Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Saurashtra Tour Itinerary

Saurashtra Tour Guide : Best places to visit in Saurashtra
Saurashtra Tour Guide
Saurashtra Tour is popularly known as the 'Saurashtra Darshan'. Saurashtra Travel takes you to a different era altogether and this blog can serve as a short Saurashtra Tour Guide. Saurashtra Tourist Attractions are mainly the temples which are flooded with deities from all over India. The best of Saurashtra places to visit are Dwarka, Somnath & Palitana.
When to Visit : October to December
Tour Duration : 6 to 8 Days
Must Visit Places : Dwarka, Somnath, Gir wild life Sanctuary
Saurashtra, as the name suggests, is indeed a region of one hundred kingdoms. It is indeed one of the most picturesque regions in Gujarat. Due to the princely history, its rich in antiquity and abundant in wealth. Well sculptured temples, forts, mosques and glittering palaces...all remind us of the glorious past. Their love for colour and artistry has touched every aspect of their lifestyle, and the handicrafts of the region enjoy the patronage of all the states of India. When I got an opportunity to visit this place, I just grabbed it. My father's sister and her husband were planning a tour to this side and they suggested that, it would be fun if we joined them. One more couple (their family friends) was also coming with them. The more, the merrier. The best part was that they were going to do the entire booking through Gujarat Tourism. If there is a small group of 6 or so, the tourism dept arranges for a vehicle like qualis, with a knowledgeable driver. Residence and food arrangement is made at their own hotels/restaurants. What more do you want ? Our whole group agreed on the point that we did not want fancy hotels as we would be spending hardly any time at the hotel. I made a quick survey of the spots they were covering and found it quite satisfactory. There was not going to be any night driving.
Our first travel was from Pune to Baroda. We were going to stay there for a couple of days. It was diwali time, so we packed lot of chaklis, karanjis, ladoos, and other varieties for our tour. The morning of our departure dawned and we were all ready at the doorstep. The family friends were also there in time and within minutes, we were on our way to Rajkot. There was a lot of travel anticipated on the first day itself. After this long journey, the other destinations were nearby.
Day 1

Rajkot
We reached Rajkot at about 10:30. Rajkot does not have much of tourist significance and it was going to be used only as a short break in the journey. It has a big trade market and is supposed to be one of the fastest developing cities in the saurashtra peninsula. In pre-Independence days, it was the headquarters of the British Government resident for the western Indian states. It was also known for the Rajkumar College built for the education of princes of the nearby kingdoms. It still exists today and is open to everyone. Mahatma Gandhi completed his early education here as his father was working at Rajkot. We took a glimpse of both these places but did not wait anywhere. The driver, who was also our tourist guide, suggested that the Ramkrishna Temple here was worth visiting.
Ramkrishna Temple
Located on Yagnik Road, it is popularly known as Jagat Mandir or Universal Temple. It is second most important place for followers of Swami Vivekanand after Kolkata. It is a beautiful temple carved in red stones (typical Ramkrishna format). However, it stands out from the other similar temples in India due to its architect and carvings. Elephants with garlands are carved on both sides of the temple.
The temple is dedicated to Sri Ramakrishna Paramahansa and the main shrine or Garbha Griha houses a white marble image of Bhagwan Sri Ramakrishna sitting on a Lotus Vedi. There is a also a 5 feet statue of Mahakali Devi inside so we took darshan and sat there for some time.

The Rotary Dolls Museum is one more place worth visiting. This unique Museum gives an overview to the culture and traditions of the world at large through a medium of dolls. The Rotary Clubs across the world have generously donated these Dolls to this club. We wanted to visit this museum but it was closed at that time (not sure whether it was due to time or diwali). That was slightly disappointing for us. We decided to leave Rajkot and proceed to Jamnagar. On the way, we had typical gujarati lunch.
Jamnagar
This city reminds us of cricket due to the number of cricketers it has offered to the country. The name Jamnagar is derived from 'Jam', the Jadeja Rajputs, that ruled the place. The rajputs were people with progressive thinking and that reflects in the development that has taken place in this city. The city has now developed into a big industrial area with reliance and other leading companies contributing to the development. Again, from tourist point of view, this does not have much of significance. There are a few spots which you can cover in a couple of hours.
Hanuman Temple : This temple is famous due to the non-stop jap of 'Shree Ram' (akhand namsmaran) that is going on here which holds a record in the country. Just opposite to the temple, there is a lake, around which there are two buildings that can be approached with a stone bridge. One is an arsenal and other is Lakhota Palace, which houses a musuem.
Lakhota Palace : This is an old palace but almost in ruins now. The palace hosts a musuem that holds some antique items. However, all this is not worth a visit. We were more interested in reaching Dwarka early.

