Raaj had asked us for a Gujarat trip, Gir being one of the attractions. Me, Rushi, Rahul the ‘BABA man’, Amey, his parents and Sunil had finally managed to sync our schedules, etc to make it to the journey. I thought it was gonna be just a ‘Gir’ trip, synonymous to my earlier Kanha-Kisli trip, I was excited.
21 Dec 07, Friday, 4:00pm
Me and Rushi went to Amey’s place, from where we were supposed to meet and reach Bandra Terminus. Sunil had already come at Raaj’s place. Amey was ready so were his parents, we moved downstairs and called our TP #1, Rahul. Soon we were in the rick to the Terminus. At the terminus, I heard talks of Amey’s parents, “They will be here.., She is not coming…” I didn’t understand, Rushi explained, that there are others from the Kirtikar ‘community’ who will be along with us. The train was on the platform around 5. As expected it was full of Gujaratis, and their non-tiring mouths. As soon as I entered my bogie, I head a young gujarati lady
વરસ મા એક વાર ન્યુયાર્ક હસે
Phew !!, I’m in for long, memorable ride full of “किस्से”. That statement was gonna be the first one for my Gujarati-office fellas. We managed to accommodate all our baggage, etc and became comfortable, when the high amplitude of the Gujarati conversations started to hit us from all angles. Rahul being the usual target, Amey’s father asked…
तुम लोग सब गुजराती जोर से क्यों बात करते हो?
laughter followed. The train departed around 5.40, and soon we were laughing on why Sunil had spent Rs. 300 on his new shorts. Raaj had a different bogie, so he had to come from his end. At dinner, we couldn’t stop rolling on Rahul and Sunil’s gimmicks. A sound little sleep followed later.
22 Dec 07, Saturday, 7:00am
We were around 1 hr away from Rajkot, when I finally managed to wake up. I could hear Raaj, Rushi, Sunil talking about getting early in the morning, as early as 4am and checking how off the train was from its schedule. After the brush, I was hungry. Akshay’s mom offered me some dry stuff which everybody munched on, a little tea, a little cool weather, everything was just perfect. Almost everybody except me had finished the part that made just perfect, perfect. Finally Mr. Pascal was rising inside, and it was then perfect. aaah !!! “I’m coming Gujarat”
The train had made its halt at રાજકોટ (Rajkot). The letters were initially bit misleading, ‘Why should there be a number in the name of a city !?’. But such incorrect guideways dwindled later. I didn’t know the plan, Raaj told me that we were supposed to go to Sattadar in a bus. At the station outside, I finally saw everybody who were with us, or us with them !!! I had the vermilion colored bus in my mind, but it turned out to be private-hired bus, and the bus was not in a good shape. Some attributes finally matched to that of the Red bus (ST). It was small bus, and we wondered how we’d fit in, but we finally did, with no single seat in spare. All the big luggage was roped above and some in the back side of the bus. The vehicle (in this case a 4-tyred-heavy-chassis-container-with-rough-seats, thats all I can explain the bus as 🙂 ) finally moved and as it roamed in Rajkot, I kept guessing the Devanagari-scripted boards without the upper lines, the Gujarati script. We 5 lads were at the last seat. Just ahead of us was a young uncle, with bright clothes and a cap, besides him was another teenager. The uncle said, we’re making a stop for breakfast, it was around 9.30 when we stopped at સૂર્યકાંત હોટલ (Suryakant hotel). Where all we got was pre-baked “theplas” which was just heated and served to us with some mirchi, I asked the guy,
इधर ताज़ा क्या है?
We laughed, that we’d covered more than 500km to eat ‘idli dosa’ in Gujarat !!! We had those theplas and ‘chaai’. The chai was good, Rahul and Raaj asked for coffee, Rahul as usual quickly came up
Coffee acchi hai
that was once, few minutes later same thing popped again, moments later, again !! Amey started laughing and we all echoed
Coffee acchi hai
we continued to harass Rahul on that till we finally left the ‘hotel’.
