My assignment covering heritage in Gujarat came unannounced. I had the choice of either a car with a driver and guide (and lesser pay) or exploring in my own style (and higher pay!). Of course, I chose the latter. I arrived at Ahmedabad airport with a slight delay and immediately decided to head to Baroda (Vadodara) first and explore Ahmedabad later. I’d called a Punjabi family (who lived in Vadodara); we had met on the Kashmir Great Lakes Trek and they immediately invited me home to stay for as long as I liked.
The National Expressway from Ahmedabad to Vadodara was immaculate and even in a Gujarat State Transport Bus, it took only 2 hours to cover the 110 km distance to reach Vadodara. I quickly said hellos to the family, put my bags and set out to explore Vadodara. I must also say thanks to Jitin (from Pushkar, 2014) and Dhaval for showing me around Vadodara. I hope this blog post does a good job of becoming A Guide to Places to Visit in Vadodara (the erstwhile princely state of Baroda).
Introduction to Vadodara
Vadodara is situated on the banks of the Vishwamitri River (Still has around 200 crocodiles) and was originally known as Baroda. It is widely regarded as a cultural town and a industrial hub as well. The city has an interesting folklore and factual anecdote as to why it was named Vadodara : Vad in the local language means the Banyan tree and Vadodara was full of Banyan trees. The British apparently changed the name to Baroda to make it easier for pronunciation. It was renamed to Vadodara in 1974.
Stunning architecture at Laxmi Vilas Palace.
Baroda had an underground drainage line by 1895, and was among one of the first few well planned cities of India. Maharaja Sayajirao III was the first Indian ruler to introduce compulsory and free primary education in 1906. Maharaja Pratap Singh Gaekwad of Baroda State was once considered the 8th richest man in the world.
Among other things, the biggest surprise came for me was when I was informed that the 1871 built Nazarbaug Palace had been torn down and was replaced by a shopping mall. It was a grand structure that also served as Gaekwad’s home (the ruling family of Baroda.)
History of Vadodara
Vadodara was the royal residence of the Gaekwads from 1721 to 1947 : The Gaekwad rule of Vadodara began in 1721 when the Marathas overthrew Mughal control over the city. Peshwa Bajirao I granted the territory as a fief to the Gaekwads. The Peshwas were the ruling leaders of the Maratha Empire.
The Maratha Empire declined by the beginning of the 19th Century and Baroda State was formed. The British recognised the Gaekwad rulers’ independence from the Maratha Empire in exchange of accepting British suzerainty.
A Travel Guide to Must Visit Attractions of Vadodara
Laxmi Vilas Palace (Also Lakshmi Vilas Palace and Lukshmi Vilas Palace)
Laxmi Vilas Palace is an opulent home of the Rulers of Baroda which is built in the Indo-Saracenic style of architecture design. It is set inside a sprawling green ground, and is replete with a golf course with colourful birds strutting around. It was commissioned by Maharaja Sayaji Rao III in 1878 as his residence, and took 12 years to build and was completed in 1890. The architect in charge of designing it was Major Charles Mant.
Entry fee is a steep 225 Rupees and DSLR photography is not allowed at all.
Some interesting features of Laxmi Vilas Palace :
- Lukshmi Villas Palace is four times the size of Buckingham Palace.
- Maharaja Sayaji Rao III named it after his third wife, Rani Laxmibai from Tanjore
- It was built with elevators 130 years ago, a big feat at that time.
- Built at a cost of 180,000 GBP (Pounds).
- It has 170 rooms but was originally built for only 2 people : Laxmi Vilas Palace served as the private residence of the royal couple; Sayajirao Gaekwad III and his wife.
- Amalgamation of designs of different religions : Mughal style Islamic domes, Church-like tower, Hindu and Jain motifs, and Gothic architectural elements are present in different parts of the exterior in Laxmi Vilas Palace (As explained by the staff in the Laxmi Vilas Palace Museum office.)
- A miniature railway line was constructed by the Maharaja to commute his children between the palace and the school, which was housed in the Fatehsingh Museum.
