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