The majestic journey to Dwarka and Somnath

Somnath Beachside

The majestic journey to Dwarka and Somnath

Come this August and I have an extended four day weekend in my kitty. This had been on back of my mind for quite some time and what better way to utilize this official extended weekend (I call this as official extended weekend as the two public holidays came along the weekend :-)) for a new expedition than spending the weekend watching movies. Unlike my last trail in the enchanted Parvati valley in Himachal, this trail was altogether in a different terrain. Yes, this time I headed to the western part of India, Gujarat – a state also known locally as Jewel of the West. To be specific, I hailed to the western most part of India – “Dwarka” and “Somnath”, ancient temple cities nestled on the Arabian Sea coastline.

On the way to Dwarka

After an early morning flight to Ahmedabad and here we were all set to commence a nine hour long road trip to Dwarka. We had booked a private taxi for the whole trip as such one would in any case need a conveyance to travel different places, so thought why not to book it at one go.

Dwarka is well connected by the state highway from Ahmedabad via Jamnagar (around 445 kilometers) and it takes around 8-9 hours to reach Dwarka. We started our long journey at 9:30 am, hoping that this long journey will end soon. The journey was complimented by a pleasant weather, as the sun played hide and seek with the clouds. We braked for lunch at a small roadside restaurant named “Sarvodaya Hotel” (it’s quite common to see roadside dhabas named as a hotel, not sure why is it so) located at a place called “Tampar” which is some 20 kilometers before Jamnagar. This is a decent eatery wherein we relished some good Gujarati snacks Khakra, Chakri and Fafda. Through with this much needed lunch break, we progressed towards our destination.

Wind farms on the way to Dwarka.
                                                                            Wind farms on the way to Dwarka.

 

Having spent another four and a half hours on travelling, some peace came to us when a milestone read Dwarka 20 Kms and all of a sudden we realized that our car is moving amidst the sea on the right and wind farms on the left. Such a picturesque sight it was. I had read about the wind mills in my childhood, but always wondered how these wind mills actually looked. The wind turbines looked very elegant and in essence they ameliorated the landscape. Finally, I witnessed these huge wind mills, some 10-20 located in each wind farm. This is the best source of generating electricity as such this place is very breezy throughout the year. I must say this was one of the best drive of my life. Another one hour of drive, and here we were at Dwarka. This 9 hour drive is quite a smooth drive, thanks to the neatly bedded roads.

Tips: It will be a good deal to book a taxi for the whole trip as such you would have to traverse different places which are located at quite a distance from each other and in addition to this you would have a conveyance at your disposal. Also, the highway from Ahmedabad to Dwarka boasts good number of eateries though most of them offer Gujarati food. You must try Gujarati food.

In and around Dwarka

Dwarka is a city with a fascinating history, geography and divinity, therefore I must enlighten you with some quick facts about this divine city. This ancient city is considered to be the same legendary Dwarka which was the dwelling place of Lord Krishna after he left the sacred city of Mathura. A religious hub and architectural gem, Dwarka is one of the four most holy sites of Hinduism called the Char Dham, Dwarka in the west along with Badrinath in the North, Puri in the East and Ramshwaram in the South is a must visit  pilgrimage for all devout Hindus. Legend has it that the city of Dwarka was built by Vishwakarma, who was a celestial architect at the bidding of Lord Krishna. According to ancient Indian Vedic scriptures like Mahabharata and Bhagavatapuarana, Dwarka remained the kingdom of Lord Krishna, who came here with the Yadav clan from Mathura. This mythological city is believed to have gone underwater and the various marine excavations around Dwarka have indeed revealed a grand and well planned city.

Dwarkadhish Temple
                                                                                        Dwarkadhish Temple

 

We checked in hotel Lords Eco Inn, which is the only sea facing hotel in Dwarka. Also, the hotel is just a walking distance from the temple of lord Krishna. We got a sea facing room, the view was so mesmerizing that it took away all the tiredness. With almost the whole day gone with travelling, we had a lot to catch up the next day that too we had to start with the early morning visit to Dwarkadhish temple. Through with the dinner, we just dozed off as such we had to wake up early the next day.