There are 2 places in the main city - one is the Chandi Bazaar and the Jain temples nearby. Those who are going to visit Palitana need not visit these spots. We also heard about the smashan bhumi, that houses a number of sculptures that show events from Mahabharata. However, we were running out of time and skipped this.
Dwarka : The abode of Shri Krishna
The most important destination of our visit was Dwarka. This is supposed to be the place where Lord Krishna ruled. A number of excavations are a proof to this fact. However, the land is barren and unable to produce any crops. Thereby it is known as the 'Shapit Bhumi'. There is a story that Durvasa Muni had supposedly given a curse to Rukmini and that is why this land became totally barren.

We checked in the hotel and just dumped our luggage in the rooms. Soon we were on the way to the famous Dwarkadhish temple (Lord Krishna). Krishna is popularly known as Dwarkadhish or Randchodrai in Gujarat. I was positive that we could attend the arti in the evening. There was a huge rush in the temple. The reason for the rush was that the next day was padwa and hence a holiday. The gujarati people are very religious and they take every opportunity to visit temples and religious places on holidays. The temple has a huge structure and there are many small temples inside so it is slightly confusing as to how to proceed for the darshan. Luckily, me met a pandit, who suggested that we take his services as a guide.

He informed us that the temple was built by Vajranabh, the son of Lord Krishna. He built it with the help of Vishwakarma, the famous architect of that times. It is said that Vishwakarma built this temple purely with the power of mantras and that the beautiful carving at the top is automatically created with his yogic power.
Dwarkadheesh Temple

The temple shikhara consists of 7 storeys and the total height of that is 4 meters. The main mandap or temple hall is 5 storeyed and the roof of the hall is supported by 60 columns. The spire rises about 157 feet high. There are a number of temples inside and almost all the idols are associated with Lord Krishna and the Mahabharata. The main temple of Lord Shri Krishna contains a 1 feet height idol of the Lord on a silver throne. The actual idol is made from a black stone and its beauty is beyond description. We wanted to take darshan of the main idol first but there was a lot of rush there so the pandit advised that we start with the adjoining temples.

We started with the darshan of the Amba Mata devi, who is the kuldevta of Lord Krishna. I was fascinated by the beautiful idol. All the idols in this temple have striking features.

The other temples are : temple of Shri Guru Dutta, temple of Purushottam, temple of Durvasa Rishi, temple of Pradyumna and Aniruddha ( son and grandson of Shri Krishna), temple of Balarama (Elder brother of Shri Krishna). There is one more section named as the 'Rani Niwas', which consists of temples of the queens of Lord Krishna. These are as follows :
Jambuvanti : After killing Jambuvanta, Lord Krishna married his daughter, Jambuvanti.

Radha : Radha was the closest friend (sakhi) of Shri Krishna and had lot of importance in his life but he never married her. Due to her close association and devotion to the lord, the first naivedyam, which consists of butter is first given to Radha and then to Shri Krishna. The people here say that Shri Krishnaji Radhaji ka jutha hi khate hai.

Lakshmi Narayan : This temple hosts the Lakshmi Narayan idols.

Utsava Murtis : This utsava murtis of Gopal-Radha are used for festive purposes.

Satyabhama : This temple has an idol of Satyabhama, one of Shri Krishna's wives. It is said that satyabhama was very possesive about krishna and used to constantly fight with him regarding his love for Rukmini.

Saraswati Mandir : Hosts an idol of Goddess Saraswati.

Sharad Peetha : This is one of the four maths established by Jagatguru Shankaracharya. It is totally built in stone and the construction is done quite recently. At the top, there are statues of Lord Shiva in different poses of Tandava.

Dwarkadhisha Temple : The rush in the temple had subsided now so we could finally make way for darshana. There was a seperate row for ladies but they were quite large in number. In gujarat, they specifically observe lunch time, rest time etc for the deities also and during these periods, a curtain is lowered in front of the idol. Since I saw a curtain, I guessed that it must be rest time. After some time, the curtain was raised and there was a big hysteria. A few ladies literally threw themselves on the floor to offer prayers...some were in tears. Such was the effect of Lord Krishna. The arti started and a big lot of devotees participated in it. It was diwali time so the arti was also very special. After the arti, we could take darshana but it was only for a couple of minutes. we were pushed to the other side and had to come out of the main temple. The pandit was waiting outside and he guessed from our faces that we were not satisfied with the darshana. He advised us to wait for some more time and later took us inside again. This time, we could literally spend around 10 minutes in front of the idol. The idol is made in black stone and decorated with lot of jewellery...its amazing and you feel like looking at it again and again. Satistied with the darshana, we returned back to the center of the temple. That was the end of the tour of the first day. We were so exhausted that dinner was just a formality and soon we went off to sleep.

Day 2
We got up early morning the next day and went for a walk around the hotel. The dwarka beach was just 5 minutes away so we decided to go that way. The beach is slightly dangerous so its risky to get down in the water. There are a number of rocks at the edge so we sat on one of the huge rocks and observed the sea from a safe distance. We were going to visit the Bet Dwarka (the original dwarka) later that day so an interesting conversation started...whether Dwarka really existed and was submerged in water ? Did Lord Krishna rule this place centuries ago ? we hoped to find some answers to our queries at this amazing bet dwarka.

