Royal Reminiscence – NILAMBAGH PALACE – BHAVNAGAR

A walk through the history and development of Bhavnagar’s Nilambagh palace

Words: ShivanganiDhawan

The members of the erstwhile royal family of Bhavnagar reside in theNilambagh Palace, a part of which has been converted into a heritage hotel. The family members include Vijayraj Singh Gohil, SamyuktaKumari, YuvrajJaiveerraj Singh Gohil and BrijeshwariKumariGohil.

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Yuvraj studied at Les Roches Hotel School in Switzerland and came back to look after the palace hotel. Brijeshwari completed her degree in archaeology and art history and now manages the art collection at the palace.

With many heritage sites around, the city has seen a surge in tourism. The palace hotel has 26 double bedrooms, including two executive luxury suites. Many of the furniture pieces date back to the royal era. The palace also has an old fully functional elevator along with a one of its kind museum of bird paintings.

The corridors of the palace walls glorify the traditional art and culture of the city, featuring an array of artefacts and handworks of the tribals of the region. The palace hotel also has a stunning Roman-styled pool along with a fully functional health club with the latest equipment.It also has a sprawling tennis court and a martial arts studio.

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Bhavnagar was an independent state ruled by the Gohil family in the pre-Independence era. In 1947, SardarVallabhbhai Patel undertook the ambitious and complex process of unifying 565 princely states with the union and it was the first state to join India.

The Nilambagh Palace was founded by BhavsinhjiGohil and was built in the 18th century. It is set amidst a huge 10-acre estate and was designed by a German architect. The building fused elements of Indian architecture with a contemporary outlook. The palace is now redesigned to accommodate tourists.

The erstwhile royal family of Bhavnagar is active both in public life and in business. Its interests span hotels, real-estate, agriculture and ship-breaking. SamyuktaKumari is involved in women’s empowerment and education and has started a free pre-school for children in the palace grounds.

About 3,500 girls study at the school, which also has an option for English medium. The family also runs Kumarshala, with about 1,200 boys studying there. The focus is also on sports and fitness and many of the students have represented Gujarat in judo and martial arts competitions.

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Old Bhavnagar was a fortified town with gates leading to other important regional towns and remained a major port for almost two centuries. Bhavsinhji ensured that Bhavnagar benefited from the revenue that was brought in from maritime trade. During the late 19th century, the Bhavnagar State Railway was constructed; it was the first state railway system built without any aid from the central government.

Bhavnagar is also one of the earliest towns to have underground drainage in Gujarat, and was among the first to have a water filtration plant, which was the largest in Asia when set up by Krushna Kumar Sinhji.

It has a rich heritage and the former royalty have played an important part in the prosperity, development and culture of the city and in preserving the heritage.

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