When one stays at the Dowlat Villas Palace The Heritage, a heritage hotel in the town of Himmatnagar which is the district headquarters of Sabarkantha district in Gujarat, India, one also discovers many hitherto unknown historical gems that exist in the surroundings, which the members of the erstwhile royal family will take delight in escorting guests to.
Being a region rich in history and culture and also blessed with some fascinating geographical features, the hosts at the hotel have taken a great interest in curating experiences, both within the property, as well as in its heritage rich surroundings.
During my 2 day stay, Karni Singh Idar, who owns and manages the heritage hotel, was my gracious host who accompanied me to a few places, some of which were surreal and mesmerizing and my camera was quite captivated by them.
The Dowlat Villas Palace The Heritage, is a heritage hotel in the center of the city and hence has many business visitors and also those who come for leisure and sight seeing. Himmatnagar being less than 100 km from the major city of Ahmedabad, is also a convenient option for stay and a gateway for tourists who wish to explore the northern parts of Gujarat.
Guests have access to some of the facilities within the palace premises and they also have the advantage of opting to be personally accompanied by the hosts, who have customized excursions to places of interest within a 50 – 60 km radius.
Within the Dowlat Villas Palace The Heritage –
The hotel is located in the palace complex which also includes the royal residence of the family, large lawns, a swimming pool, mango orchards, a vintage car museum, the personal in-house museum of the family, an indoor games section and adjoining farm lands of the owners.
Swimming pool –
What I loved about this was the very apt Jaali (lattice) architecture that ensconced the pool. Very much is keeping with their traditions, this was also a great way to ensure privacy. The pool has a main section and a toddler section and another clever feature is the crest of the royal family that is emblazoned on its tiled floor.
Indoor games section –
In a huge hall on the top floor of the hotel, there is provision for those who want to play indoor games. A well maintained carrom board, pool table, table tennis and even a card table has been set up.
Royal residence of the family –
The home of the hosts at the palace, is yet another palace of course and that is separated from the hotel by a compound wall and a high gate. Hidden behind numerous mango trees, this place is accessible to the guests of the hotel and they are usually escorted by Karni.
When I visited the palace, I also met Karni’s wife Geetanjali Devi and father Narendra Singhji, both very genteel and gracious people.
The vintage car museum –
Behind the building is the family’s prized collection of 15 vintage vehicles housed in their own special garages and Narendra Singhji personally showed me around.
Narrating the story of each and every car, he also posed with me in front of the beauties, as we requested the staff to click pictures 😀
Being car aficionados, Karni’s grandfather and grandmother began this collection, which was later bequeathed to Narendra Singhji who is also passionate about vintage cars.
The cars are constantly maintained in running order and have a mechanic frequently visiting.
Karni’s grandmother’s 2 door convertible DeSoto coupe was gifted to him by his grandfather and naturally is his favorite car since it has great sentimental value to it.
This collection is one of the few in Gujarat and has some rare cars like the 1941 Cadillac of which there are only 2 in Gujarat. Also, a 1953 special series Buick is the only one of its kind in Gujarat and there are only 12 such cars in the country.
Among the other cars are a 1947 Buick, a 1957 Dodge and so on.
They also have a horse carriage and a 3 piece foldable motor boat as a part of the collection.
2 seats have been fashioned with old wheel hubs and a table with a vintage Burmah Shell sign, as a part of the decor in the garage area.
Mango orchards –
The orchard has 140 trees of the rare Idar Ratan variety, ratna meaning gem, since they are said to be so sweet and precious.
The story goes that one of the rulers of the Idar dynasty, Maharaja Himmat Singhji got married into the Khandela clan and as was the custom in those days, the bride was sent with an entourage that included horses, elephants, household goods, family treasures and also her maids, gardeners and other staff. The gardener who turned out to be highly skilled, offered his services to the Maharaj and asked him to command whatever type of mango variant that he desired. The Maharaj asked for a fruit that would have a lot of pulp, would be extremely sweet, have a paper thin seed and which would stay green even when ripe. The request was fulfilled and after experimenting, the Idar Ratna graft was born, with the exact specifications given.
These trees were flowering prolifically when I visited in March and were expected to yield the ripe fruit in the end of May. The fruit unfortunately has a short shelf life of 3 weeks and also the crop lasts only for a month till end June. Visitors who happen to be there at that time, are the lucky recipients of the fruit and the desserts that they make out of them. Of course for those willing to subject themselves to near 50 deg c temperatures of the summer, can also enjoy the mangoes … so what if the brain fries to a crisp. One will at least die a sweet death 😀
The gardens also have many other trees like neem and one very special Mandarin orange tree which was planted by Karni’s late mother. This is a fabulous tree laden with hundreds of tiny orange globes. These fruits are used by the family in marmalade and other preserves.
The orchards are also a sanctuary for several species of birds, especially parakeets, bulbuls, babblers, bee eaters and many more and the garden is filled with birdsong through the day.
Personal in-house museum of the family –
On the ground floor of the residence, they have exhibited thousands of objets de art and other heirloom showpieces that include a large alcohol distilling vat and rotating cocktail shaker which has recipes etched into it, obviously from a time when Gujarat was not declared a dry state 😀
The many other exhibits include uniforms of the royal regiment – the Idar Sir Pratap Infantry, boots, weapons, utensils, enamel basins, period furniture like couches, engraved tables, sideboards and showcases, portraits and paintings, match box collections and plethora of other valuable collectibles.
