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If you ask an Indian which state of his vast, multifaceted country is the most prosperous, you always get the same answer: Gujarat. On our 40-kilometer drive to the small princely state of Gondal from the airport in Rajkot, which with 1.3 million inhabitants is the fourth-largest city in Gujarat, we encounter “chakdas” over and over again. These colorful vehicles are a mix of motorcycle and wheelbarrow and transport pretty much everything that can be transported: schoolchildren and cows as well as crops or cylinders of liquid gas. Its front half is usually from an old BSA bike that has been refitted with a diesel-powered water pump. A cart made up of metal parts that have been pieced together forms the rear half. “To go, you pull the rope. And to stop, you simply pull the mechanical handbrake,” explains our guide Durgesh, a friend of our host Prince Himanshu Sinhji. Such results of simple engineering, Durgesh continues, can be seen across the country, where they are applied in manifold ways. A considerable basis for this kind of ingenuity can be found in the history of the royal family of Gondal. Starting in 1851, Sagramji and subsequently his son Bhagvat Sinhji — who became Maharaja at the age of just four — sought numerous farsighted reforms. They expanded the infrastructure and introduced compulsory education for girls. They abolished taxes, revolutionized agriculture, and built hospitals, schools, and universities. Gondal thus became the princely state with the highest per capita income in India. Visibly impressed, the British knighted Bhagvat Sinhji. And even Gandhi welcomed the achievements in Gondal most happily; the legendary leader of the Indian independence movement dropped in occasionally for a visit. And privately, too, the ruling family turned out to be forward-looking. They had the finest horsedrawn carriages and even a private railway car that could be attached to local trains. And when the men of the family heard about the technological marvel of the time called the automobile, they nurtured a passionate desire that would never end. Starting with the family’s first car in 1907, over the course of three generations there have been hundreds of additions. Nearly 60 cars are still there, in perfect condition, restored, cared for, and still driven by Himanshu Sinhji, the Prince of Gondal, whose collection includes numerous rarities: an NEC, Delage D8S, Packard 120, Mercedes-Benz 290, Daimler Double-Six, Studebaker Convertible and an F5000 Surtees, just to name a few. “We also have a roller,” says the prince, who everyone calls “Hima,” “to make the streets passable, and speed boats in the event that they should be flooded again.” The garages of the automotive museum are located on the premises of the family residence, the very majestic Huzoor Palace; on this day peacocks perched in its mango trees ostentatiously display their feathers. For Prince Hima, one of the personal highlights of the collection is the Maharaja’s red Mercedes-Benz 300 SL Roadster, built in 1958. When the prince turned 18, his father took him in the Bentley on a shopping tour through London. That was when Hima saw the SL, the world’s first supercar with fuel injection, and it was all over for the young Indian. Since then Hima has not stopped loving — and testing the limits of — this car. In deepest India, among potholes, chicken carriers and buffalo herds, we meet the biggest car lover in his country: Prince Himanshu Sinhji of Gondal is a member of a ruling family whose DNA contains a high proportion of AMG I 45


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