An inconspicuous gateway lies along the main road in a quiet part of Vadodara city. A simple sign in Hindi, has ‘Madhav Bagh’ inscribed in the marble panel of the gate post.
I step onto the short driveway, oblivious of what treasure lies at the other end. Trees flank my path as I make my way through the branches that arch in welcome over my head and then I gasp in surprise as the red and white mansion suddenly looms large amongst the dense green foliage, like a light at the end of a tunnel.
I stand there spellbound for a while, trying to take in the glorious view of the majestic sight that lies before me.
I have entered the environs of the Madhav Bagh – Royal Heritage Stay and I feel a sense of great delight and excitement at the history that lies in wait for me within its bright exterior.
Madhav Bagh is a luxury stay in the heart of vibrant Vadodara in Gujarat, India. Its stunning architecture and decor, coupled with the warmth and hospitality of the hosts Shivrajsinh Gaekwad, his wife Indrayanidevi Gaekwad, make it a homestay with a difference. It offers the discerning visitor a rare chance to experience old world charm subtly infused with modern comforts.
Enter its exquisite portals with me and bask in its beauty as we wander through its doorways and arches and corridors and halls, seeking out its stories and revelling in its charm.
Madhav Bagh – Royal Heritage Stay, continued from Part 1 – Gujarat Royal Routes
About Vadodara –
Termed the cultural capital of Gujarat, Vadodara lives up to its label, in the various monuments and vestiges of history and heritage that it carefully safeguards.
It is the third largest city in the state and lies in the Vadodara district along the banks of the river Vishwamitri.
It is also an educational and industrial hub with several reputed universities and the presence of giant petrochemical corporations like the ONGC and other important industries.
The region traces back to being inhabited by early man but the city as such was formed in 1721 when the Maratha General Pilaji Rao Gaekwad overthrew the Mughals and created the Gaekwad dynasty which then ruled until India’s independence in 1947. Its power and prosperity of that golden age, were evident from the fact that it was one of the few princely states in India to be accorded the 21 gun salute.
Originally known as Vadapatrak after the several banyan (Vad) trees that grow there, the name later changed to Vadodara and then was anglicized by the British, to Brodera followed by Badode(y) by the Marathas and finally to Baroda. In 1974, it again went back to being officially named Vadodara.
About Madhav Bagh – Royal Heritage Stay –
Built in 1896, around 123 years ago, this was the home of Madhavrao Gaekwad, who was the cousin of Maharaja Sayyaji Rao Gaekwad III of the Gaekwad dynasty of the Marathas, who ruled Baroda from 1875 to 1939.
6 generations have since occupied this residence which is currently the home of Shivrajsinh Gaekwad, his wife Indrayanidevi and their college going daughter Riddhi and son Divyanshu.
The 2 storey mansion had always been home to the entire Gaekwad clan but in later years as the size of the family dwindled, the lower portion was rented out to a series of offices, finally culminating interestingly in the Archaeological Society of India’s Western Division, who were the tenants for a long duration until they eventually moved out into their new office elsewhere.
Time had taken its toll on the structure and the ancient building was in a state of dilapidation. Since the family occupied only the first floor, they began to wonder at the possibilities that the ground floor held and thus was born the idea of restoring the place to convert it into a luxury home stay.
About the hosts – Shivrajsinh Gaekwad and Indrayanidevi Gaekwad –
An alumnus of Mayo college, Ajmer, Shivrajsinh began his career with a short albeit comprehensive stint with Taj Hotels, which ensured that he was well soaked in every facet of the hospitality industry. This was followed by marketing roles in other multinational and well known companies.
Indrayanidevi too is an MBA in personnel and marketing and is a talented artist whose mark can be seen in the prolific artworks that adorn the place.
Both of them love company and they welcome visitors with a warmth that makes them feel at home, right from their first step across its threshold.
The Restoration –
The brilliant brick red and white facade of the mansion, stands like a splendid precursor to what lies within.
Only a portion of the ground floor has been renovated, while the rest of it awaits its turn patiently for its potential to be tapped sometime in the future.
