Rajkot is popularly known as Rangilo Rajkot or colourful Rajkot – though the adjective can hardly be used for the city, unless used to refer to the colourful wares available in the markets. Rajkot is quite laidback where most museums, shops and offices shut for long lunch breaks, or more aptly, siesta breaks. While the city is now a major business and industrial centre of Gujarat, most visitors will find little evidence of this as tradition reigns supreme and the city still has an old-world feel to it despite the mushrooming malls and business hotels.

Despite the abundance of attractions, Rajkot does not see many tourists. While parts of Rajkot might look like any other Indian city, albeit without the characteristic chaotic frenzy, there are many interesting sights scattered across town. In the slender lanes of the old city, you can see beautifully carved wood houses with sloping roofs and stained glass windows despite the onslaught of concrete constructions. Nature’s bounty abounds in the outskirts, where there are elaborate parks, dams, hills and lakes. For those interested in architecture, there are many monuments, ruins, palaces and Colonial buildings. With bustling markets, Rajkot is also a great place to buy traditional handicrafts, textiles, perfumes and jewellery.

THINGS TO SEE AND DO

Jubilee Garden

Jubilee Garden is an important landmark of Rajkot, about a kilometre away from the bus station. Although not very well-maintained, it is still an interesting place. The Queen Victoria Memorial Institute, a stately Colonial construction, overlooks the garden. The institute was built under the direction of Robert Bell Booth in 1892 at a cost of 1,65,500.

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Grounds, Jubilee Garden
Grounds, Jubilee Garden

The institute houses the Watson Museum, named after Colonel John Watson, the political agent of Kathiawar Agency from 1881 to 1889 and the author of Kathiawar Sarva Sangrah. The colonel was interested in history and archaeology and amassed a huge collection of artefacts during his stay in Saurashtra, most of which are displayed in the museum. The museum also displays other collections as well as gifts from rulers of the British princely states.

The most interesting section of the museum is the Darbar Hall. The hall has a stone sculpture of Lord Brahma at the entrance and depicts various facets of the princely states of Kathiawar. There are mostly weapons and furniture on display. The walls are decked with the insignia of all the states and portraits of prominent Kathiawari kings.

The sculpture gallery has a 7th century Gupta era statue of Surya, beautiful Matrikas of Jhinjuwada, Sukhasan sculpture of Shiva-Parvati, a varaha (boar) statue from the 12th century and a marble Vishnu sculpture among its many specimens. The inscription gallery has some of earliest inscribed stone and copper plates, including those from the Mauryan era, Rudrasen Kshatrapas, Solanki dynasty and Vaghela period. The archaeological gallery has artefacts of the pre-historic period, ornaments, pottery piece and stone tools. There are also replicas of objects excavated from the sites of the Harappan civilization and photographs of archaeological sites. The woodwork gallery has carved wooden panels, brackets, zarukha, todla and majus. The rock and mineral gallery has specimens of stones, minerals and animal and plant fossils. The folk embroidery and bead work gallery has a large collection of Kathiawari wall hangings, chaklas, pacchit paties, toran, chandarva, Petch work, Sankalitanka and Hir-bharait. The textile gallery depicts traditional Indian weaving techniques. Brocades made from pure gold and silver from Gujarat, Banarsi Sela saris, Patolas, silk Bandhani saris and Baluchar sarees are some of the exhibits of this section. The handicraft gallery has beautiful specimens from Banaras, Travancore, Delhi, Mysore and various regions of Gujarat. Silver, ivory, marble and sandalwood objets d’art; metal utensils and turbans of different regions of Kathiawar are some of the artefacts in this section.

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Artefacts at the Watson Museum
Artefacts at the Watson Museum

The natural history gallery is quite bizarre. For instance, among the many disintegrating corpses of improperly preserved animals, is a stuffed monkey balancing a pair of scales – a specimen inspired, perhaps, by the Gandhian motifs of justice.