We waited outside the hotel while everybody moved out, Sunil had to find a good place to pee, and we searched. We finally found some, Sunil went inside and just as quickly was out,
मर जाऊंगा उधर, breathe नही कर पा रहा था
All laughed.. but he couldn’t control and went back again. This was the time I observed the bus carefully, a DCM Toyota 25 seater, with its body frame lose and noisy, didn’t look that it could last another day. We chatted with the driver, who said that this trip was the last for the bus, and it was soon gonna be de-commissioned or something like that or probably scrapped. We finally moved off, next stop ? donno !!
The bus stopped near a big Swami Narayan temple like gate, it read અક્ષર દ્વાર (Akshar dwaar). We were in Gondal. Rahul started discussing, that whether me and Sunil would be allowed in shorts, but we continued anyways and no one stopped us for our attire. The entrance was a huge 50-60 foot tall building resembling the ‘Hawa mahal’ harbouring atleast a 25 feet tall gate/opening. Inside was a big ground, with structures around it. Just in the front of the gate, across the ground was the main temple, marble, glazing in the noon. This was our first opportunity to have snaps with ‘real’ tourist places in Gujarat, and we didn’t falter at it. The sky above was beautiful with small clouds tiling the whole blue background, I remembered the ’tile’ like wallpapers on the desktop. Rahul as expected never stopped with his chitter-chatter and came up with his stories about the ‘shikhar’, its gold, the corruption involved in creating it. Soon we were back on the highway, even though it was ending of December, the mid-day sun was hot.
We stopped on a highway side, પંચવટી હોટલ (Pachavati hotel) where a little of ice-cream helped, and we were soon moving again. We were in central Gujarat, enjoying the a warm day in a chilly December afternoon. Somewhere later I dozed off, Don’t know what all went through. But when I was awake, we were passing amidst some villages, where color was all around. The young uncle in his climbed voice said
हे जेतपुर आहे, तुमचे ड्रेस मटिरीयल इकडे बनतात
All I could see around was colorful cloth with a contrast colored dots on it, not Polka dots but a sqare dots rotated by 45 deg. It was around quarter to 3, when, for the first time I saw big mountains. Gujarat, in all this journey so far, had been plains. Being an enthusiastic trekker the mountains caught my attention, and I was soon trying to capture it. When Raaj said that it is ‘Girnar’, ગિરનાર પર્વત.
The bus waded through busy service roads and came along a to halt where many buses, cars, etc were parked. It looked like some park. We got down, and I saw a gate with its big entrance sign, શક્કરબાગ પ્રણી સંગ્રહાલય, જુનાગાઢ (Sakkarbaug zoo, Junagadh). All the aunties made sure the food items were properly distributed for logistics and we headed towards the zoo, The last time I’d been to any zoo was probably 20 yrs back in Jijamata Udyan, Byculla of which I didn’t remember a thing! I was equally excited as the other school kids breezing past their queues, their groups and teachers to get an inside look from the gate at ticket window. The zoo seemed to be well maintained by our Indian Conservation standards with neat boards, zoo map, etc. It started with the birds, cranes, pelicans, emus. Then there was a bad odour, thanks to the Flamingos. My camera skills were put to real test, when the Auto-focus of the camera always set the focus on the cage bars when I wanted them on the birds, switching to manual mode, I managed to grab a little better focused snaps as compared to the AF. Suddenly I heard huge snarls and roars, all the kids around suddenly started running towards some direction. I kept my focus on my camera skills 😛 Next up was the sloth bear. The cage was like a cylindrical casing, with a concentric cylinder inside with stairs that allowed the bear to climb up. As I came up above the cylindrical casing, I saw the bear running up. The kids were thrilled, so was I. I kept wondering that even though there was an age difference of about 15 years and more, there was no difference in the thrill that I and my friends and the kids got out of the sight. The bear had huge claws, more than 1.5 inches long. After a neat 10 mins with the sloth bear, below, I was pointed by Raaj to some creatures hanging upside down the tree, another “First time” view of Bats hanging down the branches.
