Despite being off the gulf of Kutch, Jamnagar has no beaches. Our original plan was to ride to the Narara Marine National Park in the morning, spend some time there, and then ride 100 KM west to Dwarka for lunch, and have a good look at the gulf before riding south to Porbandhar, the birthplace of gandhiji for new years eve. But standing in the sun and waiting for our puncture had really tired us out and we decided to skip Dwarka. Though it is a religious hotspot, I was looking forward to the views from Okha which is at the very tip. Well I guess we have to leave something behind for the next time.
Enroute to the national park we passed a couple of giant oil refineries, don’t know how their equation with the national park works. The reliance refinery is apparently the largest in the world, and they also have a huge township on this road. But once you turn off the main road, we were greeted by the familiar site of flamingos and egrets on a village road for around 9KM, and then you reach the park.
The narara marine national park is situated on the gulf of Kutch, sort of opposite Mandvi. Both the Gulfs (Kutch and Kambhat) are fairly new geographically speaking and aren’t very deep, and water recedes considerably during low tide. The first humans to arrive in India crossed over the land here, before the oceans came. A good book to read to really understand the history of India’s Geography is the Land of Seven Rivers – a brief history of India’s geography by Sanjeev Sanyal. It’s like a beginners guide, and there are more which I can’t wait to devour.
The park is open from around 8:00 am to 12:00 pm, and you can walk around in deliciously cool ankle deep water and try and spot aquatic wildlife. There are a few guys with sticks whom you can hire as guides, but we chose to walk around by ourselves. We spotted a lot of sea snails, corals and some crabs. The corals here are mostly brown, and not the colourful ones but the whole seascape is beautiful nevertheless.
The tickets cost 50 rs a head, and the people in the office were nice enough to watch our bags.
We left the park as soon as the tides started turning and the flow of water changed direction and headed towards Porbandhar on the Arabian Sea. The Kathiwayar Peninsula has a different cuisine from Kutch, their famous dishes are the thepla, a baingan sabji with yogurt, the bajra roti, the sweet dhal that Gujrati cuisine is often associated with is also from this region. Many dhabbas in Gujarat will only serve a thali during lunch, and we had our first good kathiyawadi meal enroute. The bad dinner from the previous day was finally atoned for. I love eating, and a bad meal can upset/ sadden me considerably, especially if it from a region I have high expectations of.
We entered Porbandhar by around 2:00 PM, it is a really small town, with very bad roads and a strong smell of fish. We headed towards the beach, we were staying in a hotel called Lords Eco Inn, which is literally on the beach. Lords is a chain of hotels popular all over Gujarat and seemed to be the best option here.
The hotel has a great location, most of the rooms overlook the ocean and extremely courteous staff and rooms are clean – sheets, towels and good showers. Though run down I would rate this place a three, and that is mainly for their staff. They lost points from us mainly because they screwed up our booking. The room we had booked was not available when we checked in ( 2:00 pm was anyways 2 hours more than the stipulated time) and so they upgraded us to a larger room with a better view of the ocean for 4 hours and then shifted us to the smaller room. This to me was ridiculous and poor service. They should have either had the room ready or figured out a suitable alternative, making us wait in a room without unpacking was annoying. They also missed out on smaller details like the room only had one set of slippers etc and charged us an arm leg and kidney to do laundry. We paid 650 rs to wash a bunch of underwear, a pair of jeans and a couple of T-Shirts.
We had decided to spend our new year’s eve in Gujarat to escape the usual drunken madness and have a quiet one. We are very often mistaken for foreigners here as I have really short hair and other shaved his head in Mandvi and wears a lot of earrings and we usually enter the hotel with all our gear on. The staff at the reception were really excited, to have ‘ fake foreigners’ for their new year’s party and insisted we join their celebrations. I politely declined saying that we wanted a quiet night, but a cherubic earnest young man convinced us saying “ you will really enjoy it, we have a very lavish party planned, just take a look and you won’t want to leave “. So we decided to do just that.
We had a few hours to kill before the lavish party, so we pottered around the beach, spotted an amazing abandoned old building. I googled it – it is called Huzoor Palace, and the owners live in London. It would make for such a good hotel, heritage tourism, destination wedding place….
