Winter mornings are lazy morning, but we had to wake up early for our second day tour and reach the attraction before 9 AM. Our first day in Bhuj was very hectic. We went to visit the white desert and after spending a memorable time in Rann Utsav, we reached our hotel late night. Kids were also very tired but at the same time excited for exploring the city.
So, we wake on time and after having yummy breakfast in our hotel restaurant we left for the city tour. The first attraction we decided to visit was Prag Mahal and Aina Mahal which were in the center of the city.
Prag mahal is visible from everywhere in Bhuj or to be precise its circular domes can be seen from anywhere in Bhuj. From our hotel room these circular domes were distinguishly visible between all the houses nearby. These circular domes look very similar to the domes of Georgian churches. As far as location is concerned it’s a bit surprising to find this place surrounded by many houses, shops and the roads leading to the palace are so narrow. Compared to other Palace at most places, area of the palace is small. but once you enter inside the palace gates there is ample of parking space for vehicles.
Prag Mahal is named after Rao Pragmalji II, who commissioned it and construction began in 1865. It was designed by Colonel Henry Saint Wilkins in Italian Gothic style where materials are a fusion of Indian and Italian. The construction of the palace was completed in 1879 at the cost of 31 Lakhs rupees at that time. The palace was severely damaged in 2001 earthquake but most of it is repaired now and open for public viewing. There are two rooms along with the hall open for public on the ground floor while there are two more rooms open on a higher floor. Apart from this, the clock tower is also open to visitors. Ticket counter is in the clock tower next to the portico.
After the ticket counter take the flight of steps leading to the main Durbar Hall laced with ornate arches. Before entering the Durbar Hall, all visitors must remove their shoe. The Durbar Hall is a European style hall beautifully decorated with chandeliers, mirrors and other antiques. This is the best part of the Prag mahal which I like the most. There are other exhibition halls displaying the belongings of royal family (Hunting trophies, thrones, guns, furniture etc.). It seems most of the artifacts are kept here just to fill up the space.
After enjoying the beauty of the artifacts in the palace, head up to the clock tower, which is 150 feet high and offers a panoramic view of the Bhuj city from its fifth floor. Clock tower building is separated from the other part by a small open passage or terrace. Stay at this photo spot for a while before entering the clock tower. For reaching the Clock tower summit you must climb three stories of narrow and winding staircase. At the clock tower platform there is a huge bell which used to chime in olden days. There is also a detailed explanation of how the clock-tower once functioning.
Rani ka Vas
From the clock tower you can see a building next to the Prag Mahal which seems older than the Prag Mahal and the building was in ruins along with the huge entrance adjacent to it. This building is the Rani ka Vas meaning the Queen’s Residence built in Indian architecture. Now it is in complete ruins but if you look at the ornately designed porticos and balcony windows hanging outside you can imagine how magnificent and beautiful the structure was. Rani ka vas was mostly destroyed in 2001 earthquake and I have no idea where whether it will be restored in future or not.
This palace is also famous for the Bollywood movie “Lagaan”, some part of which were shot here and the Amitabh Bachchan starrer commercial ‘Khushboo Gujarat Ki’ for Gujarat tourism was also shot here.
From Prag Mahal we moved to Aina mahal which is closely located next to each other and both locations can be covered in one visit. The entire complex of Prag Mahal and Aina Mahal is known as Durbargarh Complex. As the name suggests “Aaina Mahal” which means “The Palace Of Mirrors”. The palace was damaged in the earthquake in 2001, however, a portion of the palace which was not too badly damaged has been restored and houses the museum.
The Aina Mahal was a residential place of King of Bhuj built by Rao Lakhpatji in around 1750. The chief architect and designer of the palace was Ram Singh Malam, who lived in Europe for 18 years and mastered several European craft and architecture skills. It is a two-storey mansion that is constructed with stones and decorated with stone carvings and woodwork. It was designed in the local style and decorated in the European style. Aina Mahal is now turned into a museum showcasing the opulence of the royal family of Bhuj.
The Mahal displays the things that were used by the kings in the palace. Here you can see a collection of armaments, skillful ivory and wooden carvings, embroidery, chandelier, coins letters, arms, the horse buggies, very old photographs and the ornate ceilings with colorful mirrors.
There were windows and balcony with colorful glasses which were reflecting colorful light in beautiful pattern. Mirrors are everywhere and they not only serve the purpose of decoration but also create an ambience with the reflected light and brighten up part of palace receiving low light. In the king’s bedroom, which was full of mirrors on all the walls and ceilings, one candle would light up the entire room when required. The design and use of mirrors in Aina Mahal are par excellence and in its heyday, it must have been a sight to behold.
Inside the palace pay attention to the intricately carved doors decorated with inlaid ivory and gold. Also check the Nagpanchami Ashwari Scroll, which is a 49-foot-long scroll depicting the royal procession of Maharao Shri Pragmalji ll held annually during Nagapanchmi. This scroll was created in 1876 by painter Vadha Juma Ibrahim. Other than the collection of royal stuff there are two central part of the palace Fuvara Mahal & Hira Mahal.
As the name suggest this place is surrounded by Fuvara or fountain and this part of the palace was built as an entertainment room for King Rao Lakhpatji who had a passion for music, art, architecture and literature. There is a central, raised, square platform that can be approached by on three sides via narrow aisles and the pool was filled with water using siphons and pumps The throne in the centre of the platform was surrounded by water sprays and fanned from above. Maharao held his courts in the Fuvara Mahal. lt is decorated with chandeliers from Belgium and lamps which are filled with colored water. This room is decorated by fine pieces of arts.
Hira Mahal was the bedroom of King which is in the center of the first floor. Here you can see the Maharao’s bed with golden legs and many gold-plated mirror frames around the bed. lt is called Hira Mahal because semi-precious stones were used into marble panels which are screwed into the walls.
Inside the palace pay attention to the intricately carved doors decorated with inlaid ivory and gold. This exquisite piece of work was built in 1708 when Maharao Godji ll was the ruler.
The mahal compound has a cafeteria on ground floor and a small handicraft market that displays the Gujarat work and is available for sale. Few shops are operated by NGO’s which are working for the promotion of local art & craft from where I purchased local handicraft for myself.
Most part of the Aina mahal continues to be in dilapidated condition after the earthquake the things on display are not so exciting. Also there is a charge of ₹ 50 for camera/ mobile with strictly no flash photography.
09:00 AM to 12:00 PM and 3:00 PM to 6:00 PM. Close on Thursday.
Prag Mahal ticket for adult is ₹ 40 and ₹ 20 for Kids below 15 years.
Aina Mahal ticket for adult is ₹ 20 and ₹ 10 for Kids below 15 years.
There is an additional charge for Still Camera ₹ 100 at Prag Mahal, ₹ 50 at Aina Mahal and Video camera ₹ 200 at both the places.