In the museum, while most of the signs are in Gujarati as well as in English, the descriptions are only in the former. The museum also has a reference library and a small counter selling historical guidebooks and postcards. Although the museum claims to have a guide service, it was defunct during the time of print. However, the helpful staff in the office will happily give you an overview and answer your queries.

In the same building as the museum, there is Connaught Hall, a large auditorium where conferences, concerts and other cultural events are held. Next to it, there is the Lang Library, a public library with a large collection of colonial and Kathiawadi literature. (Timings: 8.00 am-12.30 pm, 3.30-8.00 pm). In front of the Watson museum, there is Bandstand, a domed structure with pillars on which are etched attractive carvings.

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The 19-century edifice of Alfred High School
The 19-century edifice of Alfred High School

Alfred High School

Founded in 1853, Alfred High School is the oldest English school in the Saurashtra region. The building is a commanding structure with turreted towers and twin arched windows. Its most renowned student is Mahatma Gandhi, who graduated from the school in 1887. It is said that the famous ‘kettle’ incident occurred here, where Gandhi’s teacher had prompted him to copy the spelling of ‘kettle’ from a fellow student. Gandhi refused to copy and as a result every student except for him had spelt every word correctly. After Independence, the institution was renamed as Mohandas Gandhi High School. The school is located next to Jubilee Gardens.

Raiya Naka & Bedi Naka

Masum Khan, a military officer of the Junagadh Nawab conquered Rajkot in 1720 and renamed it as Masumabad. In 1722, he built a fort in Rajkot to protect the city from invaders. The fort had eight gates, which were buttressed with iron spikes. Among the gates were Raiya Naka and Bedi Naka. In 1892, Sir Robert Bell Booth, the Chief Engineer of a British agency, renovated the two gates and built a three-storied clock tower at the sites. Not much remains of the fort today apart from a few ruins. The gates are located within a short distance of each other in the Ramnath Para area of the city and are currently undergoing restoration.

Masonic Hall

Interestingly, Rajkot has a Freemason’s Lodge, located on Dhebar Road next to the bus stand – a beautiful Colonial stone building with large arched windows. The architect H.S. Davies constructed the Masonic Hall in 1906. However, the lodge in Rajkot does not seem to be preoccupied with its legendary secrecy and now hosts events as diverse as birthday parties overrun by raucous kids.

Courtesy Gujarat Tourism
Ramkrishna Ashram
Ramkrishna Ashram

Kaba Gandhi No Delo

Kaba Gandhi No Delo, literally translating to house of Kaba Gandhi, is the place where Mahatma Gandhi lived in Rajkot during his childhood. His father (Kaba Gandhi) was the diwan of the princely state of Rajkot. Located slightly off Gheekanta Road in the old city of Rajkot, this beautifully restored haveli encloses a verdant courtyard. It houses a museum with photographs of and information panels about Gandhi’s life and philosophy and has a small library of his works.

Rashtriya Shala

Rashtriya Shala is one of the many institutions that Mahatma Gandhi set up to promote his ideals of self-rule, freedom and a simple life. Today it has a sprawling campus with schools, workshops, a khadi spinning centre and a single-ikkat Patola sari weaving-cum-training centre.

Although the Rashtriya Shala is a place of historical significance, it is of little interest to tourists.

Courtesy Gujarat Tourism
The grand façade of Rajkumar College
The grand façade of Rajkumar College

Rajkumar College

Rajkumar College was established in 1868 by a decree of the British crown to provide education to the princes of the Kathiawari kingdoms. Spread over an expansive area spanning 25 acres, the campus houses quite a few remarkable buildings built in the Colonial style. The college, popularly abbreviated as RKC, is still operational and is a central landmark of Rajkot. Unfortunately, it is not very accessible as you need special permission from the office (Timings: 9.00am-1.00pm) to visit the premises.

