Day 3: Bhalka Tirth, Somnath Temple, Sasan Gir, Junagadh - My Journey through Saurashtra, Gujarat

27th Mar 2016


    IT was most important day of the tour for me. Somnath temple, the first Jyotirlinga, was on the itinerary today. I wore my new dress gifted by my sister on Holi. I was missing my parents as I usually visit temples with them and they would guide me how to work around these things. Few of us decided not to have food till we visit the temple. Bathed, fresh and with Om Namash Shivay in our hummings, we departed towards Somnath.

the indian bull

Visiting a Temple

Visiting temples is not a trivial affair for serious worshippers like my parents. Although it seems straightforward, lot of subconscious planning undergoes before, during and after visiting temples. Wearing clean clothes is important, one can't recycle worn ones. Fasting is required, as offerings are made only with empty stomach. Many times the temple complex will lack the items required for carrying out proper puja, hence packing ganga jal, ghee, agarbatti, matchstick, naved, chandan etc is customary.

It doesn't end here. Once inside the temple, one has to decide which pujas to do. Each temple offers custom pujas depending upon its nature - like sankalp kriya, special pujas, kund snaan etc. The options are so many and so vague that only a regular visitor can make out the right selection (beware of scammers!). The tightest spot is when you're right before the God. You've so much to ask for and so little time that almost always you end up asking for same things, unless you've thought it through beforehand. That's not all. Once out of temple, prasad and souvenirs must be bought for family, children, neighbours and relatives and marked clearly (if you're visiting too many temples).

Bhalka Tirth 

A huge shiva linga greets us at the gate. Temple is old but new complex is under development, which is beautiful even at this stage. There is a kund nearby. This is the place where Lord Krishna was shot in his leg, and departed for the Vaikunth. It's only 9am but sun is hot already.

Shivling
Temple Gate

 Lord Krishna was shot here

Kund

Legend of Bhalka Tirth

 new temple under construction

We also made quick visit to Gita Mandir. Triveni Sangam is nearby.

Somnath Temple

Guide announces that those interested can do puja at the temple while rest can have darshan directly. Almost all of us decided to do puja. They took us to a small temple complex, called Old Somnath temple. It was mainly for couples, but we adjusted somehow. The preparatory rituals are simple - they recite few mantras and ask you to sprinkle water. Soon we'd take turns to visit shiva linga but there is a huge rush. My turn was last. Shiva linga puja was OK. We put chandan on linga, poured milk and water as well as bel patra. We took blessings, gathered and departed for main temple.

the main temple complex

the old temple where custom pujas are carried out

It's not just hot, its BURNING hot. Some smart guy suggested us not to take our slippers, and we are left walking barefoot on preheated mortar roads. However, the complex was much better in that respect. They had put tiles which don't heat up much under the sun, it felt like god's blessings to walk on them. There was not much queue. We had missed the main Aarti at 12 but some ritual was going on when we entered the main temple. We took Aartis, bought prasad and returned back quickly, as it was getting late.

relaxing after a long hot day 

 our cutie pie

The sore miss was the beach behind the temple. My roommate uncle, who usually moved around alone and only one not to join puja, not only attended the main Aarti at 12 but also thoroughly enjoyed the beach. Unbelievable is this trip as well. Whole trip is organized around saurashtra region and almost always we are traveling next to sea. Still, not a single decent beach is on the trip itinerary where we can venture into waters and have fun. Beach has great tourism quotient but probably planners considered it as misfit in this kind of religious tour. I think they are completely wrong. Beach is a must, if not every evening, then at least once on this 4 day long trip. (more tour suggestions and complaints will follow up in closure comments).

ready for a quick flight

covers the sky 
floats in the air

back to rest position

this is the closest one can get to main temple

Sasan Gir - the Dhokha

After Somnath and Dwarka, my most sought after item on this trip was Sasan gir. I have been to safaris before and have loved it so far. Bannerghatta at Bangalore almost consumes whole day. It was already evening, and I was wondering how they will manage it. As we enter the gate, it feels more like a zoo than a national park. "Who maintains them so well? After all, its a jungle!". There is no mechanism to book a bus even for a large group like us, so we are split into three groups. Being a weekend, the place is crowded. We have taken our cameras out and are super excited to venture into the so called "only natural home to asiatic lions". This will turn out to be the biggest joke of the trip.

super excited

dangerous animals posing for the camera

uncle with foresight - did not join the safari

happy family of lions - they are super easy to spot in gir -
this one seems to be on family planning though

hold your breath - about to go live

The bus runs quickly through the forest - a semi-arid zone mostly with bushes and few trees. Its extremely dry, bushes are pale yellow, a tree with green leaves is hard to spot by. It's so hot that I won't be surprised if it catches fire. I tell people that such a forest is most suitable for lions. I have the camera and my friend is assisting me to spot the specials. Our guide has specially arranged the seat next to Driver, so that we get the best shots. Driver saab is cooperative, he'd allow me to even lean over his side of window to click pics. We are super excited. Did I say that again?

driver saab 

is this jungle on fire?
does anyone live here? birds, hulloooooo??


