Saurashtra is a historical region, perhaps a little lost in contemporary times, of western India, positioned on the Arabian Sea coast of Gujarat. The region consists of 11 important districts of Gujarat, including Rajkot. Saurashtra peninsula is bounded on the south and south-west by the Arabian sea, on the north-west by the Gulf of Kutch, and on the east by the Gulf of Khambhat. From the apex of these two gulfs, the Little Rann of Kutch and Khambhat, waste tracts, half salt morass half sandy desert, stretch inland towards each other and complete the isolation of Kathiawar, except one narrow neck, which connects it on the north-east with the mainland of Gujarat.The peninsula is sometimes referred to as Kathiawar after the Kathi Darbar, who once ruled part of the region. Sorath forms the southern portion of the peninsula. The region comprises the south western part of today’s Gujarat and the districts included in this region are Rajkot, Jamnagar, Junagadh, Bhavnagar, Porbandar, Amreli, Surendranagar, Devbhoomi Dwarka, Morbi, Gir, Somnath and some portions of Ahmedabad and Botad Districts also fall under this area. The region also historically encompassed the Diu district of the Daman and Diu union territory.
On a road trip, organised recently by Gujarat tourism, we covered some prime locations falling in the Saurashtra region, including Dwarka, Somnath, Porbandar and the Gir forest. Setting off from the Capital city of Gandhinagar to Dwarka via Rajkot early morning, we encountered sights that one doesn’t usually come across in northern part of the country. The 450 km+ distance by road wasn’t exactly a tiring affair as somebody accustomed to travelling in north India may expect, instead it was an overwhelming journey with some sort of a Hollywood country scene passing by Rs windmills lined along the majestic highways that almost appeared to touch the horizon and end in the endless sky, sights of men, women and children making use of every possible mode of transport starting from bullock and camel cart, bicycle, old Bajaj scooters, trucks to simple jugaad rides made out of Royal Enfield engines, were our constant companions in the nine hour-long journey. Just when the sun set in the western sky, closer indeed in view from the Arabian sea coast in western India, we arrived at Dwarka, often identified with the Dwarka Kingdom, the ancient kingdom of Lord Krishna.
The temple by the sea
Dwarka is located on the western shore of the Okhamandal Peninsula on the right bank of the Gomti River. The city’s Dwarkadhish Temple, dedicated to Lord Krishna, is said to have been built around 2,500 years ago, but was destroyed by Mahmud Begada rulers and subsequently rebuilt in the 16th century. The temple is also the location of Dwaraka math, also called Sharada Math/Peeth and "western peeth", one of the four peeths (religious centres) established by Adi Shankaracharya. As an important pilgrimage centre for Hindus, Dwarka has several notable temples, including Rukmini Devi Temple, Gomti Ghat, and Bet Dwarka.
The Dwarakadhisa Temple, also called Jagat Mandir, located in the heart of Dwarka, is a Vaishnava temple. The temple is also the location of Dwaraka Pitha, also called Sharada Matha/Peeth and western peeth, one of the four peeths established by Adi Shankaracharya. It was built by Raja Jagat Singh Rathore, hence it is called Jagat Mandir. The temple, facing west, is at an altitude of 12.19 metres (40.0 ft) above mean sea-level. It is conjectured that the location of this temple is 2,500 years old and is where Krishna built his city and a temple. However, the existing temple is dated back to the 16th century. It is a five-storied edifice built upon 72 pillars. The temple spire rises to a height of 78 metres (256 ft), and a very large flag with symbols of the sun and moon is hoisted on it. The temple layout consists of a garbhagriha (Nijamandira or Harigraha) and an antarala (an antechamber). The main deity deified in the sanctum is of Dwarkadeesh, which is known as the Trivikrama form of Vishnu and is depicted with four arms.
Next morning, we decided to visit the nearby Bet Dwarka temple. It is actually an island in the Arabian sea off the coast of Dwarka. Considered to be the original abode of Krishna, Bet Dwarka is also said to be the old port during the ancient times before the Okha port was developed in Dwarka. The temple built here is accredited to the religious Guru Vallabhacharya of the "Pushtimarg Sampradaya". Rice is the conventional offering here to the divine as it is believed that Sudama (Lord Krishna’s friend) offered rice to his childhood friend Krishna here. There are also smaller shrines on Bet Dwarka which are dedicated to Shiva, Vishnu, Hanuman and Devi. According to a legend, Vishnu killed the demon Shankhasura on this island. There are temples of Vishnu in the incarnation of matsya, or fish. Other shrines here are dedicated to Rukmini, Trivikrama, Devaki, Radha, Lakshmi, Satyabhama, Jambavati and Lakshmi Narayan, among other Hindu gods. One has to hire a boat to cross the ocean and reach the small island. A priest complained of the lack of regulations and public boats saying that the boats are run by private owners and many a times the visitors have to wait till some 30 or 40 visitors arrive. The Gujarat tourism may do better by looking into it.