The next morning we headed to the Dwarkadhish Temple. A 15 minutes’ walk from the hotel and here we were are at the venerable structure seeming to rise from the water of the Arabian Sea. The five-story high temple is built on seventy-two pillars and has a temple spire that towers 78.3 (235 feet) into the sky. From the temple dome waves an eighty-four foot long multi-coloured flag decorated with the symbols of the sun and moon. There are two entrances to the temple; the main entrance (north entrance) is called “Moksha Dwara” (Door to salvation) which leads to the main market. The south entrance is called “Swarga Dwarka” (Gate to Heaven) which has 56 steps that lead to Gomati River. It’s exquisitely carved shikhar, reaching a height of 43 meters and the huge flag made from 52 yards of cloth, can be seen from as far away as 10 km. The exquisite carvings on its exterior display daring eroticism, a multi-layered mythic intensity and extraordinary continuity of design. In contrast, the interior of the temple is striking in its simplicity, with the only exception being the elaborate ornamentation around the shrine to the idol of Dwarkadhish. This was an experience in itself. Next we headed to our next destination “Bet Dwarka”, popularly known as the ‘kingdom of Lord Krishna’ – a small island situated some 30 miles away from Dwarka.

Rukmini Temple
                                                                                              Rukmini Temple

 

Carving on dome of Rukmini Temple.
                                                                               Carving on dome of Rukmini Temple.

 

Sadhus aligned outside Rukmini Temple.
                                                                          Sadhus aligned outside Rukmini Temple.

 

En-route to “Bet Dwarka”, we could see a row of wind farms running along the road. Such a panoramic sight it was. It reminded me of a typical Bollywood song sequence shot amidst the beautiful wind farms. On our way we also made a quick halt at “Rukmini Temple”. This small temple, positioned 1.5 kms to the north of the Dwarka city, is an architectural masterwork and has a deep history linked to it. We were spellbound by the sheer magic of this architectural masterpiece.  Just outside the temple, there was an assemblage of orange dress clad “Sadhus” all lined up to give blessings to the devotees. This looked very beautiful. These “Sadhus” maintain a common pool wherein one can donate some money as per their wish. A one hour drive and here we were at “Okha” port, a small port from where we had to board a ferry to reach the island. A small government canteen leads the passage to a narrow platform from where ferries are boarded. Just as we walked in the canteen, it started raining. With no option left we waited for the rain to stop, meanwhile we munched some snacks. As the rain stopped (it took 15 minutes or so) we along with hundreds of people proceeded towards the platform only to witness the scene which was hard to digest. Array of people thronging to board an old ferry, which seemed as ancient as the Dwarka city. I guess hundreds of people were tightly tugged in that boat, that too with most of the people standing beside each other and no other support. Also, don’t be surprised if I tell you that there was nothing called life jackets that ideally should be given to the passengers. One boat full of people goes and here you have another one coming by in another 10-15 minutes only to get filled with another herd of people. I was flummoxed to see this scene. At least on this trip I wasn’t expecting things to get adventurous as such this ought to be a relaxing holiday, but it turned out to be other way round. Anyways, I was quite enlivened and I finally proceed to board one of the ferries.

Ferry from Okha port to Bet Dwarka thronged with people.
                                                            Ferry from Okha port to Bet Dwarka thronged with people.

 

Ferries with their fishing nets in the sea.
                                                                          Ferries with their fishing nets in the sea.

 

Ferry on the way to Bet Dwarka
                                                                                   Ferry on the way to Bet Dwarka

 

With no surprise this too was filled with hundreds of people and I was all tucked among them, with hardly any space to move around the boat. With not an inch of a space left in the ferry, the ferry finally progressed towards the island. You won’t believe, for this 20 minutes ride to “Bet Dwarka” we just had to pay Rs.10 each. This was dearth cheap. But things weren’t that smooth, another 5 minutes in the ferry and it started raining. Things didn’t end here; just then our ferry got stuck in one of the fishing nets of another ferry boat (At times I really wonder why is it that on every trip something crazy has to happen with me). This was scary. Our ferry stood still on waters of the Arabian Sea and all of us were drenched in rain water. People were getting jittery so were we, just then the Sailor announced something in Gujarati (I guess he said no need to panic) thereafter people settled in. He somehow managed to get rid of the fishing net and the ferry finally moved ahead towards our destination. Despite this untoward experience, I must say the journey by boat is enriching and filled with scenic beauty. Throughout the journey you can catch a glimpse of rare and beautiful birds while sailing through the sea.

