The Saurashtra and Kutch peninsular in the Gujarat had, in days gone by, due to its unique geographical position, provided a safe sanctuary to people fleeing armed invasions and natural calamities. The armed onslaught from west Asia, seeking the riches of the subcontinent, chose either the routes through the Khyber Pass in the northwest or the more difficult passage along the coast of Makran and the Great Thar Desert thus leaving the peninsula relatively peaceful.
As a consequence the area is home to an amalgam of ethnic groups, among them being the Rajputs who-because of persistent attacks from the Caliphs of Baghdad on Sindhu between the 8th and 11th century-were forced to flee southward with their entourage of courtiers, traders and faithful soldiers.
The movement continued unabated well into the 16th century (1540 AD), till Jam Raval, the Jadeja chief of Kutch and founder of Jamnagar, entered Saurashtra with an army of 4,000 warriors pushing the Jethura rulers against the seaboard of Porbander.
In the 18th century the Gaekwads of Baroda and later the British brought into Saurashtra and Kutch, a measure of stability. The treaty of 1818 imposed by Colonel Walker on behalf of the East India Company, finally helped freeze borders between nearly 200 kingdoms and a political agent administered the region from Rajkot. In the subsequent political quiet of the 19th century, monetary resources-otherwise spent on the battlefield-were used for the construction of beautiful palaces and mansions .
Badhara Fort – Ahmedabad
The Mughal palace of Badhra fort is the world’s most unusual post office. The governor of the Mughal Empire in Gujarat, Shah Alam built it. He was well known for his prolific works of architecture that people knew him as Udai (the termite), now opened as a post office. The palace with it’s huge arches, ornate balconies and jalis, is a part of the historic Badhra fort founded by sultan Ahmed Shah on 1411 AD, which once spanned 44 acres and had pavilions and gardens, but is now limited to a few square and circular bastions that loom impressively over the city crowds.
Shah Azam built here a small Badhra Kali temple, which was extended by the Marathas and is now one of the most important temples in Ahmedabad. It is believed Goddess Laxmi had appeared in this fort, and blessed Sultan Ahmed Shah, that the city would be always prosperous,” and since then the people of Ahmedabad have been very rich and the city has been a major centre of trade and commerce. The fort has an archeological survey of India office, a Sardar Patel memorial museum, a Kali temple, a statue of the first textile industrialist in Ahmedabad and a court.
Nilambagh Palace – Bhavnagar
Nilambagh, which means Turquoise garden was originally known as Huzoor Mahal. It was built outside the city walls of Bhavnagar around 1875 for the young prince Raja Takhtasinh Gohel.In 1933 Nilambagh Palace was completely renovated by a German – Polish architect. Maharaja Virbadhrasinh Gohel found the upkeep of the palace very difficult as he was hardly living there and due to the abolition of the Privy Purse. In 1986 Nilambagh Palace was opened as a hotel. It has 14 rooms and suites, dining hall (Serving Continental and Indian meals), garden tea lounge, banquet and conference facilities, library and spacious grounds.
Aina Mahal (Old palace) – Bhuj
This is a beautiful museum, built in the 18th century as the palace of Maharao Lakhpatji. It has a Hall of Mirrors with white marble walls covered with mirrors and gilded ornaments; the floor is lined with tiles with a platform above it surrounded by a series of fountains. The room also has a chandelier of Venetian glass. It lies in the old part of the city, in a small, fortified courtyard and houses some very rare idols.
City Palace Bhuj
The Raos of Kutch who belong to the Jadeja sub-clan of Sindh, descended upon the region in the middle of the 11th century. The most illustrious of them, Lakho Fulani, expanded his kingdom in the second half of the 12th century when Kumarpal Solanki ruled over much of Gujarat and Malwa.
Prag Mahal (New Palace) – Bhuj
Constructed in 1979, the Prag Mahal is a magnificent building made of ornate Italian marble and sandstone. Its Corinthian pillars and Jali work depicting European flora and fauna are worth observing.
