A view from inside the royal railway carriage. Photo: Pankaj Anand
If you’ve ever wondered how India’s royals travelled, you can live a bit of the experience at the Orchard Palace in Gondal—located an hour away from Rajkot—where the royal family of Gondal has preserved their private rail saloon from the early 1900s.
Built in the late 19th-century as an annexe to Huzoor Palace, the royal family’s residence, The Orchard Palace in Gondal was meant to host personal guests of the Maharajas. In the early 90s, the palace was converted into a seven-room heritage hotel, well-appointed with Art Deco furniture, antiques and handicrafts from the family’s collection. As a part of this exercise, the royal railway carriage of Maharaja Bhagwat Sinhji was restored to allow for guests to take a trip back in time.
The Gondal State was one of the many princely states that made up the Bombay Presidency, an administrative region of British India. The 11-gun salute state—one granted a gun salute by the British Crown—spanned an area of about 1,000 sq miles comprising four towns and more than 175 villages. Under the enterprising Maharaja Bhagwat Sinhji who ruled for almost 80 years from 1884-1932 and studied medicine at Oxford, Gondal grew into a prosperous, liberal state. Part of the Maharaja’s many modernisation schemes were sanitary drainage and underground electricity supplies in Gondal town, road and irrigation networks across the state as well as the establishment of the railway industry in Saurashtra.
Way ahead of his time, the Maharaja planned for a railway factory close to the palace, so as to allow for a set of private tracks to be laid for his personal railway carriage. Those private tracks along with his saloon still stand to this day. The carriage—which guests of the property can walk through—comprises a kitchen with an intact Dover wood-fire stove, a bar and dining area, a living room, two washrooms and a bedroom for two.
“The Maharaja loved to travel and so whenever he wanted to, he attached his carriage to a train and moved across the country with ease,” explains the titular Maharani Saheb Kumudkumari, who overlooks the upkeep of the Orchard Palace, Riverside Palace (the family’s other heritage hotel in Gondal), the Maharaja’s old luxury railway saloon, as well as Naulakha Palace, the former residence of the family that has since been converted into a museum.
While you can’t drink tea or dine in the carriage, guests of the property can enjoy the culinary delights of Orchard Palace’s Kitchen which whips up creations inspired by the royal family’s travels and their Kathiawadi roots. A plus for those planning a trip is the in-house wine shop, which allows tourists to purchase their own wines and spirits with a permit and enjoy it within the hotel’s premises.
“Earlier, we had plans to convert it into a suite for guests. But we realised that we would have to completely transform the carriage for it to be fit for guests. Instead, we chose to preserve it as it was, to allow for guests to experience the real deal. Everything has been maintained, except of course, for the upholstery,” she explains.
Here’s what guests can expect:
Orchard Palace, Huzoor Palace Complex, Gondal, Gujarat