On the way to Bet Dwarka, we were going to cover 2 spots - Nageshwar Mahadev Jyotirlinga and Gopi Talav. The temple is situated in a dense forest and you can see lot of birds and animals here. The name of the place is Daarukawana.
Nageshwar Mahadev Jyotirlinga
Shiva Idol outside the temple
The driver informed us that Lord Shiva had appeared here to save one of his devotees, Supriya, from a demon named 'Daaruka'. Hence the name. It is said that those who pray to the Nageshwar Linga become free of poison. As we came near to the temple, we saw a beautiful peacock sitting on a roof top with all its feathers spread around. There is a big idol of Lord Shiva near the temple. Compared to Dwarka, there was not much rush here and we got darshana in about 5 minutes. The devotees are not allowed to touch the shivlinga so we have to pray from a distance. Also the abhisheka is only done by the holy people in the temple. This has helped them to keep the temple clean.
Gopi Talav : The next tourist stop was the famous gopi lake which is around 14 kms distance from Dwarka. Outside the lake, there were ladies selling 'gopi chandan', the yellowish white chandan that is applied on the forehead of deities. The mud around the lake is indeed yellowish white and soft. There is a myth behind this lake.
Shri Krishna, in his younger days, used to play raas lila with the gopis. After he came to Dwarka, he did not get any time to meet them but they missed him a lot. So they traveled from 'Vruj' to Dwarka and met him finally. Before departing, they requested him to play the famous raas lila with them again. Since that could be done in the palace, he arranged the program near the gopi lake. It was sharad purnima that night and in the full moon everyone experienced Shri Krishna in his full form, dancing with the gopis. When the time came for the gopis to depart, they could not bear to part with him and chose to lay down their lives near the lake and get merged into the earth instead. You can just spend around 10 minutes at this location. Outside the lake, there is a small Rukmini temple. Soon we were on the way to Bet Dwarka. The visit to Dwarka is not complete without a tour to bet dwarka.
Bet Dwarka : This is a small island near Dwarka and is still believed to be the original Dwarka submerged under water. It is said that Lord Krishna used to reside here with his family and the capital was in Dwarka, which is around 35 kms from here. Dwarka submerged into the sea after Sri Krishna left for the heavenly abode and the important Yadava kings were killed in fights among themselves. There are a lot of myths associated with this but Dr. Rao, who was leading the team of the underwater excavations confirmed that his findings in Dwarka were compatible with Mahabharata.
Okha Port
This island is closest to the coastal town of Okha and it is seperated from the land by 4 kms. The port authority has arranged a diesel boat service to cross this channel and it takes around half an hour to do so. We reached the port, purchased the tickets and stood in line for the boat service. There were lot of people waiting ahead but the boats were huge in size so our turn came fast. When we reached there, we had to submit our mobiles and cameras to the authorities. In Dwarka, you cannot take photos of the idols and the temples from inside.

There is a gate from where a narrow road takes you to the Bet Dwarka temple. A 5000 year old golden idol of Lord Krishna was obtained here and it is kept in a little room. The room is opened for worship in regular intervals and there is lot of frenzy when it opens. When we went there, it was just opened and people were shouting 'Dwarkadhish ji jay'. Again, there was a big rush...we waited aside patiently for some time. Soon a boat departed and rush subsided. The golden idol of Dwarkadhish is amazing. Apart from being made in gold, it is carved beautifully. There are temples of vishnu (in the form of matsya), Radha, Lakshmi, Satyabhama, Jambuvanti and Devaki. After taking all darshanas, we came down for the boat ferry. The boat was not yet ready so we spent some time at the bazaar nearby. A variety of motis, shells, conches are available here and quite cheap too. Soon our boat was ready for departure and we were back to the port.