Ramakrishna Ashram

The Ramakrishna Ashram is the monastery of the Ramakrishna Mission, a non-sectarian spiritual organisation that is inspired by the teachings of Ramakrishna Paramhans (1836-86), a Hindu reformist spiritual leader from Bengal.

The ashram’s green and peaceful campus has a bookstore, a library, an ayurvedic centre, a guest house and an exhibition about the life of Ramakrishna Paramhans. Its highlight is the Universal Temple, a pink edifice that is crowned by multiple serrated domes inspired by the Ajanta Caves, Karli caves, the stupa at Sanchi and themes from Hindu mythology. Photography is prohibited on the grounds of the ashram.

Rotary Doll Museum

An initiative of the Rotary Club of Rajkot Midtown, the museum has a fascinating collection of more than 1,600 dolls from over a 100 countries. Next to the dolls, there are information panels with interesting tidbits about their origin and the country they hail from. The museum is closed on Mondays.

Syed Saad Ahmed
Christ Church
Christ Church

Race Course

The sprawling Race Course grounds has an Olympic-sized swimming pool, sports grounds and public parks. It is a popular venue for exhibitions and celebrations in the city. It is also home to the unimpressive Regional Community Science Centre & Planetarium (Timings: 10.00 am-1.30 pm, 2.00-6.00pm). The planetarium has shows at 4.00pm, 5.15pm and 6.30pm (closed Thursdays). Next to the Science Centre, is the Vikram Sarabhai Energy Park (closed Thursdays), an equally lacklustre park with windmills, solar panels, solar water heaters and other equipment for harnessing alternative energy sources.

Christ Church

Located deep within a neighbourhood packed with multi-storied apartments, the Christ Church’s stone façade, red tiled roof and stained-glass windows hark back to another age. It is set amid expansive lawns with wildly growing grass that further adds to its atmosphere.

Established in 1849, it is the oldest church in Rajkot. The Sunday service starts at 6.00 pm. At other times, the interiors are locked up. If the main entrance of the church compound is locked, you can enter through a peripheral gate on the boundary wall.

The nearby MG Road has some beautiful, albeit decrepit, Colonial cottages and mansions, the most remarkable of which is the Circuit House.

Jam Tower

The Nawab of Jamnagar gifted this tower to Rajkot in 1880. It is a clock tower made of stone and crowned by a pillared kiosk atop which is a weathervane. The slit-like vents along the length of the tower are an interesting architectural embellishment. Unfortunately, the Jam Tower is not well-maintained and there are signs of neglect. Besides the view of the tower is marred by a mass of tangled wires adjutting it.

The Jam Tower is located next to G. T. Sheth Orthopaedic Hospital, just a short walk away from the Jamnagar road.

Aji Dam

Aji Dam is one of the reservoirs built by damming the Aji river that flows through the city of Rajkot. It is located about 7 km southeast from the city centre, close to the Bhavnagar-Rajkot road. The dam is flanked by low-lying mountains that bristle with greenery during the monsoons. You can walk over its embankment, where feeding fish and water birds is a popular pastime. It also offers many birdwatching opportunities. There is an unremarkable zoo in the garden en route to the dam and an equally uninteresting aquarium next to it.

Those who would like to wander off the tourist trail can enjoy a scenic trek along the perimetre of the reservoir to the surrounding hills. Mining in the mountains have left huge depressions that fill up with rainwater during the monsoons and become emerald-hued lakes. The remoter hills surrounding the dam are a bit desolate and occasionally unsavoury, so it is not advisable for women to go there alone. Although people swim in the reservoir, it is not recommended as the water is quite dirty. The Nyari Dam, 12 km to the southwest of the city, is another oft-visited spot, accessible by State Highway 23.