The magnitude of the restoration is evident from the comparison between the old and the new sections that lie adjacent, separated by only a fine line so to speak, that holds apart 2 centuries from each other. The sedate ancient coexists with the vibrant modern with a surreal harmony that is tranquil and disciplined.
Always one for a good story, I entreated Indrayanidevi to narrate to me the tales of the family’s history and the events that led to the metamorphosis. So while the current features of the place might be of more interest to you readers, I will beg to digress a bit (ok more than a bit :-D) because the inner details are equally exciting for me as the outer, for therein lies the charm that makes the place unique.
The idea of converting the unused rooms to a homestay had been proposed by the family and duly encouraged by several of their friends who were aware of their warm hospitality and ability to pull it off. However, a project of this immensity required several factors to be taken into consideration. Hence it was only after several years of deliberation that the decision was made, after which there was no looking back. The restoration that began in 2017, then galloped onto a fast track and was completed within a year and when the homestay saw the light of day, it coincided auspiciously with the festival of lights, during the Diwali of October 2018.
The architect was Shivrajsinh’s maternal aunt Nandita Pravinsingh Ghatge who was familiar with the layout and was quick to know how exactly the place was to be designed. While she came up with the plan, the color schemes and the sourcing of many of the furnishings and fixtures, it was also Indrayanidevi and Shivrajsinh who commendably managed and executed most of it all on their own, without engaging the services of a contractor. So apart from hiring their own electricians, plumbers, carpenters, structural engineer etc, for the jobs that required skill, they also personally undertook some of the tasks that included measuring and documenting the place and shopping for antiques and furniture.
Also of noteworthy mention, is the structural engineer Kaizad Engineer (an apt surname :-D), who is the Technical Director of Ushta Infinity Construction Co Pvt Ltd, whose technical knowledge was a big help during the renovation.
I was amazed to learn that Indrayani and her daughter had even painted the stencilled art that adorned the walls of the rooms, apart from having their own artworks framed.
A few notable features of the remodelling are –
The inclusion of en suite washrooms and powder rooms in the bedrooms. The original home had a series of interconnected rooms and a common wash area in the backyard.
The blasting of the arches of the doorways to replace the cement with colored glass ventilation, thus bringing in more light and making the rooms more magical.
The repairing of the beautiful sunken courtyard that lies within the periphery of the rooms.
The complete reconstruction of a section of the building that had collapsed.
The tiling of the floors that were originally of soft white oxide.
An overview of the resort –
Originally sprawling over 35 acres of land, the present premises have been whittled down over the years to 2 acres, within which the quarter acre built up structure stands.
An antique cast iron fountain painted white, gurgles in welcome at the entrance. Imported from London by Madhavrao Gaekwad, this magnificent piece of equipment bears 2 prancing cherubs ably supported by 2 intertwined dolphins that are further propped by a hexagonal base adorned with 6 lion heads that enthusiastically spout out water. The still visible inscription W Whitely, indicates its origin. Perfectly functional even after all these years, this is the star of the front yard, around which the garden blossoms and the birds frolic.
The main attraction of the fountain however, is the serendipitous reflection that the mansion renders in its water and with my craze for mirrored shots, I went quite berserk trying to capture all angles of the building and also myself in the foreground:-D
The architecture of the mansion is Indo Saracenic, as was the norm in those regions at that time and the facade is an effortless sweep of styles from left to right, that encompass Hindu temples, Rajput jharokas, European churches and Islamic minarets.
Constructed out of lime and bricks, the walls of the building are 18 inches thick, which pretty much explains its stability and strength.
Other features of the mansion –
The vast garden that encompasses the mansion is a riot of flowers and trees. A few of the majestic trees like the Cannon ball (nagalinga) tree, the tree jasmine, gulmohar and silk cotton are several years old. Several species of birds and butterflies flit among the trees and flowers.
Birdsong and the clicking of squirrels provides daylong background music. Woodpeckers, parrots, bulbuls, doves, golden orioles and many more have been spotted in the grounds.
