Monday, 12 February 2018

Indian Epic - Travels in Kutch, Gujarat - Bhuj's Museums, Palaces, Temples & Crafts


Ready for more? On Monday morning, after a sociable breakfast spent chatting to K and the other guests, driver Ramji picked us up and dropped us off at the medieval walled town of Bhuj.


Like the rest of the Kutch region, Bhuj was devastated by the 2001 earthquake.


The first point of interest  was the Aina Mahal, an eighteenth-century palace built in the reign of Maharajah Lakho and later turned into a museum to showcase the opulence of the royal dynasty. Despite the roof collapsing after the earthquake, the famed Hall of Mirrors remained miraculously intact. The chief architect of the palace, Ram Singh Malamwas an Indian seafarer who studied in Europe for seventeen years after being rescued from a shipwreck by Dutch sailors off the coast of Africa. His masterpiece was a tiled pleasure chamber in the heart of the palace where the maharajah, soothed by an ingenious system of fountains, used to compose poetry and listen to music. 


I adored the shabby glamour and faded decadence far more than the pristine stately homes we have in the UK.





Aina Mahal, like most Indian museums and monuments, has a two-tier admission fee with foreigners paying a higher rate (in this case 50 rupees as opposed to 10 rupees), a government initiative since Independence to encourage Indians to explore their country. 






Maharajah Lakho





 Although we were aware that Kutch is rarely visited by foreigners, we weren't quite prepared for the reception we got. On the journey the occupants of trucks, carts, buses and rickshaws would slow down, point and wave and , as soon as we stepped from the car, we were surrounded by crowds & crowds of people, greeting us with a Namaste and yelling Selfie, Selfie. Everything we did, from taking off our shoes to enter temples, looking at exhibits in museums and palaces, queuing for the loo and eating lunch was captured on a smart phone. Even the most respectable looking people, from bespectacled sari-clad schoolteachers to businessmen in pale cotton bush suits with rows of pens in their breast pockets would, on asking for a selfie, pull some dark sunglasses out, drop to their knees and strike up a gangster pose. 


Next stop was the Prag Mahal, built in the 1860s and combining Mughal, British, Kutchi and Italian architectural styles. It also suffered damage during the quake with the main tower held precariously in place with skewed stones (as you can see in the picture below.)


The main hall was used as a location in the wonderful Bollywood/British epic Lagaan - one of only a handful of Indian films ever to have been nominated for an Academy Award.


Afterwards we visited the colourful Sharad Bagh Palace, a compact retreat built for the last maharajah in 1867. 





The Room of 17 Pillars at Devpur had the very same antique Belgian etched glass chandeliers. Talk about living like royalty!


 Next we called into The Kutch Museum which was bursting at the seams with the most spectacular locally produced antique textiles, jewellery and artifacts along with some rather scary life-sized mannequins representing the major Kutchi communities. We caused so much chaos with children on a school trip that the guard had to step in and tell them to behave themselves.


Some of these textiles & jewellery are over two centuries old.




 Afterwards Ramji bhai took us to the modern Shree Swaminarayan Temple, which was like stepping into a heavily iced wedding cake. In many parts of India foreigners are forbidden from entering temples due to insensitive behaviour but, as hardly any westerners visit Kutch, nobody has done anything offensive...yet.



 K had suggested a couple of options for lunch, either the swanky air conditioned dining room in the Prince, Bhuj's poshest hotel or a bustling roadside canteen next door to the organic juice factory. You don't really need to ask which one we chose, do you?


In canteens all over India you won't find a menu instead, from 11am until 4pm daily, you'll see a Meals Ready sign outside which mean that thalis are served there. Pull up a chair and someone will put a tin try with a number of bowls in front of you, numerous waiter will stop by your table and fill your plate high with vegetable curries, chutneys and pickles. To that they'll add poppadums, a couple of rotis, a fried snack, a mug of buttermilk (said to aid digestion) and a sweet (in Gujarat you get rice towards the end of your meal). The waiter will keep returning to top up your tray until you tell him to stop. The cost for this endless feast? 100 rupees (around £1.10) 


After lunch we visited a traditional weaving village where we were given a demonstration of spinning and weaving. The wool comes from the desan breed, an indigenous sheep from Kutch. (Apologies for my dreadful Black Country twang spoiling this video!)



Our final stop of the day was a visit to Kala, a newly opened exhibition of "old world" organic cotton, showcasing both the manufacturing process and the finished product. Kala cotton is indigenous cotton grown in Gujarat, it's said to be one of the most water efficient cottons in the world, is drought tolerant (perfect for a desert state like Gujarat) and requires no pesticides or chemical fertilisers.


