Dwarka and Somnath…….Spending a few days in Gujarat 2

Dwarka and Somnath…….Spending a few days in Gujarat 2

Dwarka to Somnath is a fantastic seaside drive on the NH 8E and the Porbandar – Veraval highway. Large windmills dot this landscape which is swept on both sides with sand. Temperatures hover in the 40’s and you are better off in the air conditioned comfort of your SUV. It gets extremely tempting to step on the accelerator in this stretch but maintaining a steady drive at 80Km/hr ensures that you are relatively safe.

Porbandar is the first major stop on this route. Kirti Mandir, the birthplace of Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi is a popular stop for tourists. Located in the busy Bhatia bazar area, this residence has now been converted to a museum housing vintage photographs from Gandhi’s life, his personal effects, books on his life and other memorabilia. Get your chauffeur to drop you at the entrance to the bazaar and you walk down the narrow lane to reach Kirti Mandir. During summers the stone floors are scorching so ensure that you are hopping around in the shade. Gandhi’s birthplace is a small corner within Kirti Mandir. Both the Mandir and Gandhi’s birthplace open at 730 AM. Kirti Mandir stays open until 7 PM where as the birthplace shuts at 6 PM. Take the opportunity to walk the streets which are lined with traders selling wares ranging from plastic, paper boards and even hand made flowers. Make sure you stop by at snack shops selling fresh out of the oven “Nylon Khaman“, a savory dish made from roasted chickpea flour garnished with curry leaves, sesame and mustard. Make sure you pack in about half a kilo as these are light and fluffy. A great evening snack that can be followed by a good cup of tea.

Porbandar and Kirti Mandir
Porbandar and Kirti Mandir

37 kms before Somnath, we come across the coastal town of Chorvad. The Beach palace was a home of the Nawab of Junagadh. These days however it is known as the birthplace of its famous son, Dhirubhai Ambani, the founder of Reliance. The entrance gates to the town have been erected in his honor and the Reliance mansion is a well guarded property. Everything else resembles a simple town with its regular features of corner shops, bus stops, houses, municipal corporation offices and restaurants. Summer season drives people to guzzle lemon soda by the glasses. Don’t miss to down one of them from the numerous shops lining the main highway on chorvad.

Chorvad Town arch memorial named after Dhirubhai Ambani
Chorvad Town arch memorial named after Dhirubhai Ambani

Driving in to SOmnath on the Veraval Somnath road, the aptly named Lord’s inn is a comfortable place to check in for a stay. The hotel is located close to the newly opened Somnath Railway station. The Somnath temple (“The Shrine Eternal”) is 3.9 kms away and is considered the foremost of Jyotirlingas. A stone’s throw away is the Triveni ghat where the rivers Kapil, Hiran and the mythical Saraswati meet before they merge in to the Arabian Sea. The coming together of the three rivers is said to symbolize birth, life and death. The place though well gated with shops selling religious prayer articles, falls short on the cleanliness front. Many devotees take a dip in this confluence before they visit the Somnath temple.

Vehicle drop off points are about 250 meters away from the main Somnath temple. Conveniences like counters to safe keep your mobile phones and cameras, footwear are plenty and service is quick and courteous. All this is free but if you are happy, you can definitely drop a coin in their service box. Make sure you preserve your token number issued against your valuables. From here you need to walk barefoot for about 100 meters before carpeted walkways welcome you in to the temple precinct. Mandatory security checks follow before you get to enter the temple. Also, make sure you wear clothing that completely cover your legs as required by the temple management as a dress code. What strikes you is the orderliness, cleanliness, accessibility, facilities that have been thought through by the temple management. There is a separate enclosure for the elderly who can have a look at the proceedings in the sanctum sanctorum over LED screens. There are golf carts too to ferry the elderly. The queues in to the temple sanctum sanctorum is orderly with separate ones for the men and the women folk. Viewing the Lingam (representation of Shiva) can be done between 6 AM to 10 PM. Religious chanting and prayers are done three times a day at 7 AM, 12 noon and 7 PM. A not to be missed event during your visit is the light and sound show for which tickets can be purchased within the temple premises. A story on the history of the temple, accompanied with melodious music and narration by the peerless actor Shri Amrish Puri give you the gossebumps. Make sure you get your seats atleast 45 minutes before the show. An important landmark within the premises is a pillar which has a direction marked as indicating an unobstructed sea route to the south pole (nearest land is 9936 kms away). Reflects ancient wisdom of Geography and strategic location of the Jyotirling. Plan to enter the temple premises around 530 PM, finish your prayers, watch the sunset, relax on the stone seating before getting to the light and sound show. Wind up with a simple dinner of Khichdi + Kadi and hit the sack.

