Culture & Heritage
There are many religions being followed by the people of this city. Usually there is a sense of harmony and co-existence without incident. However, there have been situations in the past in which this delicate social fabric has broken down. Today the city is considered to be a great example of communal equality.
As Bharuch is a renowned tirtha, also known as Bhrigu Tirtha, in many of the Hindu Puranas, it is a host of huge number of temples along the river side.
The Swaminarayan sect is well known for its elaborate and beautiful temples. This too is one such place in the Gujarat town of Bharuch. It is built with pinkish hues and has a tight access and cleanliness policy so it looks very nice and well kept. Quite beautiful indeed. Plenty of parking too
City of Gods: Undai Darwaja & Dasasvamedha Ghat
I head off cheerfully on my exploration with printouts from Google Maps in my bag, because I couldn’t find any tourist maps or useful information online. Walking along the dotted route I’d plotted, I find there are no signs pointing to heritage buildings or sightseeing spots. After a kilometre of trudging through increasingly dusty backstreets, a slope takes me downhill to the Narmada River. The riverbed turns out to be an endless stretch of grassland where cattle graze. Imposing old fortifications loom large along the riverfront. After cross-checking with an archaeological document I’d found online, I determine that this is the historic Undai Darwaja, once a majestic bastion, and one of the nine ancient entrances to the city (open sunrise-sunset; entry free).
A short walk upriver is the Dasasvamedha Ghat, located quite close to a Vamana Temple. The bathing ghat is said to be the place where the demon king Mahabali performed horse sacrifices, giving the ghat its name. It is also believed to be the spot where Vamana, the dwarf avatar of Vishnu, measured the universe in three steps and forced Bali to shift base to the netherworld. The heavily silted riverbed makes it impossible to take holy baths here, but I’m told that just the sight of the Narmada will wash away the sins of three lifetimes.
The surrounding Dandia Bazaar is dotted with old shrines. Among them is the charming Swaminarayan temple, built two centuries ago in memory of a guru who came to Gujarat in the early 1800s. The pebbles from the ground Swaminarayan sat upon during his visit have been incorporated into the temple wall. In the next lane is the Bhrigu Rishi temple. It is believed that Bharuch was originally named Bhrigukachchha after the Vedic sage who lived here. Greek traders abbreviated the name to Barygaza. The current temple was probably built during Maratha rule, or around 1685, on top of the ancient structure in which the saint’s earthly remains are entombed. Next to his samadhi is a statue of Bhrigu in a meditating pose.
Port of Plenty: Hajikhan Bazaar
I follow the old city’s fortifications that begin at Undai Darwaja and continue westward, along the riverbank. In the winding lanes around Hajikhan Bazaar, every other crumbling building has something worth marvelling at. Carved wooden doors are fronted by elaborate verandas with fluted pillars crowned by fine capitals. Several homes are beautifully maintained in freshly painted pastel hues, while others have pristine art deco facades in muted blues and yellows—I feel like Alice in an architectural wonderland. The streets are not crowded, so it is a pleasure to saunter around.
Walking through a square off Vadapada Road, a friendly man invites me to the roof of one of the semi-dilapidated houses. Although he doesn’t know much English he goes on saying “clock, clock.” Puzzled, I follow him up a flight of stairs to the roof. I see the remains of a sundial embedded in a decayed brick wall. My self-appointed guide points out the positions for 12 o’clock and so on, indicating that there used to be an iron rod, the shadow of which showed time accurately when he was a child. The entire building was once the Dutch Factory, or trading post, built in 1617.
Continuing my walk, I meet another gentleman who suggests visiting the local mosque and points up a dirt track. I don’t see a mosque until I climb through some bushes to find a wooden gate with ornate posts. It leads to the modest but splendid Jama Masjid that archaeologist James Burgess made an extensive documentation of in the 1890s, in his handbook On the Muhammadan Architecture of Bharoch, Cambay, Dholka, Champanir, and Mahmudabad in Gujarat. He found it in a state of decay, and wrote that “the beautiful carved ceilings are so blackened with soot that it is scarcely possible to recognise the wonderful richness and variety of their patterns—probably unequalled in India.”