Sarad Bagh Palace – Bhuj
Set in spacious and beautiful tended gardens, the palace itself, built in 1867, is of very modest proportions, with just a drawing room downstairs and a bedroom upstairs. The dining room is in separate building and on display here are a number of Maharao’s personal possessions, including his video player. The last Maharao died in the U.K in 1991 and his palace to the west of the lake has been turn into a small museum. Also on display is his coffin, in which his body was brought back from the U.K for cremation. The palace is open from 9 am to noon and 3 to 6 p.m Saturday to Thursday.
Naulakha Palace – Gondal
The oldest extant palace in Gondal, the 17th Century Naulakha palace is a festival of stone carvings with exquisite Jarokha balconies, a fabulous pillared stud courtyard, delicately carved arches and a unique spiral staircase. The private palace museum has an impressive display of silver caskets which carried messages and gifts for Maharajah Bhagwat Sinhji on hills silver jubilee as ruler of Gondal, one of the many golden caskets received by him on his 50th anniversary, the weighing scales on which he was measured against silver and gold on the respective anniversaries, and princely relics.
Lakhota Fort – Jamnagar
This diminutive palace that once belonged to the maharaja of Nawanagar is today Jamnagar’s museum and its terraces display a fine collection of sculptures that span the period from the 9th to 18th century. The Kotha Bastion is Jamnagar’s arsenal. One of the most interesting sights is the old well, from which water can be drawn by blowing into a hole on the floor.
Under Maharjah Bhagwat Sinhji, Gondal became a progressive state. The ‘Purdah’ was abolished, education was made compulsory for girls and ‘Zananas’ (restricted women’s wing) were no longer built in palaces. The present owner of the palaces of Gondal is the great – grandson of Maharajah Bhagwat Sinhji.
Gondal Palace – Junagarh
Located in the town of Junagarh in Gujarat, the owners of the palaces of Gondal are descendants of Lord Krishna and the moon God, who ruled Gondal for more than 300 years. But it was in the late-19th and early 20th century under Maharjah Bhagwat Sinhji that Gondal grew into one of the most progressive princely states of the region with an efficient system of a taxless economy.
Uperkot Fort – Junagarh
It is believed to have been constructed by the Yadavas (the clan to which Krishna belonged) when they came to settle in Dwarka. Famous in bygone times for its virtual inaccessibility, the Uperkot or upper fort is girdled by a wall that is, in some places, over 20 mtrs high. An ornate entrance gateway leads to the ruins.
The fort has many interesting exhibits like the two guns placed on the western wall and believed to have been cast in Egypt. The bigger one is called the Nilamtope and the other one is known as Kadanal. In and around the fort one can find several Buddhist caves belonging to the 200 B.C. to 200 A.D era.
In the Uperkot is a two storied cave said to belong to the first century which is believed to be a Buddhist Chaitya cave. There are also Buddhist caves at Bava Pyara Math found below the Southern walls of Uperkot arranged in three rows. Scholars believe that they are Buddhist caves possibly belonging to the period between 200 B.C to 200 A.D.
Balaram Palace Hotel – Palanpur
An interesting stopover between Ahmedabad and Mount Abu is the Balaram Palace, which is certainly one of the most exciting renovations in Gujarat. This was the former forest palace of the Lohani Nawab family, who ruled Jalore for nearly 14 generations from the late 14th century onwards. The palace was erected in the 1930s during the rule of Sir Talej Muhammad Khan, 20th Jalori Nawab of Palanpur, who also commissioned the Kirti Stambha (tower of victory), Zorawar City Palace and King George V Club in Palanpur. It has now been taken over by the Gopi Group, who have been in the catering line for several years, and been renovated to its former grandeur with a lavish Nawabi style garden, lawns for parties, swimming pool, indoor games, multi-gym health club, restaurant, conference hall, board meeting room and other deluxe facilities. The double bedrooms and suites have refrigerators, air-conditioning, intercoms and colour TVs. Forests, which extend into the Balaram Ambhaji and Jessore Wildlife Sanctuaries, surround the palace and 13 acres of green hills are part of the private palace estate.
