Saturday, 4 April 2020

The Gondal Wonder - Porbandar, Dhoraji, Jetpur, Virpur, Gondal, & Khambhalida

The Great Gujarat Road Odyssey – Day 11

Chapter 1 – Porbandar’s Huzoor Palace

Porbandar’s chowpatty is an experience. You want to see more of the birds from last evening. You are back early in the morning. The gulls keep the scene exciting as they swoop across the beachfront in waves. The rising sun spreads gold on the water. Waves froth up the rocky shore.

Porbandar Chowpatty early morning

Porbandar Chowpatty: flying Gulls

Before leaving Porbandar, you will swing by the Huzoor Palace, built facing the sea on Marine Drive just behind the chowpatty. Huzoor Palace or Huzar Palace is another palace dotting the princely state scene of Gujarat. This palace here was built in early 20th century by the last Jethwa ruler and Maharaja of Porbandar, a 13 gun salute state, Rana Natwarsinhji Bhavsinhji (Reign 1908-48).

Huzoor Palace, Porbandar, Gujarat

Porbandar: Huzoor Palace

The grounds look forlorn and the gate is locked. There is something about rundown and desolate palaces that is painful and sends a twinge of melancholy through you. A gatekeeper appears. You ask for permission to enter. After a while, permission is apparently granted from someone inside and you enter the premises. You are not sure if the descendants still live here. The stone used and the architecture is similar to the palaces you have seen in Gujarat. You take few photos and when you are unable to bear this lingering weight of the past in the air, you leave.

Chapter 2 - Dhoraji

After three days hugging the coastline from Narayan Sarovar, today you are moving inland into Kathiawar towards this town that has supposedly a wonder.  

Teen Darwaja, Dhoraji

Dhoraji: Tran Darwaja

On the way there is a small town of Dhoraji. Like Jamnagar, Dhoroji too has a Teen Darwaja or Tran Darwaja. Rest of the town is all dug up. There is something about towns in Gujarat. They are all dusty. And dust kills your travel mojo. Just like it did in Bet Dwarka. There is a place called Darbargarh here with a beautiful gate. You need to get out of this place. The roads across the state are good that makes the travel between these dusty towns a breeze.

Palash flowers blooming amidst coriander fields

Chapter 3 – Jetpur

Jetpur is a textile town and is famous for its cotton sarees

Jetpur is another small town on the way to Gondal, built on the western bank of Bhadar River. And now you discover another nugget about the town; yes Pankaj Udhas was born here! The town is not dug up yet. So you will get out and meet a local connection Rambhai Barot, a genealogist of Jetpur royalty. Rambhai will show you some havelis with some wonderful woodwork and stonework.

Jetpur was ruled by the Jaitani Talukdars of the Vala dynasty.  You are not sure if it was a full-fledged princely state but apparently, the rulers made enough money to build these richly carved wooden and stone havelis.

The Jetpur Surprise

The walled city of Jetpur
The Jharokhas or the Oriel Windows take astonishing shapes in Saurashtra

Rambhai is walking you through the streets. The streets are narrow with occasional cows and two wheelers. And now that you are getting a feel it, Jetpur is a walled city with gateways. Some digging is going on in the streets. Without digging, an Indian town is just not the same. Most houses and shops have turned new. Only a few old havelis survive.

The Darbargadh Wood Marvel of Jetpur

Jetpur - Darbargadh of Talukdars

The first surprise is the derelict three storey structure now in ruins at the end of another lane in the walled city. This is the Darbargarh of the Talukdars, loosely translated as a palace. It is a stone and wood composite structure with some eye popping wooden carvings and decoration. While the havelis you have seen, usually have carved wooden doors and windows only. Here the wooden brackets, pillars, capitals and floor beams add an extra dimension to the structure. Sadly, like most havelis, the wood wonder is rapidy falling apart. The shingle roof has collapsed exposing the wooden elements to weather. The entire structure is on verge of collapsing. 

