Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Saurashtra Tour Itinerary

Saurashtra Tour Guide : Best places to visit in Saurashtra
Saurashtra Tour Guide
Saurashtra Tour is popularly known as the 'Saurashtra Darshan'. Saurashtra Travel takes you to a different era altogether and this blog can serve as a short Saurashtra Tour Guide. Saurashtra Tourist Attractions are mainly the temples which are flooded with deities from all over India. The best of Saurashtra places to visit are Dwarka, Somnath & Palitana.
When to Visit : October to December
Tour Duration : 6 to 8 Days
Must Visit Places : Dwarka, Somnath, Gir wild life Sanctuary
Saurashtra, as the name suggests, is indeed a region of one hundred kingdoms. It is indeed one of the most picturesque regions in Gujarat. Due to the princely history, its rich in antiquity and abundant in wealth. Well sculptured temples, forts, mosques and glittering palaces...all remind us of the glorious past. Their love for colour and artistry has touched every aspect of their lifestyle, and the handicrafts of the region enjoy the patronage of all the states of India. When I got an opportunity to visit this place, I just grabbed it. My father's sister and her husband were planning a tour to this side and they suggested that, it would be fun if we joined them. One more couple (their family friends) was also coming with them. The more, the merrier. The best part was that they were going to do the entire booking through Gujarat Tourism. If there is a small group of 6 or so, the tourism dept arranges for a vehicle like qualis, with a knowledgeable driver. Residence and food arrangement is made at their own hotels/restaurants. What more do you want ? Our whole group agreed on the point that we did not want fancy hotels as we would be spending hardly any time at the hotel. I made a quick survey of the spots they were covering and found it quite satisfactory. There was not going to be any night driving.
Our first travel was from Pune to Baroda. We were going to stay there for a couple of days. It was diwali time, so we packed lot of chaklis, karanjis, ladoos, and other varieties for our tour. The morning of our departure dawned and we were all ready at the doorstep. The family friends were also there in time and within minutes, we were on our way to Rajkot. There was a lot of travel anticipated on the first day itself. After this long journey, the other destinations were nearby.
Day 1

Rajkot
We reached Rajkot at about 10:30. Rajkot does not have much of tourist significance and it was going to be used only as a short break in the journey. It has a big trade market and is supposed to be one of the fastest developing cities in the saurashtra peninsula. In pre-Independence days, it was the headquarters of the British Government resident for the western Indian states. It was also known for the Rajkumar College built for the education of princes of the nearby kingdoms. It still exists today and is open to everyone. Mahatma Gandhi completed his early education here as his father was working at Rajkot. We took a glimpse of both these places but did not wait anywhere. The driver, who was also our tourist guide, suggested that the Ramkrishna Temple here was worth visiting.
Ramkrishna Temple
Located on Yagnik Road, it is popularly known as Jagat Mandir or Universal Temple. It is second most important place for followers of Swami Vivekanand after Kolkata. It is a beautiful temple carved in red stones (typical Ramkrishna format). However, it stands out from the other similar temples in India due to its architect and carvings. Elephants with garlands are carved on both sides of the temple.
The temple is dedicated to Sri Ramakrishna Paramahansa and the main shrine or Garbha Griha houses a white marble image of Bhagwan Sri Ramakrishna sitting on a Lotus Vedi. There is a also a 5 feet statue of Mahakali Devi inside so we took darshan and sat there for some time.

The Rotary Dolls Museum is one more place worth visiting. This unique Museum gives an overview to the culture and traditions of the world at large through a medium of dolls. The Rotary Clubs across the world have generously donated these Dolls to this club. We wanted to visit this museum but it was closed at that time (not sure whether it was due to time or diwali). That was slightly disappointing for us. We decided to leave Rajkot and proceed to Jamnagar. On the way, we had typical gujarati lunch.
Jamnagar
This city reminds us of cricket due to the number of cricketers it has offered to the country. The name Jamnagar is derived from 'Jam', the Jadeja Rajputs, that ruled the place. The rajputs were people with progressive thinking and that reflects in the development that has taken place in this city. The city has now developed into a big industrial area with reliance and other leading companies contributing to the development. Again, from tourist point of view, this does not have much of significance. There are a few spots which you can cover in a couple of hours.
Hanuman Temple : This temple is famous due to the non-stop jap of 'Shree Ram' (akhand namsmaran) that is going on here which holds a record in the country. Just opposite to the temple, there is a lake, around which there are two buildings that can be approached with a stone bridge. One is an arsenal and other is Lakhota Palace, which houses a musuem.
Lakhota Palace : This is an old palace but almost in ruins now. The palace hosts a musuem that holds some antique items. However, all this is not worth a visit. We were more interested in reaching Dwarka early.

There are 2 places in the main city - one is the Chandi Bazaar and the Jain temples nearby. Those who are going to visit Palitana need not visit these spots. We also heard about the smashan bhumi, that houses a number of sculptures that show events from Mahabharata. However, we were running out of time and skipped this.
Dwarka : The abode of Shri Krishna
The most important destination of our visit was Dwarka. This is supposed to be the place where Lord Krishna ruled. A number of excavations are a proof to this fact. However, the land is barren and unable to produce any crops. Thereby it is known as the 'Shapit Bhumi'. There is a story that Durvasa Muni had supposedly given a curse to Rukmini and that is why this land became totally barren.

We checked in the hotel and just dumped our luggage in the rooms. Soon we were on the way to the famous Dwarkadhish temple (Lord Krishna). Krishna is popularly known as Dwarkadhish or Randchodrai in Gujarat. I was positive that we could attend the arti in the evening. There was a huge rush in the temple. The reason for the rush was that the next day was padwa and hence a holiday. The gujarati people are very religious and they take every opportunity to visit temples and religious places on holidays. The temple has a huge structure and there are many small temples inside so it is slightly confusing as to how to proceed for the darshan. Luckily, me met a pandit, who suggested that we take his services as a guide.

He informed us that the temple was built by Vajranabh, the son of Lord Krishna. He built it with the help of Vishwakarma, the famous architect of that times. It is said that Vishwakarma built this temple purely with the power of mantras and that the beautiful carving at the top is automatically created with his yogic power.
Dwarkadheesh Temple

The temple shikhara consists of 7 storeys and the total height of that is 4 meters. The main mandap or temple hall is 5 storeyed and the roof of the hall is supported by 60 columns. The spire rises about 157 feet high. There are a number of temples inside and almost all the idols are associated with Lord Krishna and the Mahabharata. The main temple of Lord Shri Krishna contains a 1 feet height idol of the Lord on a silver throne. The actual idol is made from a black stone and its beauty is beyond description. We wanted to take darshan of the main idol first but there was a lot of rush there so the pandit advised that we start with the adjoining temples.

We started with the darshan of the Amba Mata devi, who is the kuldevta of Lord Krishna. I was fascinated by the beautiful idol. All the idols in this temple have striking features.

The other temples are : temple of Shri Guru Dutta, temple of Purushottam, temple of Durvasa Rishi, temple of Pradyumna and Aniruddha ( son and grandson of Shri Krishna), temple of Balarama (Elder brother of Shri Krishna). There is one more section named as the 'Rani Niwas', which consists of temples of the queens of Lord Krishna. These are as follows :
Jambuvanti : After killing Jambuvanta, Lord Krishna married his daughter, Jambuvanti.

Radha : Radha was the closest friend (sakhi) of Shri Krishna and had lot of importance in his life but he never married her. Due to her close association and devotion to the lord, the first naivedyam, which consists of butter is first given to Radha and then to Shri Krishna. The people here say that Shri Krishnaji Radhaji ka jutha hi khate hai.

Lakshmi Narayan : This temple hosts the Lakshmi Narayan idols.

Utsava Murtis : This utsava murtis of Gopal-Radha are used for festive purposes.

Satyabhama : This temple has an idol of Satyabhama, one of Shri Krishna's wives. It is said that satyabhama was very possesive about krishna and used to constantly fight with him regarding his love for Rukmini.

Saraswati Mandir : Hosts an idol of Goddess Saraswati.

Sharad Peetha : This is one of the four maths established by Jagatguru Shankaracharya. It is totally built in stone and the construction is done quite recently. At the top, there are statues of Lord Shiva in different poses of Tandava.

