Thursday, October 21

Photo Gallery . Images from around India .

Some memorable images from our holidays across the land .

Wednesday, October 20

Somnath Temple, Gujarat

Photo 1
This Image taken from the Official website of the Somnath Temple.

{{All photographs used on this blog, in all postings, are our own, unless mentioned otherwise.}}

I had read so much about the Somnath Temple in my school history books that the idea of actually visiting the place was a huge thing for me. Somnath is THE place for you to visit if you believe in Jyotirlings ..or even if you don't !
 It is considered the most sacred of the 12 Jyotirlings.

From WIKI :-The Somnath Temple is located in thePrhabas Kshetra  near Veraval in Saurashtra, on the western coast of Gujarat. It  is the most sacred of the twelve Jyotirling . Somnath means "The Protector of (the) Moon God". The Somnath Temple is known as "the Shrine Eternal", having been destroyed six times and rebuilt six times. [Some say, 7 times.]

Bhoomi-Khana for the Garbha-Grih was performed by Shri U.N. Dhebar on April 8, 1950 and Maharaja Jamsaheb Digwijay Singhji laid the foundation stone on May 8, 1950. The Linga Pratishtha ceremony was performed by the first President of India, Dr. Rajendra Prasad on May 11, 1951. On December 1, 1995 the President of India, Dr. Shankar Dayal Sharma, performed the Kalash Pratishtha of the temple's Nritya Mandap and dedicated the temple to the nation.

The following extract is from “Wonders of Things Created, and marvels of Things Existing” by Asaru-L- Bilad, a 13th century Arab geographer. It contains the following description of Somnath temple and its destruction: The following is a long quotation:

“Somnath: celebrated city of India, situated on the shore of the sea, and washed by its waves. Among the wonders of that place was the temple in which was placed the idol called Somnath. This idol was in the middle of the temple without anything to support it from below, or to suspend it from above. It was held in the highest honor among the Hindus, and whoever beheld it floating in the air was struck with amazement, whether he was a Musulman or an infidel. The Hindus used to go on pilgrimage to it whenever there was an eclipse of the moon, and would then assemble there to the number of more than a hundred thousand."
Tomb of Sultan Mahmud of Ghazni, in 1839-40, showing original Sandalwood Doors at Somnath, which he destroyed in ca 1024“When the Sultan Yaminu-d Daula Mahmud Bin Subuktigin went to wage religious war against India, he made great efforts to capture and destroy Somnat, in the hope that the Hindus would then become Muhammadans. As a result thousands of Hindus were forcibly converted to Islam. He arrived there in the middle of Zi-l k’ada, 416 A.H. (December, 1025 A.D.). “The king looked upon the idol with wonder, and gave orders for the seizing of the spoil, and the appropriation of the treasures. There were many idols of gold and silver and vessels set with jewels, all of which had been sent there by the greatest personages in India. The value of the things found in the temples of the idols exceeded twenty thousand dinars."
File:Ruins somnath temple.jpg
 According to the legends, Soma, or the Moon God built the temple in gold, Ravana in silver, and Shri Krishna in wood. Soma being arrogant about his beauty, was cursed by his father-in-law Daksha  to wane. He then build the Somnath temple at the Prabhas tirth and prayed to Lord Shiva, who removed the curse partially, thus causing the periodic waning of moon.

Somnath Temple in 1869
[["The Somanatha Temple from the west, Somnath (Prabhas Patan)." Photograph of the Somanatha Temple at Somnath, Prabhas Patan, in Gujarat, from the west, from the Archaeological Survey of India, taken by D.H. Sykes in c.1869.]

And Somnath Now.....

This temple was cnstructed by Queen Ahalayabai of Indore in 1783 AD,
right across the original structure, which at that time was being used as
a mosque after the number of invasions from various sides.

The history of Somnath takes on a very different tone when you are standing in the complex, hearing the bells ring, the Mantras being chanted all around...its difficult to imagine that this temple has been destroyed and rebuilt 6 times. You feel the brush of history sweep over you as you take in the old and new co-existing here. The temple built by Queen  Ahalayabai Holkar , queen of the Indore,in 1783 AD  and the new complex which was started on May 11 1951 by the then President of India, Dr. Rajendra Prasad.

Our children outside the Temple, just before the evening Aarti.
  The temple is surrounded by Arabian Sea on one side. Waves wash up on the southern side of the complex all day and night, creating a rhythm of time, life, and continuity. The early morning Aarti is so soothing...  Once the Aarti is over, one gets treated to lovely melodious bhajans over the audio system.