Inside Laxmi Vilas Palace
Only a few sections of Laxmi Vilas Palace are open for visitors. Namely, 11 exhibits can be seen and with the audio guide make for an interesting tour (Audio guide is included in the 225 Rupee charge). Among the highlights to be noticed in the interiors is the enormous Durbar Hall with Venetian mosaic floor and stained Belgian glass windows. It was decorated when I visited, in celebrations for Ganesh Chaturthi. In the exhibits, do not miss the an armoury collection including Mughal Emperor Aurangzeb’s sword, and six stunning masterpiece paintings by Raja Ravi Varma.
Outdoor photography with phone is allowed; i.e. you can click pictures of the exterior of Laxmi Vilas Palace with your phones but can’t click with dslr cameras. According to the staff, the present Raja has started this rule and began charging INR 15000 for 1 hour of dslr photography of the exterior. I really liked the small shop at the Laxmi Vilas Palace; the office lady there told me that the designs on the cloth, shawls, stoles and bags are personally chosen by the present queen. The prices of the same were quite exorbitant though and I couldn’t bother to buy anything. The lady also informed me that the entire staff is maratha and that the king prefers it that way.
There is also a small café in the Palace premises and I’d highly recommend some chai and snacks here for the regal feel. The office staff handing out audio guides has served in the Palace for over 20 years and a chat with them will tell you a few secrets of Laxmi Vilas Palace! My favourite time at Laxmi Vilas Palace was simply sitting in the gardens overlooking the golf course (a game was in progress) and gazing at the extremely beautiful Palace. The staff also mentioned that the present ruler wants to convert Laxmi Vilas Palace into a heritage hotel and that talks are currently ongoing for the same.
Laxmi Vilas Palace clicked from different sides and angles!
Maharaja Fateh Singh Museum
The Maharaja Fateh Singh Musem is Gaekwad family’s private art and artefacts collection. Among the dazzling collection is a range of Japanese, Indian, Chinese and European art collected by the Maharajas. It is located very close to Laxmi Vilas Palace and should be combined with a trip to the Palace itself.
Entry fee is Rupees 200 and photography is strictly not allowed inside Maharaja Fateh Singh Museum. There’s a spectacular gallery with poignant Gaekwad family portraits made by Raja Ravi Varma. Among other interesting things is a huge turban collection, the world’s smallest locomotive engine (from Baroda railway), and an exquisite collection of prints that look like oil paintings. Maharaja Fateh Singh Museum was originally constructed to function as a school for the Maharaja’s children.
Maharaja Sayajirao University (M S University)
Also known as M S University, the Maharaja Sayajirao University is a highly respected and reputed institute of learning. The M S University is huge and has great heritage value as construction was started in 1879. It was known as Baroda College back then. Baroda College was converted into Maharaja Sayajirao University in 1949, after India’s independence.
Among the salient features of the M S University – The Art Faculty’s Dome is the second largest dome in entire India (The largest is Gol Gumbaz, Bijapur). M S University is most well known for its Archaeological department and the Faculty of Fine Arts. It caters to over 1 lakh students. I was lucky to explore the University with Dhaval who had studied at M S University itself; we walked inside some old corridors and had a great time exploring the old architecture. Highly recommend a stroll in the University campus at your own pace, surely one of the greatest universities in India.
Vadodara Museum (Baroda Museum & Picture Gallery)
Possibly, the biggest collection that I’ve ever seen at a museum. The charming red building of the Baroda Museum & Picture Gallery was constructed in the Indo-Saracenic style in 1894. It lies inside Sayaji Bagh (Sayaji Gardens) and for a visitor not expecting it; may come across as a Church or a Cathedral at the first glance. The entry fees is only 10 Rupees and huge crowds throng the place clicking selfies outside the Baroda Museum building.
I was taken aback when I saw that statues in display in the garden were older than 1000 years and they had been left in the open. There was no glass casing etc and just a small shade on top to protect the statue in the rain. In the few minutes I spent in the garden, I saw kids and elders alike touch the statues. If the authorities are reading this; please make necessary arrangements – the setting for these priceless statues needs to be changed.
Baroda Museum and Picture Gallery is said to have been designed along the lines of the Victoria & Albert Museum in Great Britain. The Museum has artefacts from all over the world, which was once-upon-a-time Maharaja Sayajirao’s personal collection. The galleries have a rich collection of art and textiles from across the world. There is a separate exhibit for archeological finds from different parts of Gujarat and also Mughal miniatures.