The clothes on display, created by both Indian & European designers, were incredible, the denim was so luxurious, nothing like the mass produced stuff you'll find on the high street.







While we were there I couldn't resist posing next to this glorious looking woman from the Meghwal tribe. She's wearing a traditional costume adorned with pakko embroidery and a dowry necklace to die for.  Linking to Patti & the gang for Visible Monday.


And that was just one day! After the hour-long drive back to Devpur, showers, a swift chota peg* and a delicious Gujarati vegetarian dinner we were in bed by 9.30. Another adventure awaited us and we needed our beauty sleep for another thousand selfies tomorrow.

*Hindi for a small alcoholic drink

Want more? Find the full set of our Bhuj photos HERE.

71 comments:

  1. I love it all, but especially the tile work and toenails! Mega!

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    1. I loved that my toenails matched the decor - I always knew I belonged in India!

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  2. ohhhh, I've read both posts in a moment, and enjoyed all the amazing pictures, the atmosphere, the food and fun, your fabulous attitude, and so lovely that the people were astonished to see foreigners!
    So lovely that you picked that awesome photo to link Visible Monday, lovely to see Visible Ladies rocking!
    besos

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    1. Thank you so much! Indian women are so visible, no grey pr beige for them! xxx

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  3. Fabulous, i love the colourful clothes (Yours included!) Watching the wool being spun made me think about what a lot we take for granted and waste in the western world and made me even more glad that awareness was sparked by the India Flint book you recommended. Thanks. Can't wait for more...overload,please!!!

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    1. Thank you so much! The Indians are also using the same looms to weave recycled plastics which I found utterly brilliant. More on the way! x

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  4. Firstly ... Flamingos ❤ secondly, the lights and the light through the glass is absolutely beautiful!

    And you were treated like celebrities! That must have been fun xxx

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    1. That's not the last you'll see of flamingos in Gujarat! Isn't that scarf beautiful? x

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  5. I'll go to the link to see your other photos.
    Meanwhile, I count this a most personal travelogue carrying me to places I'll never see.
    And yes - as Melanie said - I'm certain the two of you LOOKED like celebrities.
    The roadside meal looks SO delicious. I'm not a bit surprised it was your choice of dining experiences :)

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    1. That roadside meal was amazing - as was everything we ate in Gujarat - I'm surprised we didn't come back twice the size!

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  6. Love love love. Many thanks. I got you some granny square clothing patterns if you want the patterns, drop me a line.

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    1. Thanks, Marjorie! Those patterns sound exactly what I've been looking for.How do I get in touch?

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  7. You surely packed a lot into one day! I love all the colours and patterns, and yes, I'm a bit partial to faded decadence too. I'm intrigued by the Belgian etched glass chandeliers, though. That iced wedding cake temple looks like one we have in Antwerp. It's quite a surprise when you suddenly come upon it while driving along the circular road here. Loving the photo of you posing with that fabulously dressed woman from the Meghwal tribe. xxx

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    1. I wondered if you were familiar with the Belgian chandeliers. They're often in the grand old Indian houses we've visited yet I've never come across them in Europe. they're gorgeous, aren't they? xxx

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  8. One day!! The adventures of a lifetime; I love the way you and Jon travel. The "endless feast" sounds too delicious. Thanks for linking up, it's great to "see" you, xox

    -Patti
    http://notdeadyetstyle.com

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    1. We packed so much into one week and we still only scratched the surface - a great excuse to go back! x

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  9. It's taken me ages to read this, I've just been drooling over the fabulous photos! The colours especially are so you, you look wonderful amidst the gorgeous vibrancy of it all. Wow, I'm looking forward to the next installment xxx

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    1. I'm so glad you're enjoying the travelogue, Sally, it's such fun being able to revisit India whilst it's snowing and so icy outside. xxx

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  10. I love your travel posts. Your picture are always so beautiful and the historical info is always interesting. I was drooling over the food and textiles. I don't think over here in the US Indian textiles gets the respect they deserve. Some amazing stuff is woven over there. And I loved that term "Pleasure chamber". I think I need one in my house :)

    Theresa

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    1. Thank you so much, Theresa. There's been a real resurgence in interest in traditionally made clothing by the Indian middle classes over the last couple of years, they're turning their back on the synthetics that have flooded the market since the 1990s. The quality of Indian cotton and the beauty of the block prints are phenomenal. x

