Tall white metal gates greet us as we approach the heritage hotel. Regal and imposing, they bear circular plates depicting the sun, the coat of arms and the flag of the Idar state. A trishul (trident) sits atop, pointing skywards.
I have arrived at my destination where I am going to spend the next 2 days exploring the history and heritage that this place and its surroundings have to showcase.
This is the Dowlat Villas Palace The Heritage, a mouthful of a name that befits the huge building that lies within.
A portion of the home of the kin of the erstwhile royal family of Idar, this is a heritage hotel located in the mid sized city of Himmatnagar, which is the district headquarters of Sabarkantha, a northern district of Gujarat in India.
An interesting blend of history coupled with a detailed revamping, has now made this a sought out luxury stay in this city.
About the princely state of Idar –
Idar (pronounced eedar), was a princely state that was established by the Rathod Rajputs in 1257. After being captured by the Mughals in the mid 17th century, it was then re captured by Rajputs from Jodhpur in 1729. Idar was a premier state and was accorded a 15 gun salute.
The present dynasty hails from the Jodha Rathod clan of Marwar, Jodhpur and are known as the The Idarya Rathod clan.
History of the royal family –
The forefathers of the Idariya Rathods established the Idar fort which was the seat of power. When Maharaj Sir Pratap Singhji became the ruler, he shifted the capital of Idar to Himmatnagar. He then built the Pratap palace which is the residence of the current erstwhile Maharaj Rajendra Singhji of Idar, who is the 12th generation.
Maharaj Dowlat Singhji succeeded Maharaj Sir Pratap Singhji. He built the Idar fort and palace in the rocky ranges of the Idar hills and was the only ruler to occupy that residence until he expired in 1930.
Maharaja Himmat Singh after which Himmatnagar is named, was the eldest son of Maharaja Dowlat Singh and he was the last ruler of the of Idar State before independence and he ruled till 1948.
Maharaja Dowlat Singhji’s second son Maharaja Man Singhji vacated the Idar palace and built the Dowlat Villas palace in the plains in Himmatnagar, 20 km away. The construction began in 1924 and was completed in 1942. The entire heirloom furniture that was mainly of art deco and Victorian style and other assets were also shifted out from Idar into the new palace.
Maharaja Man Singhji’s son Maharaja Umeg Singhji continued to live in the Dowlat Villas Palace with his 3 sons, Maharaj Bhagirath Singhji, Maharaj Ranvir Singhji and Maharaj Narendra Singhji.
Well that is quite a mouthful of history too but necessary to get to where we want to go. Comes with the territory while writing about heritage properties 😀
Might be easier for you to remember with the help of this tree 🙂
History of the heritage hotel –
The entire 35 acre complex that was built by Maharaj Man Singhji, contained the palaces, other associated buildings and facilities of the family, stables, armory, water supply, farmlands, offices etc.
After the passing away of Maharaj Umeg Singhji in 2012, the property was divided between his 3 sons, of which Maharaj Narendra Singhji now owns the portion that is known as the Dowlat Villas Palace The Heritage. He is assisted by his son Karni Singh Idar in the management and running of the hotel. This heritage hotel was established to commercialize and make efficient and effective use of the property.
The original administrative block that also housed the staff, had around 15 residential as well as office spaces and is now where the new hotel stands. The building retains some of the original structure but has mostly been renovated in a very elaborate manner to present itself as a hotel with uniform rooms, large verandahs, reception and office, dining hall, meeting hall and other features.
Many changes have been made to the structure to accommodate higher floors and the end result is a hotel that is almost as good as new. The pure white building has a Rajput style architecture with Chhatris, arches, pillars etc.
The renovations began in 2006 and the hotel was opened in 2013. Beginning with 6 rooms, it has now has progressed to 11 functional spaces with a total provision for 32 bedrooms. 2 rooms in the family’s main palace are also available for visitors.
Almost all the original furniture has been restored and reused and the collection of couches, chairs, beds, dressing tables, chests etc and is quite exquisite.
About Karni Singh Idar –
After completing his schooling from the Rajkumar College in Rajkot, Karni did his MBS and then worked for a few years with Bajaj Auto and later HDFC bank.
After this, he returned to the palace in 2006 and began development of the property. He first established a CBSE school and also began work on creating a heritage hotel.
Features of the palace complex –
The 12 acre land that belongs to Narendra Singhji now comprises of the heritage hotel, a swimming pool and sprawling lawns. There is also their CBSE school and the farmlands that lie adjoining the hotel rooms. Another major section of the place is the residence of the current family with its surrounding mango orchards.
The Heritage hotel –
The hotel occupies a substantial section of the property and contains the rooms and suites, various halls, lawns, swimming pool, terrace etc.
Rooms and Suites –
Of the 11 rooms that are presently open to guests, 4 are executive rooms and 7 are suites. All rooms are furnished elegantly and tastefully with heirloom furniture and amenities like air conditioning, TVs, basic toiletries, tea/coffee maker, hairdryer, iron (some of these on request).
All rooms have magnificent 4 poster antique beds that lend a stately touch to the place.
These have a living room area, a passage with wardrobe, coat stand and water dispenser, a large bedroom and large bathroom complete with bath tub.
Executive rooms –
What they refer to as simple rooms are also grandly furnished with antique furniture and are as luxurious as the suites. There is no living room and bath tub but these rooms are quite generous in size too.
The hotel does not have the concept of banquet halls that are let out for events etc. But as a part of the building, they have 2 Darbar halls of sorts, that are mainly used as seating areas. Large and regal and furnished with similar antique furniture as the rest of the place, these stately halls are beautiful spaces whose walls are lined with larger than life portraits of various members of the royal family over the ages.
