Saturday, 16 November 2013

Saurashtra - Land of Hundred Kingdoms_September 2013

Saurashtra is the bottom peninsula of Gujarat State. It means "The Land of Hundred Kingdoms" - Sau=Hundred & Rashtra=Kingdom / Country. And actually after India's independence, 217 Princely States were merged to form state of Saurashtra. It later on became part of Bombay State & then of Gujarat after division of Bombay.

We started our journey from Pune in the evening. Morning at 6 am we reached Baroda. There is one train daily from Pune towards Ahmedabad via Baroda. After getting out of Baroda Railway Station move towards Left. Private Buses ply from here towards Bhavnagar, an important city of Saurashtra after Rajkot. Bhavnagar is 4 hours away from Baroda.

Bhavnager is named after its founder Bhavsinhji Gohil. Its was a Princely State before Indian Independence & said to be the first in the country to get merged into the Union of India.

It is said to be Cultural Capital of Saurashtra. It is an important centre for Diamond Cutting & Polishing Industry & stands second in India after Surat. Alang Ship Breaking Yard here is the largest in World (about 50% of World Ships are salvaged here).

We spent an evening in Bhavnagar Darshan.
First we visited Khodiyaar Temple which is situated at the outskirts of the City (Rajpara Village). It is an abode to the Goddess Khodiyaar whom the people of Gujarat & Rajasthan believe in.

Lake by the Side Khodiyar Temple
Bor-Talaav or Gaurishankar Lake (named after Deewan of Bhavnagar) is one of the most visited places of Bhavnagaris. At one time it was used to be a source of water supply for the City. There is huge model of a Ship constructed on other side of Dam Wall. I remember when I had seen it 25 years ago, it was awesome & beautiful. When the water might be flowing over the dam, it might be giving a feeling as if it is floating over water. Now, the condition is pathetic.

There is a big bungalow of the Royal Family on the banks of this lake. It is still in use as a holiday home.

There is a Shiva Temple as well by the name Thapnath Mahadeo.
A large Boot (like the one in Mumbai Hanging Gargens) also grabs one's attention; but again the condition is no good.

Bara-Sau Mahadeo: Literally 1200 Mahadeo is a small temple dedicated to Shiva & is said to have 1200 Shiv-Lingas properly placed on a stepped conical structure. It is a unique place; normally we don't see such type of a temple / arrangement.

Takhteshwar is the marble temple of Shiva situated on a hillock within the City. It is the highest point in the City & a 360 deg view looks beautiful. It is another most visited place by the locals.

Next morning, we started our Saurashtra journey. We had booked a Tavera & started off at 6 am. We decided to move towards Porbandar, left most coast of Gujarat. Distance covered about 310 kms. We took the route --> Bavnagar - Sihor - Gondal - Porbandar.

We reached Porbandar at 1 pm. We were scorching for an hotel when we came across Hotel Raghukul which provides AC Dormitory & Dining on MG Road. It was a nice place & budget too (Rs. 200 per person per day).

After a brief rest, we started for Porbandar Darshan in the evening.

First in the list was an obvious place - Kirti Mandir, Mahatma Gandhi's Birth Place. It is located at the crowded location in the heart of the City. However, it is well-maintained & extremely clean. It houses the ancestral structure of the Gandhi Family, the place where Gandhiji was born.

Kirti Mandir - Main Entrance

Ancestral House of Gandhis
Place where Gandhiji was born
Interiors of Ancestral House of Gandhis

Lane of Kirti Mandir
Sudama Temple:

Nearby is another place by the name Sudama Puri which houses Sudama Temple. Apart from Gandhiji, Porbandar is the birthplace of Lord Krishna's friend Sudama. Sudama used to stay at this place. It houses a temple dedicated to Sudama apart from few other temples and a Pigeon Square (one can buy grains for the pigeons). The most interesting structure is the "Sudama-ji ki Laksh Chaurashi Parikrama". It is simple maze which people believe, if they walk through it, they will attain Moksha. It's a fun walking through it.
Sudama-ji ki Laksh Chaurashi Parikrama
Rokadiya Hanuman: This is a temple slightly in outskirts of the City. One can go till the top of the temple.

Porbandar Beach: Nice place to relax & have a walk. The beach as such is not good for playing in the Sea. It is rocky & not clean. The road by the beach side is called Marine Drive (not like the one in Mumbai though). There are many hotels lined up along, facing the sea. We had herbal tea here (it was similar to Kashmiri tea - Kahwa).

There was one huge Ship sunk in the sea and flown on this shore. It was lying there for many days & some people were working on it. It also covered-up most of the beach area & was disturbing the view & causing a nuisance actually.

