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“If this place witnessed a massive earthquake, how come I see no cracks or major damages to the foundation and such?” he asked while I quickly retorted back saying they would’ve repaired it long back since the earthquake. But the thought remained in my mind as I roamed around Bhuj that afternoon. I had a pretty interesting day so far chasing a mysterious stepwell and an encounter with giants about which you can read here.
This was the last day of the three week long trip spanning remote corners of Rajasthan and a bit of Kutch, Gujarat. I had that sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach, after having so much fun it was time to get back to the mundane and the ordinary. We still had few hours to kill before catching the bus to Ahmadabad that night. Living up to my pseudonym I reached Prag Mahal wandering here and there. The auto driver dropped us somewhere which looked like the abode of ruins. This was the old city, there was a huge entrance and walled fence all around. I lifted my head up to see this and I knew something interesting was in store for me. As we entered, the gate caught my attention. It was huge and looked really old.
In front of me was a huge colonial style building built in red stone. But that didn’t interest me yet. I turned back to see the entrance and I loved what I saw. Sadistic I know, but the huge entrance was ruined totally above and adjacent to it seemed to be another old building with very Indian architecture in complete ruins, as in uninhabitable ruins, as in one push can get the whole thing tumbling down ruins. The windows were painted green and ornately designed porticos echoed of a time of grandeur. I spent a mighty long time photographing the ruined building which as it turns out, was the Rani ka Vas meaning the Queen’s Residence. This was a living proof depicting the magnitude of the earthquake that hit Bhuj and the trail of destruction it left behind.
I chased squirrels, disturbed the pigeons, got scared by the dogs, watched the playful mongoose, and got chased by a cow and all this while I was still outside Prag Mahal. The old and wrecked held a special place in my heart and the dilapidated always interested me for some unknown reason. The day was a photographer’s delight, brilliant sun shining down while the sky remained clear and azure. After spending a long time moving around the buildings, it was time after all to enter.
Reluctantly I stepped into Prag Mahal expecting nothing more exciting but you know those little surprises and those little joys, sadistic yet again, but the palace itself was in ruins from the inside. Apparently the funds aren’t sufficient to keep the place running and hence the condition. The architectural style is distinctly not Indian, apparently Italian Gothic. The stairs lead upto a corridor which opens into a large hall with huge broken chandeliers hanging low and hunting trophies proudly mounted for display. The wall paper on the ceiling was peeled and hanging and the statues adorning the columns were of European style. If I forgot to mention, there were pigeons flying about everywhere inside through the hallway across the rooms. The whole place smelled of decay.
There were two rooms along with the hall open for public on the ground floor while there were two more rooms open on a higher floor. Apart from this, the clock tower was open to visitors. Of all these, I enjoyed the huge hall which was emanating visions of a grander past and a lost present.
The clock tower offers a grand view of the city from the fifth floor but its winding staircases are not for the fainthearted. Congested and spiral, they may seem never ending to few but of course I enjoyed the eeriness. Soon a noisy bunch of school kids on an excursion inundated the serenity of the ruins forcing us out of Prag Mahal.
As we wandered past the clock tower towards Aina Mahal, I turned back to look upto the tower and here I noticed it. There were huge cracks along the tower suggesting the after effects of the earthquake. The backyard was closed and fenced for some reason and as we peeped through the gate it became more obvious. The palace indeed was shaken to the core by the earthquake and here lay the blaring evidence of the catastrophe.
Close by was Aina Mahal, the more famous attraction of Bhuj. In its heyday it sure must’ve been a sight to behold. The small two storey building is almost entirely if not all, embellished with mirrors and glasses of all kinds which not only serve the purpose of decoration but also solved the problem of light. The king’s bedroom was full of mirrors on all the walls and ceilings and one candle would light up the entire room when required. This room has been preserved well. There were intricately carved doors made out of elephant tusks. But most of the rest had fallen apart in the quake. I could imagine the grandeur of the residence but today it was not shining. Remnants of earlier days lost to the test of times.
As we walked out of Aina Mahal, the sun was setting. That didn’t mark the end of the day though. We wandered to a local craft market from here and made a purchase of the famous Kutch Mirror work. The evening was spent trying to make arrangements to send it back home. Night had fallen and we left Bhuj to reach Ahmadabad the next day. Never expected a stopover to be so entertaining. Bhuj was nothing more than a place that had once experienced a massive earthquake but after that day, I realized it had so much more to it. There, the joys of traveling with no plan and no expectations.