The Palace – Utelia
Around 150 kilometers from Baroda, 78 kilometers from Ahmedabad and en route to Bhavnagar, the Palace Utelia is a grandiose turn-of-the-century haveli (mansion), which is specially imposing when compared to the hutments that crowd its high walls. The architectural style is predominantly Indo-Saracenic, and includes domes, pillars, arches and Gujarati haveli style facades. The portioned entrance archway leads to a row of columns on a high plinth and from here one reaches the twisting staircase to the main dining hall, which is illuminated by chandeliers and spanned by portraits. A total of 14 double bedrooms have been renovated to match the grandeur of the building and feature attached baths with running hot-and-cold showers, and dressing space. Some of the beds are real period pieces inlaid with mirrors and ornate decorations. Each of the rooms open onto private balconies or common verandahs with splendid views of the River Bhugavo where demoiselle and common cranes gather. Even if you are not staying here, it is worth dropping in for lunch on the way to Ahmedabad and Bhavnagar or Palitana.
The Palace Utelia has its own stable of horses and bullock carts for rides in the village or the surrounding countryside. For more accomplished riders, 3 to 5 day cross country horseback safaris can be arranged by the owners with tented camping arrangements along the way. You can also hire 4 – wheel drive jeeps for trips to Velavadar National Park, a 36 square kilometers tract to Savannah type grassland, where you can see the largest herds of blackbuck antelope in India today and one of the worlds greatest harrier-hawk roosts. Jeep excursions can include a picnic lunch if you propose to spend a full day at the Park. Another sanctuary near utelia is Nalsarovar, which mainly comprises a 100 odd square kilometers lake and its surrounding marshes. There are country boats here for trips on the lake and you can see flamingoes, pelicans, ducks, geese, cranes, storks, ibises and herons of myriad species at reasonably close range.
Both Indian and Continental meals are uniformly good, and buffets in the dining hall are reasonably priced. Courtyard barbecues, enlivened by folk dances and music of the Padhar fisherfolk or Bharwad shepherds can be arranged on request.
The Laxmi Vilas Palace – Vadodara
Designed in Indo-Saracenic style of architecture, the palace built by Maharaja Sayajirao 111 in 1890 is till date the residence of the Royal family. Its ornate Darbar Hall has an Italian mosaic floor and walls with mosaic decorations. The Palace houses a remarkable collection of old armoury and sculptures in bronze, marble & terracotta.
Vadodara, originally Vadapadraka means a village amidst the banyan trees. Historical findings take us back to the 9th century where we find reference to a town called Ankottaka, which can be identified as present day Akota. Located on the right bank of the river this place was prone to floods and therefore in the later period Vadapadraka displaced Ankottaka as the administrative headquarters.
Ankottaka was a famous center of Jainism and Jain Studies towards 5th & 6th Century A.D. The hoard of metallic Jain images-Akota Bronzes-can be seen in the Vadodara Museum and are of immense value.
Sea Side Palace of Babi Nawab, Veraval
‘Subedar’ Sher Khan Babi, who owed allegiance to the Sultan of Ahmedabad, declared his independence in the 18th century (1748 AD) and assumed the name Bahadur Khan when he came to power in Junagadh. The Babi Nawabs of Junagadh went on to conquer large territories in south Saurashtra. The last Nawab, Mohabbat Khan, opted to live in Pakistan in 1947.
The Palace – Wankaner
After ruling for several centuries from a less imposing city palace, the Maharajahs of Wankaner erected the awe-inspiring Ranjit Vilas Palace, an impressive three storied building in the unique blend of Venetian, Gothic, Rajput and Islamic styles with arches, domed minarets and clock tower. Unfortunately not in the palace but at the Royal Oasis Guest House, with double bedrooms appointed with original furniture from the 1930s and 40s art deco style, with original art deco marble bathrooms, a swimming pool from the same period and an exquisitely carved step well which acts as a natural cooling system. If you wish to stay closer to the palace, opt for the Residency Guest House with Burma teak, planters’ chairs and other period trappings. There is an indoor swimming pool here, a collection of vintage cars, a stable of riding horses and arrangements for folk concerts.