Some more bird views of jungle fowls, white peacocks was the climax, the big Asiatic Lion, Panthera leo persica. There were 2 big enclosures for the lions each of about 30 x 30 meters big. One of the lion kept walking along the periphery to and fro, while another in the same enclosure just layed back. Just close to the Panthera leo persica‘s enclosure was that of Panthera tigris tigris, the Bengal Tiger. The tiger too was lazying around, I had some neat closeups of the paws of the tiger, thanks to the 12x zoom (36-432mm equiv) of my Canon PowerShot S3 IS. I remembered my Kanha Kisli visit in the summer, where we had to wait for long hours before we could just have a glimpse of the tiger’s tail swaying and tiger shifting from one side to another, and here it was different. Albeit the thrill of waiting and watching the beast open in the wild and we being caged in a car/bus was incomparable. A white tiger laid back behind. Adjoining to the tiger’s home, was that for the Panthera pardus, the Leopard. The leopards cage was bit taller more than 20feet high and cased from the top as well. It had tree trunks inside to resemble the animal’s habitat.
After the mighty view of all the magnificent animals, it was time for the Homo Sapiens to have their afternoon diet, was full of Theplaas, cheese slices, pickle and છુંદા (chunda). A long gulp of water, and we were moving again, we came to a artificially created pond enclosure, which was labeled as “Gharial”, and I couldn’t see any. All I saw was a stone sculpture that of a Crocodile, and some more of younger crocs. I wondered why would there be stone sculptures of these animals in a enclosure, when suddenly one of them moved. phew !! they lied dead as carcass. But I couldn’t see any Gharial ! probably they were far away. The Chinkaras were next, the controversial Salman khan case that surrounded them. These small gazelles are found in the dry lands of Rajasthan, Gujarat and Madhya Pradesh. Don’t remember when was the last time was in an Aquarium, this visit was the next one. I tried capturing the fishes in their casings in dark environments, but my camera skills weren’t as good. Always got them moving in a blurred image. Foxes, a pack of Jackals and wild dogs who just didn’t sittle idle, They kept running, moving, smelling here and there. A Bambi that of a Chital (Axis Axis) or commonly know as Spotted deer rested in the canopy. The Chital’s enclosure was surrounded by a ditch of more than 7 feet wide and then the boundary. We had a snap along side the Sauroposeidon sculpture in the back. It was time to leave, and we freshened up ourselves in a broken pipe that fizzled out water and we were on our way out. This Junagadh visit was so exciting that I had to call the Jamka, Junagadh sample from our office, Ashok Sudani, but unfortunately couldn’t get through.
And we were back inside the small bus navigating its way through Junagadh, the next stop was Sattadhar. We moved on the highway which was looked upon by the Girnar hill. The view was splendid from the bus, with the moon just rising above from behind the hill. We made sure all the snaps came good by even asking the driver to stop the bus a few times. We kept moving along the the Girnar hill and circled it, as it had been to our left, and soon after an hour or so it was drifting behind us. As the bus waded through a now dustier, broken highway via the Cotton fields and greens, I wondered how close was Ashok’s home from here ! The sun was now coming low, and its golden rays shone on the green fields giving it a tinge of yellow. it was almost 6.15pm when we stopped near a chai tappri, there was a big entrance that read શ્રી ખેતીવાડી ઉત્પન્ન બજાર સમિતી વિસાવદર. We were in the Visavadar. The sun was now almost setting and the golden fringes along the clouds gave a spectacular view to the aperture.
It was another hour after we reached Sattadhar Aashram. The bus halted and we went inside the temple for the evening prayer which was already loud and clear with all the dhols and bells ringing loud. 15 minutes later we were back near the bus where we were told that we’re gonna stay in the adjoining dharamshala, that looked more like a small palace, with big entrance, neatly painted white walls, decorated windows and so on. Inside, we dragged our baggage into our rooms, where we freshened up and changed and were ready to go back for dinner. We first went to a room where a saadhu/saint was sitting. Everybody asked us bow to the fellow and we agreed. The reward was a special dinner with him. We sat in one room in a single file, facing each other, with the guy in the center. Another sadhu came said some prayers and put hot ghee in the main guy’s thaali, and everybody started to eat. We were barely half way through when people started to get up. Roti Ram, Dal raam, continued. 10 mins after we had started, the main guy finished and got up. People started to follow. All of us, specially that of my age stared at each other, wondering what to do. we had not completed our food, and we were typical with our City eating habits, slow, talkative. Here the ‘talkative’ part had to be cut off, everybody was silent. But finally we gulped down whatever was in our plate and we too got off. Off from the prision like dinner, we were happy to be strolling in the adjoining market area. It was now alomst half past 10 when we were doing TP in the open of the Dharamshala. We had the shutters trying to cope with the low light conditions. Back in the room everybody was tired with a long day’s journey and we settled quickly, adjusting the mattresses and were off to sleep. We didnt have a good news though, we had to get up @ 5.30 next morning and be ready to leave by 6.