Our driver was waiting outside. It was already late so we came back to the hotel for lunch. They served us hot phulkas, kadhi and moong. We had to still visit the Rukmini Temple in Dwarka but it was not going to take much time. The driver suggested that we check out from the hotel so that we could go to our next destination from the temple.
Rukmini Temple : Rukmini's temple is not among the temples of the rani nivas in the dwarkadhish temple. This was surprising for us as Rukmini was supposed to be the favourite rani of Lord Krishna. So we asked this query to our driver and he told us the story behind it. The story goes that the short-tempered Durvasa Muni was invited by Lord Krishna and Rukmini to dinner. When a person is invited to dinner, etiquette dictates that the host should not eat until the guest has been satisfied. On the way to dinner, Rukmini became thirsty and asked Krishna for help. When Durvasa Rishi was not looking, Krishna put his foot in the ground and the Ganges waters flowed forth from the earth. As Rukmini was drinking the water, however, Durvasa turned and saw her drinking without his permission. He became angry and cursed her to live apart from Lord Krishna. That is why Krishna's temple is in the town while hers is located outside the town. This temple is about 1.5 kms away from the town. The dwarka yatra is considered incomplete if we don't visit this temple after visiting the dwarkadhish temple. This temple is relatively small in size but very artistic. The idol of Rukmini Mata reflects her beauty and grace. I liked the carvings around the temple. Different stories of that period are carved in stone and these stones try to tell us these tales of yesteryears. We sat on the floor inside the temple and prayed for some time.
Our next destination was Porbander. The driver suggested that we could take a tea break at the Harsiddhi Mandir on the way to Porbander. This temple is also worth visiting but the only problem was that it is situated on a hill and we were all very tired. I suggested that whoever was fresh & willing would go to the temple and others could sit in a tea shop and relax.
Harsiddhi Mata Mandir : This temple, located at the Koyla hill, is built by Lord Krishna himself. The Harsiddhi Mata is Jagdamba Mata herself. Lord Krishna wanted to defeat the asuras and Jarasandha so he prayed to Amba Mata for power. With the blessings of the goddess, Krishna was able to defeat the asuras. After this success, he built the temple. When Jarasandha was killed, all yadavas over overjoyed (harshit) and they celebrated their success here. Hence the name Harshad Mata or Harsiddhi Mata. There are around 300 steps to the top. A powerful wind was blowing at the top and looking downwards, we realized that we were at a considerable height compared to the sea level.
From the top, we could clearly see the river Gomati getting merged in the Arabian sea. The different colors of the river and sea were very distinct. This temple is quite old than the Dwarkadhish temple but still it is not totally in ruins. The construction and carvings are slightly similar to the Rukmini temple. We rested for some time at the top but could not spend time as the ladies were waiting for us downside. Also, we had to reach porbandar soon.
Porbandar
Porbandar is not much of tourist significance. But it is of historical importance due to through its association with Mahatma Gandhi who was born here. The home of Gandhi's childhood is now open to visitors. Another reason why it is famous is that it is believed to be originally the Sudama Puri, the place where Shri Krishna's closest friend, Sudama lived. There is a temple dedicated to Sudama here. We visited the Sudama temple first.
Everyone knows the story of the friendship of Sudama and Shri Krishna. Both of them used to study at the heritage of Sage Sandipani and were close friends since then. Later sudama was struck with poverty and his wife advised him to meet Shri Krishna for some help. Krishna liked 'Pohe' so sudama's wife tied them in a bundle and asked him to take it along with him as a gift. When Krishna saw sudama, he embraced him and even washed his feet with warm water. The two chatted for a long time and then Krishna suddenly saw the bundle of pohe tied to his waist. He guessed that it must be some gift for him. Sudama was shy to offer it but Krishna snatched the bundle and relished his favourite food. While departing, sudama could not ask anything from his close friend neither did Krishna offer him any help. Sudama was a bit disappointed and returned back unhappy. However, when he reached home, he was surprised to see huge mansion in the place of his house and could not recognise his wife and kids who were in good clothes. He guessed that it was the magic of Lord Krishna. This place was known as 'Sudama Puri' for a long time and later it was renamed as Porbandar. Our next spot was Kirti Mandir.
Kirti Mandir : The place where Mahatma Gandhi spent his childhood is now named as 'Kirti Mandir' and is a national monument now. When we visited this place, they first take us to a small room where Gandhiji was born. The famous charkha and the spinning cotton thread is also kept here. On the first floor, there is a photo exhibition which is an amazing collection of photos of his lifetime. This is really worth visiting. When we went to this place, it was already 6:30 and it is closed by 7:00. so we hardly got 20 minutes to view the photographs. I wished we had got more time but they were strict about it. This was our last tourist spot for the day and soon we were at the hotel of gujarat tourism. This hotel was near the porbandar beach. There is also a big chowpaty near the beach. Lot of activity was going on there but we were too tired to walk out.
Day 3

