Gujarat, the western-most state of India has its own history to tell. While it invites the most spiritual lot to its lap, with timeless temples like Somnath and Beyt Dwarka, it also calls out to the patriot to pay obeisance to the memory of the man — Mahatma Gandhi — who helped fellow Indians, finally get their Independence. Not to forget, the chance to look at the last remaining prides of Asiatic lions!
Add to this the fact that the present Indian Prime Minister is from this State, one gets an over-all feel-good factor!
The baritone voice of Amitabh Bachchan urged us to “Breathe in the Faith; Breathe in the Blessings; Breathe in a bit of Gujarat” every time we watched television and so, before we realised, we had landed at the Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel International Airport, Ahmedabad.
We had hired a van and had decided to stay with some friends at the Reliance Township, five hours drive away. This falls along the State highway that leads to Dwarka.
The highway was not the best and there were not many good places to freshen up and have a nice meal. The land was quite barren on either side and it looked like we were driving into the desert!
Our wonderful hosts showed us around this huge, well-planned and the most beautiful township I’ve ever had the pleasure to see in India. It’s a whole self-reliant city in itself and has all modern facilities for its residents.
We spent the rest of the day with them and left in the morning for the famed, Dwarka.
Dwarika – The Gateway to Moksha (Dwar=Door, Ka=Brahma)
The road leading to Dwarika was again not something to boast about. Other than the wind mills to keep us company, it was not a very crowded road, of course, till we reached the town itself.
The Dwarakadhish (King of Dwarka) temple here, situated on the banks of River Gomti, has immense spiritual significance for Hindus, as it is one of the Holy ‘Char Dhams’ or pilgrimage sites and finds mention even in the sacred texts of Hindu mythology, The Gita and The Puranas.
This was home to Lord Krishna after he left Mathura.
The place is dotted with rest houses and hotels. The streets are narrow and I was thankful we had a driver who was familiar with the terrain. In the room, I noticed the water was so salty that I had difficulty in drinking even a sip. We couldn’t even wash our face-it was as salty as sea-water. As an explanation to this, we were told a very interesting story about the place.
Once Lord Krishna and his wife Rukmini went to invite Sage Durvasa (known for his short tempered nature) for dinner to their palace at Dwarka. The Sage agreed on the condition that his chariot would be pulled by Krishna and Rukmini, instead of any animal and would not be placed down all through the journey. Krishna agreed.
On the way, while pulling the chariot, Rukmini grew thirsty. She asked Krishna for water. The Lord, couldn’t move from his harness without putting the chariot down and so with his toe, struck the ground to procure water for his thirsty wife. Since she was very thirsty, Rukmini made the grave error of not offering water to the Sage, first. The sage was furious and cursed Rukmini saying that for this blunder, she would be separated from her husband and water in the whole area would turn saline and non-potable and she would remain thirsty for ever!
It is believed that the River “Gomti-Ganga” starts from the point that Krishna had struck the ground.
Because of that curse, water in Dwarka is saline and Rukmini’s temple is about 2 Km away from Dwarkadhish’s. Today, as a practice, devotees throng to her temple to offer water to the deity to satiate her thirst.
So, do remember to carry a few extra bottles of drinking water as you too will not be able to consume normal water here.
Krishna’s temple is huge, with beautiful architecture. The entrance is through winding streets with old buildings on either side. We left our leather belts, leather purses, camera, mobile phones and shoes in the car since it’s not allowed in the temple precincts.
The beautiful, black idol of Krishna is not very big and imposing as I had imagined it would be, although the deity was very tastefully decorated with bright clothes and ornaments. The resplendent sight of the idol, pulls you to ‘Him’ and I felt transcended into some sort of divinity. The mind becomes blank as you stare at the “human” form of God and one tends to forget to wish for something.
You snap back to reality very soon as you are jostled by the others in the line and you have to move on to now face the ‘real’ humans in the form of the ‘Pandits’ there who vie with each other to entice you into the trap of donations and performing ‘poojas’.
Well, we obliged. After all, it’s livelihood for them! A 15 minute ‘pooja’ performed in another part of the huge temple, with donations extracted from us and we were done.
We went at the back of the temple to pay obeisance to the River Gomti and headed to Okha, 30 kms away. From the crowded jetty here, we chugged away in a motor boat that took us across the Arabian Sea to the small island, Beyt Dwarka, 3 Kms away.
Beyt Dwarka / Beyt Shankhodhar – Residence of Lord Krishna
The boat ride was the highlight of our trip to this island situated at the mouth of the Gulf of Kutch.