It is just a matter of time before the present owners, whoever they are, decide to sell off the elements to some Delhi socialite’s under construction farmhouse and giving her right to boast of her new acquisitions at the parties.

Jetpur: Chapraja Vala Palace

Look at those ornate windows

Jetpur Palace

Remains of the base of the Oriel Windows - It is a type of Bay Window adopted by Saurashtra Rajwadas from France

Another Oriel Window - this building is a gem

Jeptpur: The gate decoration at Chapraja Vala Palace

Rambhai - Thank you so much

You are back in the lanes and this time arrive at this corner stately stone structure with Corinthian pillars and a large gate. While the Darbargarh was local, wood and ethnic, the Chapraja Vala Palace is all European and stone. The palace is named after the valiant ruler Shri Chapraj Vala, whose statue riding a horse stands in the city square and whose bravery stories are remembered even today. Every square inch of this rapidly deteriorating facade is a marvel. Every Oriel window is an architect's delight. The carved base of the corner oriel window is mindboggling. It looks like a bouquet of flowers. You can just pace up and down the narrow street and gawk.

James Burgess laments in his 'Report on the Antiquities of Kathiawad and Kachh, 1874-75:' Public Works and Italian workmen are doing their best to kill native art, and in the larger and wealthier towns of Gujarat with fatal effect, by erecting palaces for the chiefs, in a foreign style, badly imitated and unsuited to the climate or the age: and this example is rapidly being copied in less prominent places by native workmen.

Jetpur was probably not a state in the true sense. So the rulers limited themselves to build these palaces within the confines of the old city. But they would have hired some fancy European architect and builder. You are sure if they had more headroom, their palace could have rivalled the Gondal palace.

After the tour, Rambhai brings you home and treats you to a sumptuous Gujarati lunch. Told you, Gujarati people are the most friendly and nicest folks. Now only if the men stopped painting their pinky finger nail.

Chapter 4 – Virpur

Virpur is another small town on the way and you will stop here for a quick look at the Minaldevi Vav built by Minaldevi, the mother of Chalukyan King Jayasimha Siddharaja (reign 1092-1142). An interesting trivia – Jayasimha was Prithviraj Chauhan’s great grandfather! 

Shri Maneshwar Mahadev Mandir, Virpur

Minaldevi Ni Vav, Vipur, Rajkot, Gujarat

Minaldevi Vav, Virpur

Structure-wise, the vav seems to be in good shape though the sculptures in the niches erode, which sadly afflicts the yellow stone used in the construction across Gujarat. While the vav would subsist the village in a different era, today the water in the well reeks and is full of trash thrown by the dutiful devotees as part of their worship. We will never learn.

The faithful Chakda on Gujarat roads

The roads are a breeze in Gujarat

Chapter 5 – Gondal

Finally, you are in Gondal. The day’s mission is to find this palace that you saw on this blog of a passionate heritage hunter who finds these hidden gems across North India. Gondal was one of the eight first class princely states, with a right to 11-gun salute in Kathiawar agency of Bombay Presidency ruled by Jadeja Thakurs.

Veri Darwajo - The Gateway leads to the Darbargadh in Gondal

Old City of Gondal

Gondal - Clock Tower of Darbargadh

Besides doing other things, the Thakur Sahibs built several palaces in the city. Parking your vehicle outside the old city (the best decision of the day as you will find out later) you walk the winding road to Darbargadh in Moti Bazar. A huge clock tower with fortified walls greets you. Buying entry ticket you walk into the grounds to come face to face with the wonder. A palace that apparently cost nine lakh rupees sits majestically with an astonishing façade.

