If you seek the stillness of earth before the human empire, then imagine prehistoric times when the humans here on the banks of the river Vishwamitri, were outnumbered by vad, or banyan trees, from which the place derived its name. If you are an industrialist, then revel in the booming production center that is Vadodara or Baroda (as it is also known).
If you are not, and you wish to escape the industrial fumes, then take a breather in Sayaji Baug, the expansive garden in the center of the city, next to the river, before you explore the rest of the city, still pleasant and relaxing.
If you want to be amused by the ostentation of rulers of the past, visit the Lakshmi Vilas Palace, or the now derelict but once lavish Nazarbaugh Palace.
If you are an artist, art historian, or archaeologist, then go see the extensive collection, from ancient to modern, at the Vodadara Museum and the Maharaja Fateh Singh Museum, the painted walls of the Tambekar Wada haveli, and the Nandlal Bose murals of the Bhagvad Gita in the old Kirti Mandir mousoleum. And to meet artists and students and dip into India's evolving art scene, visit the Maharaja Sayaji University and the Picture Gallery.
If you come during Navratri, the nine night festival of dance in worship of the Mother Goddess, then consider yourself the envy of the rest of Gujarat, for you are in the most sought-after location for the event.
Welcome to the cultural capital of Gujarat. Have your own Vadodara. There’s enough to go around.
Archaeological research shows humans exploring the area around the river Vishwamitri from pre-historic times. There was first a small settlement near a grove of Akola trees so it came to be known as Ankottaka, now called Akota. A kilometer eastward, a suburb came up near an abundant grove of vad, Banyan trees, and hence came to be known as Vadapadraka. The city was once marked by four gates, still standing, but it expanded over the ages into what is now the third largest city in Gujarat, known as Vadodara (also known as its anglicized form Baroda, until the recent return to the original name, as with other cities such as Mumbai and Chennai. Ancient Vadapadraka was ruled by the Chalukya dynasty in the 10th century, followed by the Solankis, the Vaghelas, and then the Sultans of Delhi and Gujarat. In 1674 the Maratha Empire declared war on the Mughal Empire, and defeated them in central and eastern Gujarat in mid-18th century. Their representatives and ruling dynasty in Gujarat, the Gaekwads (meaning “protector of cows”), after having instigated the adivasi Bhils and Kolis to attack the Mughals, occupied Vadodara as their capital. In the early 19th century, after the Anglo-Maratha war, the British had control of much of Gujarat. Meanwhile, the Gaekwads had come into conflict with the Peshwas, the Marathas of Pune. The Gaekwads signed a special treaty with the British for protection from the Peshwas, and to give Baroda a degree of self-rule. The Gaekwad ruler was high in the pecking order under British rule, and was one of only 5 rulers to receive a 21-gun salute. Baroda was thus one of the few places to remain autonomous until Independence, and like Hyderabad and Mysore, one senses that it retains a flavor of the former princely Gaekwad state and never fully integrated into the central administration.
Among the Gaekwads, ruler Maharaja Sayajirao III, reigning 1875-1939, is credited with the most significant development of the city and bold socio-economic reforms. He brought in changes to textile and other manufacturing processes that moved Baroda towards the booming industrial center it is now. He introduced compulsory primary education, even for girls, which was rare in India then, and organized schools for oppressed classes, adivasis, and Muslims, also progressive moves for his time. He was a promoter of adult education, setting up a network of libraries that are still thriving, and are appreciated as a legacy from the Gaekwad rule. He was also a leader among other Indian kings in his patronage of the arts, in a time when the British largely ignored the local arts, judging them with a biased eye as inferior.
How to get there
By road: Vadodara, 112 km from Ahmedabad and 420 km from Mumbai, is located on National Highway 8. There are various state transport (ST) buses and private luxury coaches from all over Gujarat, Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, Delhi, and Rajasthan. Ahmedabad-Vadodara intercity buses take 2 hours and run every 15 minutes. There are also several private bus companies on or near Station Road. Tickets vary according to the type of bus, but the average rate is Rs 100/- to Ahmedabad and Rs 200/- to Mumbai. You can also rent a car with a driver to explore the city and its surroundings at the Express Hotel. Rates range from Rs. 650/- without air-conditioning to Rs. 2200/- for luxury vehicles, for 8 hrs or 80 km per day.
By rail: Vadodara, a major railway junction is located on the Western Railway, which connects Mumbai, Delhi and Ahmedabad.
By air: Vadodara is connected by various domestic airlines to Ahmedabad, Delhi, Mumbai, Daman, and Pune.