Either as part of your Rann Utsav package, or possibly because you’ve allowed for some extra time, you probably will find yourself with a few hours to take in the sights of Bhuj. Listed below are our top 5 things to do if you have a day, or even half, to spend in the town that acts as the gateway and exit for the Rann of Kutch.
1. Visit the Swami Narayanan temple:
Originally a 19th century temple built by Swaminarayan, it was completely destroyed in the earthquake of 2001. The temple was however re-built in 2010, with a budget of 100 crs! The money spent on it shows too. A very beautiful temple, made almost entirely of marble; with silver and gold plating on the domes and grates enclosing the deities.
Right from the entrance of the temple compound, where you will be greeted with a beautiful archway and huge carved doors, to the motifs of peacocks inlaid on the marble floor, and the eyes painted on the smallest of figures on the roof, you can see the painstaking effort that’s gone into making this temple.
Foot wear isn’t allowed inside, but they have a simple shoe deposit system at the entrance, so that shouldn’t be a problem. Photography is fine right up to the gates separating the mortals from the Gods, apparently fined beyond that. A lot of sections were unfortunately inaccessible to women tho. Also, temples generally frown upon bare shoulders or knees for women, so do dress accordingly. Complete your temple visit with freshly cut tender coconut ‘prasadam’ the priests offer on the way out. The morning darshan (viewing of deities) is up till 1130 or 12, so plan your visit accordingly.
2. Revisit a bygone era at the Aina Mahal and Parg Mahal:
Two entirely different attractions housed within the same grounds, we didn’t have sufficient time to look around both as we spent more than an hour at Aina Mahal. An 18th century palace, large portions of which are in disrepair, some destroyed in the earthquake of 2001. The portion not as damaged has however been since restored to some extent and converted into a museum. The one storey museum displays not only furniture, palanquins and the like, but also the 18th century ruler’s fondness for all things foreign. From Chinese cabinets, to dutch plates, and figurines from Japan, he collected them all! It is quite an absorbing walk thru the rooms filled with beautiful memorabilia from an era long gone by. The ruler commissioned an architect to study European techniques for 17 years before having him design this palace! Of particular visual delights are the ‘pleasure room’, the ‘hall of mirrors’ and the beautiful glass and tile work that adorn the floors, walls and ceilings.
The small compound outside houses a few reasonably priced handicrafts shops. If something catches your fancy, try and bargain a bit, but do buy it. It’s unlikely you’ll find similar things/prices elsewhere in Bhuj, given the short time you have there!
*Entrance INR 20, Photography INR 50
3. Shop (just barely) at the Bhujodi village:
The first thing to note here is that you will be taken only to the ‘Hiralaxmi memorial craft park’, and not the actual Bhujodi village. Laid out in over 10 acres of land, in addition to shops, this park has well manicured grounds, a temple and a pond. I’ll be honest, we were so focused on getting some shopping done, we didn’t really look around the rest of the place! But we were in for a bit of a disappointment really.
There are a handful of shops, almost all selling handicrafts you’ve already seen at the crafts market in the tent city. Except, lesser variety and invariably more expensive! And no bargaining!!
We lost interest in the place really fast. 😦 To be fair tho, the shops had some beautiful murals on the walls and a lot of people seemed quite content sitting around the grounds.
I think we felt a little let down as we were led to believe that shopping in Bhujodi would be better than at the tent city, so ended up putting off some of our purchases! It is quite possible that the Bhujodi village itself is way better, but given that this was almost 20 Kms from Bhuj, we didn’t want to get stranded out there trying to get back, luggage and all! But if you happen to be driving or have a cab, do allow some time to look around the village itself.
4. Walk around the Main Market (and shop):
The entrance to the main market, or bazaar, is actually just outside the Aina Mahal. But because we were part of a group on the bus from tent city, we came back to the market post checking in at the hotel and lunch. An auto took us from the Hotel Oasis for INR 40.
The main market is a long road with many many by lanes. We covered a good distance on foot, looking specifically for colorful footwear, similar to the ones we saw at the tent city, we didn’t find any. 😦 Another reason for you to remember that if you really like something in and around the tent city, please buy it!
The market area is a very good place to buy fabrics and traditional clothes at very reasonable prices. Also silver! Or at least what we were told was sliver! We didn’t go into the first couple of sliver shops because we thought they looked expensive. From the one we did go to tho, we ended up buying gorgeous (small) silver earrings for INR 200-250 each!
Expect the Gujarati culinary experience you’ve enjoyed so far to continue in Bhuj as well! In addition to the yum Kutchi Dabeli you will invariably find in the by lanes of the main market, you can treat yourself to an awesome Gujarati thali at the Prince Hotel (INR 250 ).
If you’ve had an overload of Gujarati food all these days, you could let yourself be very pleasantly surprised with the south Indian food at the Oasis hotel! Who would’ve thought! 😀 The only place open for lunch that late in the afternoon, we stumbled on it quite accidentally. But I kid you not, the dosas, chutneys and sambar they served up were absolutely delicious and well on par with some of the darshinis in Bangalore!
So there’s our round up of a day spent in Bhuj. Almost all of these (except main market) we visited along with a bus full of people, as part of the Rann of Kutch package. It meant limited time at each stop, but we didn’t find ourselves too rushed, except maybe at the Aina Mahal. it also meant that lunch got pushed quite a bit, so try and carry a few snacks to keep you going. A full day, still leaving us enough time to wash up at the hotel, eat a good thali meal, and then head to the railway station.
Other alternatives, as either part of the tent city package or on your own, is to visit the Mandvi beach or even the Indo-pak border. We didn’t opt for these as they were both a reasonable way off and we didn’t want to feel too rushed getting out of the city. If you do visit either, drop us a note and let us know what you thought!
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