Dwarkadhisha Temple : The rush in the temple had subsided now so we could finally make way for darshana. There was a seperate row for ladies but they were quite large in number. In gujarat, they specifically observe lunch time, rest time etc for the deities also and during these periods, a curtain is lowered in front of the idol. Since I saw a curtain, I guessed that it must be rest time. After some time, the curtain was raised and there was a big hysteria. A few ladies literally threw themselves on the floor to offer prayers...some were in tears. Such was the effect of Lord Krishna. The arti started and a big lot of devotees participated in it. It was diwali time so the arti was also very special. After the arti, we could take darshana but it was only for a couple of minutes. we were pushed to the other side and had to come out of the main temple. The pandit was waiting outside and he guessed from our faces that we were not satisfied with the darshana. He advised us to wait for some more time and later took us inside again. This time, we could literally spend around 10 minutes in front of the idol. The idol is made in black stone and decorated with lot of jewellery...its amazing and you feel like looking at it again and again. Satistied with the darshana, we returned back to the center of the temple. That was the end of the tour of the first day. We were so exhausted that dinner was just a formality and soon we went off to sleep.

Day 2
We got up early morning the next day and went for a walk around the hotel. The dwarka beach was just 5 minutes away so we decided to go that way. The beach is slightly dangerous so its risky to get down in the water. There are a number of rocks at the edge so we sat on one of the huge rocks and observed the sea from a safe distance. We were going to visit the Bet Dwarka (the original dwarka) later that day so an interesting conversation started...whether Dwarka really existed and was submerged in water ? Did Lord Krishna rule this place centuries ago ? we hoped to find some answers to our queries at this amazing bet dwarka.

On the way to Bet Dwarka, we were going to cover 2 spots - Nageshwar Mahadev Jyotirlinga and Gopi Talav. The temple is situated in a dense forest and you can see lot of birds and animals here. The name of the place is Daarukawana.
Nageshwar Mahadev Jyotirlinga
Shiva Idol outside the temple
The driver informed us that Lord Shiva had appeared here to save one of his devotees, Supriya, from a demon named 'Daaruka'. Hence the name. It is said that those who pray to the Nageshwar Linga become free of poison. As we came near to the temple, we saw a beautiful peacock sitting on a roof top with all its feathers spread around. There is a big idol of Lord Shiva near the temple. Compared to Dwarka, there was not much rush here and we got darshana in about 5 minutes. The devotees are not allowed to touch the shivlinga so we have to pray from a distance. Also the abhisheka is only done by the holy people in the temple. This has helped them to keep the temple clean.
Gopi Talav : The next tourist stop was the famous gopi lake which is around 14 kms distance from Dwarka. Outside the lake, there were ladies selling 'gopi chandan', the yellowish white chandan that is applied on the forehead of deities. The mud around the lake is indeed yellowish white and soft. There is a myth behind this lake.
Shri Krishna, in his younger days, used to play raas lila with the gopis. After he came to Dwarka, he did not get any time to meet them but they missed him a lot. So they traveled from 'Vruj' to Dwarka and met him finally. Before departing, they requested him to play the famous raas lila with them again. Since that could be done in the palace, he arranged the program near the gopi lake. It was sharad purnima that night and in the full moon everyone experienced Shri Krishna in his full form, dancing with the gopis. When the time came for the gopis to depart, they could not bear to part with him and chose to lay down their lives near the lake and get merged into the earth instead. You can just spend around 10 minutes at this location. Outside the lake, there is a small Rukmini temple. Soon we were on the way to Bet Dwarka. The visit to Dwarka is not complete without a tour to bet dwarka.
Bet Dwarka : This is a small island near Dwarka and is still believed to be the original Dwarka submerged under water. It is said that Lord Krishna used to reside here with his family and the capital was in Dwarka, which is around 35 kms from here. Dwarka submerged into the sea after Sri Krishna left for the heavenly abode and the important Yadava kings were killed in fights among themselves. There are a lot of myths associated with this but Dr. Rao, who was leading the team of the underwater excavations confirmed that his findings in Dwarka were compatible with Mahabharata.
Okha Port
This island is closest to the coastal town of Okha and it is seperated from the land by 4 kms. The port authority has arranged a diesel boat service to cross this channel and it takes around half an hour to do so. We reached the port, purchased the tickets and stood in line for the boat service. There were lot of people waiting ahead but the boats were huge in size so our turn came fast. When we reached there, we had to submit our mobiles and cameras to the authorities. In Dwarka, you cannot take photos of the idols and the temples from inside.

There is a gate from where a narrow road takes you to the Bet Dwarka temple. A 5000 year old golden idol of Lord Krishna was obtained here and it is kept in a little room. The room is opened for worship in regular intervals and there is lot of frenzy when it opens. When we went there, it was just opened and people were shouting 'Dwarkadhish ji jay'. Again, there was a big rush...we waited aside patiently for some time. Soon a boat departed and rush subsided. The golden idol of Dwarkadhish is amazing. Apart from being made in gold, it is carved beautifully. There are temples of vishnu (in the form of matsya), Radha, Lakshmi, Satyabhama, Jambuvanti and Devaki. After taking all darshanas, we came down for the boat ferry. The boat was not yet ready so we spent some time at the bazaar nearby. A variety of motis, shells, conches are available here and quite cheap too. Soon our boat was ready for departure and we were back to the port.

Our driver was waiting outside. It was already late so we came back to the hotel for lunch. They served us hot phulkas, kadhi and moong. We had to still visit the Rukmini Temple in Dwarka but it was not going to take much time. The driver suggested that we check out from the hotel so that we could go to our next destination from the temple.
Rukmini Temple : Rukmini's temple is not among the temples of the rani nivas in the dwarkadhish temple. This was surprising for us as Rukmini was supposed to be the favourite rani of Lord Krishna. So we asked this query to our driver and he told us the story behind it. The story goes that the short-tempered Durvasa Muni was invited by Lord Krishna and Rukmini to dinner. When a person is invited to dinner, etiquette dictates that the host should not eat until the guest has been satisfied. On the way to dinner, Rukmini became thirsty and asked Krishna for help. When Durvasa Rishi was not looking, Krishna put his foot in the ground and the Ganges waters flowed forth from the earth. As Rukmini was drinking the water, however, Durvasa turned and saw her drinking without his permission. He became angry and cursed her to live apart from Lord Krishna. That is why Krishna's temple is in the town while hers is located outside the town. This temple is about 1.5 kms away from the town. The dwarka yatra is considered incomplete if we don't visit this temple after visiting the dwarkadhish temple. This temple is relatively small in size but very artistic. The idol of Rukmini Mata reflects her beauty and grace. I liked the carvings around the temple. Different stories of that period are carved in stone and these stones try to tell us these tales of yesteryears. We sat on the floor inside the temple and prayed for some time.
Our next destination was Porbander. The driver suggested that we could take a tea break at the Harsiddhi Mandir on the way to Porbander. This temple is also worth visiting but the only problem was that it is situated on a hill and we were all very tired. I suggested that whoever was fresh & willing would go to the temple and others could sit in a tea shop and relax.
Harsiddhi Mata Mandir : This temple, located at the Koyla hill, is built by Lord Krishna himself. The Harsiddhi Mata is Jagdamba Mata herself. Lord Krishna wanted to defeat the asuras and Jarasandha so he prayed to Amba Mata for power. With the blessings of the goddess, Krishna was able to defeat the asuras. After this success, he built the temple. When Jarasandha was killed, all yadavas over overjoyed (harshit) and they celebrated their success here. Hence the name Harshad Mata or Harsiddhi Mata. There are around 300 steps to the top. A powerful wind was blowing at the top and looking downwards, we realized that we were at a considerable height compared to the sea level.
From the top, we could clearly see the river Gomati getting merged in the Arabian sea. The different colors of the river and sea were very distinct. This temple is quite old than the Dwarkadhish temple but still it is not totally in ruins. The construction and carvings are slightly similar to the Rukmini temple. We rested for some time at the top but could not spend time as the ladies were waiting for us downside. Also, we had to reach porbandar soon.
Porbandar
Porbandar is not much of tourist significance. But it is of historical importance due to through its association with Mahatma Gandhi who was born here. The home of Gandhi's childhood is now open to visitors. Another reason why it is famous is that it is believed to be originally the Sudama Puri, the place where Shri Krishna's closest friend, Sudama lived. There is a temple dedicated to Sudama here. We visited the Sudama temple first.
Everyone knows the story of the friendship of Sudama and Shri Krishna. Both of them used to study at the heritage of Sage Sandipani and were close friends since then. Later sudama was struck with poverty and his wife advised him to meet Shri Krishna for some help. Krishna liked 'Pohe' so sudama's wife tied them in a bundle and asked him to take it along with him as a gift. When Krishna saw sudama, he embraced him and even washed his feet with warm water. The two chatted for a long time and then Krishna suddenly saw the bundle of pohe tied to his waist. He guessed that it must be some gift for him. Sudama was shy to offer it but Krishna snatched the bundle and relished his favourite food. While departing, sudama could not ask anything from his close friend neither did Krishna offer him any help. Sudama was a bit disappointed and returned back unhappy. However, when he reached home, he was surprised to see huge mansion in the place of his house and could not recognise his wife and kids who were in good clothes. He guessed that it was the magic of Lord Krishna. This place was known as 'Sudama Puri' for a long time and later it was renamed as Porbandar. Our next spot was Kirti Mandir.
Kirti Mandir : The place where Mahatma Gandhi spent his childhood is now named as 'Kirti Mandir' and is a national monument now. When we visited this place, they first take us to a small room where Gandhiji was born. The famous charkha and the spinning cotton thread is also kept here. On the first floor, there is a photo exhibition which is an amazing collection of photos of his lifetime. This is really worth visiting. When we went to this place, it was already 6:30 and it is closed by 7:00. so we hardly got 20 minutes to view the photographs. I wished we had got more time but they were strict about it. This was our last tourist spot for the day and soon we were at the hotel of gujarat tourism. This hotel was near the porbandar beach. There is also a big chowpaty near the beach. Lot of activity was going on there but we were too tired to walk out.
Day 3