Somnath - Verawal :
The next day was monday and we were going to visit Lord Shiva's temple at Somnath. Since monday is the special for Lord Shiva, we were anticipating a lot of crowd at the temple. So we started early again and within 2 hours, we were close to verawal. There are 2 tourist spots in the way.
Triveni Ghat : This is the place where Lord Krishna was cremated. It is also the place where the 3 rivers - Hiran, Kapil & Saraswati merge and meet the arabian sea. Saraswati river is not visible now and it is said to be in hidden form (gupt). A chatri (tomb like structure) is created where Lord Krishna was cremated. This is considered to be an important part of the saurashtra pilgrimage. People come here to immerse ashes of the near ones who have left for the heavenly abode. There are few temples nearby which are worth visiting. One is the Lakshmi-Narayan temple which contains beautiful idols of Vishnu and Lakshmi. There is one more Balaram temple nearby. The sheshanaga is the mighty serpent where Vishnu rests, so it is like a protector for him. When Vishnu took the Krishna avtar, the sheshanaga came on the earth in the form of his elder brother, Balarama. He acted as his protector on earth. After the Krishna avtar was over, Balarama also had to leave the planet. He is supposed to have gone underground (patala) at a place near the triveni ghat. The balaram mandir also known as dauji ki gufa or balaram's cave is contructed at this place. Inside the temple, you have to climb down the stairs to a place underground where you can worship the idols of Balaram and sheshanaga.
Bhalka Tirth : This is the place where Shri Krishna was fatally wounded by a huntman named Jara who mistook him as a deer. Shri Krishna was resting on a deerskin but the hunter thought that it was a deer and aimed the arrow. It is said that the hunter his previous birth, during Ramayana, was Vali and Vishnu in the form of Lord Rama had killed him in order to get the help of Sugriva. But Vishnu believed in justice and gave Vali, the right to kill him in his next avtar of Lord Krishna. When Lord Krishna thought that he had completed his duties on the planet, he gave up his life. Soon after his death, Dwarka was merged under the sea. This place is also called as Prabhaas Kshetra. A temple dedicated to Shri Krishna is constructed here and named as the 'Bhalka Tirth' temple. The temple has an idol of Shri Krishna, who is resting down after being hurt by the arrow. We took darshan and sat in the temple for some time. Our next destination was Somnath.
Somnath : This temple is just 5 kms away from Verawal. The most amazing thing about this temple is that it has been attacked so many times by destroyers but still it has survived and stands tall as one of the most beautiful temples in India. This is one of the 12 Jyotirlingas of Lord Shiva hence it has religious importance also. The temple has imposing architecture and is a beautiful sight facing the blue expanse of the Arabian Sea.

Now, about its history...This temple was originally built by the Moon God himself. It is said that moon was so infatuated by his wife Rohini that he ignored his other 26 wives, who were the daughters of Daksha Prajapati. This enraged him and he cursed the moon that he would wane. who used to shine in full splendor every night till then, started to shrink. Brahma then advised him to pray to Lord Shiva so that his illness would be cured. Lord Shiva removed the curse partially, thus causing the periodic waning of moon. In return of this gesture, the moon god built this temple for Lord Shiva and Shiva came to be known as Somanath, the Lord of the moon. Since it was destroyed and rebuilt for several times, the current temple is the seventh temple built to commemorate the glory of Lord Somnath.
According to the legends, Soma, the moon God built the temple in gold, Ravan in silver, Krishna in wood and king Bhimdev of Anhilwad in stone. The major attacks were made by Arab governor of Sind, Mahmud Ghazni & the mughal emperor, Aurangzeb. Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, then Home Minister & the first Deputy Prime Minister of India took a pledge on November 13, 1947 for its reconstruction for the seventh time. It was completed on December 1 and President of India, Dr. Rajendra Prasad dedicated it in the service of the nation. I was not aware of the rich history of Somnath until I read a book that I had purchased in the tour. After reading it, I became more and more curious to visit the temple.
When we came near the temple arena, we had to deposit our mobiles and cameras. This was slightly disappointing as I wanted a few snaps of the carvings but I understood the security concern. The beauty of the temple is evident from a big distance also. It stands gracefully on the sea coast and there is only a big wall dividing the temple and the beach. The sea waves collide against the wall and create a nice background roar. Immense and huge, the temple is made of lime stone available locally. We were now in the line for the darshan but in no hurry as we were getting more time to absorb the beauty of the structure. Soon, we were in front of the spacious garbhalaya where the tall shivlinga is kept for darshan. The shivlinga is 4 feet tall, white in color and is dressed in a sohala (religious cloth). Although, there is continous rush here, suitable time is given for darshan. My mother wanted to meditate so we all sat down and meditated for sometime. Later we made a pradakshina to the whole temple. There are numerous pillars that support the temple and they all are full of intricate carvings.
Beautiful Somnath temple
Somnath temple - Lighted at night
Some other devotees informed us that there is a special sound and light show at night time. However, we were going to miss the show as our night halt was scheduled at Junagad. I just wanted to make the most of the time we were going to spend here. We had a good look at all the carvings and went towards the sea. You can sit on the wall that separates the temple from the sea and enjoy the beauty of the place. In addition, there are benches arranged near the wall. We all sat down on the benches and discussed our further tour plans. So far, this was the most relaxing day of our tour so we chatted about the tourist spots covered so far.