Excellent collection in this huge museum ranging from sculptures and artefacts from Japan, Tibet, Nepal, China and Egypt. There’s also a fantastic collection of rocks in the museum. Another fascinating exhibit is of Indian musical instruments and traditional dresses. The piece de resistance of Vadodara Museum is the skeleton of a blue whale that was found washed up at the mouth of the Mahi river in 1972. The skeleton is never-ending; and at 22m is actually so! I was also aware of an Egyptian Mummy in Baroda Museum but am not sure if it still exists.
I am a firm believer that Museums are a great place to learn more about the history, heritage, culture, arts and crafts and if you do too; then keep aside a comfortable 3 hours to explore the Baroda Museum & Picture Gallery. Photography is not allowed inside the museum.
Kirti Mandir is the mausoleum of Vadodara’s rulers, and was built by Maharaja Sayajirao Gaekwad in 1936. At the time of building, it cost approx. 5 Lakh Rupees in construction. The buildings are constructed in perfect symmetry and look very imposing. Alas, it was a Sunday and Kirti Mandir was closed for a visit.
We were lucky to admire its exterior beauty. I had been recommended this place by Mr. Zaveri (my Facebook friend and author of 7 books on wall paintings). The insides of Kirti Mandir are painted with colourful murals and scenes from Mahabharata and Bhagvad Gita. They were painted by Nandlal Bose, a renowned modern artist whose work was declared a ‘national treasure’.
Sayaji Bagh also called Sayaji Garden
Sayaji Bagh is an enormous green park in the heart of Vadodara city. It is spread over an area of over 100 acres and is home to more than 90 varieties of trees. Other museums are inside the garden itself; the planetarium, zoo and a vintage looking toy train are also there in Sayaji Bagh. It is Baroda’s favourite place for going out on a sunday, especially for the middle class with kids. The toy train is a huge draw!
The planetarium in a corner of the Garden complex has a show in English at 5 pm and Hindi at 6 pm. There’s also a zoo in Sayaji Bagh; I saw a few spotted deers and crocodiles while strolling towards the exit gate.
Sayaji Bagh Garden is the oldest and the largest among all the gardens in Vadodara city. Parking space is a problem when entering Sayaji Bagh because I remember there was nowhere to park the bike outside, and all the spaces were bursting. Best to come on a weekday and combine it with a visit to the Baroda Museum and Picture Gallery.
Honestly, I’d not heard about Tambekar Wada before setting foot in Vadodara. It was a random name I had noted down which became a must visit after my meeting with Mr. Pradip Zaveri. It is a typical Maratha Mansion which was the mansion of Bhau Tambekar (Vitthal Khanderao) who was the Diwan of Baroda from 1849 to 1854. It was Sunday and I was skeptical whether Tambekar Wada would be open for a visit or not. It was a moment of good luck when the lady in-charge agreed to let me in because I had come faraway from Rajasthan!
Lying in an obscure-looking lane are some of India’s most beautiful murals made in the 19th century. Tambekar Wada is under Archaeological Survey of India (ASI). As we took the stairs to get to the first floor, we noticed that every inch of the mansion’s walls, doors, and ceilings were covered with frescoes and murals. The murals range from Indian mythology to everyday life and historical events.
Check : The Havelis of Shekhawati
Walls depict paintings showcasing scenes from Ramayana and Mahabharata; and scenes of local and European life can also be noticed. The ceiling of the bigger hall is ornate and the side walls are all covered in colourful paintings; albeit in a damaged state. It is an identical scenario as we ascend to the first floor – Similar room layout and paintings. The stand out feature are the doors in the square rooms on both the floors; the doors are adorned with beautiful murals in a unique style. Please check the pictures for reference.
Tomb of Qutub-ud-din Muhammad Khan
Special thanks to Dhaval for showing me this monument. Since I had only associated Baroda as a city with a predominantly Hindu heritage; the mausoleum came as a big surprise. It is also known as Hazira Maqbara and contains the graves of Qutub-ud-din Muhammad Khan (Prince Salim’s (Jahangir’s) tutor) and his son Naurang Khan. Naurang Khan held important positions in Gujarat during the reign of Emperor Akbar.