Somnath - Verawal :
The next day was monday and we were going to visit Lord Shiva's temple at Somnath. Since monday is the special for Lord Shiva, we were anticipating a lot of crowd at the temple. So we started early again and within 2 hours, we were close to verawal. There are 2 tourist spots in the way.
Triveni Ghat : This is the place where Lord Krishna was cremated. It is also the place where the 3 rivers - Hiran, Kapil & Saraswati merge and meet the arabian sea. Saraswati river is not visible now and it is said to be in hidden form (gupt). A chatri (tomb like structure) is created where Lord Krishna was cremated. This is considered to be an important part of the saurashtra pilgrimage. People come here to immerse ashes of the near ones who have left for the heavenly abode. There are few temples nearby which are worth visiting. One is the Lakshmi-Narayan temple which contains beautiful idols of Vishnu and Lakshmi. There is one more Balaram temple nearby. The sheshanaga is the mighty serpent where Vishnu rests, so it is like a protector for him. When Vishnu took the Krishna avtar, the sheshanaga came on the earth in the form of his elder brother, Balarama. He acted as his protector on earth. After the Krishna avtar was over, Balarama also had to leave the planet. He is supposed to have gone underground (patala) at a place near the triveni ghat. The balaram mandir also known as dauji ki gufa or balaram's cave is contructed at this place. Inside the temple, you have to climb down the stairs to a place underground where you can worship the idols of Balaram and sheshanaga.
Bhalka Tirth : This is the place where Shri Krishna was fatally wounded by a huntman named Jara who mistook him as a deer. Shri Krishna was resting on a deerskin but the hunter thought that it was a deer and aimed the arrow. It is said that the hunter his previous birth, during Ramayana, was Vali and Vishnu in the form of Lord Rama had killed him in order to get the help of Sugriva. But Vishnu believed in justice and gave Vali, the right to kill him in his next avtar of Lord Krishna. When Lord Krishna thought that he had completed his duties on the planet, he gave up his life. Soon after his death, Dwarka was merged under the sea. This place is also called as Prabhaas Kshetra. A temple dedicated to Shri Krishna is constructed here and named as the 'Bhalka Tirth' temple. The temple has an idol of Shri Krishna, who is resting down after being hurt by the arrow. We took darshan and sat in the temple for some time. Our next destination was Somnath.
Somnath : This temple is just 5 kms away from Verawal. The most amazing thing about this temple is that it has been attacked so many times by destroyers but still it has survived and stands tall as one of the most beautiful temples in India. This is one of the 12 Jyotirlingas of Lord Shiva hence it has religious importance also. The temple has imposing architecture and is a beautiful sight facing the blue expanse of the Arabian Sea.

Now, about its history...This temple was originally built by the Moon God himself. It is said that moon was so infatuated by his wife Rohini that he ignored his other 26 wives, who were the daughters of Daksha Prajapati. This enraged him and he cursed the moon that he would wane. who used to shine in full splendor every night till then, started to shrink. Brahma then advised him to pray to Lord Shiva so that his illness would be cured. Lord Shiva removed the curse partially, thus causing the periodic waning of moon. In return of this gesture, the moon god built this temple for Lord Shiva and Shiva came to be known as Somanath, the Lord of the moon. Since it was destroyed and rebuilt for several times, the current temple is the seventh temple built to commemorate the glory of Lord Somnath.
According to the legends, Soma, the moon God built the temple in gold, Ravan in silver, Krishna in wood and king Bhimdev of Anhilwad in stone. The major attacks were made by Arab governor of Sind, Mahmud Ghazni & the mughal emperor, Aurangzeb. Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, then Home Minister & the first Deputy Prime Minister of India took a pledge on November 13, 1947 for its reconstruction for the seventh time. It was completed on December 1 and President of India, Dr. Rajendra Prasad dedicated it in the service of the nation. I was not aware of the rich history of Somnath until I read a book that I had purchased in the tour. After reading it, I became more and more curious to visit the temple.
When we came near the temple arena, we had to deposit our mobiles and cameras. This was slightly disappointing as I wanted a few snaps of the carvings but I understood the security concern. The beauty of the temple is evident from a big distance also. It stands gracefully on the sea coast and there is only a big wall dividing the temple and the beach. The sea waves collide against the wall and create a nice background roar. Immense and huge, the temple is made of lime stone available locally. We were now in the line for the darshan but in no hurry as we were getting more time to absorb the beauty of the structure. Soon, we were in front of the spacious garbhalaya where the tall shivlinga is kept for darshan. The shivlinga is 4 feet tall, white in color and is dressed in a sohala (religious cloth). Although, there is continous rush here, suitable time is given for darshan. My mother wanted to meditate so we all sat down and meditated for sometime. Later we made a pradakshina to the whole temple. There are numerous pillars that support the temple and they all are full of intricate carvings.
Beautiful Somnath temple
Somnath temple - Lighted at night
Some other devotees informed us that there is a special sound and light show at night time. However, we were going to miss the show as our night halt was scheduled at Junagad. I just wanted to make the most of the time we were going to spend here. We had a good look at all the carvings and went towards the sea. You can sit on the wall that separates the temple from the sea and enjoy the beauty of the place. In addition, there are benches arranged near the wall. We all sat down on the benches and discussed our further tour plans. So far, this was the most relaxing day of our tour so we chatted about the tourist spots covered so far.

There is one more small temple of Shiva near the main temple. This temple was built by Rani Ahilyadevi, the queen of the holkar dynasty, who was a great patron of hindu temples. When Ahilyadevi saw the destroyed temple, she took the decision to rebuilt it. This is a typical maharashtrian style Shiva temple. We were hungry by now and rushed for lunch to the gujarat tourism hotel nearby. Our next tourist spot was Sasan Gir - the wildlife sanctuary.
Sasan-Gir : The home of the asiatic lions
Soon after lunch, we started for Sasan-Gir. This was the only spot in Saurashtra that had some fun and adventure elements. This wildlife sanctuary is mostly famous for the asiatic lions though its also the home for leopard, hyena, neelgai(blue bull), wild boars and a number of birds like the serpent and hawk eagles.
Spotted Deers in the forest
As you approach the gir forest area, you can spot some animals in the thick forest. The neelgai is commonly spotted...and also the deers. A herd of deers can be traced easily due to the spots on their skin. You can hear some bird chirping followed by the roar of a lion. However, getting a glimpse of the asiatic lion in this area is very rare. For that, you have to take the wild life safari. There are 2 types of safari - one is where you hire a private jeep and explore the forest yourself and the second option is taking the tour conducted by the forest department. The second option guarantees that you can view atleast one lion and you are not disappointed. The department arranges for men who trace the current location of the lions and the driver of the mini-bus is in contact with these people so he takes the bus in that direction. The road through the forest area was difficult for driving and we took a lot of time to reach our destination.

A 4 sq. km stretch within the park, called the Gir Interpretation Zone has been separately marked and has a variety of wildlife. The tours are conducted from this point. We collected the tickets from the main office. Outside the office, there were people selling postcards and books with numerous photos of the asiatic lions and leopards in action. People getting down from the buses were chatting in excited voices about the lions and cubs they had seen. That renewed our hopes about seeing the majestic lion in its natural habitat. Soon it was our turn for the safari. Luckily, we were seated in the first row and had a nice view from all the sides.

