with its palaces and museums full of treasures from an erstwhile era, noisy narrow streets lined with shops selling vibrant textiles, local handicrafts as well as the delectable cuisine will charm its way into your hearts. Whether you are a connoisseur of art, a history buff, heritage lover, die hard foodie or a compulsive shopper there is something for everyone!

Around Bhuj

Dive into heritage at the Aina Mahal


Aina Mahal or the ‘Hall of Mirrors’ was built in Indo-European fusion architectural style by master craftsman Malam during the rule of Rao Lakhpatji in the middle of 18th century. The magnificent interiors of the Darbar Hall or various suites and even its passages and balconies will impress you with their beauty and opulence. Since the chief craftsman had travelled around Europe and become skilled at tile making, enamel work and other techniques you will find glimpses of these at the palace. Venetian chandeliers, floors with blue and white tiles, elaborate mirrored interiors, ivory inlaid doors and countless artefacts will evoke a jaw dropping reaction for sure. In the main hall or Fuvanra Mahal, you will in all likelihood slip back in time where the ruler sat on his throne and watched the dance performances as water fountains gushed and the lamps were lit. In the Hira Mahal or the master bedroom, the huge bed with gold bed posts and the wall to wall mirrors all around are reminiscent of the intimacy and sensual pleasures that the royals enjoyed. 




Climb the clock tower of Prag Mahal


The Prag Mahal designed in Italian Gothic style was built in the 19th century during the reign of Rao Pragmalji. Since it doesn’t bear a resemblance to Indian architectural style, you will for a moment wonder if this palace was simply airlifted from some European locale and dropped to its current location. It is situated close to the Aina Mahal in the same courtyard. Sandstone from Rajasthan and Italian marble have been used in its construction. Like the Aina Mahal, its interiors too are choc-a-bloc with myriad artefacts, antique furniture and paintings. Take the spiral staircase and head to the top of the iconic 45 feet clock tower which provides a panoramic view of Bhuj city. Parag Mahal has featured in Bollywood movies like Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam and Lagaan.


Visit the Royal Cenotaphs



The cenotaphs in the shape of umbrellas were erected in memory of the royals by Rao Laktpathji in the 18th century. No surprises that when he passed away a cenotaph was erected for him too. The one with blue Turkish tiles is the one dedicated to him. Do look at the intricate carvings on these ‘Chattris’ as referred to by the locals. Floral motifs, birds, elephants, sun, moon and numerous gods and goddesses have all found a place in the detailing. 


Take a walk down history at the Kutch Museum


If you want to get a glimpse of the extinct Kutchi script (most of Kutchi today is written in Gujarati script) or the koris which were Kutch’s local currency, then head to the Kutch museum which is the oldest museum of Gujarat. Consisting of two floors the museum built in Italian Gothic style has eleven galleries that provide a window to the art, history and culture of this region. A statue of Airavat or the white mythological elephant is one of the prominent exhibits. 



Walk around Hamisar Talav


The manmade lake located in the heart of the city gets its name from the founder of Bhuj, Rao Hamir. The lake has a beautiful garden in the centre and is favourite of locals who like to walk around it, watch the migratory birds and eat some dabeli or ice cream from the several carts that are found around the periphery of the lake. Every time the lake over flows special ladoos called Megh Ladoos are distributed and puja is performed thanking the rain gods. We visited Bhuj during a drought year and the lake was arid except for a small patch where a flock of migratory birds like flamingoes, herons and rosy pelicans were spotted. 


Feast on Kutchi Cuisine


After so much of exploration do set aside some time to savour the local Kutchi cuisine which will tingle your taste buds. Whether it is the Kutchi Dabeli (Kutchi burger) or the Khaman dhokla or Jalebi Fafda no one can eat just one and you will surely ask for a second helping. If you want to try a range of Kutchi delicacies, then the Gujarati Thali is what you should be having. From starters to the main course to the desert to the beverage all will be served one after another. My advice would be to skip your breakfast and build your appetite for a marathon session of eating and drinking at lunch. Please avoid wearing your tight jeans or T shirt instead opt for something loose as your expanding waistline will find it difficult to find space in them post the gastronomical thali eating session.


Pay respects at Swami Narayan Temple


This magnificent temple was constructed post the earthquake that shattered the original temple and took seven years to complete. Unbelievably the idols in the old temple survived unscathed and were later installed in the present temple. Made of marble and gold the temple has seven pinnacles and a central dome with beautiful carvings. Built at a staggering cost of 100 crore rupees it is the most expensive temple in Gujarat. 


Marvel at the architecture of Sharad Baug


The Sharad Baug palace was the residence of the last Maharao of Kutch Madansingh who passed away in 1991. The palace after the earthquake is not accessible to visitors however the adjacent former dining hall has been converted into a museum with memorabilia and collectibles on display. The premises of the palace have a vast collection of flowering plants and trees and is frequently visited by migratory birds. 


Go trekking to the Bhujio Doongar


It is from the Bhujio hill located at the outskirts of Bhuj that the city gets its name. The fort built on the hill provides a breath-taking view of the city. The ramparts of the fort will remind you of the Great Wall of China. A museum and a memorial dedicated to the victims of the 2001 earthquake is coming up here, so we couldn’t access the hill. But once complete this hill will be thronged by tourists and locals alike.  


Shop till you drop


Bhuj is a shoppers’ paradise and hits a 9/9 on the shopping Richter scale. The textiles, embroideries, handicrafts in a riot of colours will never cease to amuse you. The shops around Anam Ring road and Danda Bazar were our favourite hangouts. Whether it is the bandhani or tie and dye fabric or the Ajrak block prints or the woolen shawls or kala cotton you can never have enough of them. The varieties and options are so interminable that in all likelihood you will be overwhelmed and confused as to what to pick and what to skip. From footwear to handbags to accessories or home furnishings the shops here have several aces up their very able sleeve. You won’t run short of shopping ideas but the cash you certainly will!

Picture Credits : Rafiq Somani