- Somnath Temple and Sardar Patel
- The legend of Somnath Temple
- Somnath Diary
- Flora-Fauna and the history of Sasan Gir
- Gir with Mr. Leopard Lucky
- Learnings of life at Gir Jungle Resort
- Girnar Rock-Book Inscriptions
- Junagadh – A walk through history and folklores at Uparkot Fort
- Buddhist cave complex and the Step-wells of the Junagarh Fort
- The Nawabs of Junagadh
We visited Gujarat in December 2008 during Rachit’s winter vacation. Our itinerary was as follows:
24th Dec – Rajdhani Express from New Delhi to Ahmedabad (19:55-10:05)
25th Dec – Somnath Express from Ahmedabad to Veraval (22:00-6:15)
26th Dec – Stay at hotel Shivam in Somnath
27th Dec- Depart to Sasan Gir
27th Dec- Stay at Hotel Annapoorna in Sasan Gir
28th-29th Dec – Stay at Gir Jungle Resort, Balcheel Village, Sasan Gir
30th Dec – Depart to Junagarh
30-31st Dec – Stay at Leo Resort, Junagarh
1st Jan – Depart to Ahmedabad
Gujarat! It’s not a preferred tourist destination. I agree. We chose it as we felt that in Gujarat it would be easier for us to find homely food. It was a must as my younger son, Tanmay, was only eight months old. Another reason to choose Gujarat was an opportunity to get ample sun. The compelling desire to leave Noida was to avoid depressing days of sunless winters.
( These days aggressive campaigning by Gujarat tourism and having Amitabh Bachchan on board, as its brand ambassador, might have created the right buzz for tourism in Gujarat).
Rachit is crazy about trains. He wants to visit France to travel in TGV – one of the world’s fastest trains. He was excited that we would be traveling in Rajdhani Express, one of India’s faster train, to reach Ahemdabad. We travelled in night and there is nothing special to write about the journey. The experience of traveling in Rajdhani Express did not turn out to be any different to Rachit. Here, I would like to share my concerns about the hygiene of the meals served in the Indian trains. The dinner trays were piled close to toilets before being served to the passengers. I had to overcome my revulsion to finish the meal.
We reached Ahmedabad the next morning. There was a full day between our arrival in the morning and departure at night. Jaishree was tired. She finds it difficult to sleep in the trains. We looked for an accommodation in our guide book which was close to the railway station and zeroed in on Moti-Mahal Hotel. It was too near from the station to appeal to any auto driver to take us there. It required convincing and extra-money to persuade them. For the auto-wallah , extra-money was not the attraction, the reason to agree for the ride was the hope was that we may change our decision and may agree with his suggestion to look for another accommodation, where he could possibly earn his commission.
We needed hotel room only for the day-time, so I was of the opinion that I would be able to convince the hotel manager to offer us a discounted tariff. I could not convince him and we had to pay the full tariff (Rs 550+4% tax).
The hotel and the railway station are located in the old Ahmedabad – the walled city. Traffic in front of the hotel was heavy and the roads were congested. Luckily our room was not facing the road else the traffic could have been annoying. We saw many CNG autos there. The adoption of CNG should be the savior of the lungs of the walled city residents else it is evident how polluted the whole place would be!
Moti-Mahal is a budget accommodation. We had a clean room and clean-spacious bathroom with hot water. I found the room small. But even in the peak tourist season they were charging nominal amount, so the expectations were not high as well. However, we felt that even for such a short stay it would be better to stay in quieter areas.
My brother-in-law’s parent live in Ahemdabad. They invited us for the dinner. We left for their house in an auto at late afternoon. In general auto-wallah’s in Ahmedabad are honest and go by meters. It was an interesting ride. The city was ready for the kite season. The grand finale of kite-fetsival takes place on Makar Sankranti, the fiteenth January every year. Roadside shops were bustling with preparation of the colorful manjaas (thread to fly kites) with glass coating. All these shops were decorated with Charkhis (the spindles), kites and the manjaas. Ours is a country of colors; we are always looking for opportunities to celebrate in colors and, with colors.
