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Published: November 20th 2018
A quiet day. We start at the Naulakha Palace, part of the medieval Darbargadh or fortified palace complex of Gondal, which was the original seat of the ruling Maharajahs. The main building was built in 1748, and is ornately decorated with stone carving and ornate jarokha balconies. It’s not clear where we go, and the only person visible speaks no English. We climb the steps up to the first floor of the main building, but everything is locked. As we descend, a young man greets us and starts to open up the various rooms of the palace. The main building was the Maharajah’s residence, and houses a large durbar hall with stuffed leopards glaring snarlingly down from the four corners. Most of the other rooms and buildings are devoted to little collections of items either commemorating the life of the Maharajah, or of things he and his family have collected – dolls, sporting trophies, model ships and toy cars, from the late 1800s and early 1900s.
We continue to the Bhuvaneswari temple, which is famous but modest and rather disappointing. It boats an ayurvedic pharmacy, and the walls of the temple courtyard are full of painted advertisements for various potions
you can buy. Ruum oil will apparently heal all manner of back problems and rheumatism, while another elixir will address anorexia, indigestion and wind. There doesn’t seem to be one for Delhi belly, maybe that is a condition that defeats even the ancient ayurvedic healers.
The Riverside Palace is also owned by the Maharajah and, like the Orchard Palace we are staying in, is run as a hotel. It appears empty and shuttered, but Mr Singh locates an elderly retainer who shows us round. He explains a big party has just left. It’s pleasant enough but we’re glad we’re staying in the Orchard Palace. Whilst driving through town we stumble on the Sangram Sinhji High School which is apparently modelled on Eton. It is built in a rather Gothic style. Apparently it is very attractive inside but it appears shut up, so we will never know.
Our last stop is the Swaminarayan temple. There is a huge entrance arch, in pink sandstone and built in Mughal style with chattris and jharokha balconies, with pink sandstone buildings on three sides of a vast courtyard, and a shimmering white temple straight ahead (some is white marble underfoot but
much of the buildings seems painted plasterwork). We take our shoes off and climb up the white steps, expecting them to be hot underfoot but to our surprise find they are pleasingly cool. All the doors into the temple are closed. Disappointed, we descend, and go to put our shoes back on. A girl tells us the temple is, in fact, at ground level, so we head back in. Men and women are segregated; all facing forward watching priests in yellow robes processing round an inner sanctum in which we can simply see the shape of one or more people inside a huge billowing fabric construction, much like we saw in the Swaminarayan temple in Ahmedabad. David is engaged in conversation by an elderly gentleman who tells him how much he liked his stay in Cardiff and Scotland. At 11.00am they all leap to their feet and the men only are invited to process around the sanctum to do their pooja. David politely declines as he can see Sara overheating nearby with the ladies and it doesn’t look that exciting anyway. Outside we are approached by a number of families and young girls who want to take the usual selfies
with us. The form seems to be that a family wants us both in the photo, girls want Sara only and men want David only. Handshakes are then exchanged and the inevitable “Which country?” question asked.
We’re tired and overheated – again! - and retire back to the hotel. Neither of us feels well – Sara has a hacking cough that convulses her from time to time, and David’s tummy has not been good for the last day or so, so a day of leisure sounds like a good plan. Sensing our indisposition, the manager greets us and asks would we like a toasted cheese and tomato sandwich for lunch. Yes please! As we wait for it to be prepared, sitting on the main veranda reading and checking the internet, a group of locals who are visiting come and stare at the Europeans......
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