There is one more small temple of Shiva near the main temple. This temple was built by Rani Ahilyadevi, the queen of the holkar dynasty, who was a great patron of hindu temples. When Ahilyadevi saw the destroyed temple, she took the decision to rebuilt it. This is a typical maharashtrian style Shiva temple. We were hungry by now and rushed for lunch to the gujarat tourism hotel nearby. Our next tourist spot was Sasan Gir - the wildlife sanctuary.
Sasan-Gir : The home of the asiatic lions
Soon after lunch, we started for Sasan-Gir. This was the only spot in Saurashtra that had some fun and adventure elements. This wildlife sanctuary is mostly famous for the asiatic lions though its also the home for leopard, hyena, neelgai(blue bull), wild boars and a number of birds like the serpent and hawk eagles.
Spotted Deers in the forest
As you approach the gir forest area, you can spot some animals in the thick forest. The neelgai is commonly spotted...and also the deers. A herd of deers can be traced easily due to the spots on their skin. You can hear some bird chirping followed by the roar of a lion. However, getting a glimpse of the asiatic lion in this area is very rare. For that, you have to take the wild life safari. There are 2 types of safari - one is where you hire a private jeep and explore the forest yourself and the second option is taking the tour conducted by the forest department. The second option guarantees that you can view atleast one lion and you are not disappointed. The department arranges for men who trace the current location of the lions and the driver of the mini-bus is in contact with these people so he takes the bus in that direction. The road through the forest area was difficult for driving and we took a lot of time to reach our destination.

A 4 sq. km stretch within the park, called the Gir Interpretation Zone has been separately marked and has a variety of wildlife. The tours are conducted from this point. We collected the tickets from the main office. Outside the office, there were people selling postcards and books with numerous photos of the asiatic lions and leopards in action. People getting down from the buses were chatting in excited voices about the lions and cubs they had seen. That renewed our hopes about seeing the majestic lion in its natural habitat. Soon it was our turn for the safari. Luckily, we were seated in the first row and had a nice view from all the sides.

The driver was now communicating with the trackers on walkie-talkie. We were now in front of a herd of sambhars. They did not make any movement but stood gazing at us. It showed that the animals in this interpretation zone were used to human beings and did not consider them as threats. Still ahead there was a neelgai and a big group of deers. Everyone was eager to see the lion now. The tracker had spotted a lioness and her cubs somewhere nearby and the driver was now heading towards that direction. On this way, we saw a wild boar and some interesting birds. Suddenly the driver halted the bus and pointed us to a figure approaching the bus. It was her highness, the lioness walking towards the bus, in what we call as a beautiful cat walk. She gazed at the bus and then quietly sat down under the tree nearby. By now, the crowd in the bus was overexcited and difficult to control. All of us took numerous shots on cameras and mobiles. The driver then took us at another location where there were 3 cubs sitted on the ground. They appeared in deep slumber and hardly moved. This last 10 minutes of the safari were immensely satisfying. The driver took 2 more rounds to the same spot. Soon we were back to the point where we had started the safari. It was 6:00 pm and there was only one tour scheduled after ours. We travelled out of the forest region and went towards Junagadh for the night halt.
Day 4

Junagadh - The Princely State
This city is located at the foot of Girnar hills and the name 'Junagadh' comes from the old fort, which circles the town. This was the former nawabi capital and hence the city abundant in palaces, mosques, tombs and minars. Its interesting that junagadh is the house of the different cultures...you can see hindu temples, buddhist monuments and mosques, all at the same place. It is an ideal place for those with an interest in architecture and a taste for history. The city was also associated with emperor ashoka, which is evident from the buddhist inscriptions and the buddhist caves found inside the fort. It takes 2-3 hours to complete the city tour so we started at around 9:00 am. Our first tourist spot was the old fort, known as the Upparkot fort.

Upparkot Fort : Just like the city, this fort has been under hindu, muslim and buddhist influences and witnessed the changes in lifestyle. It is a strong fort and has survived several attacks due to its difficult access and strategic location. At the entrance of the fort, there is a hindu toran. As you stroll inside the fort, you come across the 2 famous wells called as adi-kadi vav. There are around 120 steps till the bottom of the well. Another deep well is the navghan kuvo, which is built in soft stone and has a circular staircase. One site that is worth visiting is the Buddhist caves.

The buddhist caves are fine examples of rock cut architecture. There are monastic cells cut from rocks and were used for meditation. The entrances are carved beautifully and there is good ventilation everywhere. Other than that, there is a famous canon called the "nilam" canon, presented to the nawab of Junagadh by the king of turkey. You can spend around 1 hour at the fort and come back to the city.

Ashoka's rock edicts : This is a place where you can see 14 rock edicts of Emperor Ashoka inscribed on a boulder. The inscriptions carry Bramhi script in Pali language. Inscriptions in sanskrit have been added on them later. The inscriptions preach us about the different virtues like purity of thought, gratitude, devotion, self control etc. In his later life, King Ashoka repented about the Kalinga war and the destruction caused by it. The inscriptions also speak about this repentence of war and preach humanity. Close to this place, there is a beautiful maqbara called the Mohabat Maqbara.
Mohabat Maqbara : This is the place where Nawab Mohabat Khan II, Bahadur Khan III and Rasool Khan were buried. The structure reflects the architecture of the 18th century, with carved columns, domes, minars and spiral staircases. This is a combination of the nawabi and gujarati jharoka architecture.

