Barely glimpsed by many travelers scurrying Between Mumbai and Rajasthan, Gujarat is an easy side-step off the well beaten tourist trail. Ahmedabad is the most important city as far as economical and connection points are concerns. And yet, amidst its chaos, this city retains its charms. The countryside holds most of this state’s many treasures. Traditional artisans in tribal villages weave, embroider, dye and print some of India’s finest textiles. The pristine parks harbor unique wildlife, migratory birds, wild Asses and the last remaining pride of the Asiatic Gir lions. For the spiritually inclined, the state is a mecca for the sacred Jain and Hindu pilgrimage sites, which sit atop mountains and rise dramatically from the vast salty flatlands. Colorful festivals punctuate the barren grey and brown vista and burst with a cornucopia of culture.
Sabarmati River and division of Amdavad
The old city of Ahmedabad lies on the east side of the river and used to be surrounded by a 10 km long wall, with 15 formidable gates, which stand now as forlorn islands, with the majority of the old wall lost and the cacophony of metropolitan Ahmedabad traffic all around them. The new city is on the west side of the river, and has most modern developments. Other sites of interest are the Jama Masjid, the iconic mosque build by Ahmed Shah, Siddi Sayid’s mosque, Bhadra fort, Rani Sipri’s mosque and tomb, Dada Hari Ni Vav, the iconic step well with five levels of carved stone columns and two small wells. The city has a large number of religious places that belong to different religious communities. The famous religious places in Ahmedabad for the Hindus are as follows:
- Swaminarayan Temple
- Hatheesing Jain Temple
- Akshardham Temple
- Bhadrakali Temple
- Huthising Temple
- Narayan Temple
Religious sites play a major role in the tourism of Gujarat. Dwarkadheesh, or the jagat Mandir is a Hindu temple dedicated to lord Krishna, and king of the kingdom of Dwarka, hence the name. The main shrine is a five-storied building and is supposed to be from 200BC according to the archeological Survey of India. Located in the ancient town of Dwarka and situated on the banks of the river Gomti, this town has been legendarily described. Evidence such as a stone block with script, with the use of dowels and an examination of the anchors has suggested that the harbor site for Dwarka dates back to ancient times, with some of the underwater structure being late medieval. Coastal erosion was possibly what destroyed the ancient port.
Food on the temple premises
The food of Gujarat is as vibrant as the people, and this is mirrored in the food of this temple town as well, although the proximity to the temple makes it a little more austere. Lord Krishna was a devotee of the milk and dairy products, which abound, such as lassi, chaas, butter and cream, shrikhand, and many other milk based desserts and puddings. The typical meal here is served on a platter knows as the thali. One can even get one of these platters at the Dwarkadheesh temple, where the offerings from the temple as well as the food cooked on the temple premises are offered as a meal for a small sum. The typical meal includes dal, kadhi, puri, fulka, papad, fafda, thepla, khandvi, handvoh, ganthia, oondhiyo, surat paun, and many, many dairy based desserts to follow.
Beyt Dwarka, an island in the Arabian sea off the coast of the city of Dwarka is considered to be the original residence of Lord Krishna. It was an old port and a major fishing town. To this day, the fishermen can be seen on every inch of this temple town, selling their wares. Only a small ferry ride away, the travel to this island is a thrill, with fish leaping about the rushing boat and a spray of the salty ocean water in the face.
Part of the submerged kingdom of Dwarka can be visualized at Beyt Dwarka. The shrine built here is credited to Guru Vallabacharya and is devoted to the Lord Krishna.
Offering at Beyt Dwarka
Rice is the primary offering as well as food on this island. The reason for this is that Sudama, Krishna’s childhood friend is supposed to have offered rice to his long lost friend. Rice is also the primary consumed food and in Beyt Dwarka, one can find many small restaurants and eateries, making every possible imaginable delicacy out of rice, whether it is the savory version or the sweet pudding called as Kheer.
Fish incarnation of Vishnu
There are smaller shrines on this island, devoted to Shiva, Vishnu, Hanuman and Devi. Vishnu is believed to have killed the demon Shankhasura on this island. The Matsya incarnation, or the fish incarnation of Vishnu is worshiped in this temple.
Hanuman’s only son
Lord Hanuman is said to have borne a son called Makardhwaja, and they are both deified at the Hanuman Dandi temple, 6 kms from the Dhwarkadheesh temple, also on the island of Beyt Dwarka. Hanuman was considered celibate, but some of his sweat is believed to have been consumed by either a fish or a mermaid, who later gave birth to a son. Some of the Rajput clans living in Gujarat, known as the Jethwa Rajput claim their descent from Makardhwaja.