As kids, we used to relish Makar Sankranti. In Khetrinagar, a small township where I had spent the most beautiful days of my life, we used to gather on our terraces and playgrounds. There used to be fierce kite competitions. Every cutting of opponents thread was greeted with “woh kaata, woh maara!” at the top of our lungs and the occasional drumming of old tin boxes.
Kite-flying is a good sport for computer professionals like me. Our eyes need to look at infinity to reduce the negative effect of continuous staring at screens from short distances. What else can be a better way to do so then indulging in this sport?
We had a nice evening with our warm and jovial hosts. My BIL’s mother is an expert cook. I believe that anything that is cooked and served with love makes it extraordinary and there we had an extraordinary meal served with love. A meal with them is always a privilege. We had a hearty dinner; even kids ate without fuss and filled themselves completely.
After returning back to the hotel, we tried to find an auto to go to the railway station. We could not find any. Sometimes having a hotel at stone’s throw may not be desirable 🙂 Finally we had to carry the luggage on foot.
We had side berths reserved in the II AC compartment of Veraval Express. I wonder, how Railways is justified, in the difference of the amount one pays for a II AC side seat and a III AC side seat. It seems to me that railway is also aware of this unfairness. So they are planning to add an extra side berth in III AC at the cost of passengers’ breathing space. The idea makes me realize that sometimes its better to avoid protest about injustice, as the delivered justice is worse than the injustice. Anyway, luckily nobody is talking about that absurd idea these days.
We reached Veraval, the nearest railhead for Somnath, in the morning. It is around six kilometer from Somnath. It was a major seaport for the Mecca headed pilgrims before the rise of Surat. It is still one of India’s major shipping ports. During the British reign, cannons were kept at the ruins of Somnath to keep this sea port safe from sea pirates.
Autos were readily available for Somnath. Almost midway between Somnath and Veraval, we felt a strong pungent smell of dead sea fishes. The smell was emanating from nearby “fish-factories”. In my guidebook, it was suggested to avoid hotels in Veraval, in case someone is sensitive to that smell. It was intolerable for us and I was happy that we decided not to stay there.
Hotel Shivam is in the middle of narrow alleys. Our auto tried to cross an open drain with a stone cover over it. The stone cover was not able to bear the weight of the auto; it cracked in two and the front wheel of the auto went into the drain. Our auto was stuck. Instead of waiting and wasting time there, we paid and carried our luggage to the hotel.
One month prior to our visit, I made a casual enquiry about the availability of rooms in Somnath. In all the hotels I called, I was told that all the rooms were booked. I paniced. One option was to go to Somnath without any accommodation and to search for an accommodation there. Somnath is a small place. I was unsure of decent hotels in Somnath. In hotel Shivam there was a double room available in for fifteen hundred Rupees. Inspite of knowing that the price is on the higher side, I booked it. On seeing the room, I grudgingly realized that the price being charged was almost four to five times more than its normal traiff. This is amongst the drawbacks of traveling in peak tourist season. Families with school going kids though have no alternative.
There are a good number of decent hotels in Somnath also. Our hotel was situated in a congested part. It was hard to get fresh air and sun there. The hotel and the room in general were clean, with hot water in bathroom. But in mornings and evenings, there was a smell of dead sea-fishes. Mayuram, another well known hotel was situated at a better location. There is also a newly constructed Sukhsagar hotel near Somnath’s new railway station. I felt that it was the best amongst all.
After checking in, we ate breakfast at Bhabha restaurant that was adjacent to our hotel. In the restaurants of this region the seats were with high backs. It gives privacy but takes away the warmth and liveliness. We neither liked the ambience nor the preparation of this restaurant.
Later on we discovered an Amul outlet just in front of the Somnath temple. On the first day we had our meal there in the form of Shrikhands, Masala Chaach and ice creams. There was a big tree with a platform around it to enjoy the Amul meals; this open air restaurant was better than the high-back seat restaurants.
We then also discovered a market near Amul outlet. In the center of that market there were eateries all around with a raised area in between. During the later part of our stay we relished Gujarati khichdi plate at ShivShakti restaurant several times.
