Gujarat had the most number of princely states in the country, around 200 in total, and many of them were flourishing during the time of Independence when they acceded to the Indian state. But they retained their culture, their traditions, their palaces and also their royal cuisine.
Many of these princely states have now opened up their palaces and other properties as heritage properties for tourists and travellers, both domestic and international. One such heritage property is Bell Guest House in Sayla, located 136 km west of Ahmedabad in Surendranagar district.
Established in 1751, Sayla was a 575 sq km princely state ruled by Jhala Rajputs, a clan that came to Saurashtra from Sindh in the 12th century.
Bell Guest House is an Indo-European style 100-plus-years-old building which hosted European visitors to the Sayla princely state. It is a beautiful structure located amidst lush greenery with a beautiful lotus pond right outside the entrance, its purple and pink lotuses adding to the beauty of the place. There is also a giant chessboard next to the pond with two-three feet tall chess pieces with which one can actually play chess.
Pic courtesy: Bell Guest House, Sayla
This heritage property in Sayla is an ideal place for a stopover for lunch for those travelling to Gir National Park, Junagadh, Rajkot, Jamnagar, Porbandar, Dwarka, Somnath, etc. Located at the entrance of the Saurashtra region of Gujarat, one can also enjoy a couple of nights’ stay and visit various places nearby like bead craft centres, weaving centres where the famed Patola saris are woven, and archaeological sites.
The guest house has a large dining room on the ground floor that was previously the Billiards Room before the renovations were done by Yuvraj Somraj Singh Jhala. He tells me, “Earlier there was the Billiards Room, a dining room and a sitting room on the ground floor and three bedrooms on the first floor. Now we have renovated and there are three rooms and a dining room on the ground floor and three rooms on the first floor with modern amenities.”
But what is a pleasant surprise is the amazing cuisine served at the Bell Guest House. In earlier times, royal recipes were guarded and not accessible to the common people. But now with the opening up of many heritage properties, one can savour the royal recipes and enjoy them. At Bell Guest House, one can enjoy lunch, dinner and breakfast, but with prior booking. The royal food here has influences from all over the country, especially from Odisha.
Explaining the varied influences upon the royal food of Sayla, Yuvraj Jhala says, “My mother belonged to the erstwhile ruling family of Bolangir Patna in Orissa. She was Princess Rajyashree Devi, the eldest daughter of Maharaja RN Singh Deo, who amongst royals was the first to become a democratically elected chief minister of Independent India. When my mother came to Sayla in the early 1950s, she had with her a retinue of staff from Orissa and also some from Patiala, Punjab. My maternal grandmother was the daughter of Maharaja Bhupender Singh of Patiala. Both influences came in this generation through my mother. Other influences through my Dadi, paternal grandmother, which I recall were from Madhya Pradesh, now Chattisgarh. Also my Dadi had Nepalese influence as her mother was from Nepal. So we eat a mix of all these foods. Typically it may be a mixed meal or separate, Oriya, Chhattisgarh and other cuisines.”
Yuvraj Jhala further adds, “The famous cream-based Shahjahani Pulao of the House of Patiala is a recipe passed on only to family and we too prepare the same, both in vegetarian and non-vegetarian versions.”
So one can enjoy an authentic Odia meal here, in the heart of Gujarat, as Bell Guest house has Odia cooks. One can also enjoy a meal along with Yuvraj Jhala and Yuvrani and get insights into a bygone era.
Recipe for Dahi Pakhala
A popular Odia curd rice dish consumed in the hot summer months as it is very cooling, Dahi Pakhala can be eaten with various accompaniments like Aloo chokha, Badi chura, Bhindi fry, Tomato chutney, Mango chutney or a leafy vegetable curry.
- Cooked rice – 1 cup
- Curd – 1 cup
- Water – 2.5 cup
- Mustard – 1 tbsp
- Curry leaves – 10
- Dry red chilly – 1
- Ginger – 1 inch (crushed)
- Green chilly – 1 (crushed)
- Oil – 1 tbsp
- Salt – As per taste
- Cool cooked rice and add 2 cups of water in it and keep aside.
- Heat oil in a pan, add mustard seeds, curry leaves, dry red chilly and when they crackle, reduce flame to simmer.
- Add half a cup of water, take it off the stove, and set aside to cool.
- After the mixture has cooled, add beaten curd and the crushed ginger and green chilly.
- Add salt and mix well.
- Pour this mixture into the watery rice mixture.
Serve Dahi Pakhala along with half a lemon.
Sonal Kellogg is an author, writer and food enthusiast currently based in Ahmedabad.