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Sanskruti Handicraft shop
Sanskruti Handicraft shop

Pradyuman Park

Established in 2010, the Pradyuman Park is a forested area with a walkway cutting through it. Unfortunately, you are not allowed to steer of the path and explore the forests. A part of the park hosts a zoo, which has monkeys, sloth bears, lions, tigers, leopards and a few other animals. The zoo itself is rather uninteresting and the main highlight of the park are the views it affords of the surrounding hills and the enchantingly beautiful Lalpari Lake. At many places, there are sweeping views of the skyline of Rajkot, not that it is much to look at.

The park is most popular with young lovers as it is one of the few places where unmarried couples can express affection in a conservative town like Rajkot. You might see several guards meticulously patrolling the forest – ostensibly to ensure visitors’ security, but actually to prevent couples from going overboard with their passion.

TIP You are not allowed to carry food inside the park and there are no stalls inside. However, there is a small shack outside serving a few snacks

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A view of Lalpari Lake at Pradyuman Park
A view of Lalpari Lake at Pradyuman Park

WHERE TO STAY

There are plenty of hotels suiting all budgets in Rajkot. High-end options include The Imperial Palace (Tel: 0281-2480000; Tariff: 5,400-27,000), The Grand Bhagwati (Cell: 09909905510, 09909945077; Tariff: 5,000- 2,000), The Fern Residency (Tel: 7111000; Tariff: 4,500-8,000), Regenta Central Rajkot (Tel: 2562880; Tariff: 4,000-6,500), Hotel Sarovar Portico Rajkot (Tel: 3016000; Tariff: 4,000-6,000) and Chouki Dhani (Tel: 6544664, 6543664; Tariff: 4,500-6,500) are also good options with all amenities. Hotel Classique (Tel: 2450392; Tariff: Rs. 1,599-2,499), Hotel The Grand Regency (Tel: 2240100/ 02; Tariff: 1,895-4,795) and The Grand Thakar (Tel: 2230091; Tariff: 2,450-2,750), at the lower end of the budget are the other good choices here.

AROUND RAJKOT

You can visit all these sights in a day trip from Rajkot. Public transport is largely non-existent for some of the remoter sights like Khambalida Caves and Bhadar Dam, so it is best to hire your own vehicle.

Khambalida Caves

From Rajkot, take National Highway 8B and a few kilometres after Virpur, turn left onto Kagvad Road. Khambhalida is 7 km from there. Discovered in 1958, the Khambhalida Caves are a series of Buddhist caves hewn out of limestone rock in the 4th century. Moss and bats have taken over most of the caves, but the structure is still largely intact. There are images of Bodhisattva Padmapani engraved to the right of the entrance of the central cave and Bodhisattva Vajrapani to the left. These are the only known carvings of Bodhisattvas in Buddhist cave architecture in Gujarat. In the cells, students learnt about Buddhist philosophy and practised meditation.

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Carvings at Khambalida Caves
Carvings at Khambalida Caves

The drive from Khambhalida to Jetpur, as well as other peripheral roads in the region, takes you through a scenic undulating landscape that is carpeted with greenery during the monsoons. Along the route, you can spot a variety of birds, especially ibises. It is largely free from traffic and a great place especially for those who enjoy cycling expeditions.

Khirasara Palace

The Khirasara Palace was once the residence of the royal family of Khirasara, a seventh class state, which was an offshoot of the Dhrol princely state. The palace, located atop a hill, has now been converted into a heritage hotel.

Jetpur

The otherwise unremarkable town of Jetpur is famous as historical centre of textile, block printing and dyeing industries. While the traditional printing and dyeing process is being supplanted by newer mechanised ones, the former is still quite common. Jetpur is a good place to buy clothing material as well as pret-a-porter apparel. You can go shopping at the many stores located on Navagadh Road – Empire Creation, Banshi Fashion, JK Creation, Ajanta Creation, Kalyani Collection and Jagdish Cotton World among others shops.

When to go October to March Location In the Saurashtra region of Gujarat, along the banks of the rivers Aji and Nyari Air Nearest airport: Rajkot Rail Nearest rail: Rajkot