Porbandar has large number of old buildings reminiscing the era that have gone by.

Next day morning, we started-off to Dwarka. The route from Porbandar to Dwarka is awesome; it is coastal road with wind-mills all along.

On the way there is a place by the name Miyani (about 30 kms from Porbandar). It has a temple of Goddess Harsiddhi Mata (also known as Harshad) on a hill called Koyla Dungar. Need to climb about 100 steps. But the view atop is breath-taking - with a vast Arabian Sea on one side and the back-waters on the other with a bridge connecting two land-masses.

It is said that this temple is built by Lord Krishna himself after he defeated Jarasandha. Harsiddhi Mata is said to be Kuldevi of Yadavas, clan of Lord Krishna.
It is a small temple seem to be built of Sandstone. It has some sculptures carved out on it. It is built on a platform with a climb of about 15 steps. I

After spending about 1/2 an hour, we descended down & started our onward journey to Dwarka - Gateway to Heaven ('Dwar' means "gate" and 'Ka' means "Brahma"). Dwarka is among the Sapta-Puris - 7 most religious ancient cities of India (Ayodhya, Mathura, Haridwar, Varanasi, Kanchipuram, Ujjain & Dwarka).
It is also amongst the Char-Dhams - Badrinath, Dwarka, Puri & Rameswaram. It is situated at the west-most point of Saurashtra Peninsula.

Lord Krishna migrated from Mathura & settled in Dwarka & ruled this place. It was said that the City was so flourished that it was referred to as the City made of Gold. It is said that after the death of Krishna, there was misgovernance & mayhem within his people. Finally, Dwarka was destroyed - it got submerged under the sea.

What we see now is the Dwarka that got developed later on gradually. Even few Marine Archaeological investigations have revealed proofs under the sea surface. There are signs of a construction which can be a Port which is now beneath the sea. Actually, investigators found out two large cities twice the size of Manhatten inside. These are thousands of years old. Some of the Artifacts retrieved in Gulf of Khambata are about 32,000 years old. (However, when we asked to the Boatman there, he said he doesn't know anything about old Dwarka having submerged in sea; as per him, it is just a story with no proofs). Truly, Dwarka is "Atlantis of the East".

The residing deity, Lord Krishna, is referred as Dwarkadheesh (King of Dwarka) here. The Dwarkadheesh Temple is situated on the banks of River Gomati.
It is a huge temple, 5 storeyed made of Sand-stone and is said to have about 72 pillars. The temple is laced with intricate carvings all around. The original temple was built by Lord Krishna's grandson, Vajranabha, over the Residential Palace. Archaeological findings prove that it is about 2200 years old; however the existing temple is dated to 16th century.

The temple spire houses a large flag with Sun & Moon on it. It depicts the Temple will stand tall till Sun & Moon shine in the sky. The triangular flag is changed 5 times a day with new flag every time. The devotees pay hefty sums to purchase this flag for hoisting.

It is recommended to check the Darshan Timings. Darshan of Dwarkadheesh can be made only at specific times of the day. Apart from Lord Krishna, temples of his wives are also in the complex - Satyabhama, Jambuvanti, Laxmi, Saraswati & Radhika (not his wife).

After darshan at Dwarka, we proceeded towards Bet Dwarka. As the name suggests, it is another Dwarka located on a island. Bet Dwarka is considered as the part of original Dwarka which got submerged under the sea. Bet Dwarka also has a temple dedicated to Dwarkadheesh; the temple is much smaller though, compared to the one at Dwarka.

Bet Dwarka can be reached by a Ferry from Okha which is about 30 kms away from Dwarka. Ferry ride is about 2 kms.

However, I felt there is heavy loot by the Ferry owners. Since the Dwarkadheesh Darshan can be done on specific timings, they charge hefty sums from tourists to reach Temple in time. If you miss the Darshan time, you'll have to wait for another 2-3 hours for doors to open.

After darshan at Bet Dwarka, we returned on the same road. Our destination now was Somnath (one of the 12 Jyotirlingas). On the way near Dwarka, however, is another Shiva Temple - Nageshwar. Some say that it is also one of the 12 Jyotirlingas; however, there is a dispute. It is mentioned in one Sholka - सेतुबन्धे तु रामेशं नागेशं दारुकावने॥ People of various opinions about this Nagesham Darukavane.
Large Shiva statue in Nageshwar Temple campus
Now, whether Jyotirlinga or no, this Nageshwar temple is different considering cleanliness. Normally Shiva Temples around India are known for not-so-clean. This is an exception. The premises are noticeably clean. What attracts as you come near is the huge statue of Lord Shiva.

Audio-king, Late Gulshan Kumar seems to have done much work for glorifying this Temple. Like he has done for Vaishno Devi. His photos & name can be seen around the temple premises.

