The only thing I really picture myself doing in any summer is spending infinite amount of time infront of my laptop and going for a walk with my best friend Vaishu in the evenings. So obviously, when dad put forward this plan of visiting a bunch of places in a short period of time this summer, I wasn’t really psyched. But now, as I look back I realize what difference those eight days have made to me. This trip was basically a pilgrimage. It’s just that I am not overtly religious and this is the second of the three trips that my dad has planned for us in three months to religious places. This one though, differed from the others. It wasn’t just the immediate family of six that was travelling; it was a group of eleven. Considering that we had four senior citizens travelling with us and the ginormous amount of luggage we had with us, we had to do a lot of arrangements. The most surprising thing that I realised about myself is my non-addiction to technology (my cell phone never caught a signal from the service provider throughout the trip and this didn’t affect me at all)
Day 1: Mumbai to Ahmedabad, 19th May
After everyone reached Mumbai we had a few hours to make the arrangements. We were to board a late night train, Gujarat Mail, to Ahmedabad junction. The major source of worry was how we would reach the station and which station we were supposed to board from (The train halted at two stations in Mumbai). After giving it some thought, we came up with a brilliant idea – a subgroup would go to the source station with the luggage and the rest of us would join in at the second station. This was a pretty effective solution. By eleven in the night, we were all settled and comfortable in the train and thankfully the journey was pretty smooth.
Day 2: Ahmedabad to Mount Abu, 20th May
After seven hours, the train finally stopped at Ahmedabad junction. We were the last people to get off the compartment. It was 6.55am by the time we reached outside the station (after bargaining with the porters). The name of our driver-cum-guide of the Tempo Traveller we booked was Angrez Singh (we were hoping he would be a foreigner, but our hopes were dashed).
It is surprising that no matter how much you plan a trip, there are always some last minute glitches and problems, and the funny thing is that we tend to remember the glitches more clearly than the actual trip. A little after we left the station we realised that the air conditioning had failed us. Normally it wouldn’t make a difference but as we were visiting Rajasthan in the month of May, we decided to not take any risks. After a very long breakfast at a restaurant called Maharaj we got a new tempo, and we checked the vehicle for all the features we needed. Our new driver-guide was Bholabhai. He was really sweet to us and was knowledgeable about the area. My topsy-turvy health led me to believe that a diet of two chocolate ice-cream cones a meal would be enough while travelling.
By 2.45pm we had checked into Hotel Karnavati. Though not the best pick, it is located centrally and conveniently. We finally sought some well-deserved rest after an on-and-off journey of 16 hours. We decided to explore the area a bit in the evening, starting with the sunset point. I learnt a great deal about adapting. The actual point was about 750 metres away from the main entrance and there and as there were no vehicles around, the local people had this innovative idea of horses and reasonably priced mini-handcarts to seat two people. I was pretty impressed as they managed to reduce both- atmospheric and noise pollution, at the same time provide means of employment to the local people.
The actual fun lay in the journey and not the destination, as the actual point wasn’t as spectacular as I had hoped. My sister though, had a lot of fun trying to capture different things in her new camera. The sunset wasn’t even a proper one. The sun just vanished somewhere all of a sudden after 7.30pm!
We visited Nakki Lake after bidding bye to the disappearing sun. I find it really fascinating that every place in our country has some significance. It has its own story to tell, no matter how small. Nakki Lake is said to be dug by Gods with their fingernails and is thus considered sacred. The place near the lake had a charm of its own. The altitude of the lake is about 1100 metres, the highest for a lake in almost the entire western India.
The thing that charmed me the most was the restaurant on the lakeside. There were dozens and dozens of shops selling jewellery and pieces of art native to Rajasthan. I was stumped by the fact that Mount Abu is almost like mini-Mumbai: the place has US Pizza and CCD! After dinner at a nearby restaurant and a little bit of shopping we retired to our respective hotel rooms.
Day 3: Mount Abu, 21st May
Today was all about exploring the place. We decided to explore the area as much as we could. We left the hotel room early in the morning. We first visited Dilwara temple, but as it was not open to general public before noon, we decided to go Achaleshwar temple instead.
The interesting thing about Achaleshwar temple is its story. I found it intriguing that instead of the usual Linga in the Shiva temples, Lord Shiva’s TOE is worshipped here. Legend has it that when Achaleshwar was sinking to Pataallok (netherworld), people prayed to Lord Shiva for protection. Lord Shiva was in Kashi at that time and extended his right foot and balanced the whole place on the big toe. The temple has beautiful intricate marble architecture that was a real treat to sore eyes. In front of the temple is a giant statue of Nandi, which weighs about 250kg, made of ‘panchadhatu’ or five elements. We did a little bit of shopping here as well.