Early morning at the temple.
People walk around the lawns, or just sit watching the sea break its waves along the beach...or simply peer into the direction of the Baan -Sthambh, or Arrow Pillar. This pillar has an arrow pointing towards the South Pole.
From Wiki :- The temple is situated at such a place that there is no land in straight-line between Somnath seashore till Antarctica, such an inscription in Sanskrit is found on the Arrow-Pillar called Baan-Stambh erected on the sea-protection wall at the Somnath Temple. This Baan-Stambh mentions that it stands at a point on the Indian landmass, which happens to be the first point on land in the north to the south-pole on that particular longitude.

You can find all the historical and religious information about Somnath  here. And here.
I realised that my visit was more meaningful to me with a little prior information . Helps to appreciate one's culture, religion, and the enduring quality of certain themes in our lives.

There is tight security inside and around the Temple complex. As with all religious places nowadays, one is not allowed to carry cameras or mobile phones inside the main temple. Leather belts, wallets etc . are also deposited in the lockers available just a few metres near the temple.
The ubiquitous pigeons are everywhere and people feed them Bajra seeds bought from little children around the temple complex. As the sun begins to set,  the outline of the Somnath temple against that pink -peach sky blends into a magical image, with  the red flag at the top of the spire over the sanctum sanctorum fluttering in the sea breeze. As lights come on and sounds of the Aarti begin floating in the evening air, mingled with the fragrance of incence sticks left burning near the entrance steps, one cannot but help feel the pull towards a Higher Source that connects us all .

A sign board at the checking point says, ' Disrespectful clothes , improper dress' with drawings of men in shorts and ladies in skirts crossed out in red! There were also images of men in trousers and ladies in saris/suits TICK marked ! Well, ahem, we had a little moment  here. Himangshu and I were up and ready for the early morning Aarti which begins at 7 AM.As we approached the check-point, the policeman sitting there pointed towards Himangshu's casual khakhi shorts, and sang out--'what's written there??' I wondered what he meant,till I looked in the direction he was pointing to with his baton. I had to suppress my giggles as Himangshu said sheepishly, "Ji, wear respectful clothes." We didn't want a scene there, and the policeman also seemed to be in a benign mood, for he let us off with a 'warning !' :)
{We faced a similar situation at Guruvayoor temple, Kerela, where both Himangshu and my daughter were stopped from going intot the sanctum sanctorum. Reason--Himangshu should have worn a South Indian Lungi, and my daughter ought to have been wearing a cotton sari or a suit. She was in capris. Solution? Himangshu rushed off to buy and wear a Lungi for himself and a white cotton wrap around kind of skirt for our daughter. }

If any you feel like visiting Somnath, try staying at the.. LEELAVATI TEMPLE TRUST GUEST HOUSE, maintained by the Somnath Temple Trust. Its walking distance from the temple, has rooms for all budgets, is CLEAN! and odourless... till the smell from the fishery factories nearby don't assault you out of the blue! They have a nice canteen system which serves a regular vegetarian Gujrati thali. Same thali every day. A thali for one person costs you 40 bucks, and includes Khichdi, a sweet Kadhi, cabbage sabzi, dal and rotis.   There is no room service, except for tea.

Our travel details :

Ibis, National bird of Egypt.

Windmills all the way !
 We reached Somnath after driving from Jaamnagar to Dwarka Peeth in the morning, then onwards to Somnath. Some stretches of the road are 'not-so-good,' I would say, considering the excellent highways of Gujarat. Our driving time, from Jaamnagar to Somnath, via Dwarka Peeth was was a full day, covering 148 Kms from Jaamnagar to Dwarka Peeth and another 230 Kms from Dwarka to Somnath. Driving along this stretch is a pleasure, with migratory birds dotting the landscape all along. Windmills are all over the countryside in Gujarat..! For quite a distance, the highway from Dwarka to Somnath runs along the coastline and one can see the blue , hazy sea from the car itself. Coconut water is a welcome drink at certain places where people flock to go down to the beach from the highway.

Getting a Water Lily for myself :)

You can contact the Somnath Trust here for more information or reservations:

Shree Somnath Trust
C / 12-A, Shree Om Villa Apartment
F.C.I. Godown Road,
Shahibaug, Ahmedabad -380 004

Phone No.: +91-79-22686442,
Fax No.: +91-79-22686335

For more travel related information, check out this link:

Monday, October 18

Road trip to Gujarat-Marine Park at Narara, Gulf of Kutch

We have driven to Gujarat three times now, and each time there is more waiting to be discovered. Little nuggets from history, tiny details that add up to a larger understanding of the land. On an earlier trip, I remember telling all friends and relatives, that we are off to see the wild asses of Gujarat. Most of them responded incredulously..." GADHE DEKHNE GUJARAT JA RAHE HO ? "

Well, it turned out, that trip introduced us to the Rann of Kutch. Vast , arid land, salt edged water bodies, a constant comment heard all along , 'That side lies Pakistan.' For us, it was a great adventure; for our chuldren, an eye opener. I had not expected to fall in love with this unexpected side of Gujarat. Till then, Gujarat was a place in the map of India, a geographical feature like a sharp nose edging out into the Arabian Sea. Or it meant Dhokla, or those beautiful mirror embellished dresses typical of this area.

