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Around the World in 80 Days Revisited

Mumbai 14 October 2008

The Jubilee Hospital 
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Bhuj: The Jubilee Hospital, shattered by the earthquake of 2001.
Michael Palin - Around the World in 80 Days RevisitedWe eventually reach the town of Bhuj, the capital of Kutch and the end of the line, some fifteen hours after leaving Mumbai. On Republic Day, 26 January 2001, a terrible tragedy befell this place. Bhuj was close to the epicentre of an earthquake with a strength of 8.9, and at least 80,000 were killed. Aid and reconstruction came quickly and the central area of town is apparently much improved, with wider streets and better-built, low-rise accommodation. But there are some buildings which still stand as witnesses to the power of the earthquake, including the Jubilee Hospital, once a fine example of the graceful Anglo-Indian style, her strong stone walls now cracked and tottering. As we drive to Mandvi, forty miles due south, the surroundings become less industrial and the countryside greener. Fields of cows and narrow lanes with their arches of overhanging trees remind me of East Anglia. Mandvi is approached by a bridge over a very dry tidal creek. There has always been a shipbuilding industry here. Its heyday was the 18th century when four hundred ships were moored up in the estuary, including one that went all the way to England. Now, with the pile up of sediment, it's a shadow of its former self.

We're staying just outside the town, in a 'beach resort' comprising ten colourfully striped tents and a dog that howls like a maniac in the night. The tented camp, beside a long, fine, virtually empty beach, is the property of the Maharao of Kutch. The Maharao, or to give him his full title, HH Maharao Shri Pragmalji Madansinhji III, 19th Maharao of Kutch, apparently owns not just the coast but the sea as well. When I meet him later he clarifies this. He only owns the sea at high tide, when it comes up over his beach. He has a very fine palace next door, open to the public, with polite signs everywhere ranging from 'No Firearms' to 'Kindly Remove Footwear And Maintain Decorum'.
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  • Series: Around the World in 80 Days Revisited
  • Chapter: Mumbai 14 October 2008
  • Country/sea: India
  • Place: Bhuj
  • Book page no: 237

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