Dining hall –
Meals are served in the large dining hall that is similar in decor to the other halls, with hanging lights, portraits on the walls, some heirloom show pieces like an ancient dinner gong and other collections.
Large verandahs with charming old fashioned tiles, lie alongside the suites and are pleasant spaces to sit around with a book or spend some quiet time in the open air. One can also choose to dine here.
The sprawling lawns in the front of the property however, are available for events like weddings, private functions, movie and photo shoots, product shoots etc.
A maximum of 300 people can be comfortably accommodated and the food is catered through an outsourced vendor via the hotel.
Chhatris (domed cupolas) and baradharis (arched vents) sit atop the hotel, giving it its signature Rajasthani appearance. One can get a bird’s eye view of the lawns and swimming pool from here and also a great sunset.
The owners run a CBSE school adjoining the hotel.
The farms provide a pleasantly rustic view from the rooms and one can also view a glorious sunrise on the horizon.
The residence of the owners –
This is separated from the hotel by a compound wall and has its own entrance way. This was a palace built in British Colonial style. The lower floors were the mardana (male quarters) and the upper floor was the zenana or ladies section. The building largely retains its original facade but renovations have been undertaken in the interiors wherever needed. The palace houses contains several antique and an in-house museum and also has a vintage car collection and adjoining mango orchards (more on these in the next post).
Dining Options –
The food that is served here is mainly Rajput cuisine and is typical of the the family’s traditional fare. The cooking is home style and freshly cooked and uses recipes that have been handed down from generations. The hosts serve the same cuisine as they themselves eat.
Apart from this, continental as well as special dietary requirements are taken care of wherever possible, on prior request.
The meals are served buffet style with fixed dishes that change on a daily basis. There is no a la carte or In Room Dining service. The crockery and plates bear the monogram of the royal crest of the Idar state.
Meal plans are according to what is chosen at the time of booking.
Breakfast usually consists of the regular Western options of breads, eggs to order, muesli, fruit, juice, tea, coffee etc and an Indian component like poha, paratha and such like which get elevated to royal status in their monogrammed platters 🙂
Lunch and dinner typically comprise of items like Laas maas, Safed maas, their signature Dal a la Man Singh made purely in milk with no water, veg and non veg kofta curries, Dum cauliflower, Pichke alu, pulaos, special meat pickles, flat breads like rotis made from wheat, corn, bajra etc, are some of the items served.
Desserts consist of rice kheers with a royal twist of rose petals, rabadi, halwas made from semolina, lentils, carrots and in season, the famous frozen mango trifle.
In the mango season the guests are served the special Idar Ratan variant from their orchard and also desserts made out of them.
The show stopper is said to be the Frozen mango trifle dessert with a thick layer of pulp, crushed biscuit and cream, which is temptation enough to brave 48 deg c and visit them in the mango season 😀
Amenities and facilities –
There is a swimming pool, a garden, a large walkway and a games room on the premises. More about this on the next post on Activities and excursions from Dowlat Villas Palace The Heritage.
The palace complex has some interesting features within the premises and the hosts also curate excursions to the heritage rich surroundings of around 50 – 60 km radius. Read more about this in the post on Activities and excursions from Dowlat Villas Palace The Heritage.
Phone and internet connectivity –
Internet and phone signals work fine here. The hotel also provides free WiFi within the premises.
Visitor profile –
The Dowlat Villas Palace The Heritage in general is suitable for all categories of guests, right from families to businessmen to solo travellers to seekers of history and heritage. The city is also a gateway to various surrounding attractions of north Gujarat and therefore the hotel is also convenient for travellers who are passing through.
Being the midst of Himmatnagar city, with quite a few industries that have multi national employees who visit frequently, this is one of the few luxury stay options and is popular among the corporates.
The space is also let out for film shoots, functions like weddings and private parties, product shoots, etc.
Social and environmental commitment –
The hotel employs only locals to help the surrounding economy. There are no plastic waster bottles in the rooms and purified water is available in hygienic containers. The owners also frequently conduct tree planting drives and have created a green space with their mango orchards and other trees.
Best time to visit –
The hotel is open throughout the year.
The winter months of November to February are cold and most preferred by visitors or tourists. December and January are the high season and are considered the ideal time to visit, though temperatures go as low as 5 deg.
The rest of the year is hot and dry and peak summer temperatures soar to over 45 deg c and not an ideal time for tourism. However, for those who travel on work, it’s business as usual, any time of the year.
What you should carry –
Most of the basic needs are taken care of at the hotel and being in the center of a city, most items can be purchased if needed. Carry your swimwear if you want to use the pool and also a cap, sunglasses, sturdy walking shoes etc if planning some sightseeing and trekking.
Getting there –
Himmatnagar is is just 90 km from Ahmedabad, which is a major city in Gujarat and is very well connected by air, rail and road.
The Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel International Airport is said to be the 8th busiest airport in India. It connects the city to several major Indian cities and also to international destinations in the middle east and far east.
Ahmedabad also has its main railway station Ahmedabad Junction, at Kalupur. Ahmedabad Junction connects to many other locations in Gujarat and also to other important Indian cities. Trains are an economical and suitable mode of transport to this city.
Likewise, buses are also very convenient and many private and state run buses ply within Gujarat as well as interstate.
From Ahmedabad to Himmatnagar, there are several state run and private luxury buses. There are a couple of trains that also ply between these 2 cities. Cabs and private vehicles are also a very convenient mode.
My journey –
I took a flight from Bangalore to Ahmedabad and then was transported by cab to the Dowlat Villas Palace The Heritage and likewise on the return, I was dropped at Ahmedabad by cab.
Booking and contact –
Please Note – This trip was made in collaboration with Dowlat Villas Palace The Heritage. The narrative is based on the inputs that I received from various sources as well as my own experiences.
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