Category Archives: Gujarat

Mercure Dwarka: Rare Oasis in Devbhoomi

It was towards the end of September that we undertook the 1.5 hour drive from Porbandar Airport to Mercure Dwarka. But looking at the bright blue skies and light green foliage, one would never guess that many parts of the country were still in the grasp of the last vestiges of monsoon.

Windmill in Dwarka, Gujarat
Windmills on our way

Nevertheless, the numerous windmills on our way, grazing cattle and clumps of vegetation lulled us into a state of semi-stupor. And every time we’d shake ourselves awake, the beautiful scenery was exactly the same, rather like the fake driving scenes in films where the car is actually still and a movie projection creates the illusion of movement.

Hotel Mercure Dwarka
The lobby
Hotel Mercure Dwarka
Another glimpse of the lobby

As we neared the impressive facade of Mercure Dwarka, we glimpsed the glorious blue sea in the distance. And we knew there would be more to Dwarka than its famed stories of Krishna, the mischievous lord of the Hindu faith. Mercure Dwarka is easily the classiest and most sought-after hotel in this little town and when you enter, you feel no different than you would in a luxury hotel in a big city. The interiors feature infusions of maroon, purple and ochre in a white-dominated colour scheme. It was lunch time and we were ravenous but our Gujarati thalis were being readied. So we decided to check into our abode for the next couple of nights.

Hotel Mercure Dwarka
Our room
Hotel Mercure Dwarka
TV and writing desk

A beautiful portrait of Lord Krishna hung above the double bed while a cosy writing desk and large flat-screen TV occupied the other side of the room. The bathroom housed all the amenities we could need – including a shaving, dental and vanity set. There was also a coffee and tea maker beside the wardrobe. Only three stories of the hotel were operational then and our room looked out onto the tranquil lawn and main road. As far as we were concerned, this was no less than a five-star room (Mercure Dwarka is a four-star hotel). After a nice cup of Assam tea, we headed for lunch.

Gujarati thali at Maakhan, Mercure Dwarka
Gujarati thali for lunch
Maakhan at Mercure Dwarka
Maakhan restaurant

The thali at Maakhan restaurant was colourful and delicious, featuring Gujarati delicacies such as sev tamatar sabzi, potato and brinjal preparation, khakra, kachori and sweetened dal. You can read more about the offerings at Maakhan here. We also loved sitting and soaking in the breeze in the outdoor smoking area adjacent to the restaurant. The staff always made us feel at home, and we were impressed with their ability to adjust in a small town like that, especially when a few of them hailed from Mumbai. On our final morning in Dwarka, we arose in time to watch a soft, golden sunrise unfold beyond the gates of the hotel.

Hotel Mercure Dwarka
The outdoor smoking area
Hotel Mercure Dwarka
Sunrise beyond the parking lot

There are numerous stories of Krishna associated with Dwarka, but to put it in a nutshell, it is where Krishna founded his kingdom after arriving from Mathura. Some believe that the town was swallowed by the sea after the death of the Lord, and there is some archaeological evidence to support this claim. True or not, we are glad to have found an oasis like Mercure Dwarka in this Devbhoomi (land of God).

Top places to visit in Dwarka

Nageshwar Jyotirlinga Temple, Dwarka

Nageshwar Jyotirlinga Mandir: A Shiva Temple with a serene courtyard, garden and magnificent Shiva statue. The temple also houses one of the 12 jyotirlingas cited in the Shiva Purana. Though not the most famous, it is our favourite place of worship in Dwarka.

Beach outside Mo Mata Mandir, Dwarka

Mo Mata Mandir and Beach: A hidden gem, this saffron and white temple is situated atop a cliff that affords stunning views of the beach below. After paying tribute at the temple with a heart-shaped pooja pit before it, descend the curved staircase leading to the beach and spend precious hours walking and watching the reflection of the sunset on the water ripples.

Rukmini Devi Temple, Dwarka

Rukmini Devi Temple: The temple dedicated to Krishna’s cohort is an architectural marvel and even atheists would enjoy examining the various carvings etched on the temple’s walls.

Bet Dwarka

Bet Dwarka: The main attraction of Bet Dwarka is the enjoyable (though crowded) ferry ride that gets you across the Gulf of Kutch to the island housing a temple and colourful market.

Dwarkadhish Mandir: Photography is not permitted at the most famous temple of Dwarka. It’s a huge temple complex and the main shrine is five storeys tall, carved in soft limestone. There are inevitably long queues for a darshan of the deity housed within.

Sudama Setu, Dwarka

Sudama Setu: The bridge near Dwarkadhish Mandir is probably our favourite attraction in Dwarka. Witnessing the spectacular sunset over the glittering Gomti River was for us, a far more spiritual experience than a visit to any temple. The walk over the bridge offers lovely views of the river and when you reach the other end, you can either sit on the banks of the river or walk down to the beach on the other side.

Mercure Dwarka features different room categories, along with a fitness centre and function room. Room tariff starts at USD 49 (Rs. 3204) and for bookings, click here.

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Maakhan, Mercure Dwarka: Gujarati Thalis and more

Thalis are the embodiment of Indian culinary ethos – colours, variety, a melange of every flavour and best of all, limitless refills. The last point is usually not of much use to us, since we barely manage to finish one serving of an elaborate thali. But at Mercure Dwarka’s Maakhan restaurant, we actually mustered the courage (and tummy space) to have another helping of the dessert, snack and bhaingan aloo ki sabzi (potato brinjal curry). While the Gujarati thali was no doubt the highlight of their gastronomical offerings, the a la carte menu and buffet breakfasts had us smiling ear to ear as well. Let’s dig into the details.