The Deer Safari

The first to be spotted are deers, as usual. They are small, dotted with white on brown, typical Indian ones. I spot another animal but unable to identify it. People say its Neelgai. She's pretty. Deers - neelgai - deers - neelgai - may be anthill - even these are hard to spot now. Lions are nowhere to be seen. We can see other safari buses too, wandering here and there. I enquire about large pillars present across jungle, apparently they are for directions. Our driver receives an sms, bus makes a move and quicly halts to a tree.

a deer on fire

deer couple retiring to home

one look and it hypnotizes u - how could sita ji have resisted its golden avatar?



neelgai - searching for green grass




deer family of four - so cute that you want to adopt them

baby deer jumping around

anthill - special attraction

wandering fellow safari tourists

bet - which road will lead us to lions?


The Lions

Couple of lions are resting under a big tree, probably brothers. One is semi-awake and other one is in deep sleep, doesn't care much that guests have come to visit him. Driver is relaxed and gives us all the time to take pictures. The semi-sleepy brother is probably contemplating over his life. At some point he gets anxious and turns towards our bus. Bus moves little backwards for better view. Lion opens his mouth wide, seems like he's going to roar - naah just yawning. "Stupid lion", is what I tell people. We would definitely find more sporty ones ahead. This jungle is full of real lions, and these two are only part of trailer. Our bus moves ahead.

what has my life come to?

the big yawn

here they come again, feeling like alex of madagascar 

lets give them a show

sleepy brother is up now

pose 1

pose 1.1

pose 1.6

pose 1.9

Grrr.. enough, get out of here



an uncle got lucky and shot this beautiful video of 3 lionesses chillaxing


The Tigers

It's a closed enclosure with little trees. I wonder why a jungle would need such enclosures at all. No animals are to be seen. I'm clicking here and there nevertheless, thinking we can always zoom later and extract out the specials. Still nothing. Children are excited to find something. "Where? Where?", I ask but their little fingers pointing towards sky is not helping at all. There is a tad movement, I'm able to see a tiger standing. I turn around in excitement to tell people to come and see the tiger. I turn back, and I've lost it again. It's frustrating, really.





Spotted several tigers, with help of Zoom lens and Laptop

challenge - spot the tiger with naked eye

Bus moves further and what's this, an exit gate? It's hardly 20 minutes since we left this very same gate. Driver is only person in the bus from authority and I'm constantly asking him about any more lions to be seen. This is not what I heard Gir forest to be. I don't care if it's Sasan or Rashan. This is worse than a zoo. At least we get to see some animals in a zoo, with much better view. We had been scammed.

save water, for lions sake
the exit gate

We meet our travelmates and they tell the same story. Apparently we all visited the same lion under same tree for same amount of time. One quipped the lions were tied to the tree, and they show the same lion to everyone. Had our stars not been bright, there was a good chance that we may have returned from gir forest without spotting a single lion. They charged us 160 or 200 INR per head but the ride was not worth even for free (given it's far location and short ride). We complain to the guide for including this place into our itinerary, wasting our time and energy, and ask him for refund. There is a souvenir shop which doesn't have much to look at. I buy a tshirt for my brother.

UPDATE : after some research, I found that the safari trip we took is called Devalia Safari Park and its meant to be a trailer to the actual trip. Frankly, this may be fun for local tourists but for those coming from far off places, a full day gir trip would be more appropriate.

Junagadh

The classic match between India and Australia is scheduled later evening today. Everyone wants to rush to the hotel, and be ready for the big clash. We halt for a tomb on the way, and reach hotel well before time. While we were chatting after quickly freshening up, an aunty came with a request - throw a surprise birthday party to our beloved Sadanand uncle, the yoga guru. This was unexpected but welcome fun event for all of us. Tomorrow is our last day, and this could be good occassion to gel together and share moments.

Mohabbat maqbara palace

Surprise Bday Party

We enquired about a decent cake shop, caught an auto and headed towards it. It's sunday, hence the market was closed. We still kept going in hope. The shop was Monginis and it had a perfect cake for us. We quickly head back home. Few people had started their dinner already. We secretly informed everyone to wait in the lobby after dinner, for the "surprise" birthday party. Sadanand uncle was called, he was genuinely surprised. He had never cut a birthday cake before. We shared few jokes guessing his age. We sat together for couple of hours, chatting and sharing things. Match was still going and India was on backfoot. Kohli played knock of his life and pulls a stunner. India won it in the end. It was a fun filled night.

Sadanand Uncle - our bday boy

Route map, Day 3

4 comments:

  1. Fine intricate pictorial description opens up like a book. My best wishes for keeping your passion afloat! Thanks a lot!

    ReplyDelete
  2. Thank you Uncle. Very nice of you to say that.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Lovely pictures. You were lucky enough to spot the tigers.

    ReplyDelete