23 Dec 07, Sunday: 5.00am
We were awake with the buzz of the mobile phone alarms. All of us were ready by 6.00am and were waiting for the rest in the verandah. A big group means “nothing on time” and we finally loaded ourselves with our huge luggage on the squeaking bus of ours and finally moved into the forest. Gir forest was our attraction this morning. We moved through a bad,patchy road mix of tar and gravel, everybody was sure that the bus couldn’t make tillhe end of the trip 🙂 The bus held its heart and moved through the lush green fields. After an hour or more we were @ the gate, “Gir lion reserve”. We stopped there for the tickets with separate ones for the cameras, and we didn’t miss some funny moments with Sunil and Rahul. The forest was not as dense as I had expected (my imagination was something like Kahna-Kisli but more arid). It was more of a village road leading through shrubs, trees, dust. I was wondering if we were gonna see any animal, when somebody shouted.. “Deer!” and we spotted a spotted deer or a chittal and then more, till we saw a huge heard grazing. I managed to grab snap of a deer in its leap trying to run away from the mumbai visitors.
After a long ‘safari’ through the jungle without the lions view !, we came across a small stream through which the bus came through (phew!) and I saw a concrete structure ahead. A word with Amey, and it turned out to be the ‘Kankeshwari mandir’ the ‘kuldaivat’ of Kirtikars. The temple area was lovely with small rooms for ‘lodging’ I’d say and a big open area which was covered with ‘mandap’ that peculiar day and then the temple itself. I wondered the whole thing would have looked like a small shapeless white/brown patch amidst the jungle from a Kite’s view. The whole atmosphere was calm, slow, far away from the city’s rush and noise. Inside the temple there were people offering prayers. There was small but beautiful statue of Saraswati, I guess! 😛 in the verandah of the main temple. Inside the temple, was the main Goddess ‘Kaneshwari’. The lion, making its presence everywhere in the statues, carvings and paintings. After an hour or so in the main temple corridor, we decided to go down near the stream and have some snaps. While moving down, the peacock, a small heard of deers and huge group of cattle offered me a scene for shots. The stream was lovely with serene water flowing by. Birds, crane making it a stop, a shoal of fish moving fast towards small bits that came across their way. The place was really scenic, after a journey through the arid jungle, this place was more like an oasis. We spent a lot of time grabbing memorable pictures. We came back up to the temple, now it was hot, the December Sun @ noon wasn’t making our life easy. We were kind of tired and hungry. But we had to wait for the temple’s lunch, there was a lot of rush for it and none of ‘young blood’ was happy with the rush. Raaj even said he didn’t want to have food here, but we all were kind of forced to have that lunch, making us eat it just for ‘prasad’ if not lunch. But the food was good and tasty, atleast it tasted good after more than hour’s wait. A simple aloo sabji, daal, roti, pickle and ‘sheera’ made for a good lunch. Past lunch all of us were drowsy. It was close to 2.30 when all of us, uncles, and the young ones alike, were in shade, either totally flat, or sleeping in just laying back with legs stretched.
We were finally at the bus, packing back and ready to leave, our desitination – Sattadhar temple. It was gonna be hour night halt yet again. Around 2.5 – 3 hours journey and we were back @ the temple around 6 or so. In our room, we freshened up and lazed back on the mattress. Everybody was tired from the hot journey through the Gir forest. We headed into the small local market place where we had loads of ice-cream and coconut water. In the evening, for dinner we were supposed to have the common food, as opposed to last night’s special food for ‘guests’. We had to pick our own thali, and the temple people served us food. The ‘sheera’ was good with some mixed vegetable sabzi. After food I was not surprised to see that everybody had to wash their own utensils. Everybody had to dip their dishes into the water tank, rub and clean it and then follow the process through 3 more tanks of water through which the dish became cleaner. At the end we had to give it back to a fellow who stacked all the dishes neatly. Prior to that we had to wipe the dish clean. I asked to wipe it again as some traces of water were seen. After the free-food-service, we were back @ the room. Everybody came out again as there was an ice-cream party from one of the couple, It was their wedding anniversary. After the cool finish to the day, we roamed in the terrace of the building, where I came to know the next destination, Somnath temple.
