Apologies for the delay in the second part. No excuses, was just being lazy. Part 1 can be viewed here.

I woke up at 9 AM with bright sunlight pouring inside the coupe despite the tinted glass windows. Everyone else in the coupe was awake and busy in many morning activities – drinking the sugary sweet chai, reading newspapers, eating breakfast etc. I peeled myself from the berth when the train was about to reach Rajkot. Most of the passengers were deboarding at this station (to attend ‘Pinkoo the Deekra’s’ birthday gala I suppose). I got down from the train at the platform in Rajkot, a sudden wave of heat engulfed me and flushed any remnants of sleep from my system. The platform was buzzing with the usual chaos found at any major Indian train station. I treated myself with chai and fresh dosa while absorbing the surroundings. After about 30 minutes of leaving Rajkot, the landscape changed drastically. I believe this is when we entered Saurashtra. There was hardly any vegetation, flat expanses of land dotted with thorny shrubs spread all the way to the horizon. Holding a cup of chai I decided to stand by the door of the coach. Watching the landscape with the wind on your face from a 130kmph speeding train is an experience that is not to be missed on Indian trains. The many farms with their neatly marked boundaries, the hamlets, the nehars (irrigation canals), the huge transmission towers arranged in a straight line, women washing clothes on river banks while their children wave frantically at the speeding train, bullock carts and tractors waiting at railway crossings – all glimpses of the real India.

Just when I was romanticizing the lives of these people who you see for a few seconds from the train, I saw what seemed like a cluster of hundreds of tall black poles at a distance. As the train moved closer, it revealed itself to be a massive construction site of a large upcoming factory. The tall poles were nothing but massive cranes. A few hundred yards from this site, I saw a vast expanse of what appeared to be man-made ponds which contained a type of liquid (I want to say water, but am not entirely sure what it was) which was an unnerving shade of pink. Was it industrial waste? Was it a secret experiment site of the Government? There was no way to know. Anyway, these sights made me get back to my seat and pull the curtain on the window pane and got back to reading Friedman’s “Hot, Flat and Crowded”. Coincidence, aye!
A little later, the landscape changed to flat grassy lands dotted with many windmills. Seeing the implementation of alternative energy generation in this remote corner of the country was an unexpected sight. From here onwards, the windmills pretty much became a standard part of the scenery.
Somewhere after having lunch I slept again only to wake up when the train reached Dwarka at 3 PM. We got down at the small station and walked out to fetch a ride to the hotel we were staying at. The outside temperature was somewhere near the boiling point of water. A wind was blowing sand in my ears and eyes and every other exposed orifice of my body. A horde of rickshaw-wallahs, tongawallahs were ready to sell their services to us. “Jai Dwarkadheesh” was written on pretty much everything that one could write upon – walls, backs of rickshaws, little flaps with tassles on the rickshaw wheels, the many saffron flags fluttering from the sideview mirrors – yes we had arrived.

After checking into the hotel and a much needed cold shower, we headed towards the Dwarkadheesh temple in the town. It was about 5:30 PM in the evening and the heat was more manageable. A balmy sea breeze was blowing in the air and I was ready for the temple experience. As we got closer to the temple, we could see the cone shaped tower from a distance with a mighty saffron flag fluttering at its top. We entered and checked in our shoes, cameras, backpacks etc. at the entrance. We had to go through a metal detector to enter the temple – a necessary evil as a result of living under the constant shadows of terrorism. Anyway, once inside that temple door, a sensory experience much too familiar yet unique to any large Hindu temple begins – the sounds of many bare feet slapping on the smooth stone floor, the combined smell of – flowers, milk, yoghurt, coconuts, vermillion, incense sticks and burning camphor fills up your nostrils, constant clanging of the temple bells titillate your ear drums and the cold feel of the stone floor punctuated with little pinpricks of rice on your bare feet.

While we were soaking up the atmosphere, I was astonished at the amount of money people spend in the name of God/religion. I saw a board with a list of people and their donations – it ranged from a hundred rupees to some with a few million (these funds could have been put to use to build some better roads or providing water to the townfolks – water is a pricey commodity in this part of the country). Then there were the religious hawks, waiting for their prey – the temple priests who pounce on an ever streaming flow of devotees with offers of helping them with the darshan or with some kind of a puja ritual. I could feel the bile rise in my belly and before it spewed out of my mouth, I shifted my attention to the ornately carved stone walls of the temple.

The temple is truly a beautiful edifice, carved out of limestone and sandstone with a five storey tower. A massive flag is hoisted on top of this tower. The flag is changed four times a day marking each “pehar” of the day. You can sponsor the flag changing for some obscene amount of money and if you have any such plans, you will have to wait at least 16 months before your turn.

There weren’t a lot of devotees at that time of the evening. The prayer call was at 7 PM and it was only about 6:15 PM. My parents wanted to attend the prayer ceremony, while I was impatient to explore the streets of the town. So I stepped out of the temple and walked into one of the narrow lanes in front of the temple. It was dusk and there was a cool breeze blowing bringing with a faint salty smell of the sea. The lane was narrow, just wide enough to fit a Maruti 800 and an average adult side by side. There were shops selling religious artifacts – idols of Krishna made from various materials, puja malas, religious books and other paraphernalia. One interesting fact I noted that none of the shops were selling the ubiquitous flute which is pretty much a part of any Krishna image I know of. Curiousity got the better of me, and I questioned a shopkeeper about this missing “basoori”. The response was equally interesting – Krishna left Dwarka with his flute to a nearby forest called “Darookavan” where he eventually died as a result of a misdirected arrow of a hunter. Since Krishna took his flute with him on the day he died, the flute is not sold, displayed or played in Dwarka. This is exactly why we as a people are an interesting species. Who else would come up with such quirky rules and practices?

There were tourists all over these narrow lanes exploring the shops and haggling with the shop-keepers. One lane split open into two and then those in two other, it was a magical maze buzzing with activity. I tried to imagine the real Dwarka from the ancient times. It is said that Krishna had the city built on land reclaimed from the sea. The city was supposed to be a well planned township and was a home to a huge affluent community. The Hindu texts and scriptures describe an incident when the sea water rose and engulfed the entire city (Tsumani?). The Dwarka that stands today is not the one that is described in these stories.

After wandering around in the narrow streets of the town, I met up with my parents outside the temple and we promptly set out in search of food. On the recommendation of our hotel manager we found ourselves at a restaurant named Bajrang Dining Hall. Gujarat is renowned for its simple, delicious vegetarian cuisine. This place offered unlimited food for a fixed price – the Thali dining experience. The restaurant interiors were simple: benches and chairs lined in rows like a classroom with ceiling fans and fluorescent lamps. Busboys scurried around wiping the tables, and setting up stainless steel plates with about 7 mini stainless steel bowls for the next set of customers. Saying that the food was delicious is an understatement. There were no complex flavors or exquisite tastes, it was a fare rooted deeply with the local region – vegetables, lentils, rice, yoghurt all grown or harvested in the surrounding region. It was an immensely satisfying meal bookended with a glass of cold fresh chaas (buttermilk). We meandered through the streets back to our hotel room.

Tomorrow, we would venture to Bet Dwarka – a small island regarded as a portion of the real Dwarka and then drive down South, hugging the Gujarat coastline, about 300 kilometers to the holy city of Somnath. While we were planning on the stops along the way to Somnath, my thoughts kept going back to the flute story.