During this , our latest trip to Gujarat, we saw a different side to Gujarat. We went primarily to take a walk , literally, in the Gulf of Kutch. There are several Marine Parks dotting the coast of Gujarat. We were planning to go to the Narara Marine Park, a few kilometres out of Jaamnagar.

Battery going.. will be beack tomorrow with more....

Okay, so let's drive on.
By the way, we have driven our own vehicle practically all across this country by now, leaving out the North-East part, and Gujarat has THE BEST roads in the country. Its a beautiful, green land, dotted with natural water bodies where migratory birds flock in the autumn months. Water lillies dot the edges of the highways. One feels like stopping every now and then to take in the scenery unfolding all around you .

We did Delhi to Bhilwara the first day, rested, took off the next morning to reach Ahmedabad. After the beautiful, smooth highways leading to Ahmedabad, the roads within the city were a little disappointing.
Since we had no sightseeing plans in Ahmedabad, we had a good night's sleep, and next morning were off again, to reach Jaamnagar, where we put up for two nights. I had heard of Jaamnagar only as the city where Nita Ambani flies to , on a regular basis, to look after the Reliance Refinery there. Images of a huge city lit up with lights, surrounded by the sea swam in fron tof my eyes as we approached the city. It turned out to be a regular Gujju place.
We went to the Marine Park at the Narara island ( will explain this in a moment ) to check out the marine life.
The Narara island becomes an island at high tide. Otherwise it looks like a constructed wall, bricks and stones clearly visible all around. That's Narara island in the photo belowThe dark blocks of stone on the left side..... At high tide, you cannot see more than a few feet of the wall but at low tide you can walk right up to the  base of this 'island' and all around the area.

                                                                            We were at the sea front by 11 AM, as we had been told that low tide would start at 12 noon. We had our packed lunch there, and waited some more as the water began receding back intot he Gulf of Kutch with surprising speed. There was still a lot of water at the beach for us to feel comfortable about wading in for a two KM walk ! Anyway, we were all ready with sun hats, sun protection lotion and cameras. Our kids were excited to see the Marine Park..park not as in a barricaded, marked boundry area, but a vast area of sand, stone and sea creatures bared to the sight as the water rushes away, back intot he Gulf. With a guide from the forest department showing us the camouflagued creatures, it was an interesting two hours under the bright , hot sun. I turned red under the afternoon glare..! The sun protection lotion did nothing , neither did my sun cap.

Numerous migratory birds like Ibis and local birds like herons and kingfisher flit around on the stones and rocks, looking for easy prey. Crabs, water snakes, Puffer fish, and Octopus, if you are lucky. We did not see any octopus, but we did see the bright flower like Sea Anemones. They look like a large, loose rubber band, the kind girls use to hang on their wrists, more than to tie up their hair. The guide said there are as many as 14 colours to the sea anemone. We saw only a spring green one, and a light creamy coloured one. These creatures are so sensitive to touch, that the moment they register any movement, any touch, they clam up, close their cleverly hidden pitcher-like mouths to grab whatever fish or other stuff has floated into their 'mouth.' I touched one, and it felt like a sticky, rough surface.. It vanished into the sand, right before our eyes as the guide tried to show us how the anemone reacts to touch. Clever little pretty things !!

And then there was this little bright crab...we thought its time to run for cover as it got crawling all around in a hurry. The guide sir jee just calmly took hold of the little crabby thing, kept a firm grip on the claws and then proceeded to show us how strong the crab's teeth ? can be. The poor crab then did as it had to do in the circumstances. The guide held out a ball pen, and immediately the crab snapped its dangerous moth shut over the pen, and wouldn't let go ! The guide even demonstrated how it--the crab-- could hold on to a stick !

We were walking in the ankle deep water for over two hours. I was worried about aching muscles at the end of this adventure but surprisingly there was no such discomfort. The water of the Gulf is warm at this time of the year--October. Wherever the water ran a little deep, you could feel the temperature change from warm to slightly cooler. Another interesting thing we saw was the sea cucumber, a roundish, dark, oblong thing, which feeds and sustains itself on the dirt of the sea floor ! Several corals were lying around but sadly , due to the effects of the rising pollution in the area, they were not as bright and breath taking as I had imagined they would be.

  There is plenty to see and enjoy at Marine Park,, as long as you are patient and willing to walk for over two hours in knee deep to ankle deep water. The timings of the low tide keep varying, so please keep that in your in mind as you schedule your visit. Keep one day only for the Marine Park. Its only two hours in the water but the planning and the time required to reach here from the nearest hotel in town must be added to your plan for the day.