A pair of Spotted owlets have made their home in the hollow of the gulmohar and the hosts have a ringside view of them from their first floor balcony. Of course with my bird-luck (read bad-luck) they refused to pose for me and sulked with their back to me every time I made an attempt to shoot. But the Butterflies were kinder and made me some colorful memories.
The Home –
One enters the home through an airy porch that leads to a small room whose walls are lined with glimpses of history in the form of framed pictures, through which you can view the past.
Shallow containers (urulis) greet you with their colorful assortment of flowers that are handpicked from the garden.
After the porch comes a compact lobby from which rises an old British styled, wide wooden stairway that leads to the first floor residence of the hosts.
To the right of this lobby is the palatial living cum dining room with its splendid flooring, bearing a collection of period furniture and walls lined with art.
Adjacent to this is a covered verandah which is a enchanting venue for having breakfast or just sitting around and gazing at the garden.
The house is built in traditional Hindu style with a central sunken courtyard that is connected to the entrance via a little passage.
With a tiny marble fountain at the center, this square is surrounded by the new refurbished rooms on 3 sides and the old section on the fourth.
This space is the star of the interiors and is literally like a breath of fresh air. It is a pleasure to view this every time one emerges from the rooms and I just could not have my fill of gazing at it. Needless to say that my camera also was quite addicted to it. Being open to the sky, this place is magical in the rains and one can spend the entire night just sitting on the thoughtfully provided charming Gujarati swing, which enhances the experience as one sways gently to the music of the pouring showers.
The gardens and corridors and halls of the home are open to the guests and there is a homely sense of freedom as one strolls around, taking in the beauty of the place.
Did I say that the courtyard was the highlight of the place? Well after seeing the rooms I found it hard to decide, so I made all of them winners in different categories 😀
What can I say about the rooms? From the Kohl lined eyes of the Raja Ravi Varma painting prints in the bedroom to the Kohler fittings in the bath, the rooms are a Kaleidoscope or should I say Kohl’eidoscope of a Kohl’lection of the antique and the modern, (much like the old and new sides of the home itself), creating a seamless melange of comfort, luxury and aesthetics.
Heirloom furniture, restored artefacts, ancient dressing tables, old wooden beds, colorful wooden clad high ceilings, arches, colored glass ventilators, stencilled art, framed Ravi Varma prints, a flat screen TV, a non alcoholic mini bar and other such objects, create an exciting and vivid tapestry that one can never tire of luxuriating within.
The color coordination is so painstakingly performed, that even the upholstery and curtains have been custom block printed to match. Such meticulous attention to detail indicates the passion which the hosts have poured out into making the place a thing of exquisite beauty.
The beds are uber comfortable with carefully chosen 8 inch spring mattresses and cozy duvets.
The washrooms are a work of art, with towel racks and toilet roll holders of solid teak, vivid handmade wall tiles, mesmerizing lampshades, antique mirrors and modern counters framed with filigreed frills. Bathrooms fit to dine in, was how I wanted to describe them 😀
Fresh bath linen, luxurious toiletries and a liquid soap dispenser which made me very happy, since I dislike wasting soap 😀 are a part of all the washrooms.
Room categories –
The rooms as I mentioned, are equipped with all the luxuries like air conditioning, TV, tea and coffee maker, drinking water, non alcoholic mini bar etc. The hosts will also provide an iron, hairdryer and whatever else is available, on request.
What I absolutely loved about the rooms or should I say the corridors, were the delightful wooden benches that lined the walls near each door. Inlaid with handmade tiles, these seats were not just pretty but were very practical and useful to dump my bags on every time I needed to open my door.
There are 4 designer rooms, each one distinct from the other. These gems of rooms are aptly named after precious stones, in accordance with their color scheme.
The Sapphire glows in blue and gold and a large arch bears stencilled motifs, as does the skirting on the walls. The bathroom tiles are stunning in cobalt and off white. The floor is of an ancient variety of mosaic.
The Coral is done up in peach with paisleys stencilled on its walls. Exposed brick forms a part of the decor and this room though seemingly smaller than the Sapphire, has an access to a quaint sit out and the garden.