A vast expanse of farmlands adjoin the hotel, where they grow vegetables like potatoes and other commercial crops like wheat and corn. It is interesting to watch the workers in action and I was fascinated to view the potato harvest which was underway, with a tractor driven attachment that ripped out the tubers which were then collected in baskets by the waiting workers and loaded into a trailer.
The flat farmlands are towards the east and one can also get a glowing view of the sunrise through the window bars of the room.
Nearby excursions from Dowlat Villas Palace The Heritage –
Idar Durg (fort) and hills –
The nearly 700 km Aravalli range that originates near Delhi, eventually tapers down to finally end in Idar, a town in the Sabarkantha district of Gujarat in Western India.
These are the oldest mountain ranges in India which have weathered over the years to acquire distinct features in the various regions that is passes through.
At Idar town which they almost ensconce, the range takes on a distinctly stark appearance with heaps of bald, giant boulders piled haphazardly on each other, creating interesting rock formations that lends a mysterious and even alien appearance in the topography.
Karni drove me to the Idar Durg (ancient fort) which has mostly disintegrated into the gigantic boulders. Their family deity is still located here. There is also a fairly large Swaminarayan temple in the vicinity.
Up on the hill is the Idar palace which now is a deserted ruin. Mongooses bound about, playing hide and seek with the visitors who climb the several steps which reminded me of the great wall of China. There are 698 steps neatly numbered for your reassurance as you huff and puff your way up 😀
The palace was the residence of Maharaja Dowlat Singhji who built it high up in the hills due to the natural protection that they offered.
Apparently the royals would be carried in palanquins up and down. It is no wonder that such an impractical process could not continue and the Maharaja’s second son Maharaja Man Singh vacated the palace and built the Dowlat Villas palace in the plains in Himmatnagar, 20 km away. All the furniture was also shifted out and the palace was abandoned. Its stark crumbling walls are the only remnants of its existence and it is an eerie feeling to walk through its interiors.
Behind the palace there is a path that leads to a dargah and a Shiva temple that peacefully coexist next to each other.
A temple kund lies behind the dargah and though it is not in the best of condition, its moss veneered surface and crumbling stepped sides, still have a certain charm.
Around this region, there are a few more shrines perched atop the rocks, each one accessible on individual paths via roughly hewn steps.
The highest monument here though, is the seemingly impossible to access Rutheli Rani no Mahal, which was supposed to be the palace where one of the sulking queens withdrew into. This however does have a steep path through the rocks for those who want to trek up there and sulk or not 😀
What is also fascinating in these hills are the various alien shaped rocks and also the stunning panoramic view of the town below. Sunset is a great time to be here. I was busy shooting strange looking rocks that I missed the sunset.
Chhatris (cenotaphs) –
En route to the Idar hills from Himmatnagar, there are a set of 5 cenotaphs (chhatris) up on a hillock with their umbrella shaped domed cupolas silhouetted against the sky. Unfortunately, I was not able to find out more information about these and their origins.
I love step wells and I make it a point to visit them wherever I locate them. On the way back from the Idar hills, Karni made a stop at a 15th century Vaav (well) at a place called Gambhirpura. Whatever information we could glean, was off a peeling board.
Roda temples –
The village of Raisinghpur lies 20 km from the Dowlat Villas Palace The Heritage. This place is famous for what are called the Roda temples. Said to be constructed during the Solanki period in the 8th and 9th century, these are a cluster of Shiva and Vishnu temples that are situated at a few hundred meters from each other.
The temples are accessed easily via excellent roads. The final dirt track amidst the fields has to be done on foot but is not a difficult walk. The landscape is serene and beautiful in the midst of expanses of emerald green fields with the background music of birdsong from the several species of birds that one can easily spot.
A small stream runs through this region which is said to connect to the Hathmati river that flows through Himmatnagar. The stream is seasonal and is usually full only after the monsoons.
There were originally 7 temples, of which only 6 are standing today.
An exquisite but presently defunct Kund (temple tank) called Ladushah kund, with stepped sides that are a geometrical marvel. One side of the tank walls have been rebuilt after an earlier collapse but modern technology has not been able match the ancient architecture and it is a plain wall that now stands. A few shrines lie ensconced in the alcoves of the kund.
I was taken by Karni to visit these temples and we spent a couple of hours here, that were well worth it. There are hardly any people around and you can get some gorgeous photographs too.
Unfortunately there is not much information by way of boards here. There is only an indication that these are ASI (Architectural Survey of India) protected monuments.
Polo forest –
70 km and a 1.5 hour drive away from Dowlat Villas Palace The Heritage, is the 400 sq km Polo forest which ensconces the ruins of a few 15th century temples. It is also home to several species of mammals and its water bodies attract migratory birds. Once can also camp in the forest and indulge in adventure activities like trekking. The hosts at Dowlat Villas Palace The Heritage will organize tours to this place on request and also accompany the guests if needed.
The above mentioned places are some of the popular sight seeing spots around Himmatnagar. In case the guest has any special request or location apart from these, the hotel will arrange for their excursions.
Please Note – This itinerary was specially curated hence some of the features might have been personalized accordingly. Before booking, please check the facilities offered in your package.
Mar 2nd – 4th, 2020