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  11. pretty, colorful photo of you and the meghwal lady!
    as a textile lover i´m smitten by the manufactories - traditional and modern - and by the exhibition of the ancient textiles. marvelous.
    and the other museums too - such gorgeous designs and details, the glamour and the craftsmanship - and yes, the faded and rumbled add to the charm!
    exiting day - thanx for sharing!
    xxxxx

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    1. The textiles are incredible. The two hundred year old pieces in the museums look so current and fresh, I'd love to own some of them. xxx

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  12. I said it yesterday and I’ll say it again today, this has to be the best trip yet and you’ve captured it so well. What wonderful memories you’ll have. The textiles and exhibition are just up my street.
    Don’t know why my comments keep disappearing :-(.
    Xxx
    It’s me LYNN

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    1. Hello, Lynn! The textiles blew me away - there's loads more to come! xxx

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  13. That was some busy day but what an incredibly interesting one.
    Fabulous colours, decadence...(faded or not) and textures. I'd have chosen the roadside lunch too! xxx

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    1. It felt very decadent having a driver but Kutch has so much to offer - and it's so big - that there's no way on earth we'd have got to see so much using public transport! xxx

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  14. I always enjoy your blogs about your trips to India. So many things I enjoy! The last picture with the Meghwal lady in her traditional gown is spectacular!

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    1. Thank, Tracie! The costumes worn by the local tribes were something else! xxx

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  15. How amazing!
    That's why I always wear a hijab- I get tired of my celebrity status & so go the 'movie star' route with scarf & sunnies.
    I'm really glad India is beginning to truly appreciate it's artisans & traditional handicrafts especially in regards to textiles. The cotton in India is of incredible quality.

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    1. I don't blame you, it's exhausting posing for all those photos!
      I'm loving the resurgence of interest by the Indians in their textile heritage - the quality is out of this world. We love going into the handloom shops just to fondle the merchandise! xxx

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  16. No wonder they loved you and insisted on selfies, you and Jon are rockstars! I love those glass light fixtures - the mirrors! And the old rocking horse, so many neat things there. You take us places no one else dreams of going

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    1. Aren't those mirrors gorgeous? Gujarat has so much to offer, it's such a shame most foreigners never bother visiting. xxx

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  17. I am loving your posts, Vix. It makes me feel like I am there. Thank you so much for that great video and for all the photos of the amazing textiles. I love to see how they are produced. How nice that it is off the tourist trail an that you could have a wander round that stunning temple. It all looks so fab. I love the faded opulence and the colours of everything. The shot of your matching toes and tiles is brilliant. Xx

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    1. Thanks, Kelly. Kutch really is the perfect place for anyone remotely interested in textiles and costume. xxx

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  18. I could eat that thali right now! I adore these photos, what an adventure. How amazing is the lady in that last photo?! Xx

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    1. Gujarati food is the best!
      There's so many tribes in Kutch and each one has their own style of dress - even the men wear exotic costumes. xxx

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  19. Oh my! You guys really got around.

    It is a shame they don't produce that cotton worldwide.

    I guess you now know what it feels like to be rock stars when you travel ; P

    Suzanne

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    1. I was stating to understand how a celeb feels after all those photos!
      Have a look at the "FabIndia" website - it's the store where all the hip Indians shop - we always visit their stores in India just to fondle the merchandise. xxx

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  20. Wow, you do get around. I'm exhausted just seeing it all from just one day?!. And the lady you were photographed with - how spectacular.

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    1. We did so much each day we hardly missed the booze!!
      The way the local tribal women (and men) dress took my breath away! x

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  21. Wow, I would be in sensory overload - so much to look at, see, smell, hear! Funny to think you guys are in so many people's photos! Wonderful pics, Vix! Great to hear from you!

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    1. Thanks, Sheila. Even as regular visitors to India for 20 years, Gujarat atill managed to amaze us! x

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  22. Love it! I was drooling of the delicious food, and your awesome clothing.

    More! More!

    Happy thrifting ;)

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  23. The shabby elegance of India is just so wonderful. And I love the idea of all the school children chattering about the beautiful English couple they saw that day. They'll probably remember you their entire lives!

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    1. Isn't it wonderful? I'm so glad things aren't restored, I love the faded grandeur. xxx

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  24. Oh, what an amazing trip! The palaces look so beautiful. I don't mind paying more than the locals - what's 50 rupees, 50 or 60p? I leave more than that in the donations box in British museums, and it's worth it to help people look after their heritage. That rocking horse is full of character, isn't it?

    It would have to be the canteen. No choice, really!