Coming to the Somnath temple, I believe that the places of worship are for believers and devotees, not for tourists. But I visited Somnath temple more as a tourist. My observations would be accordingly.
We reached temple at noon. Even in winters, sun was harsh by that time. The big concreted space outside the temple was clean. There was a statue of Sardar Vallabh Bhai Patel facing the temple; flocks of pigeons were fed by tourists and devotees. Small act of kindness, be it with fellow human beings or with animals or the birds increase the general aura of spirituality. Pigeons are amongst the most docile birds. It’s calming to see them eating, and then suddenly flying off and then coming down again all-together. A few kids were enjoying chasing them and forcing them to fly, keeping themselves and the pigeons fitter in the process.
Somnath temple has received many terror threats, so ample security arrangements have been done to protect it. There was a long queue of school kids waiting for their turn to enter inside. There were good facilities to leave luggage and footwear outside. Photography is not allowed inside the temple and so lockers are provided, free of cost, for keeping valuables and cameras.
On first looks, the exteriors of this temple looked impressive. It is planned in the architectural style of the Solanki period. I was of the impression that this much talked about temple is among the rich Indian temples. I was expecting the construction to be comparable to Akhshardhams. I was disappointed. Carvings on the temple walls were gross and lacked refinement. In-total it was an unattractive modern construction. This observation is only as far as the touristic external looks are concerned.
The purpose of visit to any religious place should be the aura of spirituality there. On the first day we could not attend the aarti in the temple. Next day we were pressed on by the owner of ShivShakti restaurant to attend it. It was worth it. The most memorable part of our visit to the Somnath temple was the fervor and the zeal of devotees during aarti and to experience the crescendo of devotion.
After visiting the temple and finishing our meals at Amul outlet, my wife and kids decided to take rest in the hotel. I stayed back to explore the town.
My first destination was an old museum that is situated north of the temple. The courtyard of that museum was littered with a jumble of old carved stones, statues, section of roof pillars and torans of the remains of the old temple. All of them were telling the same stories of vandalism, demolitions and destruction. I wonder how breaking idols could be an act of bravery. It reminds me of Taliban gleefully blowing down the colossal statues of Buddha in Bamiyan in front of the world media. The whole world looked helpless and watched as mere spectators. Some day in future, Afghanistan will understand the loss they had on that day. Later on I learnt that for local Hazara population the giant figures represented the ancestors of their indigenous population. The enormous Buddha statues were considered male and female – the male Salsal (55m) “light shines through the universe” and the smaller female Shamama (38m) “Queen Mother”. Two years after this outrageous act, when Taliban lost control over the region, UNESCO listed the cultural landscape and the archaeological remains of the Bamiyan valley on its World heritage list in Danger.
While loitering in the museum I noticed that all those remains lacked the refinement and sophistication of Khajuraho. I remained wondering, was the temple of Somnath really so grand and sophisticated as it sounds in folklores! Or is it that in the series of attacks and in the centuries of negligence, it had lost all that made it so unique.
Afterwards, I decided to visit an old temple in front of the new Somnath temple. There was no one to take care of one’s shoes. Before the trip I had bought new Adidas shoes and I was worried about their safety. I realized that God has put a strange condition for me. If I had to visit Him, I had to shun my materialistic affinities. I explored alternatives. I requested a guard to take care of my shoes and he shrugged my request telling me that he had better business to attend to. I tried to achieve both God and my materialistic belongings. I took off my shoes at the entrance and did a hundred meter race to have a quick darshan. The distance upto the sancta-sanctorum was more than hundred meters, I had to return midway. God smiled at my attempt. There was a beggar. I thought of asking him to take care of my shoes. But I could not convince myself that he would remain there till I return. Sadly, in the end, my love for my new shoes won; my tryst with God on that day was not ordained to happen 🙁
Dejected I moved away from the temple towards Somnath’s new museum. It was near bus stand, but was closed for renovation at that time. It is dedicated to regional “coastal life” and maritime events. There I was told about Sangam and that Sharda Peeth, Gita Mandir and Surya Mandir are in its vicinity. I walked towards Sangam. It was around one kilometer from the temple.