The streets to this 500 year old temple, where Krishna spent time with his wife, was quite narrow and lined with small shops selling trinkets – idols of deities, devotional song cassettes, handicrafts made with shells etc .
The whole place looked like there was no renovation done here since the Lord left for his abode! We were not much hounded with pandits here, though. But the moment you enter the magnificent temple, a sense of spirituality and piousness takes over your mind and peace descends involuntarily.
The Island boasts of a rich marine life and so, is also popular for marine excursions and water sports. People here tend and feed cows as Krishna says in Gita, ‘I can be worshipped within the cows by offerings of grass and other suitable grains’.
Nageshvara Jyotirlinga Temple
On our way back, we stopped at one of the 12 ‘Swayambhu’ (Self-existent) Jyothirlinga’s in the world – Nageshwar Jyothirlinga. The temple is situated enroute between Beyt Dwarka and Dwarka. It was given a make-over by the late T-Series owner, Gulshan Kumar.
Being an ardent devotee of Shiva, he got a huge idol of Shiva constructed here which can be seen from miles away.
The temple seemed to be located in the middle of no-where and was very neat and clean. Nor was it crowded, giving it a very peaceful atmosphere.
The ‘Shivlinga’ was in a lower sanctum of the temple. The priests were not pushy and all was in order here.
We checked into a hotel in Dwarka looking forward to see the ‘Father of our Nation’s’ birth place and the holiest of holy places – Somnath; the next day.
Porbandar – The birthplace of Mahatma Gandhi
Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, was born in Porbandar, which once flourished as a trade centre with the Gulf countries, because of its proximity to the sea.
The three-storey house is now called ‘Kirti Mandir’ and has been converted into a museum that houses some of his meagre possessions.
The place is as simple as Gandhiji was and apart from the excitement of looking at this well-maintained haveli, climbing the winding, narrow stairs and looking out of the ‘jharoka’-type windows, there’s nothing much to see.
The museum where the books related to ‘Gandhian teaching’ are kept, would be a historian’s delight and the barren room where he was born, a Gandhian’s temple!
Somnath (Kailash Mahameru Prasad)
After lunch, we set off for Somnath, a two hour drive From Porbandar, along the sea-coast of Saurashtra. The motor able road runs along the sea coast and gives an amazing view of the sea. We couldn’t help, but get off the car at least three times to enjoy the sea breeze, the sand and the sea.
The Somnath temple is located in a small town, Veraval, which was once a major seaport for pilgrims to Mecca. We wanted to spend a night here and checked into a modest hotel, Hotel Sukhsagar, priced at Rs 2000 (USD $31) per night.
As is typical of a place of pilgrimage, it is dotted with small budget hotels and so stay is not a problem. The drinking water everywhere looks ‘doubtful’ and we relied heavily on packaged water.
Somnath takes its name after the ‘Moon-God’- Somraj, who is believed to have built this temple out of gold!
As we walked towards the temple, we crossed the picturesque dockyard lined with hundreds of fishing boats. Veraval is known for its fisheries and maintains a boat-building industry which still uses traditional methods to construct and repair boats.
At places, the smell of fish is quite overpowering, but that is to be expected from any coastal town in India!
Our first glimpse of the temple was absolutely mesmerising. With the sun setting in the Arabian sea behind the temple, the beauty of this “As old as creation itself”, architectural magnificence, leaves one spell bound!
Somnath is the first of the 12 ‘Aadi Jyothirlings’ and after being looted, destroyed and resurrected 17 times, it continues standing serenely as an edifice of stone with marvellous engineering. (Although only ruins remain of the original temple and the present one has been constructed in 1951).
An interesting fact we learnt was that the temple is built at a point such that, there is no landmass between it and Antarctica !
We were delighted to be on time for the evening ‘aarti’ and much gratified to be standing in the huge prayer hall outside the ‘Garbha Griha’ (sanctum sanctorum) of such a divine place.
The next day we spent a very interesting day on the beach of Somnath. There were camel rides and interesting stalls to buy souvenirs from.
We walked along the long coastline and came across some ‘Shivlings’ being bathed by the ‘Sea God’ Himself!
A memorable trip came to an end when we reached Ahmedabad back to catch our flight.
On a lighter note, from the kids point of view, they were back in ‘civilisation’ when they set foot in Ahmedabad and spotted Pizza Hut – much to their relief!
Do remember to buy some Patola silk and bandhani materials and it would be criminal if you didn’t taste the various shrikhands found in every second shop here.
Next day we got the opportunity to explore the Portuguese heritage in Diu.