Gondal: Navlakha Palace

Navlakha Palace of Gondal - A Beautiful Stone Frieze

Gondal: The ornate facade of Navlakha Palace

Love these jharokhas - you saw them in Prag Mahal in Bhuj and in Jetpur

Navlakha Palace: The first floor courtyard or baradari

Navlakha Palace is the crowning glory of Gondal palaces and probably the most surprising unknown palace in Gujarat, a state packed with popular palaces in Baroda, Mandvi, Bhuj and elsewhere. The palace built in 1875, on the banks of River Gondal and which cost Rs. Nine Lacs and hence its name, is like a beautiful canvas of stone. The architecture is muted, does not overwhelm and looks intimate in a setting of courtyard with trees. Sculpted pillars, arches, protruding images of animals, ornate jharokhas and the lavishly ornamented parapet on the first floor come together to create a charming edifice that downplays grandness and would almost feel like home if they allowed you to live in it.

This is the cutest exhibit you have ever seen in a palace

Children Nursery in Navlakha Palace

The smartly dressed personnel take you on a guided tour through the rooms with the usual paraphernalia of chandeliers, stuffed animals and photos of the royal family. Never seen before, Children Nursery, sourced from Europe with life size dolls is the best exhibit in the museum section of Darbar.  

Within a few minutes the streets are flooded on this evening in Gondal

It is nearing 5 pm and there is buzz going through the grounds. The complex will be closed a little earlier since a local festival is about to start and which means crowds and vehicles will gather on the streets. So even as you sprint through the street, crowds are already converging. If you had brought your car inside here you would have been stuck on the street looking at the Darbargarh clock tower all night.

How can a small town like Gondal have so many people? You keep asking this question across India. We do have too many people in this country.

India never ceases to amaze - Sagramsinhji High School in Gondal, Rajkot, Gujarat

So while the Old City is being devoured by the crowds, rest of the city has emptied out giving you some time to visit another wonder, the Sagramsinhji High School that is reportedly modelled on England's Eaton.

Chapter 6 – Khambhalida

On your way to Junagadh, you will make a detour to Khambhalida Buddhist Caves. Sun has set by the time you reach the caves that are also called Shail Caves.

For a change, the gated complex is well looked after and is away from any settlement. Out of a group of fifteen caves, the east facing three caves are dug out from this small hillock in an area that is generally plain and are dated to 4th-5th Century. The Bhadar river flows close by. There is supposed to be a spring here too. These surveyors of ancient times had a real knack of finding these spots to make the cave temples.

Khambhalida Buddhist Caves

Khambhalida: Eroded Stupa in the central cave

The central cave is a chaitya with a worn out stup. The entrance has two large images on each side along with depiction of Ashoka tree – Avalokiteshvara Padmapani on the right and Avalokiteshvara Vajrapani on the left. The Vajrapani sculpture is supposed to be oldest in India. The depiction of Boddhisattva Avalokiteshvara is the only example in Gujarat in cave architecture.

Khambhalida: The Buddhist Caves Complex

Just like the stone structures elsewhere in Gujarat, the stone here too is eroding fast. ASI has installed some iron bracket supports. For the chaitya griha a porch like structure has been constructed to protect the relief sculptures. A modern temple is coming up in the vicinity and with it will come hordes of tourists. Why don’t we leave such spots alone?

Hsieun Tsang had visited the Siyot cave complex in Kutch; did he come here too?


It is dark by the time you leave Khambhalida. It is night when you enter the city gates of Junagadh.

Another night. Another city. 

The journey continues.

Day's Stats
  • Route Taken – Travel east on NH 27 to Gondal via Dhoraji and Jetpur. From Gondal come back west and take a detour to Khambalida Caves. And then to Junagadh on NH 151
  • Distance covered today – 245 kms
  • Total Distance covered so far - 2897 kms 


Gazetteer of the Bombay Presidency

Day 1 - Viratnagar
Day 2 - 
Day 3 - 
Day 4 – Siddhpur
Day 5 - Dholavira
Day 6 - Lakhpat
Day 7 - Narayan Sarovar
Day 8 – Jamnagar
Day 9 – Bet Dwarka
Day 10 - Porbandar

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