The Turquoise is the largest and the most gorgeous of all. Called the suite because of an additional room with a Diwan, it is decked like a Gujarati bride and glows blue green in the subtle light of the delicate lamps. Its matching chairs in bright pink and blue upholstery add splashes of color and the bathroom is a riot of tiles in brilliant hues. This room also opens out into the garden and private sit out.
The Ruby lies across the courtyard and interestingly has 2 doors despite being the smallest room and it derives its name from its bright red decor. The bathroom tiles are a combination of vivid red and silver grey and so are the curtains. It has an imposing 4 poster bed on one side and a framed picture of Madhavrao Gaekwad presides over the room from the opposite wall.
My room –
Mustard is a color that I love and I was delighted to be ushered into the Sapphire room with its cool blue and hot mustard. In fact I was so in love with the space that I gradually began matching with the decor 😀
My dressing table was an heirloom piece that had come down 3 generations and now belonged to Indrayanidevi. My beds likewise were from the owner’s personal collection.
The bathroom walls were clad in rich cobalt blue and off white tiles and embossed stencil work to match. The hand painted insert tiles were not just pretty but also made good shelves. I was also very pleased with the presence of a ceiling fan and an ancient heavy wooden cupboard with antique knobs.
Dining options –
The charm of a home stay is that one can get to savor the local and traditional home made delicacies of their hosts. The cuisine at Madhav Bagh ranges from typical Maharashtrian to generic Indian and Continental.
Indrayanidevi hails from Kohlapur and also spent some of her earlier years with an aunt who had learnt Thanjavur style cuisine. Indrayanidevi does the cooking herself and she dishes up some lip smacking Maharashtrian fare with some interesting contributions from the south too.
Coconut finds pride of place in most preparations and also makes up the stuffing in many dishes that Indrayani stuffs you with 😀 Bharleli vangi, bharleli bhindi, bharleli komdi … you get the drift, which are brinjal, lady finger, chicken respectively, stuffed with delectable masalas.
Apart from this she also prepares a Loncha, which translates to pickle and means dishes that can be kept for a few days and were used as ‘travel’ dishes that had to last without spoiling during journeys. Batata cha loncha is made of potatoes and likewise the dish is also made with meat, shrimp and other vegetables.
Thamda rassa (red gravy), Pandhara rassa (white gravy), sukke (dry non gravy meat or vegetables), pulav, kothmir vadi etc are some of the other typical dishes.
Her unique contribution from Thanjavur is the Sunti, which are meat balls that are secured with banana fibre and fried. She says that no one else makes such an item in Vadodara.
Kokum juice, sol kadi, chaas (buttermilk) etc are some of the drinks that are served.
Indrayani also serves continental dishes like pastas, salads, bakes, soups etc. Her special Cold egg salad, macaroni and chicken in white sauce was on the table during my stay.
They also have their own farmlands on the outskirts of the city where they grow a few vegetables for their own consumption. Whenever available, the produce of the farm is used at the table. She also likes to experiment with unusual ingredients and recently made a nice preserve with some fresh wild berries that grew on the farm.
She usually has an tantalizing stock of pickles, chutneys and preserves. Vegan and Jain food is also served on request.
A standard breakfast would consist of an Indian snack like Poha, Sabudana upma etc, bread/toast, eggs to order, juice/tea/coffee.
Lunch and dinner have to be preordered and can also be customized.
For local people who would like to enjoy a meal here, they have Dine at Home concept at Madhav Bagh, where groups can book a meal and dine in the company of their hosts. This is a popular practice and they frequently have such guests coming over.
During my stay there, I had a mix of their traditional cuisine as well as continental. The stuffed brinjal and mutton curry were my favorites. I could not taste too many dishes due to a lack of time.
Banquet halls and meeting rooms –
There is no specific banquet hall or room to conduct business meetings but the dining hall is used for ‘Dine at home’ events where the hosts entertain groups of diners ranging from 10 – 25 people, with a prebooked menu.
Indrayani’s lunches and dinners are quite sought after and they have a steady stream of guests who avail of this home style catering.
Phone and internet connectivity –
Being in the heart of Vadodara city, internet and phone signals are as good as in any big city and are not an issue. The hosts also provide WiFi for their guests.