The driver was now communicating with the trackers on walkie-talkie. We were now in front of a herd of sambhars. They did not make any movement but stood gazing at us. It showed that the animals in this interpretation zone were used to human beings and did not consider them as threats. Still ahead there was a neelgai and a big group of deers. Everyone was eager to see the lion now. The tracker had spotted a lioness and her cubs somewhere nearby and the driver was now heading towards that direction. On this way, we saw a wild boar and some interesting birds. Suddenly the driver halted the bus and pointed us to a figure approaching the bus. It was her highness, the lioness walking towards the bus, in what we call as a beautiful cat walk. She gazed at the bus and then quietly sat down under the tree nearby. By now, the crowd in the bus was overexcited and difficult to control. All of us took numerous shots on cameras and mobiles. The driver then took us at another location where there were 3 cubs sitted on the ground. They appeared in deep slumber and hardly moved. This last 10 minutes of the safari were immensely satisfying. The driver took 2 more rounds to the same spot. Soon we were back to the point where we had started the safari. It was 6:00 pm and there was only one tour scheduled after ours. We travelled out of the forest region and went towards Junagadh for the night halt.
Day 4

Junagadh - The Princely State
This city is located at the foot of Girnar hills and the name 'Junagadh' comes from the old fort, which circles the town. This was the former nawabi capital and hence the city abundant in palaces, mosques, tombs and minars. Its interesting that junagadh is the house of the different cultures...you can see hindu temples, buddhist monuments and mosques, all at the same place. It is an ideal place for those with an interest in architecture and a taste for history. The city was also associated with emperor ashoka, which is evident from the buddhist inscriptions and the buddhist caves found inside the fort. It takes 2-3 hours to complete the city tour so we started at around 9:00 am. Our first tourist spot was the old fort, known as the Upparkot fort.

Upparkot Fort : Just like the city, this fort has been under hindu, muslim and buddhist influences and witnessed the changes in lifestyle. It is a strong fort and has survived several attacks due to its difficult access and strategic location. At the entrance of the fort, there is a hindu toran. As you stroll inside the fort, you come across the 2 famous wells called as adi-kadi vav. There are around 120 steps till the bottom of the well. Another deep well is the navghan kuvo, which is built in soft stone and has a circular staircase. One site that is worth visiting is the Buddhist caves.

The buddhist caves are fine examples of rock cut architecture. There are monastic cells cut from rocks and were used for meditation. The entrances are carved beautifully and there is good ventilation everywhere. Other than that, there is a famous canon called the "nilam" canon, presented to the nawab of Junagadh by the king of turkey. You can spend around 1 hour at the fort and come back to the city.

Ashoka's rock edicts : This is a place where you can see 14 rock edicts of Emperor Ashoka inscribed on a boulder. The inscriptions carry Bramhi script in Pali language. Inscriptions in sanskrit have been added on them later. The inscriptions preach us about the different virtues like purity of thought, gratitude, devotion, self control etc. In his later life, King Ashoka repented about the Kalinga war and the destruction caused by it. The inscriptions also speak about this repentence of war and preach humanity. Close to this place, there is a beautiful maqbara called the Mohabat Maqbara.
Mohabat Maqbara : This is the place where Nawab Mohabat Khan II, Bahadur Khan III and Rasool Khan were buried. The structure reflects the architecture of the 18th century, with carved columns, domes, minars and spiral staircases. This is a combination of the nawabi and gujarati jharoka architecture.

Narsi Mehta no choro : This is the place where the great saint, Narsi Mehta ji held his assemblies. He was a great devotee of Lord Krishna, who is supposed to have saved his devotee several times in his life. It is just a small corner where he used to sit and address people. Nearby, there is a shrine of the saint and a gallery of paintings that tell the story of his life.

Mount Girnar : This is one of the most sacred Siddha Kshetra, which means the gateway of enlightenment. It is believed that Shri Guru Dutta had meditated at the top of the mountain and his padukas are still kept here for darshan. The 22nd Tirthankara, Bhagwan Neminath, seeked moksha, the highest state of enlightenment at this place. Hence it is a pilgrimage place for both Hindus and Jains. Several thousands of munis attain salvation at this place every year. They stay inside the caves formed in the huge mountains.

Though there are several myths associated with this mountain, this gigantic rock mountain was formed due to a huge volcano. It stands tall at a height of 1,100 above sea level and there are around 10,000 steps to climb the top. The magnificient rock structure is hollow from inside and there are several caves where the rishi-munis meditate. We had decided not to climb this mountain as it was going to be too hectic and there was no rest time after that. However, we visited the Bhavnath (Shiva) temple at the base of the girnar hills. From this point, you can have a nice view of the mountain with the help of telescope. There are several levels on this mountain. At the first level, 4500 steps from the bottom, there is a temple of Bhagwan Neminath. Most jains climb only till this point. 1000 steps above this level, there is a temple of Ambaji, where newly weds pray for a happy married life. And at the top, which is approx 10,000 steps from the base, you can take darshan of Shri Guru Datta Padukas. From the telescope, we could view the Jain temple and the Ambaji temple. Once in a year, the munis come out of the caves and make a pradakshina to the whole base of the girnar hill. We made a pradakshina with sitting inside the qualis :). While leaving this place, I made a point to come back and climb the mount girnar till the top.

It was time for lunch now. We had a quick lunch at the hotel and boarded our luggage in the qualis. Our next destination was Palitana, the city of temples. On the way, we stopped at Virpur, to visit the shrine of Jalaram Bapa, the great saint of gujarat.
Virpur : Virpur is famous for the shrine of shri Jalaram Bapa. Saint Jalaram is worshipped by lot of communities in Gujarat just like Gajanan Maharaj in maharashtra. Many people arrange padyatras (long walks) to come for worship. The main object of Jalarambapa was to provide food to every human being, and still today it's the tradition to serve food at the temple to any human being without taking payment in return. On the way to the temple, there is a big market of exquisite jewellery. There was a huge line in front of the temple but it was fast moving and we got darshan in around 40 minutes. The "Samadhi" of Shri Jalaram Bapa is on the feet of God Shri Ram Chandra. Shri Hanumanji's Idol is also Placed near the "Samadhi". There is another hall where free prasad and tea is served for visitors. However, we did not have much time on hand and proceeded our journey.
By 7:00 pm, we reached Palitana. The hotel here was among the best of the ones owned by gujarat tourism. When we saw a few foreigners in the lobby, we understood the reason why the hotel is maintained so well. The receptionist informed us that every year hundreds of foreigners visited this place, few for the sheer adventure of climbing and few for the love of art. We had light kadhi-khichdi & papads for dinner. The next day was going to be a test for us as there is a lot of climbing on the shatrunjaya hills. After requesting the hotel authority for an early alarm, we went to sleep early.
Day 5

Palitana
This is one of the most picturesque pilgrim centres in India. Located on Shetrunjaya hill, there are around 863 temples exquisitely carved in marble. It is like a temple city. But to watch this spectacular sight, you have to climb around 3745 steps (height of 1800 feet) on the Shatrunjaya hills. Though the steps are comfortable, it is not an easy task and most old ladies or asthama patients prefer to take the doli. As decided on the earlier night, we all got up at about 4:00 in the morning and were ready by 5:00. After a 10 minutes route, we were at the base of the hills.
Temple Structures at the Base

Initially we were climbing a bit fast but soon we realized that we would be running out of stamina soon so we reduced the pace and kept it steady. It was dark outside and there were a few early climbers like us. After a few steps, we could see the first set of the temples which are near the base. All these temples are made in marble and carved beautifully...those who cannot climb to the top generally spend their time at this place.
After climbing for some time, we took a small break watched the view below and took some snaps. The dolis were going up frequently...a few doli people requested us to take their service but we had already made our mind to climb till the top. The cool morning breezes kept us refreshed and we made a point to take a break after every 500-800 steps. In between, there was plain road and that distance was covered fast. After sunrise, our pace got reduced slightly and frequency of the breaks increased. However, we kept encouraging each other to continue. After around 2 hours, we saw the first sight of the temples. Imagine 2 peaks covered with marble temples of varying shapes and sizes ! It is a feast to the eyes...you feel like going closer to them and touch them to see if they are real as it really looks like a fantasy land. Soon, we were at the the first level of the shrines where there are idols of all the Jain Tirthankaras. From there on, there are shrines at each level just like waves of the sea. You have to climb around 15-20 steps to go to the next level.
Temple complexes at the Top
Beautiful carvings on the Sandstone
It is said that the marble was brought from Rajasthan and had to be carried in blocks to the top. The construction of these magnificent temples is the result of the effort of the wealthy businessmen who were followers of Jainism. The main temple is that of that of the first teerthankara, Shri Adishwar. The most famous temples are those of Adinath, Kumarpal, Vimalshah, Samprati Raja and the Chomukh. Besides there are temples dedicated to Hindu gods and goddesses like Saraswati, Shiva, Hanuman etc. We strolled around and visited as many temples as possible. This is one tourist spot where the beauty of the place cannot be trapped in photos...you take countless snaps but still you find some new sculpture and feel like taking one more.
It takes minimum one hour to visit the main temples. After some time, we were totally exhausted and relaxed at a place. Dolis were coming and going. Some old jain ladies managed to climb with lot of determination. It was mentioned somewhere that you don't get the fruits of the yatra if you eat anything. Accordingly, there were no eatables available at the top. However, there was a person selling curds. Me and my mother decided not to have anything but the rest of the group had some curds. There was a peak on the other side of the mountain, where there are similar temple structures. Initially we wanted to visit that but there was no stamina left. After some time, it started getting hotter and we decided to climb down. It took around 1 and a half hour to climb down. On the way, we had to take frequent breaks. The heat had taken a toll on us and we were totally dehydrated...especially me and my mom, who had not eaten anything. As soon as we came down, we drank lots of limbu sharbat and refreshed ourselves. When we were leaving Palitana, we suddenly realized that we were at the fag end of the tour. There was only one tourist spot left, which was going to be covered on the way to baroda. The last few days had been really exciting and getting back to routine was a bit depressing. During the journey, all of us were sleeping due to exhaustion. I wondered if anyone would have the energy to view the ancient civilization of Lothal.
Lothal
This was one of the most prominent cities of the ancient Indus Valley civilization. The meaning of Lothal in Gujarathi is "the mound of the dead". The civilization is similar to the Mohenjodaro and Harappa cities who were of the same era. Lothal's dock connected the city to an ancient course of the Sabarmati river on the trade route between Harappan cities in Sindh and the peninsula of Saurashtra. It was a vital and thriving trade centre in ancient times, and its trade of beads, gems and valuable ornaments reached the far corners of West Asia and Africa. It is not clear as to how the whole civilization was merged under water but it is believed to be burried due to floods.