The Somnath Temple
Sangam and Somnath

A hearty breakfast and you are back on the Veraval – Rajkot highway to get you back to base, Rajkot. 193 kms that will be covered in a time of 3 hours, this route takes you past the famous Gir forests, Girnar hill (Older than the Himalayas and equally revered by the Hindus and Jains) and a town called Virpur made famous by a saint – Jalaram Bapa. One often sees shopkeepers (observed in Gujarat and maharashtra states) paying Obeisance to Jalaram with “Jai Jalaram” written on the name boards of their shops and establishments. This is an opportunity to understand this in a better way. Followers of this saint follow his path of service without any expectations to the extent that devotees manning his memorial ensure that there are no contributions / offerings by devotees. Devotees are fed twice a day and offered a cup of tea once a day and all of these without a single rupee being asked of them. The trust relies entirely on donations to feed devotees and run charitable activities. Wade through the bazaars lining the narrow street leading up to the memorial, look through all the items on sale and understand the significance of this place better. Like Shirdi, this town too lives, breathes and survives thanks to a saint.

Rajkot is ready to serve you a solid lunch. Kathiawadi food (core of the people of Saurashtra). A lunch that cools you down even during the worst summers – comprising of millets, buttermilk, onions, mangoes, jaggery, ghee and of course spicy gravies to go along with it. Rajkot is a bustling city and is part of the Smart cities project unveiled this year. There is a fully functioning Bus Rapid Transit System which over a period of time can surely scale up to handle volumes. The Fern Residency in Rajkot is a comfortable choice for both the leisure and the business traveller. An evening in Rajkot involves a little bit of shopping, dinner and of course a grand dessert. The race course ground in Rajkot hosts a fair once in a while and it has all the usual stuff for kids like trampolines, ferris wheels, dragon boats, shooting the balloon, merry go rounds, loads of popcorn, cotton candy and of course chana chor and Bhel

Since everything starts sweet, it is mandatory to have sweet endings. Make sure you pack up a good quantity of pure milk pedas from Jai Siyaram Pendawala located in Sadar. Delicious, mildly sweet and outrageously fresh, this one steals your heart and tongues a million times. Watch them pack these pedas fresh from the trays. Other varieties include chocolate, strawberry, kesar etc., but the one from milk is a killer. An alternative sweet ending can be at Maganlal Ice cream opposite the Race course. Fresh seasonal ice cream with fresh cream, faloodas, kulfi….it becomes an endless treat. If you still have some energy left in you, make sure you stand by a pan shop and listen to all the chatter of frequent visitors and treat yourself to a calcutta sweet paan.

Sugarcane juice, kathiawadi food, Pedas and dessert and of course a lot of fun
Dinner, fun and dessert

A hearty breakfast later, head to the airport with a short trip that leaves you with the memories of a lifetime….

Dwarka & Somnath…..Spending a few days in Gujarat 1

Dwarka & Somnath…..Spending a few days in Gujarat 1

Amitabh Bachchan, India’s universally loved movie star in his endorsement for Gujarat Tourism, humbly requests “Kuch Din to Guzaro Gujarat mein…..”(Please come and spend a few days in Gujarat). Such messaging accompanied by rich imagery has spurred the tourism industry in Gujarat.

