Porbandar, a port town located on Gujarat’s western coast, is known for being the home of Mahatma Gandhi and his family home is now a shrine/museum to his life. The home’s rooms are quite small. Climbing between flights along claustrophobic staircases reminded me of my visit to Anne Frank’s house in Amsterdam. A swastik marks the floor in the room where Gandhi’s mother gave birth to him. We also visited Sudama Temple, named after a childhood friend of Krishna, and I walked through a swastika-shaped maze on the temple grounds. Traversing the maze is supposed to wash you of your sins. The day we were there, a Friday, was also the Birthday of the Prophet Mohammed, and a celebratory parade wound through the city streets. Considering Gandhi’s message of religious tolerance, I thought the timing brought a nice addition to our visit.
Our itinerary read “Gopnath Beach,” a place not found in my guidebook or on any map I had. “Gopnath beach is known for its scenic beauty, limestone cliffs, natural surroundings and fascinating flora and fauna.”
We drove up to windswept cliff over the Gulf of Khambat and the driver stopped in front of a faded Dreamsicle-colored one-story building. No one came out to greet us. There was no sign, no lobby of any sort, nothing to suggest that this is rest-stop for travelers and, yet, the driver said this is “Gopnath Bungalows,” where we were to stay. I wondered if we were being dropped off at someone’s house, a friend of the travel agent who wanted to make some money off of gullible clients.
Dad and I exchanged “where are we?” looks and after, a few minutes, a man came out to the car. He looked sleepy, like we had woken him from an afternoon nap. He and the driver exchanged greetings and they both began to unpack our belongings from the car. Ramesh, that was the sleepy man’s name, we found out, sat on a plastic chair behind a desk on the sun-filled porch. He opened a cracked “guest register” – the spine had been taped over to keep the book together – and he wrote down “Kiran Shah.”
There was no one else about. He opened the door to room #3. Monastic, and not in a good way, came to mind. Thin mattresses were set on marble platforms attached to the wall. No rugs covered the cold tile floor. A peek into the bathroom confirmed my next suspicion: the 12-inch tall geyser would mean a cold shower or no shower at all.
Ramesh came by to say that lunch would be ready shortly so we waited outside, sitting on the porch steps, lazing like cats in the sun, and lowering our expectations regarding the meal. But we were jolted. Our food was delicious. The Katiawad menu set up on the plastic table was bountiful, hot and perfectly spiced. Through a doorway off in the corner, I spotted a small kitchen where two older ladies were making fresh rotlo on a cast iron griddle.
We returned to the courtyard after lunch, this time taking our plastic chairs with us. There is a playground in the middle and on the far left, cliffside, is a large wooden bungalow, faded and paint-cracked from seasons of salt air and monsoon. Built in the 1940s, it served as the beach house for Krishna Kumarasingh Bhavasingh, the then ruler of Bhavnagar. I got up and urged Dad to come with me and poke around. The house itself is locked but we walked through the yard and upstairs to the roof terrace. I stood near the balustrade – careful not to lean against it as it didn’t seem very stable – overlooking the sea and imagined royal parties here. Like many of India’s heritage sites, it’s in desperate need of upkeep. It looks far older than its 70-plus years.
We returned to our chairs and sat and talked, our voices the only noise to disturb the sound of breeze, waves and birds. After about an hour, the driver motioned us to the car. We were going into “town” to visit the local temple. Built around 700 years ago, it is one of the few, if not the only, temple to host two flags: a white flag signifies a temple devoted to Vishnu. The saffron flag denotes a shrine to Shiva.
Vaishnav jan to tene kahiye je [One who is a vaishnav]
PeeD paraayi jaaNe re [Knows the pain of others]
Par-dukhkhe upkaar kare toye [Does good to others, especially to those ones who are in misery]
Man abhimaan na aaNe re [Does not let pride enter his mind]
Vaishnav…SakaL lok maan sahune vande [A Vaishnav, Tolerates and praises the the entire world]
Nindaa na kare keni re [Does not say bad things about anyone]
Vaach kaachh man nishchaL raakhe [Keeps his/her words, actions and thoughts pure]
Dhan-dhan janani teni re
We returned to the “hotel” at sunset. The weather had changed; the wind had turned cold and it was getting brisk. Dad and I intended to read and get to bed early – not much else to do in a place without even phone service – but we ended up talking until midnight, bathed in Dreamsicle-colored light, until the howl of high tide reminded us it was time we got some rest.