Maharana Chhatrasinhji, the 36th Gohil Rajput ruler of Rajpipla, started construction of the 64-kilometre (40 miles) narrow gauge railway line from Ankleshwar – on the Delhi-Bombay main line (Bombay Baroda and Central India Railway) – to Rajpipla in 1897, the first year of his reign. It was ready in 1899 at a cost of Rupees 1.4 million (Rupees 14 lakhs).
His son Maharaja Vijaysinhji, who succeeded in 1915, built a magnificent iron bridge over the River Karjan, which was inaugurated by Lord Willingdon, Governor of Bombay Presidency, in February 1917. Thereby the railway line was extended from the old station to the new terminus right at the edge of Nandod, the capital of Rajpipla.
Maharaja Vijaysinhji also set up a 32-kilometre (20 miles) branch section from Jhagadia Station, near the Narmada bank, on the Rajpipla-Ankleshwar line – and Netrang, opening up the forest area and the uncultivated tracts of land. This was completed by the year 1932, increasing the Rajpipla State railway network to 96 kilometres (60 miles). This line ran up to the stone quarries of Kadia Dungar.
It was proposed to extend this line to Dediapara, a length of another 30-odd kilometres (20 miles), and ultimately to carry it through to the extreme south-easterly boundary of the State, adjoining the British District of Khandesh. Surveys were carried out but the work could not be undertaken as merger of Rajpipla State with the Union of India took place in 1948. This branch line fell into disuse in later years.
In addition, Maharaja Vijaysinhji constructed a 30-kilometre steam railroad, and a tramway connecting the towns along the River Narmada with villages in the interior.
In recent times, the narrow gauge Rajpipla State Railway line was converted into broad gauge. Alas, the old iron bridge had to make way for a new one. But the Rajpipla railway station remains, a symbol of the royal era.
The Maharana Chhatrasinhji Rajpipla State Hospital completed its centenary on 21st February 2019. Handed over to the government at the time of merger of Rajpipla State with the Union of India in 1948, it still remains the Rajpipla Civil Hospital, a hundred years after it was inaugurated. Only now is the Government of Gujarat building a new civil hospital in the suburb of Jeetnagar.
The foundation stone of the Rajpipla State Hospital was laid on 9th December 1915, a day before the official coronation of Maharaja Vijaysinhji. It was built in memory of his father Maharana Chhatrasinhji, who passed away on 26th September of that year.
Exquisitely designed by Shapoorjee N. Chandabhoy & Company, Bombay, the imposing hospital with the best medical facilities then, and enough space for expansion, took more than three years to complete. The legendary Maharaja Sayajirao Gaekwar of Baroda was invited to inaugurate it. The ceremony was performed on 21st February 1919.
Situated in the heart of Rajpipla town (earlier known as Nandod), the hospital continues to serve the people of the area after having completed its centenary. Even as a new hospital comes up on the outskirts of the town, the Maharana Chhatrasinhji Hospital still stands firm, a tribute to the benevolent 32-and-a-half years rule of Maharaja Vijaysinhji.
The visionary Maharaja Vijaysinhji also built five regional dispensaries in different parts of the 4,000 square kilometres Rajpipla State, lying largely between the Rivers Narmada and Tapti. He also set up a veterinary hospital near the Rajpipla railway station, and close to where his own statue was to come up later.
Maharaja Vijaysinhji continued the development of infrastructure by setting up a power house and water works supplying electricity and water to the capital, Nandod (New Rajpipla). The building is still being used by the electricity department.
He laid out a market, in accordance with contemporary town planning methods, and nearby an enchanting public garden. The citizens of Rajpipla throng these each day.
Overlooking the bazaar, on a hillock, Maharaja Vijaysinhji built a grand high school. Several generations of children have received their education since the early 1930s in this huge, exquisitely designed school. It continues to bustle with youngsters in its post-merger avatar as the Government High School.
While on the one hand, Maharaja Vijaysinhji commissioned the Rajpipla Gymkhana Club and polo ground, he had the dhaba cricket ground laid out for sports like cricket, football and hockey. The club still exists while a residential colony came up on the polo ground, but happily the dhaba ground still sees sporting action.
The aerodrome that Maharaja Vijaysinhji set up in the late 1920s became defunct after merger. Now, with the coming of the Statue of Unity in the vicinity, it is being revived. These are different times but the stamp of the princely age is visible all over Rajpipla.