24 Dec 07, Monday: 6.00am
Again the mobile phones disturbed a good sleep. We all were ready by 7.15 am and then moved out waiting for others. As others came so came their huge luggage. And we were at task, mounting it on the poor old bus. All of us had snaps over there. Around 8 we were back in the bus heading back towards the highways through the jungle. Around 9.30 we came to Sasan. This is a place where most of the tourists came to a halt for ‘Gir’. Its better branded. It has a park, a museum and finally arranges for safaris in the Gypsy car. While the ‘olders’ went in to check for the Safari ride, we had nice time hanging on the roots of the Banyan tree. Later in the museum, we saw more about the history of the Asiatic Lion, its surroundings, etc. Almost half an hour later, we got the news that the safari timings are not going to suit us, so we were back in the bus. This was the first big town people had been in 2 days, so all were feasting on chips, wafers, cold-drinks, etc.
Travelling towards Veraval/Somanath, on the State Highway 26, we passed through many small villages, towns, one of them was Talela. It was similar to the Sasan town, bigger market places, higher traffic, etc. As we moved further, the scenery started to change. The arid, dry land seemed to change magically. Instead of harbouring rough shapeless trees with small leaves, the land had more of greenery. The trees started to dwindle and change into Palm trees, coconut trees. The whole transition into a sea-side like surrounding reminded me of my trips to Alibaug and Murud. It reminded me of Konkan. Somewhere close to Veraval around 10 km before, we came to halt, reason – train crossing. It had been long since I waited at a train crossing. Rushi ever so enthusiastic about trains grabbed the camera and ran towards the crossing to get snaps of a small 4 bogies plus an engine meter gauge train. The train crossing through the lovely green surrounding full of palm trees was really beautiful.
We took a left at a junction where it said ‘Right – Veraval, Left – Somnath’ and minutes later we were in a busy town, which seemed to be full of cars, buses, rickshaws, full of tourists it seemed, indeed … Somnath. We parked our bus a little away from the main road and jumped for the new attraction, Somnath, one of the ज्योतिर्लिंगs. As we walked towards it, Raaj pointed to a cream-orange colored temple like structure, Somnath temple. Just before the entrance there was a big pathway leading to the main gate of Somnath. Adjoining to it was shed, where everybody was putting all their, shoes, bags, cameras, leather goods. None of them were allowed. Strict !!! We managed to take some snaps from the outside, which was legal. Inside the temple, the road changed to nicely paved walk-ways from the well maintained grass lawns. Signs of ‘no eating’, etc. helped to keep the whole temple clean. As we moved towards the main temple, the worshipers were blocked by guards and metal detectors, nobody was left being frisked who got into the temple. The temple itself was monitored well with CCTV cameras all around. There was one lane that led straight towards a well shielded jyotirling, which was at the bottom, beneath the floor level, the same lane made a hair-pin bend that led straight out of the temple. We decided to move towards the left into the lawns. As we came on the edge of the Somnath temple, I saw nice green looking sea outside, the whole view was really so refreshing from the journey in the water quenched land. We were walking along the edge of the temple border, overlooking the beach. The whole temple was about 20 feet above the beach. It was here Raj showed us a globe created at the wall that had an arrow piercing through it. Raj explained that the arrow pointed straight towards the South pole. There was no land mass between this temple and South pole, just plain water from the beach of Somnath to the Antartic. After little rest on the benches we head out.