I was sure that at Sangam I would not have to take off my shoes and so I decided first to explore it. आख़िर दूध का जला छाछ भी फूँक फूँक कर पीता है (Its literal english translation is that those who burn their tongue drinking hot milk, sip even the buttermilk cautiously. In other words, once bitten twice shy).
I liked the place. So without wasting much time there alone, I decided to return back with the family. When I reached the hotel I saw that the kids and my wife were awake. When I told them about Sangam, everyone got interested.
By this time, the laid back life of Somnath started to absorb us in. We hired buggy to go to Sangam. The whole setting reminded me of Dilip Kumar’s famous film “Naya Daur”. It was a little before sunset. Somnath temple was gleaming in sunlight. It was a beautiful sight to view the glowing temple from the hooded rear portion of the buggy.
Sangam is located at the confluence of Kapila, Hiranya and vanished Saraswati rivers. At the entrance we bought biscuits for fish. When we threw them in the water it was fun to see shoals of fishes rushing to grab them.
The scene reminded me of a rugby match. A lucky fish moving ahead with its prized possession and other fishes vehemently following it. In this case though at the end the ball ended up being devoured by the hungry players. The interesting sight evoked joy and excitement in the hearts of my children.
There was a statue of Morarji Desai to commemorate the inauguration of Sangam by him. Morarji Desai, though spent most of his political time in Indian national congress, but has the distinction of leading the first non-congress government of India. He is the only Indian to receive the highest civilian awards from both India and Pakistan, the Bharat Ratna and Nishaan-e-Pakistan. As a kid I always sympathized with him as he was born on 29th Feb and could celebrate his birthday only once in 4 years. As an adult I envy him, he lived for 99 years but was only 24 birthday old. He is ridiculed for his championing of self urine therapy. I do believe that it is because such alternative ways are so looked down in the press.
At Sangam a few Brahmins were chanting shlokas and conducting prayers around small shivlingas which they had brought with themselves. A few devotees were taking bath in the holy water. It gave the whole place an atmosphere of calm, peace and religious feel. Later on I noticed something pathetic. After the prayers the Brahmins left the portable shivlingas unattended on the shore. I witnessed a dog lifting its leg there. Pitiful!
A Western Reef Egret on the shore kept us entertained. Mr Bagula Bhagat sometimes stood still while sometimes it ran behind fishes with his tilted neck – like an old chowkidar of a mango orchard running behind children, who enter inside the orchard excitedly looking forward to enjoying the luscious mangoes; never really been able to catch any of them.
Here we took a boat ride and were taken to the point where the rivers Kapila and Hiranya could be seen arriving from different directions, till then with completely distinct identities. Eventually getting married at Sangam and losing their individuality completely.
There were big white water birds. I wondered, are they the Great white Pelicans? I requested the boatman to take us closer to the birds. He declined, explaining that the water was shallow there. It was the closest we could watch those magnificent, beautiful white birds.
On Rachit’s insistence after sangam we went straight to chowpatty – the sea beach abutting the Somnath temple. (Yes, this beach was also called chowpatty like the one in Mumbai). As we reached there, we saw a few kinnars coming towards us. Rachit commented – “पापा, मस्त ताली बजाने वाले आ रहे हैं ” (Papa, the people who clap nicely are coming towards us).
The beach was lively with hordes of tourists sipping coconut water, eating chaats, and taking camel and horse rides. Camels at Chowpatty were conscious about their beautiful faces and all of them could be seen wearing hats to avoid sunburns. Sorry, I don’t have a photograph of that!
Sun was yet to set. It was looking tired but experienced. The fierce yellow shine was paving way to a soothing yellow and the temple was glowing.
Setting sun has its own charm and it never ceases to impress us. Rachit was enjoying the incoming and receding waves, running forward and backward with them. But the camels and horses were also running along the shore and his safety became a matter of concern for us.
We decided to move from chowpatty to finish our meal before the sound and light show at the temple. After dinner, the toll of continuous two night of train journeys, began to appear. Inspite of his tremendous efforts and strong desire to see the show, Rachit gave up and so did we. We later realized that he had fever and decided to call it a day.