An Archaeologist's Guide to Gujarat, India: Bhuj

Bhuj is the capital city of the Kutch district, located about eight hours northwest from Vadodara, south of the Rann of Kutch. The historical city was established in the 16th century, and contains many medieval and early modern buildings, mosques and temples throughout its old city.

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Aina Mahal and Prag Mahal

One of the main attractions in Bhuj is the Aina Mahal and Prag Mahal palaces, located side by side in the winding streets of Darbargadh Chowk, historic Bhuj. I can attest to the maze of streets in the old city as my driver and I repeated the loop around the palaces a few times before finally asking a local who directed us to the indiscreet entry archway.

Aina Mahal, translating to "Palace of Mirrors", is an 18th century palace built in the local style, but incorporating European glass and decoration. The exterior of the palace is no longer in good shape, but the interior has been converted into a museum displaying "Europeanerie", which is the collection of European objects by Indian nobles. A range of coins and paintings both foreign and local to the region, as well as furniture, are also on show. Visitors are required to remove their shoes, which gives the place a more homely feel. The palace is open daily, except for Thursday, and the entry fee is 20 rupees (about 40c AUD or 30c USD). For an additional cost photos can be taken inside.

Damaged exterior of Aina Mahal Place in Bhuj

Next to Aina Mahal is Prag Mahal, a 19th century palace built in an architectural combination of the Romanesque and Indo-Saracenic revival styles. Entry to the palace is 100 rupees (about 2 AUD or 1.40 USD) for foreigners, providing visitors with access to some of the richly decorated halls in the palace. In addition to palace entry, visitors can climb the narrow winding stone staircase up to the top of the belltower, which provides a panoramic view over the city of Bhuj that is well worth the climb. The palace is open daily, and for an additional cost photos can be taken inside.

Oddly, in a cabinet in the Prag Mahal palace containing items collected by royalty I found one object that did not quite fit with the other ornaments and decorations on display. It was an Australian Bunnings Warehouse green broad-brimmed hat. I didn't buy the photography pass so I don't have any photos of my own, but here is a link to their iconic straw hat as well as a newer cap version.

Stone exterior of Prag Mahal Palace with arched doorways and windows in Bhuj
Elevated view of Bhuj from belltower of Prag Mahal Palace

Kutch Museum

The Kutch Museum is located on the east end of the Harmirsar Lake in the centre of Bhuj. This is the oldest museum in Gujarat, initially established in 1877 under the name Fergusson Museum. Entry to the museum is only 5 rupees, and inside you can find chronological displays covering the prehistoric neolithic period, Indus Valley civilisation, Asokan inscriptions, and more. There is also a considerable collection of historical coinage from around India, along with textiles, and decorative arts. Of particular note are exhibits showing people from different regions of Gujarat, displaying their traditional dress and activities. The museum is open daily, except for Wednesday. 

Historic Kutch museum building in Bhuj

In Summary

As it is quite a small city, there are not too many sites to explore in Bhuj. Tourists can visit some of the temples around the town, and wandering around the Darbargadh Chowk area and exploring the local markets and stores is a good way to spend an afternoon. Due to the somewhat remote location of Bhuj in the west of Gujarat, it is not convenient to reach if you are not already in the area, but it makes a good place to stop for a day or two if you find yourself in the Kutch region. 


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