A HISTORIC VISIT
Vadodara is known to be one of India’s ancient cities. Sharmila Chand lists places you shouldn’t miss when here
Must visit spots in Vadodara
The minute I set my eyes on The Maharaja Sayajirao University of Baroda, I wished the building was part of my teen years. Built in the early 1900s, there is something attractive about this Indo-Saracenic structure with lofty domes and intricate carvings, complete with expanses of greenery, despite its peeling exterior and mossy roofs.
This is one of the many heritage buildings with which I associate my memories of Vadodara (formerly known as Baroda). It is the most recent of all the ancient sites that keeps alive the 2,000-year-old city’s historic charm. In the short drive from the airport to my hotel, I spotted a number of ancient palaces, parks and temples.
Here is a list of some of my favourite spots in the city.
Previous page: Champ an erPavagadh Archaeological Park Left and right:
Laxmi Vilas Palace; and the Lord Shiva statue situated on Sur Sagar Lake
EXPLORE Laxmi Vilas Palace
Vadodara’s royal family still resides in one section of the palace, which is not open to the general public. Visitors can, however, buy an entrance ticket for access to its courtyard, museum and garden. When it was built in 1890 by Maharaja Sayajirao Gaekwad III, Laxmi Vilas Palace was ahead of its time. One example of this is the passenger lift, not common during that era. Apart from that, most of this stately abode is outstanding. The Darbar Hall continues to host music concerts and cultural events even today. It has Venetian mosaic on its flooring, intricate mosaic patterns on its walls, Belgium stained-glass windows, and ornate fountains in its courtyard. The museum building on the palace grounds was once a school for the maharaja’s children. Today, it is a showcase of items from the royal family’s collection. The various viewing rooms within include the family’s armour, headgear and artworks.
• Open daily 9:30am-5pm; entry ₹ 225 per person; lax mi-vi las-palace. business. site
Sur Sagar Lake
If you’d like to enjoy a beautiful sunset while sipping on tea, Vadodara’s Sur Sagar Lake is probably one of the best places to do so. For me, this man-made lake was a serene site, despite being located in the middle of the city and surrounded by street food hawkers. I found solace being in the presence of the 120-foot tall statue of Lord Shiva “rising” from the lake. Tourists visit for boating activities, and during festivals, locals use the lake for immersion of idols.
• Open round-the-clock; boating is open daily 5:30pm8pm and prices depend on the boatman.
It is one of the largest gardens in western India. In 1879 Maharaja Sayajirao III converted 45 hectares of the Vishwamitri riverbank into a zoo. Years later, the government added a planetarium and a museum. The planetarium is situated near the main gate of Sayaji Baug and has three shows daily. The zoo’s most popular resident is the Asiatic lion, amongst the other 18 species
of mammals, 64 species of birds, and seven species of reptiles. Vadodara Museum and Picture Gallery, also located within Sayaji Baug, has an impressive collection of artefacts relating to Indian archaeology, geology, natural history, miniature paintings from the Mughal times, and a Persian edition of Mahabharata that was specially commissioned by King Akbar himself. If it isn’t for the buildings within this gated “settlement”, visit for an early morning walk when the air is crisp and you can hear the animals at their animated best.
• The planetarium is open Friday-Thursday 9am-6pm; the zoo is open daily 5am-11pm; Vadodara Museum and Picture Gallery is open daily 10am-5pm.
Another architectural marvel of the city, Khanderao Market has a beautiful facade with traditional carvings, balconies and spires. Inside, the only element that adds beauty to the otherwise bare hall is the colourful flowers, fruits, vegetables, spices, pickles, items for religious processions and other such wares energetically sold to visitors. Don’t forget to put your best negotiation skills to work here.
• Open daily 5am-11pm; Market Cross Road, Palace Road, Kevdabaug.
For Gujarati snacks, I was directed to Khambhatwala Sukhadia. A popular name in the city, it has shelves lined with a dizzying variety of packaged snacks. If you’re unfamiliar with this cuisine, choose an assortment of freshly cooked snacks displayed within the shop to acquaint yourself with Gujarati bites. It also has a menu of sweets, with which you can end your binge.
