Revival of Rajpipla airport after 70 years

A collage of the heritage town of Rajpipla by the British artist John Drummond.

Maharaja Shri Vijaysinhji of Rajpipla was a very progressive and far-sighted ruler. Having succeeded to the gadi in the year 1915, he carried out several benevolent reforms and built large infrastructure in his 4,000 square kilometres principality.  

His first step was to build a large civil hospital in his capital Nandod (modern Rajpipla). Named after his father Maharana Chhatrasinhji, it was ready in 1919, and after almost a century is still taking care of the people. Only now has the Government of Gujarat planned another civil hospital in the new suburb of Jeetnagar.

Simultaneously, the young ruler began the planning of a railway bridge across the River Karjan that would extend the Rajpipla State railway line right to the edge of the capital. With the bridge ready in 1917, he built a new station, which is used to this day. The 60-kilometres State Railway from Rajpipla  to Ankleshwar had been laid out by Maharana Chhatrasinhji since 1897. This connected Nandod to the Delhi-Bombay main line. It is, therefore, fitting that the Rajpipla station should also be named Maharana Chhatrasinhji Terminus. Maharaja Vijaysinhji further laid out a branch line from Jhagadia to Netrang. He started steam railroads from several points on the River Narmada to towns in the interior.

Having constructed a new bazaar with a wide tree-lined central avenue from the railway station to the residential areas of the old Durbar Road, Maharaja Vijaysinhji built a huge stately high school overlooking it. Like the civil hospital and other infrastructure, the school was handed over to the Government during merger of Rajpipla State with the Union of India in 1948, and still imparts primary and secondary education to hundreds of children of Rajpipla. As a tribute, the school should be named Maharaja Vijaysinhji High School. At one end of the bazaar, near the railway station, Maharaja Vijaysinhji had a pretty public garden laid out which comes to life particularly late at night with numerous food stalls serving a variety of delicacies.     

At the other edge of the town, beyond the palaces, gymkhana, polo ground, dairy and the European Guest House, Maharaja Vijaysinhji built a power house and water works. He even had plans to build a dam across the Narmada, and was raising finances for it when merger took place. This became a precursor to the gigantic Sardar Sarovar Dam. Three kilometres downstream is the newly- inaugurated Statue of Unity of Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, the tallest in the world, 29 kilometres from Rajpipla, driving across smooth state highways.

With the Statue of Unity having come up, and vast potential for promotion of tourism in the picturesque Rajpipla area, the Government drew up plans to build an airport in the vicinity. Search for land began close to the Statue. Soon it occurred to them to revive the Rajpipla State airport, not the least as a result of perusal of my proposal to set up a world class heritage resort, in which this is one of the points.

Maharaja Shri Vijaysinhji of Rajpipla.

It was on the south-western periphery of Nandod, on the banks of the Karjan, that Maharaja Vijaysinhji had the aerodrome set up after careful study on a 125-acre site in the late 1920s. Government of Gujarat has also found it most suitable. And so, Rajpipla State Airport is being revived after lying defunct for over 70 years since merger.

Rajpipla aerodrome was a favourite of Prince Aly Khan, son of Aga Khan III Sultan Muhammed Shah, a close friend of Maharaja Vijaysinhji, sharing a passion for horse racing. Prince Aly Khan, father of the present Aga Khan IV Shah Karim Al Hussaini, would enjoy landing his private planes on the Rajpipla aerodrome, as also on the estate of Maharaja Vijaysinhji, The Manor, in Old Windsor, England on the banks of the River Thames.

As Rajpipla asserts its place on the tourism map of the world, one cannot help feeling that its airport should also be named after its original builder Maharaja Vijaysinhji. It might seem that naming public utilities after princely rulers is a way of perpetuating feudalism. It is, on the contrary, only acknowledging the contribution of those who were instrumental in raising all this infrastructure, and preserving history and heritage which are vital facets of tourism.  

          

2 thoughts on “Revival of Rajpipla airport after 70 years

  1. Leave aside airport, at least the road connectivity should be .maintained. At present the road from Ankleshwar and Baruch are nightmares. No tourist would want to come for the second time if these two roads are not improved.

    • Yes, I am told that road is very bad after the monsoon. All the roads and the back-up infrastructure have to be maintained in top condition by the government to boost tourism. Not only that, government procedures and clearances have to be speeded up. There is a lot that leaves much to be desired.

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