The next place we visited was the Peace Park managed by Brahmakumaris. The place has acres of gardens and is maintained reallt well. The highlights include a laser-light show, which makes people think about their existence and their deeds throughout life. The place overflows with serenity and calmness. I wondered how I felt peaceful and at ease all of a sudden. The cool pleasantness of weather there astonished us as we expected it to be scorching hot.
We then went to the Dilwara temples. Dilwara temples are dedicated to the 24 Jain Tirthankaras. The temples are an architectural perfection and the use of marble is stunning. Built in 1013 over a period of 14 years, the temples required 1200 masons and 1400 labourers for completion. What really amazes me is the estimated cost for completion- 12.36crore (at that time!).
Most of us visited the Adhar Devi temple in the evening; however I was incapacitated due to fatigue. The temple is said to be one of the fifty two places in the world where the ashes of Goddess Sati are scattered. To reach the temple one has to climb about 365 small steps. We then returned to our rooms, packing and planning for the trip back to Ahmedabad early the next day.
Day 4: Mount Abu to Gandhinagar to Ahmedabad, 22nd May
This day was mostly about travel again. We had to leave really early because there was supposed to be a huge gathering of tribals at Nakki Lake, which would block the roads. On this day, the lakhs of tribals from all walks of life come from far and wide to pay respects to the souls of their departed ancestors, for they believe them to visit the lake on the auspicious day. Apart from that, the place also witnesses a lot of tribal matchmaking on this day.
I was too unwell and sleepy when we visited Ambaji temple on the way down the hill and hence couldn’t make it inside but I was told that the place was really well managed and that the overall darshan time was only five minutes, which is pretty impressive considering the morning crowd.
I should have known better than to order idli in Gujarat area when we stopped for brunch in a dhaba-like restaurant as it tasted funny. We spent a major chunk of the day travelling and reached Gandhinagar, the capital of Gujarat at about 2.45pm. As we were really pressed for time we decided that we would visit only Akshardham temple there. The driver told us that people spend roughly three hours exploring different places in the premises and so did we.
Akshardham temple is undoubtedly one of the few places I have visited which induces a great calming effect. I was really inspired by the enormity, beauty and the serenity of the place. What really touched my heart was the story of the eleven year old boy, who after renouncing material life in 1792, walked 12000km barefoot over a period of 7 years, touching and making an impact on millions of souls. The fact that a single youth brought about such tremendous change continues to amaze me, and makes me wonder about the enormity of change every single one of us can bring about if we commit ourselves to it.
On reaching Ahmedabad in the evening we checked into Hotel Kamran Palace at about 8pm. We were touched by the extra effort made by the hotel staff to help us feel comfortable. It was Sashi kaka and Usha kaku’s marriage anniversary and the hotel staff was sweet enough to help us find a cake to celebrate. They wouldn’t even let us pay for the rickshaw fare to and from the cake shop! After half hour long celebrations and a show of Pokemon (I still watch it sometimes) and Takeshi’s Castle, I drifted off to the land of dreams.
Day 5: Ahmedabad to Dwarka, 23rd May
It was now a routine for me to wake up early (after a decent amount of struggle of course). We had to leave Ahmedabad before the morning rush started. Our driver’s little son joined the trip with us hereon. He was pretty excited as it was his first trip with his dad.After a light breakfast and a very long drive we stopped at the outskirts of Jamnagar at Milan Restaurant. Our driver informed us that the place was very famous and that people took a detour for as far as 50km just to have lunch there. At first the place appeared ordinary but as soon as the food arrived on our tables, I understood why the place was so famous. The food was so awesome that for once, I decided to forget my icecream diet. The most interesting thing that I could point out was that even Mirchi pakoda was sweet!
On reaching Dwarka a couple of hours later, I couldn’t help but compare it to my city. Dwarka is somewhat like Mumbai, minus the large scale urbanisation. It is also located on the seaside, thus assuring us beautiful views in the evenings. We stayed at hotel Dwarka Darshan, which is really close to the Dwarkadhish temple. It was more of a budget guest house than a hotel to me. I was informed that for the evening Aarti at the Dwarkadhish temple, the sanctum had been decorated to portray a Rasleela scene. Back in the room, looking at the ceiling we noticed that it was decorated by hundreds of glow in the dark stars. It was a pleasant sight. It’s funny that in real life I don’t ever remember seeing those many stars in the night.
