This post is the second in a series documenting our travels to the state of Gujarat in November 2021. We had driven from Mumbai on day 1 and seen the Statue of Unity on our way to Vadodara . (Gujarat Road Trip, Part 1 – Visiting the Statue of Unity )
We reached Baroda (I might go back to the old name Baroda intermittently out of habit , no offence intended!) in the evening tired physically and mentally ( pandemic and teeming crowds don’t go well together!). We had booked a room at the Fern – An Ecotel Hotel in Vadodara. It turned out to be a very good hotel for the price. In addition to the standard bells and whistles that a chain hotel provides you with, it had a surprisingly good in-house restaurant. After a short nap we went to dine at the restaurant. The better half had a great pasta and I had half kg of superb chicken biryani. Fully satiated we returned to our comfy bed for a peaceful night’s sleep.
Initially we hadn’t planned any sightseeing in Vadodara as the sight we were interested in the most, The Lakshmi Vilas Palace was supposed to be closed on the day we were there. ( It is closed on Mondays). We were just surfing the website of the palace before sleeping to see what we were missing when we got a pleasant surprise. The palace would be open the next day for visitors owing to the Diwali holidays. So we decided to jump at the opportunity and make a quick visit to the palace before proceeding to the Little Rann of Kutch. The birds would have to wait a few more hours!
We woke up refreshed and got ready for the days travels. A heavy buffet breakfast later we checked out of the hotel and went to the Lakshmi Vilas palace which was a short 5 minute drive away. The website mentioned the opening time as 9 am so we reached there a few minutes before 9. When we reached the palace gate the guard asked us to stop. Apparently he hadn’t received any memo about the early opening and refused to let us proceed till 9.30am. Also apparently the palace has a strange no camera rule – you can take exterior photos of the palace with your mobile phone but not with a camera! I have seen places that don’t allow photography at all but this prejudice against cameras was a first for me. It was as if the camera manufacturers had offended the royal family in some way!
I had no choice but to keep my camera in the car and be happy with mobile photos. We killed time and digested our breakfast by taking laps of the drive way as far as the ultra cautious guard would allow us to go.
When the guard allowed us to finally proceed we went to the ticket window and bought tickets for the palace. The ticket price includes an audio guide that provides information about the history of the palace and the paintings / sculptures on display. We decided to visit the palace grounds first and take a few photos of the exteriors before it was overrun with people.
We then started our audioguided tour of the palace. The palace is still the residence of the Gaekwad family, the esrtwhile royals of Baroda. So only a part of the huge palace is open for tourists.
No photos are allowed inside ( & I am not a person who gets a kick out of breaking inane rules!), but the Darbar hall with painted ceilings, stained glass windows, ornate marble floor and lined with the original Raja Ravi Varma paintings of goddesses Laxmi and Saraswati in addition to other beautiful paintings are worth the price of admission. These paintings drawn by the prolific Raja Ravi Varma are what we think of when we hear of the goddesses Laxmi and Saraswati ( and in fact most mythological characters) and what I have seen in calenders and other religious material since childhood. So it was great to see the originals painted by one of the greatest Indian artists. We finished the audioguide tour spending more time in the halls and less time in the other displays. We then deposited our audioguides and returned outside to take more photos of the grand exterior.
More mobile photos of the exteriors of the Lakshmi Vilas Palace
The ultrawide lens would have had great fun here but the nonsensical mobile only rule meant that I couldn’t get photos of the palace in its entirety. I did give mobile panoramas a try, but anyone who has used an ultrawide lens with an SLR knows that it’s just not the same.
The palace is one of the most beautiful palaces in this part of the country and you just can’t take bad photos of such a grand structure. The history of this beautiful building also has some interesting facts. The architect who designed it thought that he had made some grave errors and that the palace structure won’t last. He was so stricken by this thought that he committed suicide. All his fears were unfounded and the palace still wows all visitors with it’s grandeur and beauty till today.
We roamed around the grounds for some time as the gardens and palace exteriors always hold our attention more than the interiors. We have spent more time in the gardens of chateaus and palaces than inside them in all our travels till date.
We then bade goodbye to the Lakshmi Vilas palace and started our journey towards the Little Rann of Kutch. When we had arrived we were the only car in the parking lot, by the time we departed an hour and a half later the parking lot was full. We were happy that we had gotten the chance to see the palace & doubly glad at having successfully avoided the festive crowds here.
We had a smooth 4 hour ride to the town of Patdi where we were based for the next 2 days. The roads in Gujarat are some of the best in the country and we reached our hotel in time for lunch. We were based in the Bhavna farms and resorts which is a comfortable place to stay while visiting the Little Rann. It has cottages done in the local style with all the essentials present.
We freshened up and had a delicious , hot Gujarati lunch and got ready for our first safari in the Little Rann.The Little Rann of Kutch is one of the best places to take photos of raptors like Eagles, Falcons, Kestrels and Owls. But you need a good guide to get the most out of it. We had booked a highly recommended guide, Mr Bechar on the advice of a birder friend. By the time we were done with lunch he was ready to take us into the barren landscape in search of raptors.
Whether Bechar & the Little Rann would live upto their reputation is the topic for another post some other time, some other day. The next few posts will have no statue or palace, just nature at its spectacular best. Hopefully my photos do some justice to what we saw in the next 5 days.