There is a small musuem which hosts the different things obtained during the excavation - mainly beads, gemstones, pottery, utensils, fish-hooks, chisels, spears. It takes around one hour to view the objects in the musuem. The unique objects are featured in an ongoing presentation inside the musuem. You can also go to the excavation site where you can see the ancient houses, wells, marketplace and the dock. The dock is a proof that the city was well connected with the west and there was a lot of trading going on. Archaeologically, it was a structured and well planned city which is evident from the site. There was also a proper drainage system, which is a surprising development in that era. The excavation site is amazing. We were too tired to explore the full site but whatever we saw was very exciting.
Lothal Excavation Site
That was our last tourist spot and we were on the way to Baroda. Someone has said that "Traveling is almost like talking with men of other centuries". This is so true about Saurashtra. Dwarka, Somnath, Junagadh...each has its own history to tell. While visiting all this together, you feel like travelling from one era to another !
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Sunday, June 8, 2008

Coastal Karnataka Tour

Coastal Karnataka Tour Guide :: A Comprehensive Coastal Karnataka Tour Itinerary
Coastal Karnataka Tour takes you to the beautiful temples and waterfalls in the coastal region of Karnataka. Hence it is often referred as a 'Coastal Karnataka Temple Tour'. A travel to Coastal Karnataka should be planned mostly after the monsoon season so that all the waterfalls are in full form. The best of Coastal Karnataka Tourist Places are Murudeshwar, Sirsi and Gokarna. However, a Coastal Karnataka tour itinerary cannot be complete without Karwar & Udupi. I was impressed with what all I saw there but I feel that coastal Karnataka tourism must still make better provisions for tourists.
Here is a short summary of the tourist places and accomodation. We visited Udupi, Murudeshwar, Gokarna and Karwar in the first trip. In the second one, we visited Yellapur, Dandeli and Sirsi. I have mentioned the hotel names where we stayed and it does not mean that they are the best ones. RNS Residency and Banana County Resort are quite luxurious and I would certainly recommend them. Compared to them Kediyoor, Bhadra, Panchavati are not so luxurious but they are clean and economical. I was not very happy with the hotel Gokarna International but it is convenient for stay due to it's proximity to the temple.
Location Places worth visiting Accomodation
Udupi Gomateshwar statue, Annegudi Mahaganapati Temple, Marwanthe Beach, Shri Krishna Temple Hotel Kediyoor
(0820) 2522381, 2523382
Murudeshwar Murudeshwar Temple, Murudeshwar Beach, Shiva Statue Park, Idagunji Maha Ganapati Temple, Jog falls RNS Residency
(08385) 260060, 268900
Gokarna Mahableshwara Temple, Maha Ganapati Temple, Gokarna Beach, Om Beach Hotel Gokarna International
(08386) 256622
Karwar Devbagh Beach, Ravindranath Tagore Beach Hotel Bhadra
(08382) 225212, 225213
Yellapur Magod falls, Dandeli Wildlife Sanctuary Banana County Resort
(08419) 262838, 261438
Sirsi Sahasralingas, Madhukeshwara Temple at Banavasi, Marikamba Temple, Unchelli Falls, Yana Rocks Hotel Panchavati
(08384) 236755, 235163

My Travel Itinerary
I am a total gypsy at heart and travelling suits me most. While travelling, you can really unwind and set yourself fancy free. Ideally, I would like to visit the Pyramids of Egypt but atleast I can start by exploring my own country first. If you have a small group and a private vehicle, then there's nothing like it. You can visit the places you want...even the unconventional ones but which you find interesting. I chose Coastal Karnataka mainly because I love the beaches on this belt and I like to visit temples too. We found most of the tourist information on the internet but decided not to follow the conventional route. This trip was of special significance for me for 2 reasons - I had not gone out with my family anywhere for a long time and secondly, I was going to sponsor the whole expense of the tour. So I wanted to plan in such a way that the tour would be economical yet luxurious and in general there wouldn't be any inconvenience for my parents. Luckily it worked that way and it turned out to be one of my memorable tours so far.
Here's a short description of the places we visited :

Day 1

Udupi Tour

Our first destination was Udupi and we reached there early morning. We had already booked a hotel named Kediyoor which was nearest to the bus stand. This was one of the few hotels in coastal karnataka whose information is available on internet so we chose it. We checked in and found the hotel room meeting our requirement. It's damn cheap too.
The room had a nice breakfast table and chairs and that reminded us that we were hungry. Since udupi is famous for its south indian dishes, breakfast was very tempting. We ordered masala dosas and special tea which was served immediately. The sambar aroma was refreshing and I relished the dosa with sambar-chutney. I was surprised by the breakfast bill....South Indian food was quite cheap here and the hotel service was also equally good. Soon we were ready for a tour of the temples around udupi. I suggested that after the heavy breakfast, we would skip lunch for the day so that we could visit more places and my parents agreed to that. The receptionist informed us that he could arrange a car for a day tour and soon he arranged for an ambassador. The driver was an old guy but quite helpful and luckily he knew about most of the temples and other good spots around the city. We started with the Gomateshwar statue at karkala.
Gomateshwara Statue - Karkala
Gomateshwara Statue Karkala
The main attraction of this spot is a statue of 42 feet high statue of bahubali which stands high over a small mountain. The statue is similar to the one at sharavan belgola but I think its slightly smaller than that. There are around 50-60 steps to the top and soon you are close to the statue. By the time we reached there, we were sweating but the lovely coastal breezes at the top refreshed us. The statue is amazing and the place is quite clean. A beautiful panoramic view at the top is soothing to the eyes and we were glad we didn't miss this spot. Owing to the post monsoon season, there was a lot of greenery. I could see a huge belt of rice fields bordered with coconut trees. After a quick stroll around the statue and a few snaps, there was not much we could do here . If you are in a group, you can sit and chat here but otherwise, you can move on to the next spot.
Chaturmukha Basadi
Our driver suggested this unique jain temple nearby which is also quite unique. This temple is built on a solid base of 108 pillars and it took around 30 years for construction. There are 3 huge statues of jain tirthankaras Arinath, Mallinath & Manusvrathnath. These statues are visible from all the sides and hence the name of the temple. I love jain temples because they are artistically well designed and maintained like that. This temple is also very clean.
The Temple Structure
Chaturmukha Basadi
Anegudde Sri Vinayaka Temple
We had heard about the Anegudde Sri Vinayaka Temple so decided to go there straight from karkala. As we proceeded to the temple, we enjoyed the greenery and the beautiful scenery on both the sides. While passing over the bridges, we could see few small islands formed in the sea. These islands were full of greenery and coconut trees as the monsoon was just over. I felt as if I was in Kerala.
Now, about the temple...Anegudde means elephant [ane] hillock [gudde] - abode of the elephant. This place is also called as Kumbashi. The story behind this temple is that agasthya rishi had come to this town to perform a yagna. The demon kumbhasura tried to disrupt the yagna by troubling the sages performing it. To rescue the sages, Lord Ganesha blessed bheema with a sword (called as asi) using which he killed the kumbhasura. Hence the name Kumbashi. The face of the ganesha idol is made with gold so its called as 'swarnamukhi ganapati'. The people here believe that the forest region was previously known as kunjaranya and ganapati used to meditate in this forest. Hence ganapati, mostly known as mahaganapati, has special importance in this area. The idol of ganesha with the golden face is amazing. There are beautiful carvings around the main idol that depict the different events in mahabharata. There is also an ayyapa swami temple nearby which is worth a short visit.
Shri Annegudde Mahavinayak Temple