Dwarka and Somnath offer the perfect opportunity to spend a few days and sample the hospitality of Gujarat. Rajkot is the nearest air-head and for now one can get here comfortably from Mumbai. There are 6 flights out of which 4 are operated by Jetairways and one by AirIndia. The early morning flight out of Mumbai at 510 AM is punctual and gets you in to Rajkot by the crack of dawn. This sets you up perfectly and will ensure that you get to your first destination Dwarka, a distance of 4 hours/225 kms right at the stroke of lunch. Rajkot airport almost feels like a quiet neighborhood and one can expect to bump in to nearby residents who have set out for their morning walks. Our tour was planned with Narmadaholidays. We set out to Dwarka via the Petro-chemical refinery town of Jamnagar, made popular by India’s biggest conglomerate, Reliance industries Ltd. A good SUV (Toyota Innovas are extremely popular), supported by roads of excellent quality make this ride an absolute pleasure. There are trains which take you straight to Dwarka, but with roads of high standards the itinerary flexibility is completely in the hands of the traveler. Drivers (chauffeurs) in Gujarat are fluent in Gujarati (local language), Hindi (spoken widely) and if you are lucky a smattering of english. However, the fellows are friendly and pro-active and will make all the efforts to understand you.

Gujarat - The route along the coast
Gujarat – The route along the coast
The Rajkot Airport - Morning hours
The Rajkot Airport – Morning hours

TIP – Before setting out it will be good to ask your Tour Planner to brief the driver on your itinerary, your preferences, likes and dislikes and what you really want to experience. A good briefing followed by regular calls from the Tour planner to the driver helps iron out any inconsistencies in service. Get a good Data plan (foreign nationals) before setting out from your home country; Helps you be in touch with your Tour Planner and stay connected with your loved ones.

The highway is lined with Neem trees. If you find a nice highway restaurant, break for a cup of tea, feel the breeze hit you and refresh you with the goodness of Neem. A veg puff goes well with a cup of tea on a pleasant morning. Toilets are average in terms of cleanliness so it is advisable to prepare yourselves for the ride before exiting the airport at Rajkot.

90 minutes is all it takes to enter Jamnagar. The city and its businesses surged when Reliance opened the world’s largest refinery in the year 1999. The refinery has a processing capacity of 1.2 million barrels per day. Other refiners like Essar and Gujarat government companies have set up their facilities in the outskirts of Jamnagar. The closest port where these companies have their oil terminals is called Vadinar and is on the coastline of the Gulf of Kutchh. As you head out of Jamnagar on to National Highway 947, the huge entrance gates to the Reliance refinery are on your left. People from all over the country and world work in this refinery and all of them have been comfortably housed in the Reliance integrated township “Reliance Greens” on the opposite side of the highway. The township houses approximately 2500 employees and is fully equipped with schools, Hospitals and shopping amenities. We had the opportunity to tour the township as a guest being hosted by a reliance employee.

Reliance Township and Petrochemical complex
Reliance Township and Petrochemical complex

Gujarat is a textile haven and one should not miss an opportunity to catch a glimpse/purchase cotton fabrics manufactured at Jetpur or Virpur. This circuit offers you these opportunities and you can plan with your tour planner to help you organize.

Cotton Dress Materials - Made in Jetpur
Cotton Dress Materials – Made in Jetpur

Interesting – Speed limit inside the township is 30km/hr. Vehicles caught speeding by the Control center inform the employee and question him on the violation!

Another smooth ride gets you in to Dwarka right at the stroke of Noon. Dwarka has the honor of being one of India’s 4 Shakti Peeth’s (centers for learning- 800 AD) set up by Shri Adi Shankaracharya, one of India’s foremost philosopher and Theologian. The Dwarkadish temple, dedicated to Lord Krishna is the magnet for millions of devotees from across India and the world. The local economy thrives on tourism and production of pulses, ghee and fishing. The temple is over 2500 years old and has withstood invasions till it was rebuilt in the 16th century.

Numerous hotels cater to tourists across price points. We checked ourselves in to the Lord’s Inn, located right on the Dwarka beach promenade. The welcome in the hotels here is not by the reception but by the in-house priest who can help plan your visit to the temple. Basic amenities and cleanliness are met and ensure a comfortable stay.