Outside, Raaj gave me surprise, he said he had got a special nylon kite which he’d purchased in UK. We had more shots of Somnath from the outside. We then moved in the market place to have something to eat. We had some batata wada and chai. Raaj asked us to go to the beach and he went towards the bus get the kite. At the beach we had a more scenic view of the temple. I was able to grab the snap of the arrow piercing the globe. It was a clear day with not even single spot of the cloud in the sky. This helped the sea to turn into lovely shade of turquoise. While I waited for Raaj to get his kite, we were entertained by the likes of Sunil, Nihal and Rahul with their discussions of having a ride on the pony and the quad-bike. Raaj came back with his kite, unfolded it into a multicolored long tailed piece of artwork. In minutes we had it flying. Then as expected everybody was posing with the kite for the cameras. Almost after being an hour on the beach we found a restaurant where people had to pick their own food after ordering it. We had good food and lots of छाछ. 3.30pm, We waited outside the bus till everybody had comeback with their tokens, frames of Somnath temple, etc. The bus finally moved now in the direction of Jetpur. A long journey on the highway and we waited for a chai break around 5.30. The plan now was to go to Jetpur for all the ladies to do the ‘Bandhani fabric’ shopping and there on back to Rajkot.
We came in a small town, where the bus halted… Jetpur. All of us were given instructions for moving into the market and contingency plans in case we got lost. Hell broke lose. The ladies now were walking well over 100kmph to find the right shop which could give them free cold-drinks and cheap bandhani fabric. All the poor men had no option but to follow them and offload contents of their purses. Bachelors were feeling lucky! Sunil however managed to purchase something for her sister. After almost an hour or so we all returned back to bus and straight into late evening, we were travelling again towards Rajkot, our very first stop. We reached Rajkot’s ‘Baba Hotel’ somewhere around 10.15pm. We even had discussions going on about the dinner, that we won’t be able to find good food, as Rajkot’s shops close by 10. We asked the Hotel manager that if they can serve food, and he said that we are lucky that the kitchen was still ‘open’. All the luggage was sent to the rooms and we settled in the dining. After a good hot food, we were back upstairs in the rooms. Sunil had waited long and now the pressure was uncontrollable. He stormed into the toilet and when he came back, he saw he’d unhinged the whole door. Everybody was laughing. Finally the the service guy came in and fixed it. Everybody then moved out of the hotel for ice-creams and Ice candies. A short walk and we were licking our tongues on the sweet matter. There was no specific plan for the next day. It was just strolling in Rajkot till the train took us back to Mumbai. Finally sleep, at an unbounded length.
25 Dec 07, Tuesday
All woke up late around 8 or later and freshened up and we moved in the market. While at that Rahul performed the famous ‘B to the A to the B to the A, BABA thats what I’m called’. He left no room for food after stomach aching laugh-riot. Rajkot’s ‘ittar’ or perfume is famous, so shopping for it was first. We stopped at a shop, where the guy acquainted us with the fragrances labeled ‘Raymond’, ‘Lily’, ‘7 Seas’ and so on. Rushi had purchased perfumes for almost Rs. 500. Raaj wanted to have falooda, so, A falooda shop and 5 guys. With almost 2 faloodas each we headed back to the hotel, on the way people couldn’t escape fried items. Everybody except me, Rushi and Rahul were waiting to have non-veg. So at a punjabi hotel, Fried fish, chicken masala, promfret fry, etc was making way to the dishes. Veggies were happy with ‘Paneer tikka masala’ and ‘daal’.
Around 4, rickshaws were called for to offload the people and their even heavier luggage to the station. After 6-7 rickshaw rounds, everybody at the station were remembering the trip, what all they missed, some cursed some, rued on missed chances. I found this as good opportunity for snaps and got one of the vintage ‘Saurashtra Queen’ engine.
The train was on time, around 5.30 which took us back to the office rush hours, light-fast lifestyle.
22 Dec 07, Sat * 11:00am, Akshar Mandir, Gondal Taluka * To Junagadh via Jetpur * 2.00pm SakkarBag Zoo, Junagad * 7.30pm, Sattadar Temple 23 Dec 07, Sun * 10.00am, Kankeshwari Temple, Gir Forest * 5.20pm, Sattadar Temple 24 Dec 07, Mon * 9.30am, Sasan, Gir * To Veraval/Somnath * 10.40am, via Talela * 11.30am, Somnath Temple * 3.30 pm, off from Somnath to Jetpur * 4.45 via Keshod * 7.00pm, Jetpur * 8.30pm off to Rajkot * 10.30pm Bhabha Hotel, Rajkot 25 Dec 07, Tue * 5.30pm Off to Mumbai, Rajkot