I was told that it is the most palatial private home in the world, four times the size of Buckingham Palace, and a magnificent yet slightly quirky example of the Indo-Saracenic School of Architecture, and also learnt that the maverick artist, Raja Ravi Varma lived here for many years, making this his atelier from which emerged some of his most iconic mythological paintings — when he was not busy capturing the forward-thinking Maharaja Sayjirao Gaekwad II and his wife Chimnabai II on large portraits. But nothing prepared me for the regal abode that I drove into one fine morning. Peacocks prancing in the garden and langurs sitting atop old monuments, the ethereal Laxmi Vilas Palace surprises you with its eclectic interplay of Neo-Indian, Islamic, Neoclassical, and Gothic influences.
Laxmi Vilas Palace in Baroda is an extravagant building, built by Maharaja Sayajirao Gaekwad III in 1890 at a cost of GBP 180,000. Constructed by Major Charles Mant, it boasted the most modern amenities such as elevators, and the interior is reminiscent of a large European country house. True to its origin, it still remains the abode of the Gaekwad royal family: namely Rajmata Shubhaginiraje Gaekwad, Maharaja Samarjit Sinh Gaekwad, Maharani Radhikaraje Gaekwad, and their two beautiful daughters.
Being guests of Maharani Radhikaraje Gaekwad, we travelled across the entire length and breadth of the compound that covers 700 acres. Part-golf course, part-cricket club, and part-monuments and memorials, the grounds landscaped by William Goldring— a specialist from Kew Gardens, are as green as can be, washed in the monsoon downpour.
The Maharaja Fateh Singh Museum at an extreme end of the palace plays home to the fabled Gaekwad collection of Ravi Varmas, and to marble and terracotta by Fellici amongst other rare Indian and European art. A fully functional toy train engine that ran on a miniature railway track to bring the children from school to the main Laxmi Vilas Palace flanks the entrance to the museum. The palace also once housed a small zoo; and there is a Navlakhi well, a fine ‘baoli’ or step-well, 50 metres north of the palace.
The stunning palace with its minarets, arches and sumptuous Italianate courtyards is divided into four parts with a ceremonial durbar hall at its midst. Belgian stained-glass windows with Indian apsaras posing as angels take your breath away. Intricate mosaic decorations in lapis lazuli and other semi-precious stones fill the floors.
Walls with ornate boiserie work, windows with stained glass, and the most stunning mosaics on the floor come together to make this the best example of Maharaja palaces in the country. -- Anshu Khanna