Stores selling sea shells en route to Bet Dwarka temple
                                                             Stores selling sea shells en route to Bet Dwarka temple

 

On reaching Bet, a 15 minutes’ walk amidst the narrow by lanes and here we were at the magnificent Temple that stands tall, giving us the proof of the Vedic era when Krishna with his wife Rukamani spent endless hours of their togetherness in the premises of this temple. It is believed that Lord Krishna stayed at Bet Dwarka with his wife to save himself from scorching heat. The temple has a huge statue of the Lord platted in gold. The entire atmosphere is full of spirituality and piousness during the morning and the evening aarti (prayers). One can completely feel at peace with the serenity that surrounds the temple and its environment. The lane that takes tourists towards this temple is flooded by little stores selling shells, idols of Lord Krishna, local crafts and tempting coconut water. Through with the temple visit we headed back to the Okha port (Thankfully this journey went smooth) from where we advanced back to our hotel in Dwarka. On our way back to hotel we made a quick halt at “Gopi Talab” – (a small pond which has a deep history linked to it) and “Nageshwar temple” (One of the 12 Jyotirlinga Temples of Lord Shiva. The Jyotirlinga in the temple is known as Nageshwar Mahadev. The temple complex boasts a huge effigy of lord Shiva).

View from the harbor
                                                                                           View from the harbor

 

Decorated Camel
                                                                                                Decorated Camel

 

Arabian Sea as observed from the harbor
                                                                            Arabian Sea as observed from the harbor

 

We were there in the hotel by 3:00 PM and had the second half of the day to rejuvenate. What better way to rejuvenate besides the Arabian Sea. As I told you earlier, this hotel is the only sea facing hotel in Dwarka and to add to it just a minutes’ walk down the hotel you reach the harbor besides the interminable Arabian Sea. This is a good 1-2 kilometers stretch, very well developed with good number of benches placed throughout the stretch. On inquiry with some local people, we got to know that this stretch has been recently developed and its opening is due this “Janmasthami”.  You can also enjoy a camel ride along the sea.  Along this harbor you will see a large number of “Dolos” (concrete block in a complex geometric shape used in great numbers to protect harbour walls from the erosive force of ocean waves). Throughout this stretch there are pavements that lead to the sea shore. Also, just as you enter this stretch (from our hotel), there lies a light house adding to the beauty of the sea shore. We sauntered along the harbor and latter occupied a quite spot to unwind. We could see some shore birds gathering in large numbers along the coast. Also, we witnessed large numbers of crabs settling down at the sea shore.  Such a panoramic sight it was. We spent around 3-4 hours besides the sea shore until the twilight. The sun set wasn’t that clear as such it was quite cloudy, but the transition from dawn to dusk amidst the light house at the sea shore looked balletic. This was so rejuvenating. Next we headed back to our hotel, had our dinner and just dozed off as such the next day we had to leave early for our next destination “Somnath”.

Tips: If you are travelling in the monsoon season (July to September), make sure you carry umbrellas along. If you are looking for a comfy place to stay besides the Arabian Sea, hotel Lords Eco Inn is a perfect place for you. It is the only sea facing hotel in Dwarka, also it is just a walking distance from the Dwarkadish Temple. The hotel also boasts a multi cuisine restaurant. Dwarka has a limited number of eateries that too most of them offering solely Gujarati food. You can try some local dishes at these eateries.

