A palace in Kutch

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Varsha Bhatia, whose family originated in Kutch, trained as an architect in Bombay. Now, she has become a painter, specialising in water colours. Her delicately executed, finely detailed works display her appreciation of the asethetics of architectural masterpieces.

Following a recent visit to Kutch Mandvi, she has painted a pavilion that is perched on the roof of the Vijay Vilas Palace built by the Maharao of Kutch in a traditional Rajput style during the 1920s . 

My wife and I visited this lovely palace during 2018. This extract from my book Travels through Gujarat, Daman, and Diu describes what we found:

A notice on a wall near the main entrance reads: “Tides come and go but the legend here of sheer enchantment continues unabated”.  On entering the palace, we saw a large banner which exclaimed: “Welcome to palace and experience history which is housed within.” The walls of the pleasant rooms, filled with ageing furniture, are lined with photographs of the royal family, their guests including Indian and British hunters with their servants, alongside the spoils of the regular hunting parties, which used to be held in the palace’s extensive grounds.

Amongst the framed items hanging on the walls, we spotted a 500 Kori banknote issued by the Government of Kutch. It was printed with words both in Gujarati and English scripts. When the Emperor Jehangir (reigned 1605-27) met his vassal, Kutch’s ruler Rao Bharmal (reigned 1585-1631) in Ahmedabad in 1617, Jehangir gave Rao Bharmal the right to strike his own coinage. Thus, the Kori was born. It remained in continuous use in Kutch until 1948, when Kutch became part of the Republic of India.

The windows at the back of the palace look out over formal gardens with dried up water features including a slender stone-lined channel running between bare rectangular patches of ground and fountains. We climbed a spiral staircase to reach the roof of the palace and wandered amongst the domed pavilions with jali screens covering their windows. Another spiral staircase, made of cast-iron, leads to an elevated viewing platform covered with a large domed ceiling supported by pillars. From here, we had a wonderful view of the countryside surrounding the palace and the Arabian Sea.

It is this ‘viewing platform’ that is illustrated in Varsha Bhatia’s lovely water colour work.

 

TRAVELS THROUGH GUJARAT, DAMAN, AND DIUby Adam Yamey

is available as a paperback from lulu.com, Amazon sites, and bookdepository.com.

There is also a Kindle edition.

 

 

So close to Pakistan

kandla

 

Sadly, India and Pakistan are fighting again. Some parts of Gujarat, such as Kutch, are perilously close to Pakistan.

“We boarded a smallish propeller aeroplane, a Bombardier, which serves the daily flight from Bombay in Maharashtra to Kandla in Kutch.

Our one and a half hour Spicejet flight headed north west from Bombay. After traversing Saurashtra, the southern peninsula of western Gujarat (also known as ‘Kathiawad’), we flew over an area of rivers and marshes, and begun descending towards the airport of Kandla in Kutch.

Many centuries ago, Kutch was an island between Gujarat and Sindh. It was separated from the mainland by rivers along its northern and eastern edges, and the sea along its southern edge. The rivers disappeared after a series of seismic disturbances, only to be replaced by arid rocky deserts, the Ranns of Kutch. Until the 1940s, Kutch was fiercely independent of the rest of the Indian subcontinent. Despite frequent attacks by its neighbour Sindh (now part of Pakistan) and the Mughals, the Kutchis retained their autonomy. One of the reasons we were visiting this outlying part of India, now incorporated within the State of Gujarat, was to visit the area from which my wife’s mother’s ancestors originated. Another reason was that we had heard that it is beautiful.

Kandla airport is small. As we descended from the ‘plane onto the tarmac, I noticed that our aircraft was surrounded by army men holding loaded machine guns, their muzzles pointing downwards. There were numerous signs forbidding photography because this airport is primarily a military base only 133 kilometres from the Indian border with Pakistan. There was no baggage conveyor belt system. The luggage from the ‘plane was brought to the tiny terminal in wagons from which we had to help ourselves to our bags.”

 

This is an excerpt fromTRAVELS THROUGH GUJARAT, DAMAN, AND DIUby Adam Yamey. It is avalable on Kindle and as a paperback from lulu.com, bookdepository.com, and Amazon.

A freedom fighter from Kutch

VARMA HOUSE

Shyamji Krishna Varma (1857-1930) was born in Mandvi in Kutch (now part of Gujarat State). A Sanskrit scholar of world reknown and a barrister, he was also an important, but now not so well-known, activist in the fight for India’s Independence from the British. 

He settled in London in the late 1890s and lived there in the northern suburb of Highgate until he moved to France before 1910. This house, number 60 Muswell Hill Road, was his home between 1900 and 1907. A circular plaque commemorates his short stay here.