Govardhan Greens Resort, located in the outskirts of Dwarka, is an ideal option to choose for accommodation. Away from the din, the property offers "average" service and is priced reasonably. There are, however, few options available for the visitors as the city does not offer many decent hotels and guest houses Rs a religious destination is not enough of an excuse that those speaking at "Vibrant Gujarat International Travel Mart", during the same period may live by. Off to Porbandar and apart from the rich legacy of Bapu what stood out was the "ridiculous" hotel, said to be the best in town that the guests of Gujarat state tourism stayed in for the night.
Porbandar is a coastal city in Gujarat, best known for being the birthplace of Mahatma Gandhi and Sudama (friend of Lord Krishna). We visited Kirti Mandir, the memorial temple built in memory of Gandhiji and Kasturba Gandhi.
The ancestral house of Gandhi family, where Mahatma Gandhi was born on 2 October 1869 is just adjacent to the Kirti Mandir. The original three storied house is built like a haveli and it was this house where Gandhi’s father Karamchand, uncle, Tulsidas and grandfather Uttamchand lived, who had all been Prime Ministers (Dewan) to the Jethwa Rajput rulers of the princely state of Porbandar. There are life size oil paintings of Bapu and Kasturba Gandhi kept side by side in the centre of Kirti Mandir. The auspicious words, “The Truth” and “Non-violence”, symbolizing his life and preachings are placed near their feet. On the right side there are two rooms as memorials of Maganlal Gandhi and Mahadev Desai, and the room on the left hand side is meant for the exhibition of the museum. These three rooms contain articles of khadi bhandar, the centre is for the sale of books, the office-room and the reception hall. Kasturba-Mahila Library is also situated in the Kirti mandir. The Kirti Mandir is the main tourist attraction of the town. The place where Gandhi was born is marked with a Swastika for identification.
The road leading to Kirti Mandir is marked with old houses, some built in traditional colonial architecture and others in ancient-Indian style, adding an old world and pristine charm to the city. What is a setback though is again the fact that the city has few decent hotels for accommodation. The guests of Gujarat tourism stayed in one Kaveri International, said to be the best in the city but our experience left us wondering about the condition of the rest. One wonders if an intriguing Tent city can be built in the isolated Rann of Kutch, can’t there be more significant steps in the direction in Bapu’s town, an oft frequented destination by foreign visitors?
The moment you step out of Porbandar and head for the highway, the sight of exotic beaches catches your attention. Having resisted our temptation for long, we finally touched the shore on the outskirt of Porbandar and what an experience it was. An isolated beach with cleanliness to the brim, shining like a maze of silver in the afternoon sky etched in our memory and will last perhaps long, if not a lifetime.
Sunset in Somnath
Our next stop was at Somnath, located at about 120 kms from the beach that rekindled our spirits. Driving down from Porbandar to Somnath is among the best routes that one may look forward to, the sea and its almost deserted beaches, windmills and of course the never ending highway is your companion enroute.
The Somnath temple is the first among the 12 Jyotirlinga shrines of Lord Shiva. The temple is considered holy because of various folklore associated with it. Somnath means "Lord of the Soma", a description of Shiva. Somnath Temple is known as "the Shrine Eternal". This legendary temple has been destroyed and rebuilt several times by Islamic kings and Hindu kings respectively. Most recently it was rebuilt in November 1947, when Vallabhbhai Patel visited the area for the integration of Junagadh and mooted a plan for restoration. After Patel’s death, the rebuilding continued under Kanaiyalal Maneklal Munshi, another Union minister. The present temple is built in the Chalukya style of temple architecture or "Kailash Mahameru Prasad" style and reflects the skill of the Sompura Salats, one of Gujarat’s master masons. The temple’s Tikhara, or main spire, is 15 metres in height, and it has an 8.2-metre tall flag pole at the top.
The temple is situated at such a place that there is no land in a straight line between Somnath seashore until Antarctica, such an inscription in Sanskrit is found on the Banastambha (arrow pillar) erected on the sea-protection wall. The Banastambha mentions that it stands at a point on the Indian landmass that is the first point on land in the north to the South Pole at that particular longitude. The sight of the Arabian sea and cargo ships making their way to the port is clearly visible from the temple and serves as some sort of an icing on the cake.
A good night&’s sleep
The memories of a drive through the length and breadth of the Saurashtra region is bound to last a lifetime. Gujarat being a no-liquor state may be one of the reasons for the deserted beaches as travellers often end up choosing the nearby Diu, for instance. But despite the odds, the Saurashtra region has a lot to offer. It is the heartthrob of Indian mythology Rs with pilgrimage sights like Dwarka and Somnath falling in the region, tourists flock in large numbers every year.
The challenge here is for the state tourism board Rs with sights on offer, they need to pull up their socks and encourage investments in the hospitality sector in the region. If tourists end up in a shabby hotel despite all the majestic sights that they encounter, the overall experience will not be pleasant. I, for one, did not carry all happy tales back home and these "disappointments" may perhaps dissuade me from visitng again. What one needs to understand is the fact that a good night sleep is a good night sleep and no matter how many beaches or exotic locations you pass by, if deprived of a goodnight sleep Rs your entire journey ends up being a nightmare.