LAST MAN STANDING
If someone told you a story of the swashbuckling capture of a dreaded dacoit, you wouldn’t think of a Parsi gentleman as the protagonist, would you? But that’s exactly what Pestonji Sorabji Bhujwala did. The first of his name.
The grateful British bestowed upon him the title of Khan Bahadur. But it was not just valour that distinguished him from lesser mortals. It was he who was instrumental in eradicating the dreaded plague in Mandvi, he who built the first (and only) agiary in Kutch, and, of course, The Bhuj House, way back in 1894. There were around 20 Parsi families living in Bhuj at that time. But after Kutch lost its statehood in 1956, their population started dwindling. The 2001 earthquake didn’t help, and time finally came calling on the last permanent Parsi resident of Bhuj, Roda Boatwala, in 2010.
But the memories of childhood kept tugging at Khan Bahadur’s great-grandson, Pestonji the second, and he would visit The Bhuj House, wife and two children in tow, every chance he got. Although a shadow of its former self, it was still home. His son, Jehan, shared the same sentiments, and, in early 2012, he returned to put his ancestral home in order. Three-and-a-half years later, the most charming heritage home stay in Bhuj opened its doors to guests, and Jehan took over the mantle of the last resident Zoroastrian in all of Bhuj.
There are four delightful rooms to pick from, each with a distinct identity of its own. Three rooms are on the ground floor, and open out into the courtyard, while the fourth occupies the first floor, and opens on to a small terrace that’s perfect for a leisurely breakfast. And, as you’re in a Parsi home, putting aside some extra time for meals is a good idea. Between the food, the cosy ambience, and the lovely hosts, this home stay offers more than enough reasons to justify a visit even if you have absolutely nothing else to do in Bhuj.
But that’s a highly unlikely scenario. Kutchi textiles attract visitors from around the world, and Bhuj is at the very heart of this industry. The weaves of Bhujodi and the Ajrak prints might have put it on the world map, but it is the embroidery of Kutch that is its greatest treasure.
An incredibly complex art form with a rich and vast history, it is best understood and appreciated with a visit to the Shrujan Museum at Ajrakpur, 15km away. A monumental labour of love, it deserves at least half a day of your time. But if you want to see the craft being practised, head to the villages, and the best person to do that with is Kuldip of Kutch Adventures India (see Good to Know). A die-hard proponent of responsible tourism, Kuldip has a strong connect with the locals, primarily because of all the relief work he was part of after the devastation of 2001.
For other things to do in and around Bhuj, the homestay’s website is a great resource – of the suggestions Chadva Rakhal, a 12,000-acre private conservatory, and the geological marvel of Khaari Nadi (5km) come recommended. But the real stars of the show are Jehan Bhujwala and his wife Katie, and getting to hang with them is an invaluable bonus in your trip. Boutique properties like The Bhuj House are almost always an accurate reflection of the people who built them, so it is no coincidence that this one is wonderful.
An authentic Parsi homestay experience
As winter is the best time to visit Kutch.
The Bhuj House, Bhuj, Gujarat – FACT SHEET
Closest metro : Mumbai (864km)
Closest city: Ahmedabad (330km)
Closest airport: Bhuj Airport. Air India and Jet Airways fly non-stop to Bhuj daily from Mumbai. The Bhuj House is a 15-minute drive away.
Closest railhead: Bhuj (BHUJ). Take the daily 19115 BDTS Bhuj Express from Mumbai’s Bandra Terminus and return by the 22956 Kutch Express.
Rickshaws are easily available, but none of them have meters – you need to decide on the fare with the driver beforehand. Get a general idea about the price of the journey from your hosts. For longer journeys, it is best to hire a car.
WHERE TO STAY:
The Bhuj House: There are four rooms to choose from, none anything like the other. There’s lovely period furniture, candles that get magically lit every evening, and countless other touches that only people who truly care would provide. Nano, which means small, is the cosiest room of the lot. Rohee’s was where cousin Rohee used to sleep before he relocated, and the room got a makeover. It also has an attached study. Jafri, named after the traditional lattice screen, has twin beds and a semi-outdoor sitting room. Agassi, on the first floor, is the largest of the four, and can sleep up to six people. It also opens out into a private terrace that the cats, who don’t understand the concept of privacy, use with impunity to get to the upper branches of the tree.
WHERE TO EAT:
When you have access to authentic Parsi food, it’s just silly to want to venture anywhere else. Khurshed, the manager of the property, is also a trained chef and loves to feed. Knock yourself out with akuri (masala scrambled eggs) or pora (omelette) for breakfast, dhansak dal (made from lentils, meat, veggies), patrani macchi (fished marinated in green chutney and steamed in banana leaves), chicken farchas (fried chicken), or bheeda par eeda (okra with eggs) for lunch or dinner, and sevand ravo(sheera) for dessert. The homestay does an all-veg spread as well, which is also quite tasty.
WHAT TO PACK:
A hat, sunscreen and shades are always a good idea in Kutch. The nights can get a bit chilly, though, so carry something warm.
Shree Kutchi Leva Patel Education and Medical Trust in town has comprehensive medical facilities and is considered the best hospital in Kutch.
People from all over the world make a beeline for Bhuj and its textiles. While shopkeepers here are surprisingly honest, it’s best to stick to reputed places. New Vastrakala has a good collection of scarves, dupattas and shawls. Ratnadeep has a great collection of bedspreads. Vankabhai Rabari operates from his home and has a nice collection of antique Kutch embroidered pieces. If you’re in the mood to splurge, the shop at Shrujan Museum has an incredible collection of shawls, scarves, stoles, and embroidered panels.
This isn’t a child-centric destination – best to leave them at home for this one.
Bhuj still retains its friendly, small-town flavour and is safe at all times of the day.
GOOD TO KNOW:
Although the weavers of Bhujodi have received a lot of exposure due to its proximity to Bhuj, there are plenty of equally good artisans in nearby villages who could use your support. Kuldip is the best person to take you there as well as to Chadva Rakhal and Khaari Nadi. But do book in advance as he is in great demand.