To visit the villages north of Kutch, including Khavda, Bhirandiara and
Dumaro, permission is required from the District Collector First you need to present yourself (in person) at the District Superintendent of Police
(DSP) office, where you have to complete a form advising which villages you wish to visit, dates your passport details, etc. You then take this form to the District Collector's office (about five minutes walk; open weekdays from 10.30 am to 5.30 pm; closed for lunch between 1 and 2 pm) where the form will be
authorised. The whole procedure should take no more than 11/2 hours, and there is no fee.
Aina Mahal (Old Palace)
Maharao Lakhpatji's old palace, built in traditional Kutchi style, is
in a small fortified courtyard in the old part of the city. It's a beautifully presented museum and is one of the highlights of a visit to Bhuj. The entrance to the palace houses the tourist office, and this is also the site of the
Maharao Madansinhji Museum, which has a varied collection of paintings, photos and embroideries. There's a 15m long scroll depicting the Royal Procession of Maharao Shri Pragmalji Bahadur (1838-75). Check out the expression
on the last blue-turbaned figure in this epic painting he looks quite peeved at having to ignobly bring up the up the of the procession!
The real attraction here, though, is the Hall of Mirrors, created by the master
artisan, Ram Singh Malam, under the patronage of his poet-ruler, Maharao Shri Lakhpatji around the middle of the 18th century. A blend of Indian and European artistry (Ram Singh acquired, his skills in Europe), the walls of the
great hall are of white marble covered by mirrors separated by gilded ornaments, lighting being provided by elaborate candelabra, with shades of Venetian glass. Another remarkable feature is the pleasure pool, in the middle
of which rises a square platform where the maharao composed his poems and gave encouragement to the classical arts of dancing girls, bards and musicians. This palace is well worth half a day, and is open daily except Saturday
from 9 to 11.45 am and 3 to 5.45 pm. Entry is Rs 3 and photography is prohibited.
Prag Mahal (New Palace)
Across the courtyard from the Aina Mahal is the new palace, an ornate
ltalianate marble and sandstone building which was constructed in the latter part of thc l9th century. Parts of it are now used for government of it are but the vast and amazingly kitsch Durbar Hall and the clock tower
are open to the public. High up on the walls of this unfurnished hall are portraits of past
maharaos, while down below is the usual mausoleum of big game driven to the verge of extinction by egotism and pompous pleasures. Entry is Rs 4, and its costs Rs 15 for a camera, Rs 50 for a video.
The Kutch Museum was originally known as the Fergusson Museum after its founder,
Sir James Fergusson, a governor of Mumbai under the Raj. Built in 1877, it's the oldest museum in Gujarat and has an excellent collection. The well maintained exhibits
(labelled in English and Gujarati) include a picture gallery,
an anthropological section, archaeological finds, textiles, weapons, musical instruments, a shipping section and, of course, stuffed beasts. The museum is open every day except Wednesday and the 2nd and 4th
Saturday of each month, from 9 to 11.30 am and 3 to 5.30 pm. Entry is Rs 0.50.
Sharad Bagh 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. Set in spacious and beautifully tended gardens, the palace itself, built in 1867, is of very modest proportions, with just a drawing room downstairs and bedroom upstairs (closed). The
dining room is in a separate building and on
display here are a number of the maharao's personal possessions, including his video player. Also on display is his coffin, in which his body was brought back from the UK for cremation.
The palace is open from 9 am to noon and 3 to 6 pm daily except Friday; entry is Rs 1. There's also a Rs 15 camera charge, Rs 50 for a video.
Other AttractionsThings to Buy
A huge old wall stretches around the hills overlooking the city.
Unfortunately, you can not explore around here, as this is all a restricted military area. The very colourful and richly decorated Swaminarayan Temple
is near the Aina Mahal. It's open to the public from 7 to 11 am and 4 to 7 pm. The Bhartiya Sanscruti Darshan Kutch
(Folk Museum) houses an interesting private collection of beautiful textiles and
artefacts, and also has reconstructions of typical village habitats. The museum is close to the Collector's Office, and you can visit by phoning the curator, Mr. Rathod (Tel: 21518).
If you are genuinely interested in the embroidery from villages in
the Kutch region, get in touch with Mr. AA Wazir (Tel: 24187). He has a priceless collection of more than 3000 pieces, many of them very old, which he has gathered over the last 20 years or so. Some pieces are for sale
(with prices starting at around Rs 200 and peaking at Rs 20,000). Remember this is not a museum or shop, so don't expect the owner to show you each and every piece. In the bustling Shroff Bazaar there are a range
of reasonably priced shops, including some good embroidery and fabric places. Most places are open to bargaining.