When I visit, a dozen worshippers are praying inside the mosque’s main hall, which has been restored and is in use again. Some of the 48 columns are sculpted with pictorial representations of celestial beings, which I’ve never before seen in a mosque. Different sources give very different construction dates, but Burgess seemed to think it may have been built around A.D. 1300.
Standing inside the hilltop mosque, which reminds me of the pillared temples I had seen in Greece, it is easy to imagine that Greeks once lived hereabouts. These included the anonymous author of the Periplus Maris Erythraei, a marine travel guidebook written in A.D. 80 by a Greek sailor who navigated the Red Sea, Persian Gulf, Malabar and Coromandel coasts, and resided in Barygaza for many years. The author describes the merchandise traded in Barygaza port: Exports included gemstones, cloth, and spices, while imports consisted of metals, especially precious ones, Italian fine wines, as well as “bright-coloured girdles a cubit wide.”
Bazaar Street: Kotparsiwad & Katpur Bazaar
This is a multicultural neighbourhood, I find, because the next building I stop to gawk at is the impressive but uninhabited mansion of Parsi trader Shapoorjee Hormasjee Jambusarwalla. I wish these historic Parsi quarters of Kotparsiwad, were better maintained. There is apparently a municipal plan to restore a selection of the city’s historical buildings, and convert them into schools. Perhaps they will open a few for tourist visits, too.
I amble downhill towards what is marked as Malbari Darwaja on my sketchy map. There stands a substantial stretch of wall at the bottom of the road and in it an ornate but forlorn gateway. As far as I can ascertain, this is the only gate that remains intact from the nine the city originally had. The others survive only as location names. The squat tower-like bastion looming over the gate is a popular hangout for kite fliers.
I climb uphill again and across the hillock to the vicinity of Katpur Darwaja where there seems to be no darwajastanding. Instead I find myself in Katpur Bazaar, which was once a major market selling luxury goods from around the known world. Greek coins were in use from an early date. The bazaar is congested with a throng of shoppers, looking for everything from savoury Gujarati farsan to fashionable burkhas. There’s a covered food market (open until late) at the far end giving off pungent smells of those same spices that the Greeks and the Romans sailed here to purchase. Nowadays, one also gets readymade mixes for local delicacies such as “nylon khaman,” a fast-food version of dhokla made of chickpea flour (its texture is as smooth as nylon).
Turning left at the end of Katpur Bazaar, I reach the Furja area which was once one of Bharuch’s main harbours. To my utter astonishment, I locate a series of sturdy iron bollards dating to the days when the river was used for shipping. They are bolted to a stretch of quay, presumably part of the British-era harbour, which is now a riverside promenade. Here, locals sit and munch on freshly roasted peanuts while taking in the sunset.
Thinking of calling it a day, I head uphill towards an enticing biryani joint I’d spotted that offers half plates at Rs 40. But then, I suddenly see, towering above me, a massive citadel. I’d been so caught up by the busy bazaar, I had not noticed this fortification so overgrown with weeds and bushes that it can be mistaken for a jungle were it not for the kids flying kites from it. Hiking up a path, I get to the top of the citadel from where the vistas are breathtaking. The sun sinking into the Narmada and elderly men sitting around shooting the breeze, add a sense of timelessness to the scene.
Stories from the Raj: Golden Bridg Victoria Clocktower
Gazing upriver, I see the 19th-century Golden Bridge, which almost every Bharuchi tells me is the most important tourist sight in their town. The narrow beam bridge connecting Ankleshwar to Bharuch was built by British engineers during 1877-81 to straddle the Narmada River. It was a hugely expensive project as special rust-resistant iron was used and therefore it was painted golden. Next to it, the British also built a railway bridge, “the silver bridge,” to connect Ahmedabad and Bombay.
Strolling on the citadel hill, I come across the oldest library of South Gujarat, the Raichand Dipchand Library (open 9-12 a.m. and 3-6 p.m.; entry free). The building itself is a sight to behold, standing on low iron pillars, perhaps to stop humidity from seeping up to the books during the monsoon. Inside, I feel I’ve stepped into another time. Built in 1858, it has a fine collection of rare manuscripts in Gujarati and some two lakh other books. The famous scribe Feroze Gandhi, who later became the son-in-law of Jawaharlal Nehru, must have come here when he was a child since his ancestral home is around the corner in Kotparsiwad.