The small historic town of Bhuj, Kutch, is located in the hot and dry region in the state of Gujarat in India. It faces extreme scarcity of water. Two important things that guide the growth of this town. One – a water body which is a man-made lake, built and extended more than 500 years ago with the purpose of creating a settlement in the region. Secondly, the town of Bhuj has been a victim of several earthquakes throughout the ages. Each disaster has led to the perseverance for restored progress and better infrastructure in this capital.
A devastating earthquake in the year 2001 led to the destruction of the majority of the traditional morphology and character of the old walled city. This led to the regeneration and opening up of the city to further extents and created a base to overlay network layouts for better connections and accessibility. The town today is an amalgamation of the historic narratives and the new urban dialogues that preside to bridge the urban web.
Mapping of growth: Stages of Development
Azhar Tyabji, in his book ‘Bhuj- Art, Architecture, History’, describes the development of the town in parallel narratives of legend, myths and folklore on one hand and facts, data records and evidence on another. Although the tribal history of Bhuj and its surroundings can be traced to a much earlier date, as a comprehensive, the expansion of Bhuj as a settlement and a town can be outlined as:
Pre 1500’s: A small pond used by shepherds, cowherds, and other local tribes.
Early 1500’s: Selection of site and Development of an early settlement around the lake (named Hamirsar) by Rao Hamir.
Late 1500’s: Small man-made Hamirsar lake expanded with reservoirs around the pond by Rao Khengarji, the Palace Complex development (Darbargarh), the emergence of the first temple, and mosque in the settlement, early market street (Saraf Bazaar). The city of Bhuj was made the capital of the Kutch province.
1600’s: Settling of priestly and religious communities in the vicinity of the palace complex.
Settling of the important and diverse business community, who monopolized special goods and services, along the market street. Gradual and organic expansion of the city morphology.
1700’s: The building of the city walls by Rao Godji. Five entrance gateways and one small ‘window – also called ChatthiBaari’ forms the punctures in the fortification of the city extents. These gateways, today, remain as significant and symbolic evidence of the past.
1800’s: The strengthening of the Hamirsar lake and its precinct into a reinforced and embanked reservoir by the Royal of the time. the emergence of the complex organic development of street networks and urban fabric. The residential quarters formed as clusters of communities based on occupation. Like many other small towns and settlements of the time; the streets, courts, intersections, and other public squares started to be recognised after occupations of people living in the quarter. This character, even today, reflects in the name of the areas and the streets in different parts of the walled city.
The growth beyond for walls is said to have started only from the 1960s.
– AzharTyabji, 2008
2001 and onwards: The inner city of Bhuj saw massive devastation as the aftermath of the 2001 earthquake. A major fast-paced development was required to accommodate the people who had lost not only their relations but also their incomes, home, and city. A lot of organizations, NGOs and others came forward in an initiative to relocate the people to more open and undeveloped lands outside the walled city while the slow process of clearing up and rethinking the layout of the inner city happened side by side.
Development of transport and network: The damage in the earthquake of 2001, led to the opportunity for the authorities to redefine and introduce major changes in the transport network and connectivity in the area. Three main ring roads formed the basis of connecting the inner and outer edges of the city and also to the other important locations and key areas in the district of Bhuj.
Culture and People
An interesting milieu of people and society can be seen in the residents who call themselves natives of the city. The geographic condition of the land gave it two very different kinds of ethnicities – the hot and dry climate housing people with an inherent nomadic culture and the proximity to the western coastline, creating opportunities for seafarers, tradesmen, and merchant class. Another group of people is the various families with different occupations that came with the earlier nobles and settled down as the first families of the city. The third group of people that form a part of the city are due to its proximity to the international border which is less than 200 km. This group of people is the ones who migrated to Bhuj and other parts of the Kutch district during the Partition in 1947. This type of cultural mix that resides in the city brings about a very exciting, dynamic, eclectic, and multicultural quality within the city character.
A person visiting the city of Bhuj can definitely be drawn to its colorful people, social diversity, and most importantly the historicity defined beyond its gated walls, remaining old structures and heritage.
The old palace complex with Prag Mahal and Aina Mahal, the beautiful Hamirsar Lake precinct with its restored ghats and pavilions, Ram Kundand the Old Swaminarayan Temple; all tell the story of Bhuj’s organic grain and socio-urban lifestyle. Albert Hall museum near the Hamirsarlake is one of the earliest museums in the country.
The region of Kutch is rich in its urban and social characteristics. Dholavira- an excavated town dating to the Indus Valley Civilisation, the historic town of Lakhpat, the port of Mundra, and the merchant town of Mandvi are some of the important towns in the history of Kutch, each with its own unique characteristics and identity. A walk down the streets of any of these towns is an enriching experience by itself.