Anegudde Sri Vinayaka Temple Kumbashi
Old Ganapati Temple - Hattiangadi
On the way back to Udupi, we halted at another beautiful ganapati temple. This idol is also amazing and we liked the different forms of ganapati sculptured in black stone. On the inner side, there is a shiva temple which was built in the 9th century. This is known as the loknath temple. It contains idols of Shiva, Parvati, Vinayaka and Lakshmi Narayana. The significance of this temple is that it has survived for so many centuries and all the idols are intact.
Maravanthe Beach
Maravanthe Beach Udupi
This is a beautiful beach near the trasi village also known as the trasi beach. The beach is quite wide and we can have a long walk on it. However, there is nothing much to watch here. We noticed a nariyal pani wala at the corner and got refreshed with nice coconut water.
Shaligram
A small but beautiful temple of narsimha is located at shaligram. We gave a quick visit to this place. There is also a ved pathshala adjoining to the temple.
Ambalapadi
This is another old temple (400 years old) of Lord Janardhana. Another temple close to it is of the goddess mahakali that contains a unique 5 feet statue of the goddess. It is beautifully decorated with sculptures of different forms of goddess durga.
Shri Krishna Temple
We had noticed a photograph of the Shri Krishna temple at the Udupi railway station so we were very curious to visit that. By the time we came back to the city, it was quite late (around 7:00). The driver was positive that we could attend the special arti performed daily in the evening. As we entered the temple, we could see the huge rush for the arti. The whole place was lighted with diyas and looked wonderful. Direct darshana of Shri Krishna is not available. One has to stand in a queue and come till a window like structure with holes to view the beautiful idol.
Shri Krishna Temple Udupi
That was our last tourist destination in the city. Our driver suggested a shopping store for special rasam & sambar powder (Diana stores - open on sunday also) so we bought some packets of the same. We were really thankful to the driver for covering all the spots and that too in time. Our next destination was Murudeshwar.
Day 2

Murudeshwar Tour
From Udupi we took a bus to Murudeshwar. Its a 2 hour distance and we reached there by 10:00 in the morning. We had made a booking at hotel RNS Residency also known as the Shetty Residency, which is close to the temple. As we arrived to the hotel in a rickshaw, we could see the temple and a huge idol of Shiva created on a small hillock. This idol is 123 feet high and one of the tallest shiva idols in the world. In fact, we had seen it from the train also. We could also see the murudeshwar beach. The hotel turned out too good, par above expectations. It is owned by the famous industrialist, R.N. Shetty, who also owns the Murudeshwara ceramics. We later came to know that it was he who had developed the whole temple region and the township nearby.
In the hotel, we got a nice room with a sea view. The hotel is so close to the sea that you can see the waves colliding against the base. Its as if the hotel is based in the sea itself. I have never seen the sea so closely. The beach is like a lagoon formed by the arabian sea. The sea view was so relaxing that we sat in the balcony for a couple of hours. From there, we could see the Shiva Idol and the people visiting the temple. Thanks to this hotel and the amazing view, murudeshwar has become one of my favourite tourist stop. After the soothing sea experience, it was time for lunch. The hotel had a nice lawn, garden and a swimming pool so we strolled around and had lunch at the hotel itself.
After a short afternoon nap, it was time for a tourist visit. We walked down to the temple and took darshan of the Lord Murudeshwara. Murudeshwara is actually a form of Shankara Mahadev and he had taken this form to fight the demons who used to trouble the rishis performing meditation. That is why this form of shankara looks very aggressive. The local people have a lot of faith in this god. Surrounding the temple, there are a number of small temples, each devoted to a god. This is a general style in South India. I remember the amazing statue of Lord Hanuman. After taking darshan at all the temples, we stopped and watched the top of the temple (called as Kalas). There are a number of carvings on this, which depict the tales in Mahabharata. The area around the temple is still being developed.
We then proceeded to the hillock on which the idol of Shankara is located. Its a nice hillock with lot of greenery and the idol really stands out due to its height. The view at the top is worth watching as you can watch the beach and the sea from here. There are a number of sculptures created around the idol. I liked the huge one of Lord Shri Krishna in his chariot giving the geeta updesha to arjuna. There is one more of Ganapati with Vyas Muni writing Mahabharata. Also, there are small idols of rishis doing meditation (different forms of dhyana) and one of ravana holding the shivlinga in his hand. After taking a few snaps, we headed towards the murudeshwar beach.
Shiva Idol on the hillock
Sculptures near the Shiva Idol
Murudeshwar Shiva Statue park sculptures
The beach is okay types...not very clean but still we can sit here for some time. There is one restaurant called naveen restaurant right in the water. It is surrounded by water from all sides and a narrow road takes us to the restaurant. we had a nice dinner at this place and ended the tour for the day. The next day, we had planned to go to the jog falls and it was quite a long travel so we slept early. We had already requested the hotel receptionist to arrange for a sumo.
Day 3

Honnavar Tour
We had early breakfast and started for Jog falls via Honnavar. Honnavar is actually a center for coastal karnataka tour and one can stay here also. However, there are few good hotels here so everyone prefers to stay at Murudeshwar or Sirsi.
Ida Gunji Mahaganapati Temple

Near Honnavar, we visited the famous temple of Idagunji. This is a 2 handed ganapati holding modaka and padma(lotus) in his hands. This Ganapati is similar to the one in Gokarna. According to legend, Ganapati stayed in Kunjaranya, which is now renamed as Idagunji (Ida Kunja). It is said to be the place where the ancient rishis meditated. We noticed that there is a tradition of offering lotus flowers to Ganapati in this coastal region and the idols are also generally in black stone.
Jog Falls

From there onwards, the whole road is through the mountains. If we go soon after the monsoon season, we can see a lot of small waterfalls here. Best time to visit this place is August to September. Although the journey is slightly long, its enjoyable due to the constant sight of waterfalls of varied heights. Soon we were at our destination and headed to the spot where we could watch the mighty Jog falls. One gets really thrilled to watch the spectacle of the river sharavati taking a leap at a height of about 292 M.
Jog Falls
There are 4 distinct falls - Raja, Rani, Rocket & Roarer. These names are assigned owing to the distinct characteristics of the falls.

Raja : Dignified and serene fall

Rani : Winding and twisting fall like that of the female dances

Roarer : This stream appears out of a mass of rocks making a lot of noise

Rocket : Consists of large volume of water streaming out of a small opening at a high speed.
I had heard from someone that the falls are a big disappointment but I guessed that she must have gone in the wrong season, as what we saw was too good. We spent a lot of time enjoying the falls. There are a number of points from which you can watch the falls and you can get some nice snaps with the help of professional photographers. You can also eat a variety of fruits like pineapple, grapes etc. We observed that people were going to some other point and followed them. There is a point where the sharavati river actually converts into a fall and it is a mindblowing experience to view the falls from this point. We can literally experience the whole mass of water tumbling down with a big noise. After strolling around a bit, we got hungry. The driver told us that there were not many options other than the KTDC (Karnataka Tourist Development Corporation) where we could have nice south indian food. The medu wada sambar here was lovely. There was not much we could do here so started for our next destination, Gokarna. On the way back to Honnavar, we stopped at only one place where we could see the deep sharavati valley. After having tea at the kamat hotel, we started for Gokarna.
Aum Beach
We checked in at the hotel Gokarna International and released the Sumo. We were a little doubtful of whether to relax or visit something. Finally we decided not to waste the day and enquired about the places we could visit at this time. The receptionist suggested that we could visit the Aum beach and arranged an auto rickshaw for the same. The name 'Aum' comes from the shape of the beach which is like the sanskrit letter Aum. As we the auto climbed a mountain, we could see the Aum structure.
Aum Beach
The whole place is rocky, similar to goa beaches. This place is very popular amongst foreigners for its picturesque location. There is also a resort named the 'Aum Beach Resort' close to the beach. We sat on the rocks and watched the sunset at this place. The rickshaw then took us back to the hotel. It was time for dinner and we ate a nice thali at a nearby hotel. We had decided to go to the Gokarna Mahableshwar temple early in the morning so went to sleep early.
Day 4

