The human condition is such that we get used to things. Give us enough of anything and we tend to behave as if we are entitled to it. That happened with Rajasthan’s grand palaces and me. After a few days spent living the royal life, I could not imagine going back to my mundane, non-royal, non-luxurious life. So I continued further south from Rajasthan, looking for my next dose of royalty and luxury.
The bright blue Elantra lit up the otherwise drab and unchanging Rajasthani landscape as it zipped down straight, almost-empty roads. The speedo needle spun happily into triple digits, though things inside the cabin remained plush and quiet. I was happily humming to Aerosmith, my right foot flexed, when a sudden checkpost forced me to grind to a halt. We had arrived at the Rajasthan-Gujarat border, and patrolmen were keen to ensure that our ensemble was booze-free.
I reluctantly hauled myself out and stood in front of the bootlid. The hazard lights blinked thrice, and the bootlid popped open. The patrolmen stared, mouths slightly ajar.
They began pulling piece of luggage after piece of luggage out, the deep boot seeming like a bottomless abyss. When they managed to pull out all eight suitcases and search them to their satisfaction, we continued our journey to Vadodara, home to the Laxmi Vilas Palace.
As we drove down the long, forested driveway, the Laxmi Vilas Palace appeared in bits and pieces. It seemed cool and all, but I could only appreciate this building when I took a step – actually, about 100 steps – back and viewed it in its entirety. Sprawling barely cuts it.
The Laxmi Vilas Palace is one of the largest private residences in the world, home to the royal Gaekwad family of Baroda. Most of it has been converted into a museum now, so I couldn’t actually live there, but a day spent meandering about it provided more than just a glimpse into how splendid life in it must have been. The interiors remind you of a European country house, what with the mosaic tiles, Belgian stained glass windows, numerous old armoury and bronze sculptures, and marble and terracotta statues. The museum has put on display a whole array of artwork collected by the royal family over the years, including a splendid collection of paintings by the celebrated Indian painter, Raja Ravi Varma.
What really takes the cake though is the palace’s exterior. The palace design borrows from several architectural styles, including Indian, Mughal and Christian. Every square-inch of the structure is covered with intricate detailing, ornamentation or relief. The palace is not symmetric when viewed head-on, but there is a brutalist beauty to its asymmetry. A particularly striking element is a mural that adorns a small portion of its walls; while it is obviously European in its theme, the characters crowding it are all Indian.
The sprawling Laxmi Vilas Palace features fine, intricate architecture and ornamentation.
As I stood in the seemingly endless lawn, gazing upon this leviathan structure, a revelation dawned upon me. I realised that true luxury includes one more element – pride. I could totally imagine the Maharaja who commissioned this palace standing in front of it upon its completion, brimming over with the warmest sense of accomplishment.
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