• Open daily 8:30am-9:30pm; tel: +91 265 2342872; sukhadiafoods.com.
For Gujarati thali, I was recommended three places:
• Amantran: open daily 10:30am-3pm and 7:30pm-10:30pm; tel: +91 265 2313137; atrvadodara.com.
Mandap: open daily noon-3pm and 7:30pm-10:30pm; tel: +91 9227881135; expresshotelsindia.com.
Sasuma: open daily 11:30am-3:30pm and 7pm10:30pm; tel: +91 9574652652; sasumaagujaratithali.com.
I ended up eating at Amantran and enjoyed the thali, though it was sweeter than I had expected — Gujarati food is known to be sweet. The restaurant also serves spicy Indian, Chinese and continental vegetarian dishes.
• Eastin Residences Vadodara is located in the heart of the city and is ideal for long stays. It is a boutique apartment hotel with four accommodation categories: Studio Twin apartment (27 sqm), Studio King apartment (27 sqm), Deluxe Studio room (29 sqm) and One-bedroom apartment (30 sqm). There is one all-day dining restaurant on the property — The Glass House. eastinhotelsresidences.com
• WelcomHotel Vadodara is a brand run by ITC Hotels. It has 133 rooms and suites, three meeting rooms, one banquet hall, a swimming pool, a 24-hour eatery, and Peshawari, the signature restaurant of ITC Hotels. On booking directly through the ITC app, website and call centre, guests are given free internet access. itchotels.in.
• Grand Mercure Vadodara Surya Palace is a ten-minute drive from the city’s airport. Amongst its 146 rooms and suites, the AccorHotels property has women-only rooms for solo female travellers. The only restaurant here is open round the clock. There are 16 meeting rooms, a swimming pool and a gym. accorhotels.com
Cabs and autorickshaws are easily available to commute within the city. They don’t go by the meter, but that’s the norm in Vadodara and they’re reasonable.
ONWARD TRAVEL Champaner-Pavagadh Archaeological Park
A one-hour drive from Vadodara took me to Champaner-Pavagadh, an old settlement recognised by UNESCO as a noteworthy archaeological park and World Heritage Site in 2004. This forest land was brought to civilisation by King Chavda in the eighth century. As you drive into this almost forgotten city, you’re surrounded by thick greenery, occasionally dotted with ruins of ancient structures. Today, the ones that stand and are accessible for public viewing are the palace, fort, mosques, tombs and temples — built between the eighth and 14th centuries. Gujarat Tourism describes this place as what was once an “out-of-theway pilgrimage site for hundreds of years”, and one that visitors enjoy for a scenic walk down its “ancient streets just as its inhabitants did five centuries ago”. Due to paucity of time, I could only manage to squeeze in a quick trip to the Kalika Mata Temple here.
Kalika Mata Temple In Pavagadh
As I was being transported in a little cable car, over a lush, green valley, I could spot the temple crowning the Pavagadh hill. Kalika Mata Temple is said to have been built between the 10th and 11th centuries. It is from this hill that the holy Vishwamitri river originates.
On alighting from the cable car, I walked up about 200 steps to the temple. This may sound like a lot of climbing, but it’s really not because the stairs aren’t steep. I found the head of Kalika Mata, painted red, in a sanctum inside the temple. Apart from this, there are idols of Goddess Mahakali and the yantras of Goddess Bahuchara.
On my way back, I decided to buy metal coins engraved with the Goddess’ images from the many souvenir shops outside the main entrance of the temple. A quick snack at one of the stalls vending traditional food marked the end of my visit, or so I thought. While waiting for my cable car, I had an interesting rendezvous with the langurs residing in Pavagadh. They wanted my prasad (food blessed by God during prayers), and I was truly bowled over at their sense of discipline. A group of six came down from the trees, lined up and took one box each from me and my companions. Each one walked off with one box, neither begging for more nor attempting to snatch another monkey’s box! ■