Day 6: Dwarka, 24th May
This day was really packed with loads of sight-seeing. We started for the Bet-Dwarka temple. Literally Bet-Dwarka translates to “Island of Dwarka”. That’s why a part of our journey was by the jetty. The jetty was fun. It’s been really long since I had a jetty ride. We were lucky to reach the Krishna temple just in time to witness the whole of morning Aarti. The place started getting crowded as we were leaving. We proceeded to Nageshwar temple, which is believed to be a Jyotirlinga (There is some ambiguity when it comes to Jyotirlingas. Some people worship Nageshwar in Gujarat, whereas some others consider Aundha Nagnath in Maharashtra as a Jyotirlinga).
It is said that a pilgrimage to Dwarka is incomplete if we visit the Dwarkadhish temple and not the Rukmini Devi temple. Legend has it that Lord Krishna abducted Rukmini Devi from her marriage as she prayed to him to do so. They got married and went take the blessings of sage Durvasa (who was known for his short temper). He agreed to bless the married couple on the condition that the couple would draw the chariot from the Ashram to the palace themselves. They agreed but in the process, Rukmini Devi got exhausted and asked for water. Lord Krishna made water appear from the earth and the couple quenched their thirst. This angered the sage, as the couple had not offered water to him, the guest, first (considering “Atithi Devo Bhava”: the guests are treated equivalent to Gods). Enraged he cursed them with twelve long years away from each other. He also cursed River Ganga (all the water in the world is believed to be a part of the river) and ever since, the natural water in Dwarka is saline.
The last place we visited was the Dwarkadhish temple. Although there wasn’t any Raasleela scene, the temple really took my breath away. After this was the most memorable part of the day- visiting Gomti Ghat. The cool breeze coupled with the waves of cold water hitting the marble steps is something I will never forget. After this we had our dinner in the restaurant joining the hotel and we went to sleep under the glowing artificial stars in the room.
Day 7: Dwarka to Porbandar to Somnath, 25th May
Dwarka and Somnath are both coastal cities. And hence, the road we took ran parallel to the sea. We left pretty early in the morning for Somnath. The detour to Porbandar wasn’t exactly planned, but surely was most welcome. Porbandar is the birthplace of Gandhiji and hence the main place of interest was the bungalow where he was born. The building is the property of Archaeological Survey of India now. It was built almost a hundred years before Gandhiji was born. It is a 3 storeyed building having about 22 rooms in total. This was followed by a visit to the Sudama temple, which is another tourist attraction in the place. In the rented vehicle we had a dose of khakras, chips and a local variety of mangoes before we started again, this time towards Somnath.
The most memorable thing about this day was the twenty minutes we spent at the beach en route. Standing in the hot sand with the cool waves cooling our feet… For a few minutes I felt like nothing else in the world existed and even if it did, nothing mattered. After a tender coconut and some photos, we were back on the road.
We reached Somnath late afternoon. We stayed at Samudra Darshan Yatri Niwas. I really loved the view from our room. The windows were about huge and offered a really beautiful view of the seaside. The best part about the guest house was that it shared a boundary wall with the temple. Sadly we had to walk about a kilometre to get inside the temple premises as the exclusive entrance from guest house was sealed off. However the walk was really worth it, as the temple was breathtakingly beautiful.
I felt both immense pride and sadness on hearing about the history of the temple through the Light and Sound Show. Being a Jyotirlinga, Somnath has seen the best and the worst times of Indian history. The first time it was destroyed by Mahmud Ghazni, who plundered its wealth after killing 50000 people protecting it. It has subsequently been destroyed and rebuilt a number of times, with the completion of the latest restoration in 1955.
I silently promised myself that I would visit the temple again before we left for Ahmedabad.
After having the temple checked off on our to-see list, we had dinner and a hearty sleep. Dad told me that he had a surprise planned for the next day. I wondered what it was.
Day 8: Somnath, 26th May
I finally understood what surprise dad was referring to. We were to visit the Gir forest near Sasan village. Gir is the only home to Asiatic lions in India. I was on the top of the world. In the area, initially we were struggling to see even a herd of deer. We spotted increasing number of animals and birds as we reached closer to the interpretation zone.
We saw a couple of beautiful peacocks but they vanished as soon as we were about to click photos. We reached the interpretation zone where at a nominal fee we were given a ride in the buses. We saw about ten lions in total (including the cubs), apart from a fox, neelgai, deer and many peacocks. The lions looked at bliss. The guide told us that the forest was home to 411 Asiatic lions. I was dumbstruck by the sheer beauty of the majestic creatures. Their eyes are really captivating and I bet no camera can actually capture their depth and power. I wished that the time would just stop. I didn’t want to go back. Not for a while. After the tour of the interpretation zone, we left to have breakfast at a restaurant nearby.