We started for our onward journey to Somnath. We reached around 8 pm.

Next day morning, we started for Somnath Temple; one with most turbulent history. The temple was destroyed by Islamic attacks & rebuilt later-on many times. It was last destroyed by Aurangzeb in 1665. In 1783, Ahilyadevi Holkar of Indore built another Temple of Somnath adjacent to the ruins of the original. This temple still stands here. It has two Shiv Lingas - the duplicate one immediately inside, while the Main Shiv-linga beneath that with narrow stairs on both sides. This was avoid the destruction of Main Shiv-linga, in case the temple is attacked.

Adjacent temple built by Ahilyadevi Holkar
Later in 1947, after India's Independence, Sardar Patel initiated the cause of rebuilding Somnath Temple over its ruins at the original place.

Now what we see is the huge & befitting Temple of Somnath built to its past glory. It is situated near the Triveni Sangam of rivers - Kapila, Hiran & mythical Saraswati; along the sea-shore. Yellow Sandstone structure with vast expanse of blue Arabia Sea at the background, is a sight to ponder.

The temple is magnanimous in size. It is definitely one of the best examples of modern archetecture in India. There are exquisite carvings outside as well as inside.

There is a Sound & Light Show run inside the premises. However, it is closed during the Rainy Season (June to September) every year. We, unfortunately, missed this.

There is one peculier fact. The Temple is built on a land-mass which has no other land-mass in a straight line till South Pole (Antartica).
Iron Man of India
In front of the Temple Main-gate, there is a statue of Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel. A true honour for a man whose efforts lead to restoration of this Temple for the seventh time after repeated destruction at the hands of foreign rulers.

There are couple of more sites to visit nearby - Triveni Sangam & Geeta Mandir. Following these we reached another site which has a mythological importance – Bhalaka (alse referred as Bhalaka Teerth).

Bhalaka is the place where Lord Krishna was believed to have hit by the arrow by a hunter named Jara, by mistake. Lord Krishna breathed his last here.

Lord Krishna was one of the mortal Awataars of Lord Vishnu. In his previous Awataar as Lord Rama, Lord Vishnu had killed Bali from behind (unlawfully). Actually Sugreev & Bali were fighting for supremacy. Seeing that Sugreev is losing this fight, Lord Rama striked Bali who was completely unaware. This is against the rules of a Duel Fight. Bali avenged this death in his next incarnation.

After end of Mahabharat, Yadavas of Yadu Dynasty (Lord Krishna's Dynasty), in a fit of arrogancy, fought with each other and destroyed themselves. Lord Krishna retired into a forest & took up meditation.

Lord Krishna was resting under a tree sitting cross-legged. A hunter, Jara, was roaming around in search of a kill. At a distance he mistook partly visible bare-foot of Lord Krishna to be a deer. He took a shot at it, mortally injuring Lord Krishna.

Jara came to him terrified for his mistake, when Lord Krishna himself told him the story about he being Bali in previous birth. Thus Bali avenged his death at the hand's of Lord Vishnu (Rama-avataar), by striking Lord Krishna completely unaware. Lord Krishna ascended back to his eternal abode.

The idols inside the temple are beautiful, full of expression. Unfortunately, photography is not allowed inside.

It is believed that the tree in the vicinity, is the same under which Lord Krishna breathed his last.

From here, we decided to get back to Bhavnagar. On the way, there is Gir Lion Sanctuary. However, since we were towards end of rainy season, there is heavy grass & greenery. It is very difficult to spot wildlife in such scenario. Hence we had cancelled it from our plan since beginning.

Actually, we had included to visit Diu. However, we had started witnessing change in weather (heavy rains). Also, visiting Diu for 3-4 hours was not worth-it. Hence we cancelled this plan in last moment.
Before reaching Bhavnagar, there is another interesting place - Alang. It is a major world-wide centre of Ship-breaking. It is termed as world's largest graveyard of ships (approximately half of all ships across the world are salvaged here). The longest ship ever built (Seawise Giant) also sailed here for salvaging.

During high-tides, ships are brought inside the docks & during low-tides, the workers dismantle these. The structure (metal, wood, etc) is sold as scrap, while the rest all items & equipments are sold to general public.

On the road outside, there are many shops lined-up which sale goods from Furniture to Shampoos & Electronics to Playing Cards. All these at a cheaper rate.

With this we returned back to Bhavnager, ending our Saurashtra Tour.

Bavnagar - Sihor - Gondal - Porbandar - Harshad - Dwarka - Okhla - Bet Dwarka (by boat) - Nageshwar - Porbandar - Somnath - Alang - Bhavnagar

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