Sightseeing in India Off the Beaten Path: Medieval Junagadh and Cultural Vadodara
By Pramod Kulkarni
On the Road: This is the third episode describing my wife Jyoti and I’s visit to India during Dec.-January 2016. As outlined in the first episode, we undertook a 9-day trip to Gujarat.
Adjacent Gir National Forest is what was the princely state of Junagadh. Located at the foothills of the Girnar mountains, Junagadh was first established by Chandragupta Maurya around 300 BC. Subsequent Hindu and Muslim dynasties added to the fort and its surroundings. The fort is guarded by a giant Turkish cannon.
Adjacent to the fort are rock-cut caves that were inhabitated by Buddhist monks. What remains are marvelous pillars with intricately carved scenes from Buddha’s life.
The fort grounds include the Adi-Kadi step well. There are 182 steps, which lead to the well that was cut entirely out of rock. A myth associated with the well suggests that the name comes from two virgin sisters, who were sacrificed in order to discover a water-bearing reservoir within the rocks.
Prior to India’s independence, Junagadh was ruled by a series of Muslim dynasties. In 1947, the prince had tried to secede to Pakistan, but police action by Sardar Vallabhai Patel kept the landlocked state within India.
Our Gujerat journey took us then to another princely state of Baroda, once ruled by the Gaekwad family since the 1700s. The most wellknown member of the dynasty was Sayajirao II, who established MS University, built Laxmi Vilas Palace, Sayajirao Park and was patron of the numerous artists, including Ravi Varma.
According to Wikipedia, the palace is reputed to have been the largest private dwelling built till date and four times the size of Buckingham Palace. At the time of construction, the palace boasted the most modern amenities such as elevators and the interior is reminiscent of a large European country house. It remains the residence of the Royal Family, but large portions of the palace are open to the public.
The palace grounds include a museum, which includes an extensive collection of Gaekwad art treasures. There is a golf course and even a cricket field. Many of the early cricket stars of India, including Vijay Hazare and Chandu Borde, played for Baroda.
The palace museum includes a priceless collection of paintings by Raja Ravi Varma, who brought to life many scenes from the Hindu epics of Ramayan and Mahabharat. One of the recent Gaekwad princes undertook a PhD in the various phetas and headgear of princes and sardars of the Royal darbar.
The next episode of this travelogue will cover cultural and medieval sights in Pune, the capital of the Marathi kingdom of the Peshwa family.