The temple shrine for the Better half
As you leave the town of Dwarka, the temple of Rukmini devi stands 2 kms from the Dwarka city. The temple is devoted to the wife of Lord Krisha, Devi Rukmini. The local explanation given for this distance is an old legend. They say, once Lord Krishna and his wife Rukmini went to the sage Durvasha to invite him for dinner at Dwarka. He agreed on the condition that Krishna & Rukmini would have to pull his chariot instead of any animal. The couple happily obliged. While pulling the chariot, Rukmini became thirsty so Lord Krishna prodded his toe into the earth to draw a spring of the holy Ganga water. Rukmini took a sip without offering Durvasha. Annoyed by her impoliteness he cursed Rukmini that she would be separated from her beloved husband. Hence Rukmini temple is located 2 kms away from Dwarka’s Jagat Mandir. Maybe 2500 years old, but its domed mandapa and stepped sanctuary cannot be older than the 12th century in its present form.
The exterior of the Rukmini temple is richly carved. The panels have intricate human figures and sculpted elephants. The temple is located on the salt flats right outside of the city of Dwarka and this provides and interesting vista to behold. There are the stray water bodies, which are homes to hundreds of migrating pink and giant pelican which will be seen as you drive along the road. If you are lucky, you can catch one such flock taking flight.
The state of Gujarat is also home to Somnath, the first of the twelve Jyortirlingas, or shrines of Shiva, and is mentioned in the Rigveda. It is located in the Prabhas Patan near Veraval in the Saurashtra. The temple is considered sacred because of the various legends connected to it. Somnath stands of lord of Soma- an epithet of Shiva. This temple is also known as the shrine eternal. The first temple was built at some unknown time in the past. The second was build by Yadav Kings of VAllabhi around 649 CE. In 725 CE, Al-Junayd, the Arab governor of Sindh destroyed the second temple. The Gurjara-Pratihara king Nagabhata II constructed the third temple, and many after. It has been destroyed and rebuilt several times by Islamic kings and Hindu kings respectively. The most recent rebuild happened in November 1947, when Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel visited the area for the integration of the state of Junagarh into the republic of India and rooted a plan for restoration. After Patel’s death, restoration continued under Kanaiyalal Maneklal Munshi, another Minister in the State government of Gujarat. The temple is situated on the beach of the port town of Veraval and the beach washes almost to the steps of the temple, as the legend holds.
Cuisine of Somnath
The proximity to the jyotirlinga temple and the ocean makes for an interesting combination. There are a few popular eating places around the temple which offer the popular dairy products such as lassi, chaas (sweet and salty buttermilk), srikhand (sweetened greek yogurt style dessert) and many Gujarati homemade snacks such as Dhokla, Khakhra, sev, khandvi, Ghevar, Malpua, puran poli and more.
Something for everyone
The state of Gujarat has something for the nature lover, the believer, the nomad, the textile aficionado and the seeker of the arts and culture. It is a bouquet, if you will, with a different fragrance in every city.
The western most state of the country, the major cities include the capital Gandhinagar, Ahmedabad, Dwarka, Bharuch, Bhavnagar, Bhuj, Jamnagar and Khambat. The state has an extensive coastline and serves as major trading ports.
By air : Gujarat has seventeen airports. The chief international airport is the Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel International Airport in Ahmedabad, and domestic airports in Bhavnagar, Bhuj, Deesa, Kandla, Porbandar, Rajkot, etc.
Rail : Gujarat falls under the western railway zone, and the Vadodara railway station is the busiest railway station in Gujarat. Other important railway stations are Surat, Ahmedabad and Rajkot. They are connected by rail line to most cities of the country.
Sea : With the longest coastline of all the states of India, the ocean is a major means of domestic transportation as well as goods transport using the sea port. Kandla is one of the largest ports of western India. Other important ones are the Port of Navlakha, Magdalla, Pipavav, Bedi, Veraval and the privately owned Mundra Port.
Road : The state has a very extensive network of well maintained and smooth highways which were particularly developed in the last decade and half. The State Road Transport Corporation is the major bus service plying within the state and connecting it with the neighboring states of Rajasthan, Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh. The roads are also great for road trips and personally driven vehicles.
When to see: The state has an equable and moderate climate, albeit humid climate throughout the year, with predominantly tropical weather. The monsoon and summer are harsh, and a visit during the relatively cooler winter months is advisable.