Escape to Polo Forests, Vijayvillas Vijaynagar

After 8 long months of being confined to the campus due to the unprecedented pandemic 2020, we escaped to the Polo Forest, Sabarkantha, Gujarat, India. I will describe our amazing trip to this area in a series of posts, this being the first. In the many decades we have been in Gujarat, we had never heard of the Polo Forest or of the little kingdom of Vijaynagar in North East Gujarat. We had the good fortune to stay in a heritage cottage, Vijay Villas Heritage Home Stay, a quaint little place built 120 years ago in 1900, owned by the scion of the old princely state of Vijaynagar, Vijay Vardhan. Vijaynagar State, earlier known as Pol State, was a princely state of the Bombay Presidency during the British rule. The owner’s father was the last ruler, Hamir Singh II, Hindupatsinhji 1902/04 to 1986. He ruled during 1914 to 1947, and signed the accession to the Indian Union on 10, June 1948.

We visited the Hamir Palace, named after the last ruler, which was under renovation. The owner of Vijay Villas was kind enough to open it up for us to view. He and his brother intend to turn it into a Heritage Hotel. Hamir Palace was quite impressive. The outer wing had been rented our at a pittance to an Industrial Training Institute (ITI) till recently.

The palace was a small and very livable where the owners themselves resided as children. It had Mardana (Gents) and Janana (Ladies) sections. Both were large and impressive. The Mardana section had been renovated, while the Janana section still wore a dilapidated look. What was fascinating was a completely ruined structure in the front on the left side of the entrance, while the right side was well renovated and had been in use till lately by the ITI. The ruined structure was apparently a jail with prison cells inside. Entry was, however, impossible.

The royal family performed the puja and offered animal sacrifice in the times of the princely state. As we were there on the days after Diwali the son had to perform puja and offer sacrifice on that auspicious day. We stared at him incredulously as we live in the state of Gujarat! He showed us the place where the sacrifice was made, which had a drain for the blood to flow! He assured us that these days the sacrifice was breaking a pumpkin ‘Kaddhu’!! We all grinned happily!

There was a separate entry to the Janana section, where the women of the household lived. There was a road at the back of the palace which led to the entry into the Janana section so that the women of the house could leave and enter without being observed by the men. That was the era when women in North India lived in ‘Purdah’, under the veil, and did not appear in public or even in front of men of their own household! There was a huge kitchen in the courtyard of the Janana section and a little wing for guests.

The Mardana section was renovated and there was an area where a swimming pool was to be developed. Definitely looked like a luxurious Heritage Hotel was in the making. The Mardana Lounge was well set up. We wondered how much of effort and funds went into upkeep of each of these little souvenirs and furniture.

We stayed in the Vijay Villas Heritage Home Stay, not far from the palace. This was run by Asha Kumari, wife of Vijay Vardhan, a true woman entrepreneur. This was a darbari guesthouse and after independence was converted into a school and later on it was an official government court. It is now converted into a heritage home stay. It was a set of about 10 large rooms with huge bathrooms, all opening into a long courtyard full of almond trees! Rooms were furnished with high King Sized double beds. A lot of photos of the royal family hung on the walls of the rooms.

The dining hall had two tigers, one stuffed and standing in a glass case and the another tiger skin gracing the wall. Painting of one leopard also hung on the wall of the bedroom. These were souvenirs of the hunting skills of the royal family. Behind the Hamir Palace there was a forest. After accession to the Indian State the trees were counted, valued at 10 paisa each, and were cut. But apparently the State did not made the payment as yet and a litigation is on. In the Hamir Palace there was a gun room, which we saw from the roof, from where there was a look out and leopards and other animals roaming the forest in the rear were shot! Strange past-time in days when there were no make believe video shooting games!

And so began our tour of the Polo Forests. Polo Forests, the 15th Century Shiva and Jain temples, river, dam and the area around were truly picturesque. A wonderful Weekend get-away, do visit. A series of posts follow this one, on each of these amazing sights. So Stay Tuned and watch this space!!

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