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A Homestay and Navratri at Baroda…..

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What drew me last to Baroda for a pro-active trip – my better half of course! Having got a number of guided tours of this cultural hub of Gujarat, a Home Stay and Navratri weekend was not to be missed. My host, befriended during our Kailash Manasarovar Yatra threw his doors open for me to experience the Hospitality and the festival.

Baroda is a perfect getaway during the Navratri festival and is easily accessible from Mumbai (5 hours) or Ahmedabad (1 hour). For those Mumbaikars who crave for authentic Ras Garba, Baroda offers the best opportunity to savor one. A morning Shatabdi express from Mumbai gets you to Baroda in time for a fabulous lunch; What else, a Gujarati Thali of course! Families with businesses are continually buzzing with activity and my host and his parents were on their toes fulfilling customer orders, getting on with a home renovation activity, negotiating with a home appliance supplier and even a conference to attend. But, not for a moment did their attention swerve from serving me a wonderful meal and ensuring my comfort. They made it all seem pretty effortless. The lunch was simple but the accompaniments and embellishments made sure that there was enough color on the plate. A lunch such as this does send you to the nearest couch. I was definitely drawn to one and did manage to catch a few winks before i was bundled away to my hosts’ offices. It was a great opportunity to understand their business area and how employees were treated as family, customers were heard out patiently and served with due care. The Rangbhoomi concept of business was in action – viewing business as an opportunity to provide livelihood and Money (lakshmi) walking in wherever there is good customer focus and orientation. Learning Maximized!

Simple and Tasty Home Food served by my Host

Simple and Tasty Home Food served by my Host

Now, back to the Garba hop! Nothing starts before 930 PM in the evening, so one has close to 7 – 8 hours to prepare (incase you are getting in to the ring) or just wander around in this city. According to a pre-travel briefing by my better half The United Way Garba and the Fine Arts Garba were the ones to visit as they attracted maximum participants and an equal if not less, number of visitors. For the United way Garba, the passes i understand were sold out atleast a couple of months in advance. We still tried but were promised some intelligent perching at the Fine arts Garba, MSU. Navratri time is a time for Takeaway dinners as families head to Garba venues in droves, some in cars but many in two-wheelers. The Garba at Fine arts is organised by the students (alumni and current) with enthusiastic participation by the faculty. Rhythm players themselves sing Garbas while playing the instruments. This rare style of Grab is in place for the past three decades. The name given to this category of Garba is Pracheen Garba, tracing its origins back to before Poet Narmad, a Gujarati Poet – Scholar from the 19th Century. Music emanates only from traditional instruments like dholak, Nasik dhol, drumset, kansi-joda, ghugharis, conch (shankh), and temple bells. All this without a single microphone. Fusion in the rawest form – Drum and Kansi-Joda add beauty to the Garba songs. We got a ringside view of the performance, thanks to a few friends of my host. The energy levels of the students encircling the performing instrumentalists and vocalists were driven to dizzying levels. The circle moved to music in a rapid pace and one had to either get in or just stay out. Unmindful of the sultry weather and pouring sweat, the performers were themselves transported and made sure they took the audience along with them. The dresses were traditional with no footwear, as a mark of respect to the goddess. The music reaches a crescendo before dying down in respect to the Goddess and of course, the rules. Once the dance dies down, the stomachs start rumbling and the crowds head out in search of “any” place that serves snacks, food, tea, coffee, soda etc., Coffee shops we visited were buzzing till 2 AM.

New Garbas in town but the classics endure!

New Garbas in town but the classics endure!

Navratri culminates with Dussehra on the 10th day. While many fast, an equal number or more feast. The sweet shops in the city were on an overdrive, preparing the savory Fafda and stacking them till they hit the ceiling of their shops. Deep fried and served with a Raw papaya chutney, it is nice to watch during preparation but tough to digest. The sweet cousin, Jalebi when combined with Fafda are a deadly duo and it ensures that you are within your limits.

Sunday morning Nasto plus Dussehra preparations

Sunday morning Nasto plus Dussehra preparations

Baroda can get oppressively hot during summers but families have their traditional means of keeping their heads, their guests’ heads and the animals’, cool. Cement tanks are very thoughtfully placed outside homes, filled with cool water to provide stray cattle, horses and dogs with a sip. Here, in Baroda hospitality is all encompassing.

Busy Junction, Cement water tanks for animals, Train journey, Eating out and crowds heading out of Garba

Sights of the Journey – Busy, relaxing, journeying, enjoying and chilling out

Now for some dance practice. Targeting to get in to the ring next year.

Bolo Shri Ambe Mata ki! Jai!

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

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Jetpur Dress fabric design

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