Shraddha C. Sankulkar
Since few years I had aspired to visit Sawantwadi, particularly after reading about its regal past. Sawantwadi was ruled by a King, prior to the independence of India. Since childhood, and now as a creative writer working on a historical novel, I was always fascinated by heritage structures, Royal palaces & the stories about the lifestyles of kings and queens. Last November, I finally planned to explore the Sawantwadi palace!
From Mumbai, Sawantwadi can be reached by plane (within 1 and half hour), train (8& half hours) or by road (10 hours). The airport nearest to Sawantwadi is the Sindhudurg airport at Chipi. To cut short my travel time I booked a plane ticket to Sindhudurg airport but the airline company cancelled the flight a day prior to my travel date. After experiencing initial tension, I created alternative travel strategy to somehow reach my destination. The only option I had then was booking a Mumbai-Goa flight and via Dabolim head to Sawantwadi. Of course, the distance between Dabolim to Sawantwadi (85 kms) is more than Chipi to Sawantwadi (43 kms), but the struggle to reach my destination was worth it, as adventure and drama got added to my travel experience, making it spicier & intellectually stimulating!
On reaching Sawantwadi, I was clear of my plan to spend 1 and half day exploring Sawantwadi and tourist locations around it. Day 1 was spent in a road trip exploring the beautiful Malvan tourism belt of Tarkarli, Devbaag, Parule & Vengurla. The following day until lunch, was dedicated to exploring the town of Sawantwadi and most importantly get a first-hand feel of the Sawantwadi palace.
After a very thrilling road trip on Day 1, my Day 2 kicked started with an early morning walk at 6am around the Moti Lake, which is situated in the heart of the Sawantwadi town. The chill weather of 19 degree centigrade and the sun cracking out of the fading dawn was a mesmerising experience! Figurines of royal dignitaries of the past, along with beautiful sculptures, adds grace to the lake premise. After having breakfast, I was all set to finally visit the Sawantwadi Palace! The palace was at walking distance from Hotel Renuka Palace, where I was staying. An entry fee of meagre Rs. 30 is charged to enter the palace premise. As I entered the palace premise, I could feel a time zone switch within my head, transporting me into the past, especially when I entered the museum which is housed in one of the palace buildings. The very first thing that intrigued me was a huge photo frame that displays the royal lineage of the Sawantwadi Kingdom. The Sawantwadi Royal family belongs to the famous Bhonsle clan rooting out of the Mang Sawant ancestry. The Sawantwadi kings were hardcore warriors who had fought the Portuguese and had brief associations with the Sultan of Bijapur& Marathas, but later started ruling independently. During the British rule they had a 9-gun salute status and were further recognised in the aristocratic world for being role models, as they reflected justice& courage in all their administrative, political and philanthropical pursuits.
The old photographs, paintings, traditional furniture and the ‘Ganjifa’ art displayed at the museum, helped mere create the bygone world of Sawant-Bhonsle family’s lifestyle in my mind. After Indian independence the Sawantwadi Kingdom merged into the dominion of India. Then onwards the rulers, though were mere titular heads of their Kingdom, yet they continued contributing to the welfare of their regions. I also got to know that the existing King His Highness Shrimant Khem Sawant VI & his family resides in the palace itself. Just when I was about to see the other areas of the palace, my family friend Joy Dantas, who lives in Sawantwadi, called me over the phone and gave me a pleasant surprise. When Joy informed me that he has arranged my meeting with the Sawantwadi King’s family I could not believe my ears! Joy and the crowned Prince His Highness Yuvraj Lakham Khem Sawant Bhonsle have been friends, so he insisted me to personally meet the royal family so that I get to know them first hand, when I was in the palace premise. I first met the prince consort Yuvrani Her Highness Shraddha Lakham Sawant Bhonsle, who was in the museum premise itself, supervising the staff in arranging the sculptures. She then was generous enough to tour me around, especially showing me the main ‘durbar hall’ (where the throne of the King is placed) and also the boutique hotel which was then being created in the palace premise. Both the Yuvraj & Yuvrani (Prince & Prince consort) have earned management degrees in culinary science & art and want to put their hospitality management experience to good use by blending their royal inheritance & their acquired skills in the form of running the Sawantwadi Boutique Hotel. Here’s a weblink about the details of the boutique hotel which was recently started: https://sawantwadipalace.com/home
Whatever brief interaction I had with the prince & his consort; I could sense the royal grace &intelligence in their aura. As I concluded my palace exploration the most highlighting thought reflection that surfaced in my mind was that the palace and its royal inhabitants are indeed icons of deep-rooted tradition, cultural values, artistic pursuits & are driven by progressive thoughts. Such visits to palaces certainly enrich oneself and teaches you more than what the history books inform. Also, it exposes the self to a lifestyle, which is different than one’s own, thus expanding the horizons of our consciousness to feel the royal vibe of affluence, luxury & generosity!
Acknowledgment: Special Thanks to my people at Sawantwadi namely, Paul Cardoz & family, Joy Dantas, Nivedita Pednekar & Rishikesh Wadkar & family.
Photo Courtesy: Shraddha C. Sankulkar
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