In Somnath

Next day we woke up by 6 am, hoping to get a glimpse of the sun rise amidst the Arabian Sea. But it was all in vain as such the weather was very cloudy and it was just the clouds that could be seen over the incessant Arabia Sea. Nevertheless, this was indeed a picturesque sight that too from our room windows. Through with our breakfast by 9 am, we next headed to “Somnath”. “Somnath” is at a distance of 232 kilometres from Dwarka via “Porbandar”. Porbandar is a coastal city, perhaps best known for being the birthplace of Mahatma Gandhi and Sudama and comes on the way to “Dwarka”. Half way down the journey (around 104 kms) and we are at Porbandar. We made a quick halt in Porbander wherein we visited Kirti Mandir (The house of the Mahatma Gandhi and Kasturba, his wife. This place is situated near the place where the Mahatma Gandhi was born. This place is now a small museum and also has a Gandhian library and a prayer hall) and Sudama Puri (A temple dedicated to Sudama who was a childhood friend of Lord Krishna). Next, we progressed to complete the remaining journey. The highway was all smooth with wind farms located along the road. We braked for lunch at a roadside dhaba which served only Gujarati food. We munched in some traditional Gujarati snacks. Through with lunch, we continued our journey and reached our hotel “Daksh Grand” located in Veraval which is around 8 kilometres before Somnath. Unlike the hotel in Dwarka this wasn’t located besides the sea but to compensate that it over looked open farms that was indeed a beauty in itself. We checked in to the hotel and took an hour long nap post which we headed to the Somnath Temple.

Kirti Mandir
                                           Kirti Mandir

 

A half an hour drive from our hotel and we were at the Somnath Temple. Amidst the Arabia Sea, stands this magnificent temple whose exclusivity and ambiance can be experienced when the sound of roaring waves synchronize with the sound of chanting hymns creating an impression of heaven bestowing its blessings on earth. Of the 12 jyotirlings (the essence of lord Shiva) spread across India, Somnath temple is the first among these holy shrines. Somnath carries many mysteries with its presence and among the wonders, is the place where the idol called Somnath was placed. This idol was in the middle of the temple without anything to support it from below, or to suspend it from above. This floating idol in the air became an amazement then. At Somnath, the air is full of prayers, faith and unwavering beliefs. After seeking blessings from Lord Shiva, we spent some good 2 hours in the temple complex. The temple complex is very well maintained with a number of benches aligned along the periphery of the temple complex, overlooking the interminable Arabain Sea. We occupied one of these benches only to enjoy strong breeze blowing across the sea. It had such a mesmerizing effect. All our tiredness vanished within seconds.  There’s a sound and light show at the temple auditorium in the evening, but at this time it was closed due to a cloudy weather.  All rejuvenated now, we headed back to our hotel. Through with our dinner by 10 pm, we just dozed off as such the next day we had to bid adieu to this Devine place and head back to Ahmedabad from where we had to board a flight back to Delhi.

Tips: Try to visit the temple in evening. You can enjoy the sound and light show at the temple auditorium. If you do not have a conveyance of your own, you must stay at a hotel nearby to the temple. There aren’t any good hotels near the temple except one or two. “Daksh Grand” is a good hotel, though 8 kilometers away from the temple. If you have your own conveyance, this is a very good option.

Bid Adieu Somnath

The next day was solely a travel day as such we traversed all the way to Ahmedabad which is around 409 kilometers from Somnath. On our way, we braked for lunch at “Honest” restaurant (Yes the name of the restaurant is Honest). This is a popular chain of restaurants that you can find along the highways in Gujarat. It offers good variety of cuisines ranging from Gujarati to North Indian. Through with the “Honest” experience, we progressed towards Ahmedabad. We reached there by evening and checked in Hotel Lemon Tree. We had booked an evening flight to Delhi a day after as such it would have been quite challenging to catch the flight the same day. We just relaxed at the hotel and the next day with some time left to catch the flight, we made a quick visit to nearby places like Kankaria lake (a recreational lake in Ahmedabad) and Adalaj Stepwell (An ancient stepwell in Ahmedabad). It was hard to say to good bye to this wonderful land, nevertheless I was taking some beautiful memories along.

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