The temple (history) is said to have been constructed by the grandson of Lord Krishna, Shri Vajranabha way back in 400 BC. The construction is from limestone (able to weather the sea), spire reaching up to 78 meters with the whole structure being supported by 72 pillars. The flag atop the temple is changed 5 times during the day and always has the insignia of the sun and the moon. Facilities at the temple are run in a streamlined manner by the temple management (controlled by the Government of Gujarat. Opening hours are between 6AM – 1PM and 5PM – 930 PM.

Before you get to the temple, weather permitting plan a walk along the promenade which drops in to the steps along the banks of the River Gomti. This point where the river meets the sea is called the Sangam. Peep a little further to get a glimpse of the temple situated on the banks of the river. Mornings are busy with Devotees and cows jostling for space along the banks. Vehicles drop you off about 100 meters away from the temple entrance. Security and facilities to keep your footwear are efficient. Foreigners are allowed entry as well. Special queues and general queues are available for devotees to view the main deity. A lot of Photographers roam the temple precincts and they are super efficient. Armed with instant printers, they dish out family photographs with the temple in the background, branded with the temple logo for a nominal fee of Rs 20. Go for it!

The Dwarkadish Temple - Shakti Peeth
The Dwarkadish Temple – Shakti Peeth

Head to the sunset point to get fantastic views of the vast expanse and prepare to capture the riot of colors that ensue. A sandy promenade abutting the sunset point offers camel rides, ice candies, spicy bhel and other snacks. If you are concerned about the steel plates ask the vendor to wrap it in a paper cone which makes for easier disposal as well. Loiter around till it is time for dinner by soaking in the salty winds. The devout also make a mandatory visit to the Rukmini temple (Lord Krishna’s consort) located about 2kms from the Dwarkadish temple.

Life at Sunset Point in Dwarka
Life at Sunset Point in Dwarka

Submerged city – Way back in the year 2000, archeologists discovered ruins of the ancient city of Dwarka, thought to have been long submerged. Ancient manuscripts are said have indicated the presence of such a city on the river gomti, respelendant with as much as 70,000 palaces decked in precious metals and gems. The ruins are located 131 feet below the surface and are now collectively called the Gulf of Khambhat cultural complex. Quiz your driver or any elderly priest about this city and light your imagination!

Other places of interest near Dwarka include Beyt Dwarka and Nageshwar. Beyt Dwarka is an island 30kms away from Dwarka and is a short ferry ride away. The island houses a temple which is considered to be the original abode of Krishna and his consort Rukmini. Tourists also gather to spot dolphins, marine life and go about picnicking. The Nageshwar temple is considered the first Jyotirling (devotional object representing Lord Shiva) and the main deity has the serpent standing guard over the linga. References to the jyotirlingas are found in the Shiva Puran (Ancient text which guide the devout on the worship of Lord Shiva). Relish some cucumbers sold outside the temple premises followed by a tall glass of sugarcane juice.

Dwarka Beach front and the Nageshwar Jyotirling
Dwarka Beach front and the Nageshwar Jyotirling

Food in Gujarat is a delight! Restaurants in Dwarka are simple and are in the business of serving Thalis (complete meal with Carbs, proteins, fats and other ingredients that meet your nutritional needs). Simple , fast service and relatively clean these Thali restaurants serve fresh food as they open specific hours and have very high footfalls. The rotis (flat breads) are hot and smeared with ghee, the dipping gravies keep getting replenished. Do ask for unlimited butter milk to accompany the meal. The Damji Hotel serves such a thali for Rs 120/- per head. Other establishments cater to people with various budgets. A short walk near the Dwarka beach promenade and one can find carts selling fresh and hot Indian fare, chinese, Dosas, Parathas and of course lot of Ice creams, Sherbets, Faloodas and Kulfis. Carry a bottle of water with you if you want to venture out. The seating is on stools and you can watch the furious pace of preparation and delivery of food to your table. Gujarat is one of india’s largest milk producing states; A hot cup of masala milk will set you up for a good night’s sleep and prepare you for your long drive to Somnath…..

The Gujarati Thali in Dwarka
The Gujarati THali in Dwarka