The city is building a pedestrian only promenade on the beach, and the detailing was quite satisfactory. It had a Pondicherry feel to it. Unfortunately the town does not have a sewage system yet, and we saw several outlets letting untreated sewage into the sea, and people swimming in it too.
After our fill of the ocean, and the many gulls there we headed towards Kirti Mandir in the heart of the old town. The old town of Porbandhar, like most old towns in Gujarat was vibrant and beautiful. A narrow alley leads into a beautiful market square with a statue of bapu, and little ahead is the house he was born in.
Kirti Mandir was built as a memorial for Gandhiji and has a shrine and a few photo galleries around a large courtyard. Attached to this however is the house Gandhi was born in. It has been preserved beautifully, and has an amazing energy to it. The Other and I could not get enough of the tiny dark rooms and the rickety wooden stairs. It is worth going to Porbandhar to just go here and soak in the history. The air in the old city however has a very strong fish smell due to a factory a little out of town and that takes some getting used to.
We headed back to the hotel and they were playing Lion King on TV and we were in such a dilemma, to order room service and indulge in the laziest new year’s eve ever in front of the idiot box or to go to the Lavish Party.. sigh… decisions decisions…
But what had us hooked were the words lavish party and we decided to go. We rummaged through and managed to find something decent to wear in our backpacks. And here is my next tip, a friend we made on the way told us you get backpacks with flap on the back as opposed to the top at Decathlon. Buy it – you can organise your stuff better and don’t have to pull everything out everytime you need to find something. Trust me no matter how organised you are, there is something you will need everyday and it will be at the bottom of the backpack.
The lavish party was spread across two floors, the restaurant had been decorated with flowers, and carved fruits and vegetables and they had a long buffet spread and the banquet hall above was what they called a DJ hall ( pronounced dijay) , it was lit with many strobe lights and had a line of chairs arranged around a dance floor and an enthusiastic man with a jiggly paunch played the latest Bollywood numbers. And as I already mentioned in my previous posts, Gujarat is a dry state, out of respect to Gandhiji who was born there, and we were in his birth town. The sweetened carbonated beverages flowed freely though.
Lords Eco Inn ( eco only in name, I don’t think they have any sustainable initiatives) is the biggest hotel in the area and we needed to pay 600 rs per person for the party which allowed us access into both areas. Well dressed gujju families, over dressed teenagers, ( there were 14 year olds in fish net stalkings!) and lots of children were already at the buffet. We joined them and ate as much as we could. The food once again is all vegetarian, but was very good and then decided to move to the DJ hall.
The party was in full swing, uncles aunties and the younger crowd were grooving to kala chasma and those who didn’t want to dance sat in the chairs and sipped their coke. The other and I sat for a while and watched the show, the best dancer was the tiniest child – probably 2 years old who just didn’t stop dancing. The hotel staff requested us to dance for atleast one song, for the foreign quotient but the other was feeling shy and we had to excuse ourselves…. Grrrr… I really wanted to dance, but I guess he needed alcohol.
We then stepped out for a walk by the beach, to see the revelry there, such a change from the drunk youths screaming their heads of in Chennai, there were staid families enjoying the sea breeze, no cops to regulate anything. While walking back, a young man named Soni accosted us and gave us a sob story of how his dad was dead, and his mom refused to come with him, and he couldn’t enter the party as it was for families only ( wow !!! I have heard of couples only, but this was the first time I was coming across a family only party ! ) and his girl friend was inside with her parents, and couldn’t come out… and he wanted to surprise her. He wanted us to tell the hotel management that we were his family, brother and wife and get him in, and even offered to buy us tickets. I smelt a rat, but a good love story can melt the other like ice cream and he agreed, despite me telling them both that the hotel guys knew we were staying there, were tourists and would not fall for a sudden brother turning up. So we went back up, and poor little Soni got turned down and the hotel staff informed us that he was trouble, and had been crashing their lavish party since 2013.
I love being right, and laughed all the way to bed. It was a good start to the new year.