The King & I | My Travels Through Rajpipla
As a man whose divine mandate to rule was probably lost in the mail, I’ve always considered myself royalty in spirit. There’s a stately dignity in the way I walk, nod, and yell at hotel staff when the luxury I’m promised is not met. I’ve never had the privilege of lording over my friends and family, but I try to nonetheless.
In midst of the COVID:19 pandemic, which everyone tells me is real, I was invited to Rajpipla Palace by my long-time friend and patriot, Ranajay Chand. He’d often tell me stories of his kingdom during our chemistry classes, because I’ve always been fascinated by history; and our teacher refused to win our attention by helping us make Sarin gas. I assumed his holdings were in deserts of Rajasthan because that’s where the all the Rajputs lived right? Wrong. It turns out, that Rajpipla is in Gujarat, the greatest state in the country. It’s only about a 6-hour trip from my home in Mumbai. Given that travel options were limited at the time, and my office needed me to pretend to work over the weekend, I’d almost considered cancelling. Fortunately, using my connections in my immediate family, I was able to secure a Fast Tag, a rusty 21-year-old Honda and a nearsighted driver to make the journey. It was on.
We set out at 5 am. Our first task was to secure fuel, which we were able to do, but at a great financial cost. After navigating the dirt-tracks that pass off for roads in this city, we made our way to the highway. Then the rains came. The trails passing through the town of Mira Road quickly transformed into streams that washed away the non believers. Our car was spared, but true tragedy was the 15-minute delay caused by the treacherous terrain. And that was just the beginning of our ordeal.
While we had inspected the car for issues prior to departure, if only so I had a reason to cancel, and retreat into my room to play Fallout; it turns out there was one oversight that could be considered major. We forgot to make sure that the little squirty things (yes that is the technical term) under the windscreen wipers properly. This meant that all the dirt, muck, and grime, kicked up by the vehicles all around us stuck to the windscreen, and we had nothing to wash it off it. They say necessity is the mother of invention, and I am nothing if not a resourceful man. Once my driver began petulantly insisting we pull over because he couldn’t see through the window, I refused. Instead, I took a bottle of so-called drinking water, stuck my hand out of the window, and strategically lobbed volleys of the liquid across the windscreen. Sure, a lot of it did fly back in through the open window and into the car, but you can’t have everything, can you?
Crossing the border was easier than I anticipated, possibly because my parents misled me in to thinking there’d be strict checks so I wouldn’t try and sneak liquor across state lines. Typical. Finding food was a whole other problem. All the eating houses along the Maharashtra highways we closed in order to keep grandma safe from the coronavirus somehow; I guess food isn’t as important to the economy as scripted cricket matches. It was only after crossing the border and getting to Surat that we were able to find anything. Whether the product we were served could even be considered food, that’s another story. Only one peg remained. The road from the highway to Rajpipla itself. It was genuinely the most unpleasant part of the ride so far. It wasn’t a dirt track so much as just violently rough, with bumps across the entire stretch, that sent us bouncing along for a good hour. We arrived at Rajpipla Palace, on time, and only slightly worse for wear. Mistaking me for a tourist, because of how I look, act, and dress, the staff told me that the palace was closed to outsiders. It was only after explaining the nature of my visit that they let me in.
The palace itself, and the lands around it looked spectacular. A throwback to an era when the rich had dignity and taste. I’m all for sacrificing peasant children to Moloch, if it ensures a good harvest, but at least let the altar be made of Venetian marble. Still, Ranajay’s restoration of the property was not yet complete, so some sections were beginning to show their age. Young as far as palaces go, Rajpipla’s palace has a distinctly European look and feel, though the interiors have elements of Art Deco. Ranajay was kind enough to give me a personal tour of the palace’s museum, housing an interesting mix of priceless treasures, rare personal items of 20th Century figures, and pictures of IDBI’s corporate tours from 2014. Sadly the museum now has a “no touching” policy after people tried playing with the unguarded firearms and animal skins. Which is exactly what I would have done. I also got to see the family’s royal throne and the glorious banquet hall, which was at one point, used to film many a porno. A fact which I’ve vigorously researched on multiple occasions.
My personal room, was opulent and massive, with its own study. Legend has it, that it was once occupied by Ian Fleming. An author I consider my equal. I was even granted an audience with His Highness King Chand himself, in which we discussed affairs of state, as well as Ram and Shyam, a reputable sev puri stall in Santacruz. Given that I just had a day in Rajpipla, Ranajay and his cousin Rajveer organised a boating trip to a nearby lake, whose secrecy I’m sworn to protect. After anchoring next to a small chain of islands, we had a few pegs, in memory of Rajpipla’s old castle, which the government buried under a deluge of water when they built the nearby dam. We tried to make landfall, but the slippery slopes ensured our dreams of colonisation never materialised.
The day ended as interestingly as it began, with us having to confront the sand mafia for dumping mud in front of the palace, then taking to a local truck stop for a meat-filled dinner. Finally, we made our way to the Statue Of Unity, to pay our respects to the lost 3,000 crores. Rajpipla is a great Indian city, and much enjoyed my stay. I may even consider moving there if Ranajay grants me the rank of court Jester.
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