Things to do –
The residence does not provide any games or equipment by way of activity but the one can pass time within the property by reading books from the mini library, spending time in the garden just relaxing or chasing birds and butterflies like I did 😀 or just gazing at the fountain both outside and in the courtyard.
There is a plunge pool in the future plans though, which will further enhance the allure of the place.
However, for those who want to go sightseeing, Vadodara and its surroundings (in a 100 km radius) has a host of options ranging from child friendly activities, to adventurous treks, to religious sites, to monuments and museums and even the recently unveiled Statue of Unity.
The hosts at Madhav Bagh are excellent at planning itineraries and are well connected to the best of guides and historians. They can curate an excellent package based on one’s preferences.
Read more about this in Vadodara – Things to do.
Visitor profile –
Madhav Bagh is a versatile destination that is suitable for any type of traveller.
While there may not be entertainment by way of swimming pool or games, it is nevertheless a comfortable option for families or groups who are visiting Vadodara. It is also good for solo travellers, couples etc.
Being an urban property, it is also a luxurious option for high end business travellers that frequent this city that has several industries.
It is a great place for artists, photographers, birders and most of all for history, heritage and architecture buffs who visit this culture rich city.
In a span of less than a year, it has already received high profile visitors of the likes of the British High Council and his wife and the wife and family of the current Vice President of India.
Best time to visit –
Vadodara has harsh summers from April to July where temperatures even touch 48 deg c. July to end September is the rainy season, less hot than summer but stiflingly humid nevertheless. November to February is considered the best season to visit, with October and March on the fringe of pleasant weather.
However, those who visit on business are not bound by the weather and it is only the leisure traveller who needs to pay heed to the seasons.
Having said that, the environs of Madhav Bagh as such, are a few degrees more pleasant that the rest of the city, due to the dense greenery that surrounds the house.
What you should carry –
Vadodara is a reasonably big city and most essentials are available easily. Carry a good pair of walking shoes if you are going sightseeing and an umbrella or raincoat will be useful in the monsoon. Mosquito repellents and other basics are provided in the rooms.
Getting there –
Madhav Bagh is in the heart of Vadodara which is an important city in Gujarat. Hence it is well connected by all modes of transport.
Air – Vadodara airport operates a limited number of flights and is well connected to important cities like Ahmedabad and Mumbai. There is one direct flight from Bangalore which I flew on.
A glimpse of Vadodara is encapsulated on the wall to the arrival area and a large I Love Vadodara sign greets you in the hall.
Rail – Vadodara is an important rail junction on the Western railway and is connected to many major cities.
Bus – Likewise there are good bus services.
The airport is around 13 km and the bus and train station are around 7 km from Madhav Bagh. Metered autos and app based cabs are a convenient method of getting there.
Road – Roads are excellent in Gujarat and are a good option to getting to the city.
My journey –
I travelled from Bangalore and chose the fastest means of getting there, which was by flight of course … I have not mastered the art of teletransportation yet 😀
Currently there is only one daily direct flight by Indigo Airlines from Bangalore and Vadodara. However, Vadodara is well connected by air to Mumbai, Ahmedabad and some other cities and hence non direct flights from Bangalore are available through the day.
I flew on the 7.30 pm Indigo reaching Vadodara at 9.30 pm. I was picked up from the airport by Shivraj. The drive to his house was barely 20 minutes.
Likewise, my return to Bangalore after the rest of my Gujarat trip, was also by flight but I flew out via Ahmedabad since it has more options for direct flights to Bangalore and also because I wanted to avoid the direct Vadodara Bangalore flight by Indigo that leaves at 6 am 😀
Vadodara is 100 km away from Ahmedabad and there are several trains, buses, cabs etc through the day.
Booking and contact –
You can contact them directly or through various portals like booking.com, Make my trip, etc
Madhav Bagh, Opp ONGC Main gate, Makarpura road
Phone – +91 98240 63134/ +91 701 637 0801
Please Note – This trip was made in collaboration with Madhav Bagh Royal Heritage Stay. 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.
Sep 18th -20th, 2019