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    1. It was amazing - we saw so much every day! I love India's two tier admission system, it's a great way to encourage people from all backgrounds to appreciate their own country and like you say, to us 50p is absolutely nothing, is it?
      The tattier the canteen - the better the food - fact! xxx

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  25. Love seeing all these wonderful photos and hearing about your trip. Wouldn't mind some of that high quality denim in my wardrobe.

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    1. That denim frock coat was the stuff of dreams - I'd wear denim every day if I could afford quality like that! xxx

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  26. I have a thali when I go to Bristol but its not as good value as yours !!

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    1. I bet I know where you get your thali from in Bristol! xxx

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    2. Ahmads masala café , its delish :-)

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    3. Not the place I was thinking of - I'll keep that in mind next time we're in Bristol! Have you tried Surti on Bradford Street? We haven'y but I keep meaning to pop in for lunch - they do a veg thali - not as cheap as India, though! x

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  27. You are perfectly co-ordinated with the beautiful tiled flooring with your blue painted toenails!

    I so agree how brilliant everything looks with it's slightly shabby/worn appearance; you can actually imagine real people living there, using those artefacts.

    What devastation that earthquake must have brought.

    The textiles were amazing and I just love everything is so wonderfully colourful and vibrant - including you and Jon! How did it feel to be treated like celebrities?

    Until the next episode...just a thought what a horrible cold welcome back it must have been for you after all that colour and sunshine...
    xxxx

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    1. I loved that my Barry M paint matched the 18th century tiles, too!
      The faded opulence makes every feel far more exotic, restoration takes away the integrity, doesn't it?
      I can't imagine how the poor people of Kutch dealt with the devastation of that earthquake. xxx

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  28. I love being there, even if only through your pictures and my imagination. My Grandma used to make yarn using nothing but her fingers and a simple wooden hand-made tool (my Dad made for her) - веретено in Russian. This man's machine is pretty sophisticated compared to Granny's tool! :)
    How you can spoil anything? It's all your creation, a part of you. I was happy to hear your voice. I always think that you would make a wonderful video blogger. Maybe some day you will.

    Lots of love!

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    1. How interesting about you Grandma and her yarn making. Fancy that rickety looking Indian loom looking sophisticated in comparison. xxx

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    2. Sounds like a drop spindle - I know knitters who still use them today, because they love making their own yarn.

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    3. I loved watching the yarn being made, I quite fancied making my own after that demo. x

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    4. Yes, similar to a drop spindle - here is the Russian vereteno:
      https://www.google.com/search?q=%D0%B2%D0%B5%D1%80%D0%B5%D1%82%D0%B5%D0%BD%D0%BE&source=lnms&tbm=isch&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwikvsWm6qvZAhUO1mMKHXgWCR0Q_AUICigB&biw=1366&bih=637

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  29. I have so enjoyed touring India with you- your photos are wonderful. I visited India way back(1975) before mobile phones and selfies and remember being surrounded by people, you and Jon were quite the centre of attention. The textiles are so beautiful, love the little video. Thank you for sharing your trip. xx

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    1. Thanks, Jill. Wow, 1975. I bet you'd be amazed by the changes if you went back, I've seen huge leaps forward in the 20 years we've been visiting. xxx

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  30. Love those mirrors and the blue tiled floor is gorgeous! The roadside meal sounds fabulous! I think having a driver enabled you to see so much more. x

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    1. Those tiles made me weak at the knees, I loved them! Having a driver really was brilliant, although there's public transport it would have taken us hours to get around and, as English isn't widely spoken, having a local on hand to ask questions helped us to really understand what was going on. xxx

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  31. Mmm, yum, I love the look of the vege curries. What's the name of the sweet, I've tried it once before but have forgotten the name of it. Xxx

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    1. Hi Jess! The curries are amazing, they just don't compare to anything we get in Indian restaurants here in the UK. The sweet is a jalebi - I never eat desserts at home but I absolutely love Indian sweets! xxx

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  32. Thank you for taking us along on your adventures! The weaver you spoke with and filmed has such a lovely, classical face – straight out of a painting. Different part of the country, but those colorful lamps in the Aina Mahal remind me of some of the ones in the Kochi synagogue. Looking forward to the rest of the trip!

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    1. Hello Brikka! You're right, the weaver looked like he'd stepped out of a painting from a royal court. Funnily enough, that's exactly what I said to Jon when we saw those lamps - they are the same as the wonderful synagogue in Kochi! xxx

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Don't be shy, if you enjoyed your visit leave a comment, I can come and visit your blog if you do.
Love from Vix
xxx