When I arrive at Madhvi it is already late in the evening. I am tempted to spend the night here but my next stop is far Dwarka. I might lose an entire day on the bus getting to Dwarka. So I think it’s better to take an overnight bus. There is one leaving Mandvi at half seven.
I hire an auto-rickshaw to Vijaya Vilas Palace. It is quite a distance out of town. The ride costs me sixty rupees, bargained down from eighty. I dispose the guy at the entrance gates. Driving right up to the palace is going to cost an extra fifteen rupees and I like to walk through the woodland anyway.
The ticket counter is but an old desk in a courtyard. The place is swarming with flies. Neither a warm nor a royal welcome. Worse still, a number of rules and expectations greet me. I am told smoking is not allowed. No spitting please or I will be fined. I am asked to maintain decorum. If I were to drive in, no horns please. No photography in general but I can pay extra for taking pictures. Another notice board tells me the different rates for mobiles, still cameras, video cameras, digital cameras and mobile cameras. Did I mention that mobiles are not allowed inside even if they are switched off? I have to pay extra if I wish to take my mobile inside. One would think that there is something terribly important about this palace.
Once the essentials are sorted out, I enter the open forecourt. The palace stands at the center. At the back is a dried up fountain. Woodland cover surrounds the palace on all sides. It’s a beautiful palace but the initial impression is hijacked by more notices as I prepare to enter the building – leave your shoes outside, no photography inside. There are two more notices with self-proclaimed greatness of the palace. I mention all these things not to criticize the palace authorities but as a reflection of the Indian public, their lack of civic sense and their insensitivity toward historic monuments.
A corridor goes around a large sitting living room and a dining room. These two rooms are tastefully furnished. I quite like them. There is a collage of portraits showing the royal lineage. They boastfully claim to be direct descendants of Lord Krishna whose existence in itself is not historically proven. I then climb up one of the four corners towers to the terrace.
The terrace is beautiful with far-reaching views. Woodland greenery surrounds the palace on all sides. The sea gleams in the distance. There are no formal gardens as in Versailles or Cliveden. There are no informal ones as in Trelissick or Trebah. There are no landscaped gardens as in Stowe or Stourhead. It is my belief that gardening was never an artform and much less a passion in Hindu India. It was Islamic rulers who introduced formal gardening into India. Perhaps my later visit to Rajasthan may change this perception.
The terrace has a parapet of stone tracery. Two quandrangles open out at a lower level and are seen from the terrace. These elements make a wonderful mix of open, half-open and closed spaces. Bangla roofs crown two buildings, one open and the other closed. These roofs are quite dramatic in the way the curves sweep boldly and converge at sharp points at the corners. Because these enclosures are not square, the arches curve smoothly on two sides; on the other two sides, curves meet to form pointed arches. There is a square wooden tower, probably a later addition, that has a more symmetric wooden bangla roof. Projected balconies and octogonal towers at the four corners complete the terrace.
I leave the palace and walk down the road. In this unlikely place, there is a deserted runway. It was probably built for the personal use of the maharaja. I pass the runway, walk over sandy dunes and reach the beach. A cowherd somewhere is singing a folk song. The beach is deserted except for some birds and a couple of stranded fishing boats. It is low tide. The sea is at least a mile away and I can hardly see the waves coming and going. A little inlet of the sea is flowing near me. Windmills in the distance work their triple blades. I take a few pictures of the scene and return to the road.
It is a long walk back to town. A couple of guys on a two-wheeler voluntarily stop and give me a ride. So three of us, me with my backpack, are hurtling down the lonely road, up and down the undulating hill at nearly 80 kmph. When we reach the main road, I get off and prefer to walk the rest of the way.
The town is abuzz with activity. A Muslim festival is underway. Free drinks are being offered. Loud music is playing. Crowds move slowly in their knotted streams along the main road next to the river. Half-finished boats stand with their bare planks, nails and scaffolding. Their unpainted bows point to the air as if sniffing the salt and the sea. Men carry decorated dolis to the river bank. I assume they are preparing to immerse them in the waters.
I return to the bus station and order a cup of tea.
‘Half or full?’ asks the waiter.
Tea arrives in a little cup, full to the brim. The overflow is on the unwashed saucer beneath. So a full tea gives me the privilege of a sipping it from a saucer. I finish tea and wait for my bus to Dwarka.