I’m sitting on a swing, sipping tea with my host Vikramsinh, maharana of the former princely state of Jambughoda. We’ve been walking around his gardens, and have settled near a large organic vegetable patch. A Great Dane and a Doberman lie at our feet, while several pups scamper around. Vikramsinh, whose estate is almost self-sufficient in terms of food, is full of excitement about his range of edible plants. Grown without any pesticides, there are cauliflowers bigger than my head, juicy tomatoes, and more.
Jambughoda is a lush estate, a two-hour drive from Vadodara. On one end of the property is the 200-year-old palace, where Vikramsinh’s family lives. One wing has been converted to accommodate guests; the former royal kitchens, stables, and staff quarters have also been refurbished as suites and rooms. The decor is old-world, with the Jambughoda crest emblazoned above each door.
Each room has a veranda and a lawn, which are lovely places to read or drink a favourite beverage while looking out over the estate’s canopy of jamun, mahua, arjuna, mango, and other trees. Just outside the grounds, the family has fields growing wheat, pulses, mustard, maize, and corn. I walk around these one morning, watching farmhands at work. Men scurry up trees to pluck fruit, and adventurous visitors can try climbing up the trees with the aid of a harness. I decline the offer, heading instead to a circular stepwell at the far edge of the property. Although it is no longer in use, there are plans to restore the structure.
After this walk, I head to the house for an early lunch. Meals are typically served in the palace’s main dining room, a large airy space surrounded by trees and floral curtains. Guests can also request a special meal with the royal family in their personal dining room; that’s what I have opted for. The food is served, course by course, on family crockery and silverware embossed with the Jambughoda crest.
The food is a blend of local tribal flavours, with influences from Gujarat and the family’s ancestral home in Dhar, Madhya Pradesh. The cook Vitthal, whose grandmother helmed the kitchen before him, whipped up a feast from family recipes and local delicacies. This included urad dal dhebras, potatoes cooked with sesame seeds, corn and bajra rotis, and pulao with fried onions. The delicious signature dish, the kalia rezala, consists of lightly spiced, succulent pieces of mutton. For guests who want more, there’s a Durbari thali, with 23 different dishes served on a festive silver thal.
While we eat, Vikramsinh regales us with tales from his childhood at The Doon School. A warm and gregarious person, his commitment to Jambughoda and its guests is evident. He tells us about his illustrious ancestors, whose photographs line the ground floor of the house. This part of the palace is open to guests who wish to learn about the former princely state and its rather colourful rulers.
Visitors can also make a day trip to Jambughoda Wildlife Sanctuary, a 20-minute drive from the palace. The area was declared a sanctuary in 1990. Vikramsinh is now on a mission to ensure that the two-lane highway here is not converted into four lanes, as this would displace several villages and the many leopards, panthers, four-horned antelope, and over a hundred species of birds that reside in this area.
The palace staff can organize treks for guests, complete with a guide and packed snacks. The forest is perfect for hikes as well as slow sunset strolls around the Kada Dam reservoir. At the Rathwa tribal villages nearby, visitors can learn about the 11th-century Pithora art that adorns the homes. Also close by are the ruins of the eighth-century Champaner-Pavagadh Archaeological Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, with an interesting mix of Islamic and Hindu architecture.
Appeared in the March 2017 issue as “Garden State”.
Jambughoda Palace has 20 rooms. The Piloo Mody suite with its vintage four poster beds is great for groups. There is a lawn outside each room and guests may bring pets on providing prior notice. Meals cost extra, but guests can opt for packages that include meals and sightseeing (www.jambughoda.com; room doubles from ₹2,500; Piloo Mody suite, two bedrooms,₹4,800 per room per night each; Durbari thali ₹2,000, special meal ₹850).
Jambughoda Palace is about 80 km/1.5 hr east of Vadodara. The hotel can arrange a pick-up from Vadodara railway station or airport (₹2,000 one way). Visit between Oct-Mar when the weather is pleasant. The area is particularly lively around Holi, when there is a ten-day mela. Or visit during mango season (mid May-mid Jun) to feast on the 12 varieties grown on the property.