Kutch; Day 3 – Local Sights and Delights, Bhuj

February 5, 2015

Right around the corner, housed in an old palatial Italian Gothic building, is the Kutchi museum. The building was originally built to display the gifts and dowry received in marriage by Maharao Khengarji III, then ruler of Kutch.  Today Kutchi langue is written mostly in Gujarati script, but the museum has examples of the extinct Kutchi script. There is a set of exhibits explain the fascinating geological evolution of Kutch. Another set of exhibits introduces us to the various tribes of the region and their lifestyles. These exhibits don’t all match up to the pictures and writing next to them, so make sure you read the plaques before you move on. On the first floor, we saw samples of traditional Kutchi embroidery. Traditionally, this is done by women in their free time as an expression of their creativity and identity. Embroidery communicated status. Designs were usually taken from their surroundings and from mythology. I imagine they did it in groups, sharing joys and sorrows. The style of the needlework depends on the tribe. While embroidery was valued as gifts for marriages and other social occasions which required gifts to be given, it was never sold in the market for money.  Make note of the different styles and patterns, this will come in handy while shopping in Bhujodi. Even more interesting is the metalwork on display on the same floor. The artistic handles of the weaponry gives an idea of the true aesthetic sense of the people of Kutch. Even a man carrying a sword/dagger/knife – a soldier at best and a murderer at worst – appreciated the finer things in life.

DSC_0991Bharatbhai drove us through the narrow streets of Bhuj and stopped before a dilapidated gate. Inside he said was the Aaina Mahal or the Palace of Mirrors. Doubtfully we entered. Sure enough there was a huge Italian Gothic style building in the courtyard. This is purportedly the first building to be built in this style in India.  Time had taken its toll, but the structure had managed retain some of its old charm. The palace is disappointingly simple inside, but one must remember the lifestyles and economics of its heydays before pronouncing a quick judgement. One of the highlights of this palace is a Big Ben style forty five foot high clock tower (unimaginatively called the Bing Bang). If you are reasonable fit, consider climbing the narrow winding staircase up the tower for a panoramic view of the entire city.  It was only later, on the train that we found out that we never went to the Palace of Mirrors. The Palace we went to was *Prag Mahal. The board outside the building said as much, but since we didn’t see any other palace in the courtyard, we simply assumed that Aaina Mahal must be the colloquial name for Prag Mahal.

DSC_0971It is impossible to not notice the numerous large courtyards where cattle are being fed, all over the city. It never ceases to amaze me, how people can have a beef with people eating beef, but not care two hoots about cows eating plastic out of garbage cans. Kudos to Bhuj on leading the way on how it’s really got to be done. To all those supporting the beef ban in Maharashtra, I say if you want to do something for cows please do something to protect pastural commons and grazing forests.While we are on the topic, how about also standing up for all mothers the way we are standing up for the cows. Next time we see a woman being harassed by someone who clearly does not respect mothers, let’s take it up on her behalf. If God keeps tally, this should get us more points.

DSC_0005As evening approached, we went to Hamirsar Lake to wrap up our trip with a spot of bird watching.  We were expecting to see pelicans and cormorants, and hoping to see a stray flamingo or two. As we took our spots near a little hanging bridge in the adjoining park, we saw a muster of painted storks. The first time I saw these elegant white birds with a spot of pink on their tails was at Vedenthangal. **Mama had taken Sam and me there.  Early one morning, before the sun was up we bundled our sleepy selves into his car and set off. We were there at the break of dawn, but not a bird was to be seen or heard. We made our way up the watch tower. If you are nice to the keeper, he will turn the telescope and let you enjoy some tender moments with nature. That wonderful morning, we saw a painted stork building its nest.

DSC_0010As we walked a little further, we saw a scoop of pelicans cavorting on the other side of Hamirsar Lake. Did you know pelicans swallow their food alive? They are known to swallow anything that fits in their big bill including baby ducks, terns, gulls and penguins. Imagine the horror of being slowly digested alive by stomach acids.

DSC_0050At this point my stomach had started to feel like there was something alive in there, kicking and struggling to be let out. It was so terrible that I sent the husband to get me a Pudin Hara which just enraged the beast inside more and made things worse. When we stopped at an ATM to withdraw money to pay Bharatbhai, much to the husband’s astonishment I stepped into the bank next door and asked if I could use their restroom. “Did you throw up?” he asked with boyish curiosity, when I stepped out. “No. The other end.” “Who goes to a bank and does THAT!” he exclaimed with a mix of mirth and disgust. The demon dispelled and dispatched down the drain, I was feeling much better.

*Prag Mahal fun fact – Scenes from the Bollywood blockbusters Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam and Lagaan were shot inside this palace.

**Mama – Maternal uncle

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