A chance meeting with a stranger on the streets of Rajkot sparks of the beginnings of knowing an exuberantly spirited city of Gujarat. Walk the streets at any time of the month or day and you will meet people who are lively, vibrant and festive. Sampling delicacies at fast food stalls outside the Galaxy cinema or spinning threads of life in the Rashtriyashala, evenings spent playing cricket at the gymkhana or manufacturing machine tools and auto parts; a citizen of the city spends his life in hard work and leisure.
Typical Kathiawari hospitality greets people from all walks of life and complicated business deals are struck over cups of tea, jalebis and ice-cream. The city over the years has earned the title ‘Rangilo Rajkot’ and the exuberance of the people more than make up for it. Sprawling Rajkot, located on the banks of River Aji and Nirari, is the centre of Saurashtra and a mushrooming industrial hub with wide streets and a distinctly urban architecture. The city is a curious blend of the modern layered over the traditional and it is this uniqueness that attracts people from various parts of the country to come and settle in the heart of Kathiawar.
Under the bustle and noise of pistons and engines, trading and business consuming numerous cups of tea, is a town which has become the educational hub of Saurashtra opening the doors of its elite institutions to a Prince and a commoner alike. From the hallowed gates of the Alfred High school where walked a young Gandhi to the Cricket stadium at Rajkumar College where played a young Ranji, Rajkot is a jewel of Kathiawar. A walk through the streets of the city is the fulfillment of knowledge and nostalgia, the Watson Museum vies for your attention along with the Ramkrishna Math and the Lang Library jostles for space with an evening spent frolicking around the lakes. The tinkling of red bangles at the Bangdi Bazaar match the garish reds of ice candies on summer afternoons, browsing and shopping in Rajkot can be such fun!
The young city of Rajkot’s lineage with historical anecdotes and tales of valor and achievement was the former capital of the princely state of Saurashtra.
Rajkot is a relatively young kingdom carved out of territories seeded and captured by Thakore Sahib Vibhoji Ajoji Jadeja, a scion of the Jamnagar Royal Family in 1620 AD. He was honored by territories and titles for coming to the aid of a beleaguered Mughal Empire on Gujarat. Rajkot was christened in memory of its co-founder Raju Sandhi. Thereafter successful Thakore sahibs consolidated their territory defeating the local Kathi tribes and skirmishing across the borders of Junagadh. This conflict with the Nawabs of Junagadh was to prove costly for a young Rajkot state.
7 gates were studded with metal spikes to ward off an attack by elephant cavalry and the eighth called Khadki Naka was unadorned and protected the Nakhlank temple. Two of the gates survive as Bedi Naka and Rayka Naka to which was added a three storied bell clock tower by the British Political Agent Sir Robert Bell Booth. Nawabi rule in Rajkot lasted all of 12 years until the Jadeja’s wrested back control.
Under a benevolent British administration peace and tranquility reigned over Rajkot and the kingdom was allowed to flower in arts, education and culture. Rural craftsmen received urban patronage and urban Rajkot saw a profusion of construction activities both public and private initiated in the Colonial style. Buildings of noteworthy interest are the Watson Museum and the Lang Library located in the scenic surroundings of the Jubalee gardens, the Cannaught Hall and a Masonic Lodge, the first meeting ground for the masons in western India are noteworthy too. The Rajkumar College was set up in 11 acres of state owned property as an educational institution for the benefit of the nobility of Kathiawar. As a British protectorate Rajkot became a haven for scholars, intellectuals, writers and poets from across the country. It also played host to a variety of young stalwarts who later became the forefront of the Indian Freedom Struggle.
Mahatma Gandhi’s tryst with Rajkot
The roots of the Indian Freedom Struggle are firmly enmeshed within the foundation of the city. Mahatma Gandhi spent his formative years, growing up in Rajkot’s Gheekantha area and studying at the then Alfred High School, now renamed as Gandhi Vidyalaya. His father Karamchand Gandhi had been appointed the Diwan of Rajkot by the British as the heir to the throne was a minor. It was later in 1939 that the Mahatma returned back to Rajkot to set up the Rashtriyashala, imparting the ethos of independence through the beneficial weaves of Khadi.
Rajkot became the first state to voluntarily merge with the Indian Union and in 1948 became the provincial capital of Saurashtra state with U.N. Dhebar as its first Chief Minister until 1956 when the Saurashtra Peninsula was merged with the bilingual state of Bombay. Rajkot and Saurashtra became a part of Gujarat in 1961 and today Rajkot is a sprawling metropolis of Saurashtra and a pride of Gujarat’s emerging urban cities.
How to get there
By road: Rajkot is well connected by road to most of the major cities of Gujarat and other neighboring states. State Transport buses are regularly available from Rajkot to other cities of Gujarat. The ST bus stand is 2 km, west of Bedi Gate on the other side of Ranmal Lake. Auto rickshaws are the best way into the town, though one might also choose to walk in. Private buses are also available for Ahmedabad, Baroda, Mumbai, Bhuj, Bhavnagar, Una, Mount Abu and Udaipur.
By rail: Rajkot is a junction on the Western Railway Ahmedabad-Hapa broad gauge line. Inter City Express, Saurashtra Mail and Sau Janata Express are some of the few trains that pass through the station. The railway station known commonly as the Rajkot Junction is almost 6 km away from the Teen Batti triple gateway. Rajkot is well connected with important cities in Gujarat and India by rail. Trains for Delhi, Mumbai, Cochin, Coimbatore, Kolkata, Amritsar, Patna and Bhopal are available from Rajkot.
By air: Reaching Rajkot by air is quite a possible option as the city has a domestic airport linking it to Mumbai. Air India has daily flights from Mumbai, while Jet have daily flights. A rickshaw ride into the city from the airport costs approximately Rs 25/-.