'(The Blog) With No Name', perhaps best described as a stream of notes and thoughts - 'remembered, recovered and (sometimes) invented'.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Glimpses of Gujarat - Porbandar, Somnath and Back

(this is the third part of the present series)
September 20th 2007:

We leave Dwaraka around 2 pm by car and take the coastal highway running south-east towards Porbandar. The terrain is flat, scrubby and treeless; the sea keeps giving glimpses to the right. To begin with, the weather is hot and bright. Then, from the south, a huge mass of dark rainclouds approaches menacingly...

Rain breaks as we reach the village of 'Mul Dwaraka'. A small group of small temples stand next to the highway, one of them, rather surprisingly, dedicated to Buddha. And there is a small stepped well ('Vav'), unique in its L-shaped plan and teeming with frogs. Nobody around. A large number of pigeons sit silent and motionless on the spire of the main temple, soaking in the driving rain...

The rain abates as Porbandar is approached across a bridge spanning a wide creek with mangroves and a huge crane population. The core town is congested - with narrow concreted gullies. In antiquity, this place used to be the home of Sudama, Krishna's friend. In more modern times, it was of course, the birthplace of Gandhi.

Finding Gandhi's 'janmasthan' is easy - although asking for "Gandhiji's home" takes some effort. In childhood, one never used to say his name without the honorific 'ji' but with age and cynicism having taken their toll, one has gotten used to saying just 'Gandhi' (formally); and in informal (not necessarily irreverent) conversation, one says 'Gandhimmaan' (='uncle Gandhi') in Malayalam and 'Gandhi Baba' in Hindi.

We reach a chowk hemmed in by large buildings all of which look centuries old - 4 gallies lead away thru large and ornate arches. A Gandhi statue stands in the center. Just into one of the Gallies is the building where the great man was born - it is a simple and boxy, though three-story structure. Most of it is closed for renovation. The precise place where he was born is marked with a swastika. Strangely, it is in almost in the front room of the ground floor.

There is a grand (almost gross) memorial to Gandhi that almost envelopes the 'janmasthan'. Called the 'Kirti Mandir', it contains, among other things, a poignant exhibition of black and white photos.

Next to the 'Sudama Mandir' temple, there is a maze laid out on the ground - and many people are trying to pick their way thru it. The design seems a copy of (at least it is reminiscent of) one of the intricate wall decorations at Ibrahim Rauza, Bijapur.

Some way past Porbandar, the highway runs for about 3-4 kilometers right next to the sea along a beach and then, it abruptly veers inland (and stays parallel to the coast); the landscape changes just as abruptly - it gets suddenly much greener and stands of coconut trees materialize all around(the first trees in a long while). This stretch, continuing until Veraval and beyond, is strongly reminiscent of the highway between Pondichery and Kadalur, Tamil Nadu...

We bypass the fishing town of Veraval and reach Somnath by around 8 pm and proceed straight to the temple. This temple, one of the 12 Jyotirlingas (the second such temple for the day for us) is of recent make. It has risen, post 1950, replacing the ruins left by successive demolitions by invaders. The temple is big and stands right next to the sea in a vast park with lawns and is brightly lit at night. The design is North Indian but there is plenty of sculptural decoration in Southern style. In a quick run thru, one could make out several 'Nataraja's, the marriage scene of Shiva and Parvati with Vishnu performing the 'Kanyadanam' as the bride's brother, and very surprisingly, yet another copy of the dynamic 'Gajasamhara'.

The book says a small museum nearby houses a collection of whatever debris could be salvaged from the demolished temple. Unfortunately, we leave ourselves no time to check it out.

For the next two days, we camp at 'Safari' resort - leaky bathrooms and bug infested cots - and passable food.

September 22nd 2007:

6 pm. We leave 'Safari' and take a 'ric' to Veraval station (to begin our return journey to Pune via Ahmedabad and Mumbai). The road leads right across the town. The place is full of boat building units and other odd workshops, and there is an all pervading stench of fish. There is a strong Malayali presence(*), brought about by the fishing industry - one sees a board in crude Malayalam script advertising a 'fish and prawn processing unit' and then, more remarkably, another board in English and Mallu: "Dr. Solanki".

Nearing the station, the road skirts a bay - the fishing harbor. Literally hundreds of boats crowd the waters; the murky twilight sky bristles with a jungle of masts and riggings; and fluttering all over this chaos are innumerable national tricolor flags. Strangely enough, one is reminded of two Monet masterpieces - 'Impression: Sunrise' (with a bit less murk and minus the red dot of the sun) and 'La Rue Montorgueil' (minus the buildings and green replacing blue in the flags).

September 23rd 2007:
We wake up as our train reaches 'Amdavad'. A 3 hour wait ensues before the train to Mumbai leaves. The run from Ahmedabad to Surat is strongly reminiscent of the railway line leading north from Chennai. Double tracks, a very high frequency of trains pulled by fast electric locos, flat and generally monotonously green terrain, wide rivers to cross (here, the intensity of cultivation is somewhat less than on the east coast and there is more variety in crops and more and bigger cities). Narmada at Bharuch handily beats Krishna at Vijayawada as the widest river I have seen (I am yet to see Godavari at Rajamundry or anything wider than that). Past Surat, hills slowly begin to punctuate the eastern horizon - the extreme tip of the western ghats the map says - and gradually, they grow bigger and more craggy. The journey ends, in Dadar at 4 pm, and we haul our luggage across to the Asiad Bus Stand in a steady drizzle to catch a 'volvo' to Pune.

(*) - I remember the first time I heard about Veraval. It was a quarter of a century ago; a Mal newspaper had written a series of luridly sentimental articles on the very real fate of some young girls from impoverished families in Kerala; lured to this place with promises of work in the fish processing centers, they were often cruelly exploited and sometimes, allegedly, even tortured to death.


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