Gokarna Mahableshwar Temple
The next morning, we got up early and got ready fast. We were expecting some rush at the temple so hurried there literally. We walked to the temple to get an idea of the place. Though we had heard that its a powerful kshetra, we had not much idea of its power till the pandit told us. The pandit informed us that the power of the temple is equal to the 12 Jyotirlingas. The actual linga is slightly below the ground and there is a story behind all this.
The pandit told us that Ravana performed a penance and worshipped Lord Shiva who was pleased and offered him a shivlinga. He blessed him and told that if he could carry the shivlinga to his home place without keeping it on the ground, he would get unlimited power. Ravana was overjoyed and hurried to his home, passing through the dense forests of the coastal region. In the meantime, the gods came to know about this and got worried about the implications. They came to Lord Ganapati and prayed for a solution. If ravana got this unlimited power, he would destroy the world. The witty god then took the form of a gurakhi (who takes care of cows) and then followed ravana. Soon ravana got the nature's call and happened to see this gurakhi. As he couldn't wait any longer, he gave the shivlinga to the gurakhi requesting him not to keep it down. Ganapati immediately took the opportunity and kept it on the ground. The linga went towards the 'patala' and could not offer any power to ravana. That is why this shivlinga is slightly underground and you can only bend and touch the tip of the linga. Anyone who touches it and offers prayers in the form of abhisheka (with water and milk) is blessed with Lord Shiva's blessings. Once in 12 years, the linga is brought out for worship. Otherwise we can just see the outer layer called the 'satupitha'. We did an abhishek and prayed for the well being of our family. I felt divine after touching the shivlinga. It was like connecting to your own soul.
After spending some time at the temple, we visited another temple, the Mahaganapati temple. The ganesha idol, made in black stone, is pleasant and similar to the ida gunje temple. Offering lotus flowers to this idol is considered auspicious so we offered a bunch and prayed for some time. The gokarna beach is nearby and we spent some time on it. Nothing significant about this beach...it was hot outside and we gulped some coconut water for strength. Soon we had to hurry back to our hotel as it was time to move to our next destination. we had a nice breakfast and went straight to the bus stand. There is a direct bus to karwar but we missed it narrowly so we had to change the bus at one place.
Karwar
From Gokarna, we had booked hotel Bhadra at karwar. It was at 10 mins distance from the bus stop so we reached there by lunch time. This hotel was much better than gokarna and there was a small restaurant nearby where they served thali. Our main interest was a visit to the Devbagh Beach Resort. Luckily, booking for the devbagh resort is done at a place just opposite to the hotel. There are 2 packages for the resort - One is a 2 Hr package that consists of a motor boat ride to the resort, about 2 hours stay at the beach and a ride back. The other package is a night stay and offers some entertainment activities like camp fire and bird watching. Due to lack of time, we selected the first plan. We were supposed to wait at a spot for the motor boat that was going to take us to this spot. I was bubbling with excitement.
Devbagh Beach Resort - A Pleasant Experience
The journey to the resort was wonderful as we could see a lot of small islands on the coastal belt. The devbagh resort itself is an island covered with the tall suru trees on one side and a lush golden beach on the other. We have to walk down a jungle like path to visit the beach. On the inner side, there are huts for night stay and a small hotel for snacks. The beach was wonderful and it reminded me of the golden beach I had read somewhere in the phantom books. There are a number of relaxing benches where we can just lay down and watch the water. My parents relaxed on the bench but I decided to explore the beach. Soon I noticed a unique type of spiral shells that were available in abundant quantity at this beach. I got busy in collecting them. There was a belt of sand that went inside the water to a deep point. At that point, I got more such spiral shells. Later, I joined my parents to relax on the bench. After an hour or so, we decided to explore the jungle like area on the other side. The suru trees and creepers that had grown on them gave it a jungle like feel. We noticed a different kind of birds too. This island is really worth a visit. Soon we were back in the motor boat but wished we had got more time to explore here.
Beautiful Huts for accomodation
Devbagh Beach Resort Karwar
It was evening when we were back to the hotel. We decided to try the food at the restaurant owned by Hotel Bhadra. The restaurant had a bar also but we ignored that as I was eager to try the typical sea food over here. Soon, it was filled with young guys and they put on some loud music. I felt as if I was in goa. That way karwar is quite close to Goa and the similarity in the culture is reflected many times. I ordered fish, prawns and kaju curry and thoroughly enjoyed the preparation. This was almost our last day as we were going to start back to pune the next afternoon.
On the last day, we were planning to visit something nearby but we did not want that to be hectic. We chose to visit a beautiful beach, named as the Tagore Beach. It is one of the silent beaches with very few visitors. Rabindranath Tagore had visited this place and loved this beach hence the name. We just sat on the beach and chatted for some time. By the time we came back to the hotel, it was 11:00. After having a quick lunch, we were on our way to Mapsa, Goa. Since we had not done any railway reservation, we decided to take a bus to Goa and another from Goa to Pune. I was happy that we could experience the coastal side for some more time and wondered when we would visit the sea again. The coastal side had made us forget our worries atleast for some time. someone has trully said As I gaze upon the sea, all my dreams come back to me. We hoped to come back to this region again with new dreams.
My second trip to Coastal Karnataka