The structure was situated in a lovely garden lined with tall palm trees. Inside the mausoleum, the jaali work was intricate and beautiful calligraphy was written on the walls. The exterior dome of the mausoleum was huge and the Tomb looked like a peaceful place. As we took a walk around the main domed structure, I noticed a number of tombs near the garden.
According to a ASI signboard : Qutub-ud-din Muhammad Khan was the uncle of Mirza Aziz Koka, who was the foster brother of Akbar and was Governor of Gujarat thrice between 1573 & 1583.
Railway Heritage Park (Pratap Nagar Railway Station)
Opposite to Pratap Nagar Railway Station is Goya Gate where the Railway Heritage Park is located. Pratapnagar station was earlier known as Goya Gate.
The garden is a nice place to relax and walk around the Railway Heritage Park. There is a model narrow gauge station at its centre, complete with tracks, signals, lamp-posts and even a couple of carriages. It was set up the railway division to commemorate completion of 150 years of arrival of the railways at Vadodara. The written history takes a visitor through the timeline from 1853 – the birth of Indian railways, arrival of train in Baroda in 1861 and opening of Vadodara railway division in 1956.
Dhundiraj Ganpati Temple
Supposed to be the oldest temple in Vadodara, temple of Dhundiraj Ganesh was quite difficult to find. It was situated in the Wadi area of the city and looked like a Rajasthani Haveli from the outside. The wooden columns and panels in the inside of the temple were very pretty. What I was really interested were the paintings in the temple but the door was locked. Upon asking around, someone directed us to the home of the family that owned the temple.
We spoke to Mr. Manral; he explained that the family trust owned the temple and that we would need to submit a written request if we wanted to see the paintings inside. Then the trust members would take a decision. I thanked him for the information, but we couldn’t actually see much at the temple. Dhundiraj Ganpati Temple is more than 170 years old and the entire building is made of wood, as informed by Mr. Mairal.
Sri Aurobindo Niwas
While going from the new city to the old city (Wadi area) in Vadodara, Dhaval’s eyes spotted the red structure of Aurobindo Niwas. Sadly, entry to the house was closed due to it being Sunday. Most readers would be able to identity Sri Aurobindo by the Aurobindo Ashram in Pondicherry. Aurobindo Ghose was a freedom fighter and also a philosopher. Aurobindo Niwas feels like a very spiritual and calm place. There’s a library in the premises and also a dedicated space for meditation.
According to a local’s account – Aurobindo Ghose stayed for 13 years in Vadodara; he was a Private Secretary to Maharaja Sayajirao and Professor of English in Baroda Collage.
Eating in Baroda
Baroda has a unique taste in food mostly because of the amalgamation of the Maratha rule and the local Gujarati population. Missal Pav and Sev Usal at Mahalaxmi is famous and Tam Tam at Shriram TamTamwala. For taking back home, Jagdish Farsan Shop has a ‘Lila Chevda’ made from papaya.
2-3 days are ideal for exploring Vadodara and take in the sights. I went around on my own and was really lucky to have locals show me around Vadodara. The Vadodara Municipal Corporation’s (VMC) Vadodara Darshan Bus is a recommended way to explore Vadodara in a comfortable manner. The bus has a fixed route and takes the tourists to 6 points of interest which cover the major attractions. The charges are also very reasonable at 100 Rupees.
If you can manage an entry; The Maharaja Pratapsinh Coronation Gymkhana, popularly known as the Polo Club of Baroda is a must visit. I am blessed with a Club Card of an esteemed club in Jaipur and hence had the privilege of visiting Polo Club in Vadodara!
Apart from the places mentioned above; other important and popular sights in Vadodara are : Iskcon Temple, EME Temple (Also called Dakshina Murty Temple) and Sursagar Lake with a huge statue of Shiva in the middle. Central Library is another must visit in Vadodara (there’s apparently a glass floor to walk on!).
Swami Vivekananda Memorial is another place one can visit. Vadodara has night vegetable markets and there’s also a food market which is open till 4-5 in the morning! What a surprise!! Also worth a quick visit are Nyaya Mandir; a fine Indo-Saracenic building, now used as a Court of Law. Maharaja Khanderao Market Building is a must see for the elaborate entrance and the properly laid out vegetable market that is fully functional even today.
Liked this post and my explorations? Let me know in the comments below.