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August 23, 1996


A river running by ...

Sanjay Singh Badnor

Baroda, in Gujarat, is a city whose biggest asset is also, funnily enough, its greatest liability.

Easily the most vibrant industrial township in the state, it is for this very reason often dismissed by the tourist guides as a town for the business traveller - a rather casual assessment that, unfortunately, does less than justice to a town well worth a tourist's visit.

Despite this cavalier assessment, though, the fact remains that Baroda - which has in recent times reverted to its ancient name Vadodara - makes for an ideal weekend getaway spot. The first advantage it has going for it is location. Situated on the banks of the Vishwamitri river, the erstwhile capital of the Gaekwar principality is located on the main Bombay-Delhi rail line.

112 kilometers south of Ahmedabad and 419 kilometers north of Bombay, Baroda is well connected with other leading Indian cities by road, rail and air, and boasts direct air links with Bombay, Delhi and Ahmedabad.

For the discerning traveller, the former princely capital offers riches in art and architecture, contained in the various princely palaces, stately homes and museums. Besides, short excursions outside the city limits provide for the traveller various interesting locales like handicraft centres, old temples, the ruins of ancient townships, long ago forts and, of course, places of piligrimage - not bad for a "business" centre, right? Right..

The main fallout, for the tourist, of its bustling industrial life is the fact that accommodation is very easy to find. The city caters to the upper bracket with hotels of the calibre of Welcomgroup's Hotel Vadodara, Hotel Express and Hotel Utsav, while the likes of Suren Motel and Hotel Green cater to the mid - and lower brackets.

The city's prime landmark - and tourist haunt - is the Laxmi Vilas Palace. Designed in Indo-Saracenic style, the palace was built in the time of Maharaja Sayaji Rao III, in 1890, and earmarked as the principal residence of the Gaekwar royal family.

Privately owned even today, this superb specimen of mid-Indian architecture houses the descendants of the erstwhile ruling clan, and its rooms are closed to the public. However the Fateh Sinh Rao Museum, located in the palace grounds and housing the royal collection of paintings and other art treasures, is open to the public and well worth a visit.

The museum, which was established in 1961, is most especially noted for works by European Rennaissance artists like Raphael, Titian, Murillo and Rembrandt, and an outstanding collection of the portraiture of Raja Ravi Verma, a 19th century portraitist. Another interesting section houses Chinese and Japanese porcelain artefacts, while two rooms on the ground floor are treasure troves of the Roccoco period in art.

Baroda, in fact, owes its prominence as a centre of art, culture and architecture to the patronage of the enlightened Gaekwars. And the Kirti Mandir, built in honour of the princely house, is one prime example. With a central spire 110 feet high and an inner dome decorated with a series of specially commissioned frescoes by the legendary artist Nandlal Bose, the building is a must-see for the connoisseur of art.

Another building worth the tourist's time is the erstwhile Nyaya Mandir, which appropriately enough is today the home of the Baroda district court. Constructed in the Byzantine style, the building is imposing enough, especially on weekends when the courts are on holiday, to have tourists whipping out their cameras to record a prime piece of medieval architecture.

The area is also known for the bustling bazaars of silver and gold ornaments - a surefire draw for the tourist in search of memorabilia. And a stone's throw away is the Sayaji Gardens - another popular haunt for weekend visitors with its small zoo, mini railway museum, art gallery and the relatively new Sardar Patel Planetarium. The museum, completed in 1904, has a landmark collection of Tibetan and European art and also houses the famous Akota bronzes dating back to the 5th century AD.

An interesting facet of Baroda is that it actually uses its ancient buildings, rather than merely preserving it. An example of this aspect is the M S University building - the edifice hosting its Arts faculty, constructed in 1880, boasts the second largest masonry dome in India and towers to a height of 144 feet. Interestingly, this hugely artistic environment boasts, in the roster of its eminent alumni, no less than India's premier painter, Maqbool Fida Hussain.

For those tourists who are into doing, as opposed to merely seeing, the period September to October is ideal - for it is during the Navratri festival that Baroda is seen at its vibrant best. The city turns out in its best attire to celebrate Amba Mata, and the evenings are redolent with the throb of the dhol and the intricate patterns of the Ras Garba, the traditional festive folk dance of Gujarat.

For the assiduous pilgrim, the hill fort of Pavagarh, on the outskirts of Baroda, is a must-see. Pavagarh - literally, quarter of a hill - is according to ancient mythology a chunk of the Himalayan moutainside that fell from the grasp of the monkey god Hanuman, as he was transporting it to Sri Lanka during the fabled war that pitted Ram against Ravan. Earlier, the fort and its temple were accessible only via a tedious climb - but now a ropeway transports devotees right to the doorstep, and makes the trek all the more enjoyable.

Baroda is, sure, Gujarat's most booming industrial township. But as the quick recap above indicates, it is not merely a centre for money-making, but one of those Indian cities where the Muse and Mammon coexist in pleasurable harmony.

Handy hints:

Access: Vadodara is connected by regular Indian Airlines flights from Delhi, Bombay and Ahmedabad. Jet Airways and NEPC Skyline also operates flights to the city from major Indian metros.

Rail: Baroda is situated on the main rail link between Bombay and Delhi. Rajdhani Express, Frontier Mail get you there in ease and a modicum of comfort. The township also boasts road links to the major Gujarat towns and is situated on National Highway number 8, connecting Delhi to Bombay via Jaipur, Udaipur, Ahmedabad and Baroda.


  • Upper level: Hotel Welcomgroup Vadodara
    Single room Rs 1,500; Double room Rs 1,800

  • Middle level: Hotel Express
    Single room Rs 850; Double room Rs 1,050

  • Lower level: Hotel Utsav
    Single Room Rs 300; Double room Rs 450

Where to Eat : Hotel Welcomgroup Vadodara has a coffee shop and two multicuisine restaurants which are good. Besides scores of eating places in the city.

Best Season to visit: October to March