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
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
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.
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
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.
- 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
Best Season to visit: October to March