From the ‘Taj of Gujarat’ to its palatial seat of royalty, the quaint former kingdom of Rajpipla is dotted with little-known remnants of heritage and old world charm.
Rajpipla is a small town in the Narmada district of Gujarat – a charming old place that served as the capital of the erstwhile kingdom of Rajpipla. Interestingly, Maharaja Vijaysinhji won the Epsom Derby – one of the world’s most prestigious horse races – back in 1934, becoming the only Indian to have ever won this race! He was part of the Gohil Rajput family, which ruled here from the 14th century till 1948, when the kingdom finally merged into the union of India. A peaceful little place with farms and banana plantations, and the Narmada river flowing close by, Rajpipla also happens to be one of the most literate towns of Gujarat, with education playing an important role here. The town has maintained a large part of its heritage and colonial charm, dotted with impressive palaces built by the royal family. Many of these are still owned and run by its members, while some are now in the hands of the government or other private individuals. Several schools and colleges function out of erstwhile palaces and majestic houses.
One of the most important places in Rajpipla is the Rajwant Palace, which is still occupied by the family, headed by Maharaja Raghubir Singh. Within the palace is a small museum dedicated to the history of the dynasty. One can see inside some beautiful objects d’arts and antiquities. The palace is a delight, with its beautiful stained glass windows and wooden flooring. Today, much of the palace is empty as the family uses only a part of it, and the grounds are often used for film shootings.
One of the gems of the town is undoubtedly the Vadia Palace. Built in the 1930’s in Indo-Saracenic style and set within extensive grounds, it is referred to as the ‘Taj of Gujarat’. The palace was bought by the government in the 1960’s and today functions as an office for the Forest Department. Thought not much of its grandeur remains today, one can still see glimpses of it in the art deco fittings, Burma teak staircases and exquisite flooring. It exists in, what can be best described as, a state of benign neglect.
We had the privilege of being hosted by Kr. Harendrapal Singh of Poshina state and got the opportunity to experience true Rajput hospitality from our gracious host. Kr. Singh’s mother hails from Rajpipla and he has inherited Natwar Palace from her. The palace is a delight with large, graceful living and dining rooms decorated with vintage art deco furniture. Portraits of family members adorn the house, imparting a sense of familial history to the palace. The medium of decoration here is wall paintings. In fact, according to family legends, the rooms here had once been painted with nude figures but, as Kr. Singhs mother was growing up, they were painted over with paintings of foliage and birds! We also met his cousin Indra Vikram Singh who is a writer and publisher and has written extensively on cricket, currently researching the history and heritage of Rajpipla.
Interestingly enough, a Parsi community also lived here and one of the Diwans of the state belonged to the community. There is a small Parsi colony with lovely bungalows as well – some of them are well kept while some are in a dilapidated condition.
On our way to Rajpipla, we experienced something very interesting. Right outside the town, there are banana farms till as far as the eyes can see. The farmers have turned them into little enterprises where one can see banana chips being made and can also get some of these freshly made snacks – straight from the farm’s huge frying pan! The freshness and deliciousness of the chips can only be experienced, not described in words. It is an unexpected sight for eyes used to seeing the city.
As we saw the palaces, buildings and clock towers and walked around, it wasn’t difficult to imagine the grandeur that must have once existed in this little town near the Narmada. These places lend this lovely town a distinctive old world charm which can only be experienced to get a true feel of it.
Do visit the town and experience the same delights that we did. Rajpipla would make an excellent place for a one day trip or a weekend visit from Ahmedabad. It provides a relaxed and refreshing atmosphere away from the city. We hope that some of the palaces turn into homestays or hotels so that visitors can experience the Rajput hospitality and grandeur.
Photographs : Chirashree Thakkar and Anshika Jain
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