Travel back in time to the 17th and 18th centuries to the erstwhile princely state of Gondal and stay in the palaces, now converted into heritage hotels, in Rajkot district in Gujarat, to get a sense of that era
Words: Shivangani Dhawan
The owner of the heritage hotels of Gondal, Jyotendrasinh Vikramsinh, is the grandson of Bhojraj, the man behind the evolution of Gondal. The palaces of Gondal date back to the 17th century and have exotic and legendary stone carvings with exquisite balconies, a fabulous pillared courtyard, delicately carved arches and a unique spiral staircase.
The large chandelier-lit courthouse contains stuffed panthers, gilt wooden furniture and antique mirrors. Also, the private palace museum has a remarkable display of silver caskets which were used to carry messages and gifts of the royals in the past.
“Gondal is an erstwhile 11-gun salute princely state, which spans over a vast area comprising four towns and more than 175 villages,” says Bhavesh V. Radhanpura, general manager, Gondal Palaces.
“The state was modernised under Bhagwat Sinh (Bhojraj’s father), and it became distinguished for the number of educational and public institutions, and for possessing infrastructure that did not exist even in larger princely states or in areas under direct British rule.”
Bhagwat Sinh (1865-1944) not only made education for the girl child free and compulsory, but he also abolished 40 dues including rates, taxes, customs, octroi and export duties. He also started a travelling dispensary, a home for the poor, a hospital, introduced wide roads, drainage systems and electricity supplies in Gondal town.
He also built excellent road and irrigation networks across the state of Gondal connecting its villages and towns.
Gondal consists of three main palaces namely the Riverside palace, the Naulakha palace and the Orchard palace also known as the Huzoor palace. It also has its unique and splendid vintage car collection.
The Riverside palace
Built in 1875 by Bhagwat Sinh for his son Bhojraj, the palace has beautiful lawns and gardens with well-appointed sitting arrangements. “The living room is furnished in typical colonial style architecture with a chandelier, antique wooden furniture and sofas,” says Radhanpura.
The Indian room is decorated with beadwork, brassware and paintings. The palace has now become an 11-room heritage hotel. “All rooms of the hotel are air-conditioned and have TVs and attached baths with hot and cold showers and western fittings,” he adds.
The Naulakha palace
Dating back to the 17th century, the Naulakha is the oldest extant palace in Gondal. “The private palace museum has an impressive display of silver caskets, textiles, brassware, royal wardrobes, library, trophies won by the Gondal princes at motorsports events and a collection of toys,” points out Radhanpura.
The Orchard palace
The palace is surrounded by fruit orchards, lawns and gardens. Also known as the Huzoor palace, it was built in the late 19th century to host personal guests of the maharajas. It has been converted into a seven-room heritage hotel, featuring art décor furniture, antiques and handicrafts from the 1930s and 1940s.
“The room of miniatures is a splendid sitting room with a collection of miniature paintings, brass, and antique furniture,” he adds.
The royal garages have an extensive collection of vintage and classic cars, for which it is famous all over the world. The collection includes a pre-1910 New Engine that belonged to Bhagwat Sinh. It features a superbly crafted gas-operated lamp, curved glass windscreen and woodwork interiors of the coach.
The Delage D8, Daimler and the grand 1935 Mercedes seven-seat saloon are examples of supercharged European cars of the 1920s and 1930s. They are known for their superbly bodywork and high performance.
American cars in the collection include a 1935 Packard two-door convertible coupe, a 1930s Buick convertible and a 1935 Ford convertible. Other cars include a 1941 Cadillac Saloon, a 1947 Cadillac Saloon convertible, a 1947 Buick convertible, a 1947 Oldsmobile, the 1940s Studebaker convertible, the 1947 Lincoln V12 and the 1950s Cadillac Eldorado Limousine.
“The Gondal collection also has Jeeps, station wagons and pick-ups,” says Radhanpura. European cars in the collection include a 1958 Mercedes 300SL two seat roadster, and a 1959 Jaguar XK150.
Indeed, looking at this fascinating collection of vintage cars and also going around the different palaces, one can imagine the majesty of the times when they were occupied by members of the erstwhile royal family.