On the way back to Somnath we stopped to have mangoes. The trees were miniature- we could pluck the mangoes ourselves. After plucking some raw ones we bought a lot of ripe mangoes. The owner of the mango orchard told us that he had spotted a couple of lions there the previous night, and that he drove them away with a stick (as though they were extra large sized stray dogs!). The mangoes were really delicious and it was impossible to have just one.
We returned to Somnath late afternoon. After a very welcome hot bath, we left for Somnath temple again. I couldn’t just get enough of it. We visited Ahilyeshwar temple nearby that was constructed by Maharani Ahilyabai Holkar, who was responsible for the restoration of many important temple sites in India. The Linga in the temple was made really huge and hence it would have been impossible for the invaders to possibly plunder it. I couldn’t help but wonder at her brilliance. We returned to the hotel room just in time for the IPL 6 final match between Chennai Super Kings and Mumbai Indians, which continued till way past midnight. I was really thrilled to see Mumbai finally win after 6 long years.
Day 9-10: Somnath to Ahmedabad to Mumbai
We had a really long 10 hour long journey in front of us. We were supposed to reach Ahmedabad and then catch the same train we came in, Gujarat Mail, back to Mumbai. We decided to stop by at the Triveni Sangam in Somnath before leaving. The sangam is a place where three rivers – Hiranya, Kapila and Saraswati and is considered a really sacred place.
We reached Ahmedabad by 6.30pm and our train left at about 10.30pm so we had some times on our hands. We decided to try out some food at Induben Khakrawala and some pizzas at Jessuben pizza as we had heard a lot about these two places. Sadly the pizzas weren’t as good as expected. By 9pm we were at the railway station and all set to go home. Time does really fly when you are enjoying. This may sound like an abrupt ending…..but the truth is that we ended this journey by planning the next one.
Here are a few tips for the people planning to visit Gujarat
- Somnath is a must visit. If you are looking at a sea-facing hotel in the vicinity of the temple, my suggestion to you would be Hotel Samudra Darshan Yatri Nivas (book well in advance!). The rates are reasonable and the rooms are amazingly comfortable.
- Gir Forest is less than 50km from Somnath. The Asiatic lions, deer and peacocks there are definitely worth a visit. And while you are there, make sure you take a wildlife tour ONLY by Gujarat Tourism in the Gir Forest Interpretation Zone. Though you have to go a few extra kilometers inward, it is totally worth it. For a fact, it’s very reasonable compared to the private tours available.
- If you are planning to visit the Swaminarayan Akshardham Temple in Gandhinagar, it would be advisable to allocate atleast half a day for enjoying its immensity and beauty
- While visiting Dwarka temple make sure you visit the Rukmini Devi Temple as well. The journey to Dwarka is said to be incomplete otherwise
- While visiting Dwarka, a trip to Bet-Dwarka should be on your checklist. A journey by jetty is a welcome change to the otherwise road trips. While going to the temple try to reach before the morning Aarti. The place gets crowded after the Aarti
- Porbandar, being the birthplace of Gandhiji, is also worth a visit. The ancestral house of Gandhiji has been well maintained by the Archaeological Survey of India and is now a heritage structure.
- Hotel Kamran Palace in Ahmedabad was the most reasonable compared to the other hotels we stayed in. Apart from being very well maintained, the staff was really hospitable and helpful.
- When it comes to restaurants, here is an absolute winner. Milan Restaurant near Jamnagar. People take a detour of upto 50 km just to enjoy a meal there. Don’t underestimate the food by the modest looks of the place. The food is plain amazing.
And, finally, a few tips for people visiting Mt. Abu
- Be very careful while choosing your hotel. Thorough research about your hotel and its location will come in handy.
- Visit Sunset Point only if you have spare time. Although it is good, there are many more things to explore in the area
- The best time to visit Nakki Lake would be in the evenings. The lake looks amazing in the moonlight and the restaurant is a calm and peaceful place
- Have an idea about the festivals falling during your visit and plan your trip accordingly.
- The Dilwara Temple is a must visit for the people going to Mt. Abu. DO NOT MISS IT. Speaking of which, it is open to non-Jains only after noon. Plan accordingly.
- The Peace Park maintained by the Brahmakumari Trust is well maintained. Do take time to visit and enjoy its beauty and serenity.
Photo Courtesy: My dear sister