Narsi Mehta no choro : This is the place where the great saint, Narsi Mehta ji held his assemblies. He was a great devotee of Lord Krishna, who is supposed to have saved his devotee several times in his life. It is just a small corner where he used to sit and address people. Nearby, there is a shrine of the saint and a gallery of paintings that tell the story of his life.

Mount Girnar : This is one of the most sacred Siddha Kshetra, which means the gateway of enlightenment. It is believed that Shri Guru Dutta had meditated at the top of the mountain and his padukas are still kept here for darshan. The 22nd Tirthankara, Bhagwan Neminath, seeked moksha, the highest state of enlightenment at this place. Hence it is a pilgrimage place for both Hindus and Jains. Several thousands of munis attain salvation at this place every year. They stay inside the caves formed in the huge mountains.

Though there are several myths associated with this mountain, this gigantic rock mountain was formed due to a huge volcano. It stands tall at a height of 1,100 above sea level and there are around 10,000 steps to climb the top. The magnificient rock structure is hollow from inside and there are several caves where the rishi-munis meditate. We had decided not to climb this mountain as it was going to be too hectic and there was no rest time after that. However, we visited the Bhavnath (Shiva) temple at the base of the girnar hills. From this point, you can have a nice view of the mountain with the help of telescope. There are several levels on this mountain. At the first level, 4500 steps from the bottom, there is a temple of Bhagwan Neminath. Most jains climb only till this point. 1000 steps above this level, there is a temple of Ambaji, where newly weds pray for a happy married life. And at the top, which is approx 10,000 steps from the base, you can take darshan of Shri Guru Datta Padukas. From the telescope, we could view the Jain temple and the Ambaji temple. Once in a year, the munis come out of the caves and make a pradakshina to the whole base of the girnar hill. We made a pradakshina with sitting inside the qualis :). While leaving this place, I made a point to come back and climb the mount girnar till the top.

It was time for lunch now. We had a quick lunch at the hotel and boarded our luggage in the qualis. Our next destination was Palitana, the city of temples. On the way, we stopped at Virpur, to visit the shrine of Jalaram Bapa, the great saint of gujarat.
Virpur : Virpur is famous for the shrine of shri Jalaram Bapa. Saint Jalaram is worshipped by lot of communities in Gujarat just like Gajanan Maharaj in maharashtra. Many people arrange padyatras (long walks) to come for worship. The main object of Jalarambapa was to provide food to every human being, and still today it's the tradition to serve food at the temple to any human being without taking payment in return. On the way to the temple, there is a big market of exquisite jewellery. There was a huge line in front of the temple but it was fast moving and we got darshan in around 40 minutes. The "Samadhi" of Shri Jalaram Bapa is on the feet of God Shri Ram Chandra. Shri Hanumanji's Idol is also Placed near the "Samadhi". There is another hall where free prasad and tea is served for visitors. However, we did not have much time on hand and proceeded our journey.
By 7:00 pm, we reached Palitana. The hotel here was among the best of the ones owned by gujarat tourism. When we saw a few foreigners in the lobby, we understood the reason why the hotel is maintained so well. The receptionist informed us that every year hundreds of foreigners visited this place, few for the sheer adventure of climbing and few for the love of art. We had light kadhi-khichdi & papads for dinner. The next day was going to be a test for us as there is a lot of climbing on the shatrunjaya hills. After requesting the hotel authority for an early alarm, we went to sleep early.
Day 5

Palitana
This is one of the most picturesque pilgrim centres in India. Located on Shetrunjaya hill, there are around 863 temples exquisitely carved in marble. It is like a temple city. But to watch this spectacular sight, you have to climb around 3745 steps (height of 1800 feet) on the Shatrunjaya hills. Though the steps are comfortable, it is not an easy task and most old ladies or asthama patients prefer to take the doli. As decided on the earlier night, we all got up at about 4:00 in the morning and were ready by 5:00. After a 10 minutes route, we were at the base of the hills.
Temple Structures at the Base

