Layers of lush green Aravalli hills as far as the eye can see… Endless bajra fields swaying with the wind and glistening lakes shining under the sun… Rare glimpses of peacocks dancing and buffaloes taking a lazy dip in the river! No, these are not scenes of a nature documentary on television. But a mention of some real-life experiences felt in Eastern Gujarat’s best-kept secret. Around 160 kms from Ahmedabad, on the banks of Suki River lies this gem of a yesteryear princely state – Santrampur.
Unlike many other erstwhile palaces of India, here one can get a glimpse of its royal history from none other than the Maharaja and Maharani of Santrampur. The kingdom of Santrampur was first carved by ruler Rana Sant in 1255 while his brother Limdev found the state of Kadana, now in present-day Gujarat.
Santrampur comprises of two townships, Sant and Rampur. While Rampur is the commercial town or the ‘city centre’, Sant was reserved for the palaces belonging to the royal family and their staff.
Where MP, Rajasthan and Gujarat show its glimpses
For someone who has an undying urge to explore years of history and royal heritage in the form of age-old palaces and forts, Santrampur is an ideal weekend destination. Where else would you find three states strongly influencing one laidback princely state of the bygone era? Santrampur is located on the Gujarat border, with Rajasthan on its Northern side and Madhya Pradesh on its Eastern side, giving glimpses of all three states in its culture, cuisine and lifestyle.
This is clearly visible as one steps into Shri Joraver Vilas – the art deco palatial villa that rises magnificently upon a lake — where the Maharani and the Maharaja currently live with their son. Shri Joraver Vilas itself was built in 1926 by Maharana Saheb Shri Joraver Singhji (1896-1946), who wanted a quiet getaway away from the frenzy of his court. Compared to the cavernous official residence of the ruler, it was a more personal and modern place—at least by early 20th-century standards.
All of Santrampur rulers belonged from the Parmar clan of Rajputs, claiming a lineage to the legendary Emperor Vikramaditya of Ujjain. The palace itself has interiors that are reminiscent of the Art Deco era it was built in. While some corners give you an idea of Gujarat’s rich textile history, some artefacts bring you closer to the designs of Madhya Pradesh and the stories narrated in the sepia-toned articles remind you of the valour of Rajputana lineage.
Apart from Shri Joraver Vilas, Sant has two other palaces — the imposing Raj Mahal and Hawa Mahal. Both atop a hill in Santrampur tell you a beautiful tale of the royal past before the British rule. Raj Mahal is in a derelict condition, yet it does not give away its beauty of Gothic Architecture, with intricately carved wooden pillars and beautiful detailing.
While the Raj Mahal sits majestically at the bottom of the hill, Hawa Mahal on the other hand is placed strategically on top of the hill overlooking Rampur on the eastern side and Sant on the western side. The 360-degree view from Hawa Mahal, with the Sukhi River meandering below, the neighbouring villages and the backwaters of the Kadana Dam, is a sight to behold. The view looks stunning during sunset and you can see some magnificent rock formations near the Kadana Dam.
On your way back, stop by the ruins of a Shiva and Vishnu temple in the village. This block of four temples, dating back to the 14th century, has been identified by the Archeological Survey of India as a protected heritage monument.
With lush green mountains and ample water reserve, is there wildlife dwelling in the dense forests of Santrampur, one may ask? With Santrampur’s close proximity to Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh, local villagers spotted a tiger lurking around in the Matoran forest just opposite to the lake of Joraver Villas – the only tiger spotting after 27 years in Gujarat.
Cuisine inspired by the three states
Have you been to the Sheesh Mahal in Jaipur’s Amber Fort? Or looked at the intricate mirror mosaic work in Bhuj’s Aina Mahal? Get a glimpse of both in the kapchi room at Shri Joraver Villas which is the dining room of the palace.
The lunch and dinner is a royal affair with cuisine inspired by all three states. The royal family also had very close ties with Parsi families residing in Santrampur. Therefore various Parsi food dishes find their way in the ‘shaahi daawat’, such as, ‘Patra ni Machchi (steamed fish wrapped in banana leaves)’ and ‘Keema par Endu’ (spicy minced mutton topped with eggs).
Santrampur and its neighbouring areas are predominantly inhabited by tribals, who grow maize as their staple diet.
The in- house specialty of the palace kitchen is of course the ‘Meethi Murghi. ’ The secret recipe has been carried down through generations. This chicken preparation is cooked with dry fruits, milk and milk solids, saffron and whole red chillies. The combination of sweetness brought about with the dry fruits and the spice of the red chilies makes it a mouth-watering delicacy. The Royal cuisine of Santrampur is, thus, a combination of simple Gujarati, rustic, and rich traditional flavours with various influences. The must-try here is the Gulaab Kheer (a sweet milk preparation with rose petals). The high-tea on a boat in the middle of the lake is another grand affair that stays with you long after you have left the place.
With winters setting in, it’s an ideal time to set on a road trip to Santrampur and witness the stunning sunrise and sunsets amid a dash of royalty influenced by three culturally rich states of India.
All images have been provided by Harsh Patel.