After a few years, we got a beautiful opportunity to explore the places in coastal karnataka which we had missed earlier. I strongly believe that somewhere my faith in Atmalinga of Lord Shiva at Gokarna brought me back here. However, this time we had decided that it would be more of a relaxing trip. We had booked a car from Hubli which took us to Yellapur.
Our first destination was the beautiful Banana County Resort at Yellapur. This resort is situated in a thick forest and enjoys close proximity to a couple of waterfalls. We can also visit Sirsi, Yana, Dandeli, Gokarna comfortably from this place. The resort was just as good as the pictures we had seen online. They have nicely developed the landscape with banana plantations and other trees. They offer excellent cottages for stay and we can view the wonderful greenery from the rooms too. I would give full marks for the ambience of the resort.
Cottages at Banana County Resort
Banana County Resort
We relaxed for some time in the room and then strolled around to get a better idea of the place. A group of ducks came towards the back side of our cottage. They did not run away even in our presence and I could click a few snaps. It was time for lunch so we went to their restaurant. The lunch buffet was already arranged and though it was a bit expensive, there was a nice variety of food items. Post lunch, we had planned to visit the Magod Falls.
Magod Falls
To visit the Magod falls, you have to park your vehicle and walk for around 10 minutes towards the view point. The view of the falls and the lush greenery around is really breathtaking. It must have been still more beautiful during the monsoons. The fall is unique due to its different shape. It is formed by the Bedhti river, which cascades down a height of 650 feet in 2 steps. After taking the first leap, the river forms a plunge pool and then it further cascades down on the other cliff to make this awesome waterfall. We spent around an hour viewing and photographing the falls from different points.
Magod Falls
There is a sunset point near the Magod Falls called as the Jenukallu Gudda. It offers a nice view of the valley with the Bedhti river flowing through the green hills. It further meets the arabian sea. I was tempted to go there but was feeling very tired due to our earlier journey. We preferred to come back and relax in the resort.
Next day we had planned a tour to Sirsi. Sirsi is another beautiful town in karnataka which is blessed with natural beauty. With dense forest area and rainfalls all around, it is a must visit place. Also, there are some beautiful temples in this town. We had heard a lot about the beautiful Marikamba temple and the Sahasralingas at this place. After having a heavy breakfast, we were on the way to Sirsi. Our first point of visit was the Sahasralingas.
Sahasralingas
This place is located around 17 kms from Sirsi, on the banks of shamala river. Sahasralinga literally means a thousand lingas. So as per the name, this site has hundreds of stones with shiv lingas carved on them. It is not possible to see all of the carvings as some of these lingas are immersed in water. When the water level is not so high, we can view more of them. These lingas are carved on rocks of different sizes. Considering that they have been carved a long time ago, most of them are still intact. There is dense forest around and the river literally flows through this forest area.
As per history, King Sadashivraya of the vijaynagar kingdom got these lingas constructed around 1678. It is believed that he undertook this religious task in hope of a heir for the kingdom. Historians believe that they wanted to depict the enormous power of shiva by creating hundreds of lingas. However, there is no proof about the reason why they were made. I read somewhere that a similar example of thousand lingas can be seen at Angkor Wat, Cambodia. This archaeological site is known as the Kbal Spean. Interestingly, both these sites are on river banks and water flows through them.
Sahasralingas Sirsi
There is a hanging bridge which we can visit nearby. It is mostly used by the villagers. The view from the bridge is good. It was almost 11 and we were feeling the heat now. We decided to move to the next spot...the Madhukeshwara temple at Banvasi.
Banvasi
Banvasi is known to be the first capital of ancient karnataka when the Kadama dynasty ruled over it. Therefore, there is lot of history associated with this place. The word Banvasi comes from two words "Bana" meaning forest and "Vasi" meaning spring. A reference of this place is found in the Mahabharata epic. It was the learning centre of the buddhist monks during the reign of Samrat Ashok so there is some buddhist influence on this place. The renowned chinese traveller hiuen tsang had visited this place too and described it in his travel writings. Renowned poet kalidasa visited Banvasi as an ambassador of Gupta kings. His famous work "Meghduta" has references of this place.
The main attractions of Banvasi is the Madhukeshwar temple, which is believed to be one of the oldest temples in Karnataka. The temple is dedicated to lord shiva and the name "Madhukeshwara" is due to the honey colored shivlinga which is kept in the inner sanctum. This temple was built by Mayur Sharma, the first king of the Kadamba Dynasty. The original architecture of the temple was done by the famous sculptor Amarashilpi Jakanachari. Later the Chalukyas, Hoysalas and Sondas ruled karnataka and made several modifications in the temple. The temple therefore depicts different styles of architecture that evolved during the years.
Madhukeshwara Temple
Madhukeshwara Temple Banvasi
The temple has a beautiful Pravesha Mandapa of eight pillars. In the foreground of this mandapa, two marvelous sculptures of elephants are placed on individual peetha. A notable thing from architectural point of view is the sloping roof which is well suited to the high rainfall in the area near Sirsi. As we entered the temple, a pujari greeted us and gave us some information about the temple. It is surprising that though this is an old heritage temple, there are no other guides.
Elephant Sculptures at Entrance
Elephant sculpture Madhukeshwara Temple
Monolithic Nandi Statue
At the front, there is a huge 7 Feet tall monolithic statue of nandi. The interesting fact about this Nandi is that it does not face the linga directly and is slightly deviated towards the right. There is a temple dedicated to goddess parvati adjacent to this main temple. So one eye of nandi watches the linga and the other eye watches goddess parvati. The pujari made us stand near the nandi's eye and check this.
Nandi Statue Madhukeshwara Temple
As we go inside, there is another hall called the Nritya Mandapa. This Mandapa has delicate carvings on the pillars and the ceiling. It was added by the Hoysalas during their rule. Several prominent dancers of that time performed in this Nritya Mandapa. In this hall, there are four beautiful pillars with mirror like finish. These pillars served as mirrors for the audience and people sitting in any corner of the room could view the dance performance easily. Finally we proceeded to the garbhagriha or the inner sanctum where the shivlinga is kept. The honey colored shivlinga is beautiful. The inner sanctum is kept simple and has minimal carvings on the door and pillars. The bell outside this garbhagriha has a unique quality. The vibration of this bell lasts for a minute or so and one can hear as if somebody is chanting the word “OM”.
The hall just outside the inner most sanctum is called the prayer hall or the Sankalpa Mandapa. The Sankalpa Mandapa was added to the temple during the reign of Chalukyas so their architectural style is evident here. Here we can see a throne made of stone named Triloka Mandapa where prayers are offered to lord shiva. This monolith throne depicts all the 3 worlds :: Swarga Loka, Bhu Loka, Patala Loka. We were very much impressed by all these monolithic structures.
Triloka Mandapa
Triloka Mandapa Madhukeshwara Temple
There are several remarkable things in the temple area. One of them is a stone cot called the "Kallu mancha", which is also carved out of a single stone. The triloka mandapa and the stone cot are contributed by the songa rulers.
Stone Cot
Stone Cot Madhukeshwara Temple
There are other small temples in the complex surrounding this main temple dedicated to Goddess Parvati, Lord Vishnu, Narsimha, Ganapati. There is an attractive half idol of Ganesha named "Ardha Ganapati". It is believed that the other half of the idol is in Varanasi. This idol symbolizes the bachelorhood of ganapati, who is standing without his ardhangi. Another remarkable thing in the temple premises is a famous five hooded Naga sculpture with prakrit inscription of 2nd century. It takes more than an hour to visit this temple in detail. We thanked the pujari for giving us valuable information about the temple.
It was around 1:30 by now and we came back to the main city for lunch. We relaxed for about an hour at a restaurant and obtained more information about sirsi sightseeing. One of my mother's friends had told us that sirsi is a good place for shopping. It is specially known for the unique varieties of sarees which are embroidered with kashida work. Our driver suggested that the market place was near and we could spend an hour there. Luckily we entered a nice shop where we found very nice kashida sarees and they were quite economical too. My mother bought a couple of them. After taking a tea break, we were ready for sightseeing again. There was only one spot left for the day...the famous Marikamba Temple.
Marikamba Temple
Marikamba Temple, dedicated to durga devi, is one of the important places of worship in karnataka. Marikamba temple is also called as Doddamma Temple. Doddamma means the elder one, so Marikamba devi is elder of all the goddesses in Karnataka. The name Marikamba comes from the words, Mari (terror) and Maremma (savior). It means that the goddess is terror in anger and saviour for people in need. The temple hosts a beautiful 7 feet tall idol of the goddess with eight arms and seated on a tiger. The seven feet idol of the deity is said to be recovered from a pond near Hanagal. The king of Sonda, Immadi Sadashiva Rao, gave instructions to install the deity in this temple. It was built in the year 1688 so it is now a 326 year old temple.
This temple is also famous for the kavi art, which is used for decoration on both sides of the walls of the temple. At the entrance, we can see two huge elephants. The temple hall is big in size and there is a queue for darshan. The Marikamba Devi murti is very beautiful and depicts power. There are many murals inside the temple which narrate the vedic stories. Vegetable oil paints are used for painting on the murals. There are also many paintings of gods and goddesses fixed on the walls. All these art works give a nice colorful look to the temple premises.
Marikamba Temple Sirsi
The darshan and aarti in the evening is a nice experience so I was glad we chose this time to visit the temple. We strolled inside the temple to have a look at all the beautiful artwork. Soon a big tourist group entered the temple and it became crowded so we had to move. There are a couple of good temples near the Marikamba Temple. In sirsi, one can see several temples dedicated to lord shiva. All these beautiful old temples and natural scenic beauty makes sirsi a favourite destination for travellers.
The next day we had planned a short visit to the mahableshwara temple at Gokarna in the morning and then visit Yana rocks on the way back to Sirsi. I have already mentioned that my belief in the Atma Linga at the mahableshwara temple motivated me for this second trip in the coastal region so the darshan was very important for me. Unchelli falls was another spot we could cover on the way but it all depended on the time required for the darshan and abhishek.
One point to note about the Gokarna Mahableshwar Temple, is that the devotees are allowed to touch the Atmalinga only during 6:00 AM to 12:30 PM and 5:00 PM to 8:00 PM. After 1:00 PM, we can only take darshan from outside the garbhagriha. We started early morning and reached Gokarna well in time. After having breakfast at a place on the way, we went straight to the temple. At this temple, there are many priests who follow you and pressurise you for offering costly abhisheks. However, one should not fall under their influence. I think that any modest pooja done with lot of faith will surely reach god. I paid for a 'Navadhanya Abhisheka Pooja' which costed around Rs 500. The priest took us in the garbhagriha, where we made religious offerings to the shivlinga. My wish to touch the Atmalinga with my hands was fulfilled...it was another divine experience ! As we were early visitors, we got ample time for darshan. I have already given description about Gokarna earlier so won't repeat that again. After having some food at Gokarna, we started for Yana Rocks.
Yana Rocks
From whatever information I had gathered, this is a place for trekkers. To visit the rocks, one has to walk for around 1.5 kms on a route, which passes through a small forest, and then climb more than 200 steps to reach the base of one of the formations. I doubted if my parents would be able to make it. However, we still decided to give it a try.
Our driver was not much aware of the route and he kept following road signs. After a point, we asked the local villagers who guided us to the exact location. Finally we saw a small tea stall and stopped to enquire. The owner informed us that we would have to leave our vehicle at the parking area nearby and walk from there onwards. This stall also offers snacks and other refreshments. There is no other tea stall or snacks center at the top so if you are hungry, you should have tea & snacks here and then proceed forward. The route from here passes through a forest and is a bit scary. We expected that there would be other visitors too but there wasn't a single person other than us. On going a bit further, my mother got scared and decided to return to the car.
As we started walking, we could see lush greenery and streams of water running parallel to the route. It was delightful to watch the small streams running over stones and forming miniature waterfalls. There are many points where we can stop and enjoy the beauty of nature. Nature lovers and trekkers will just love this spot but it is advisable to go in a group. We covered the 2 KM distance in about 40 minutes. Finally we came to the base of the formations. From this point, we could see two gigantic peaks towering around all the forests and mountains. The taller one, Bhairaveshwara Shikhara stands 120 meters and the slightly smaller one Mohini Shikhara is 90 meters high. They are solid composition of black, crystalline limestone. From here, there is a small hike of about 300 steps to reach the base of Mohini Shikhara. The steps are not very difficult to climb. There is a small temple at this point where we can sit and relax. We can also photograph nice views of the mighty rocks from a distance.
Route to Yana Rocks
Yana Rocks
Yana Rocks was our last destination. From here, we were going back to Hubli. Even after 2 trips to this region, there was much to explore in this beautiful coastal belt. We missed some waterfalls, mainly the "Unchelli Falls" and "Satodi Falls". I have also read that the Mundgod Tibetan Monastery is worth visiting. I would certainly like to be back here when time permits.