Initially we were climbing a bit fast but soon we realized that we would be running out of stamina soon so we reduced the pace and kept it steady. It was dark outside and there were a few early climbers like us. After a few steps, we could see the first set of the temples which are near the base. All these temples are made in marble and carved beautifully...those who cannot climb to the top generally spend their time at this place.
After climbing for some time, we took a small break watched the view below and took some snaps. The dolis were going up frequently...a few doli people requested us to take their service but we had already made our mind to climb till the top. The cool morning breezes kept us refreshed and we made a point to take a break after every 500-800 steps. In between, there was plain road and that distance was covered fast. After sunrise, our pace got reduced slightly and frequency of the breaks increased. However, we kept encouraging each other to continue. After around 2 hours, we saw the first sight of the temples. Imagine 2 peaks covered with marble temples of varying shapes and sizes ! It is a feast to the eyes...you feel like going closer to them and touch them to see if they are real as it really looks like a fantasy land. Soon, we were at the the first level of the shrines where there are idols of all the Jain Tirthankaras. From there on, there are shrines at each level just like waves of the sea. You have to climb around 15-20 steps to go to the next level.
Temple complexes at the Top
Beautiful carvings on the Sandstone
It is said that the marble was brought from Rajasthan and had to be carried in blocks to the top. The construction of these magnificent temples is the result of the effort of the wealthy businessmen who were followers of Jainism. The main temple is that of that of the first teerthankara, Shri Adishwar. The most famous temples are those of Adinath, Kumarpal, Vimalshah, Samprati Raja and the Chomukh. Besides there are temples dedicated to Hindu gods and goddesses like Saraswati, Shiva, Hanuman etc. We strolled around and visited as many temples as possible. This is one tourist spot where the beauty of the place cannot be trapped in photos...you take countless snaps but still you find some new sculpture and feel like taking one more.
It takes minimum one hour to visit the main temples. After some time, we were totally exhausted and relaxed at a place. Dolis were coming and going. Some old jain ladies managed to climb with lot of determination. It was mentioned somewhere that you don't get the fruits of the yatra if you eat anything. Accordingly, there were no eatables available at the top. However, there was a person selling curds. Me and my mother decided not to have anything but the rest of the group had some curds. There was a peak on the other side of the mountain, where there are similar temple structures. Initially we wanted to visit that but there was no stamina left. After some time, it started getting hotter and we decided to climb down. It took around 1 and a half hour to climb down. On the way, we had to take frequent breaks. The heat had taken a toll on us and we were totally dehydrated...especially me and my mom, who had not eaten anything. As soon as we came down, we drank lots of limbu sharbat and refreshed ourselves. When we were leaving Palitana, we suddenly realized that we were at the fag end of the tour. There was only one tourist spot left, which was going to be covered on the way to baroda. The last few days had been really exciting and getting back to routine was a bit depressing. During the journey, all of us were sleeping due to exhaustion. I wondered if anyone would have the energy to view the ancient civilization of Lothal.
Lothal
This was one of the most prominent cities of the ancient Indus Valley civilization. The meaning of Lothal in Gujarathi is "the mound of the dead". The civilization is similar to the Mohenjodaro and Harappa cities who were of the same era. Lothal's dock connected the city to an ancient course of the Sabarmati river on the trade route between Harappan cities in Sindh and the peninsula of Saurashtra. It was a vital and thriving trade centre in ancient times, and its trade of beads, gems and valuable ornaments reached the far corners of West Asia and Africa. It is not clear as to how the whole civilization was merged under water but it is believed to be burried due to floods.

There is a small musuem which hosts the different things obtained during the excavation - mainly beads, gemstones, pottery, utensils, fish-hooks, chisels, spears. It takes around one hour to view the objects in the musuem. The unique objects are featured in an ongoing presentation inside the musuem. You can also go to the excavation site where you can see the ancient houses, wells, marketplace and the dock. The dock is a proof that the city was well connected with the west and there was a lot of trading going on. Archaeologically, it was a structured and well planned city which is evident from the site. There was also a proper drainage system, which is a surprising development in that era. The excavation site is amazing. We were too tired to explore the full site but whatever we saw was very exciting.
Lothal Excavation Site
That was our last tourist spot and we were on the way to Baroda. Someone has said that "Traveling is almost like talking with men of other centuries". This is so true about Saurashtra. Dwarka, Somnath, Junagadh...each has its own history to tell. While visiting all this together, you feel like travelling from one era to another !
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Poonam said...

Junagadh is a town of historical importance. The best places to visit here are the marvelous Gir forest and wildlife sanctuary and the Somnath temple, the most sacred of the 12 jyotirlingas. Know more about the places to visit in Junagadh.

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Raj Kishor Kannoujea said...

It's a beautiful post on the destinations of Rajkot. Really. it has many gorgeous destinations that become the reason of attraction here. To make the tour of these destinations, you can hire cabs in Rajkot and visit the entire city. Thanks for sharing this post................

Shivanya Srivastava said...

Awesome blog! All pictures are looking fabulous. In Rajkot, there are many destinations for worth visiting. Some of them are as Rotary Dolls Museum, Funworld Rajkot, Rampara Wildlife Sanctuary, Race Course Grounds, Kaba Gandhi No Delo, Watson Museum, ISKCON Rajkot, Sri Sri Radha Neelmadhav Dham, Ishwariya Temple, Aji Dam Garden and Khambhalida Buddhist Caves etc. You can enjoy at all these places by rent a car in Rajkot. You can also book inexpensive and comfortable cabs for sightseeing, airport transfer, railway transfer and for local and outstation visit.

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