Maakhan at Mercure Dwarka
The interiors

An earthy colour scheme with nicely lit alcoves and ample seating space made Maakhan seem very inviting. We were a large group that inevitably ended up at one of the long corner tables, although for breakfast, we’d sit at a table next to the veranda (which was actually the smoking area but the windy outdoor space endeared itself to us for other reasons). We were at Mercure Dwarka for two nights and enjoyed most of our meals at Maakhan.

Maakhan at Mercure Dwarka
Seating spaces

The aforementioned thali was the first meal we had at the restaurant, after checking into the hotel and it impressed us completely. The tomato sev sabzi was quintessentially Gujarati, as was the potato brinjal preparation and sweet dal. We were offered a choice of theplas or roti and of course, we chose the local thepla. Some khakra, kachori, salad, rice and gulab jamun for dessert completed the perfect luncheon. The ubiquitous glass of masala chaas (on the milder side) accompanied our sumptuous meal.

An a la carte meal
An a la carte meal

That night, we enjoyed a buffet dinner which featured numerous varieties of Indian and international vegetarian dishes. Yes, the restaurant doesn’t serve meat or eggs because Dwarka, being a Hindu pilgrimage site, is an all-vegetarian state. However, the variety of vegetarian food is more than enough to keep food ennui at bay. For lunch on the following day, we ordered a buttery paneer preparation, non-sweet dal tadka, an interesting bharwan aloo (stuffed potato) and pasta in red sauce.

Food at Makhan, Mercure Dwarka
Ice-cream for dessert

The pasta, dal and paneer were supremely delicious. The cheesy, flavourful pasta assured us that Chef Inderpal Singh could do a great job with non-Indian dishes as well. The thick and creamy dal was so comforting that we ordered another bowl. The potatoes had a luxuriant cream cheese stuffing but the gravy was a tad tangy. Nevertheless, it was a wonderful, nap-inducing meal. Yet, we made room for chocolate and vanilla ice-cream at the end of it all.

Breakfast at Maakhan, Mercure Dwarka
Breakfast buffet

Breakfasts are often our favourite meal while travelling because not only are they usually complimentary, they also feature the widest variety of dishes. We missed South Indian cuisine (idlis and dosas) at Maakhan but thoroughly enjoyed the poha, upma, fruits, salads, flavoured yoghurt and muffins. The variety of juices were also very refreshing though there was nothing to beat the serene perfection of their masala chai.

Sweet temptations
Sweet temptations

Have that thali!

Where: Hotel Mercure Dwarka, Porbandar-Dwarka Highway, Dwarka, Gujarat
When: Everyday, all day
Damages: A little expensive on the pocket, but worth it

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Lions in the wild

Although it is called the ‘home of the lion’, not everyone who goes to Gir is lucky enough to see one. And that probably explains the magical excitement we felt when we saw not one; but two of these serene, majestic beings. Strangely though, the lions were not the highlight of the trip for me. What I really took away from my trip to Gir (via Junagadh) was the rustic simplicity, warmth and silence. That little village, nestled amidst the forests, often resonant with distant echoes of regal roars and rumbles, charmed me completely with its modified bike-rickshaws and roadside dhabas serving home-made Saurashtran fare.

Jottings aboard the train to Junagadh.

At Virpur station: I feel suddenly a deep yearning for this uncomplicated simplicity. God bless these sweet, simple folk and their sun-burnt, guileless faces. I hope the pastoral sun will invigorate my city-weary bones somewhat. I hope selfishly – that this slice of India always remains as is – untarnished by the cold hands of ‘development’. Just when I think that monsoon has long since bid farewell to this dusty land, the breeze ruffling my dupatta turns cooler; and the skies greyer. She is still here – the goddess of all that is born in the earth.

Dusty cool breeze
And gentle hum of rickety rickshaws
Time will freeze
Like the grins on these rural faces.

A land untouched 
By the useless questioning of so-called intellectuals
A people who live
By rules that are cast in stone.

Endless patches of flowerless grass
Cast waving shadows on overhead beams
Cause dancing ripples of happy peace
To leave merry footprints on my overused mind.

A little girl plays on a wayside track
On her wrists – bangles the same shade of the grass
People stand and stare like Wordsworth said
From the sorrows of anxiety, these people have never bled.

An alien state, an alien language
Yet so familiar, I feel I’m home
Home after all, is this sense of contentment
That sometimes eludes even when I’m ‘really’ home.

Painted pink and yellow pots
Ride on an old man’s cartwheel
Their shiny, new countenances
Presently unmarred by the all-pervading dust –

A magical dust, that is made of
Pure joy, serenity and faith.

My itinerary in brief:

Black Buck

Thursday evening: Train from Bombay to Junagadh (14 hour journey)
Friday afternoon: Bus from Junagadh to Sasan Gir (2 hours), then modified bike-rickshaw till the resort
Friday evening: Exploring the area on foot (it’s not safe after sundown they say but that added a touch of mystery to our meanderings – especially to a neighbouring deserted resort that seemed to be straight out of a horror film with wayward trees and crackling twigs)
Saturday morning: An early-morning nature trail to a hillock from where we had a pretty view of the villages around. We were also told about herbs with healing properties (I cut myself on a thorny leaf and used one called Shatavari for relief) We also heard a lion roar from 1.5 km away and joked about being breakfast for it. Seeing a lion from inside of a jeep/bus is one thing – hearing it while on foot is quite another. Later, we relaxed at a roadside dhaba in the village and sipped on the local tea – a little milkier and flavoured with nutmeg.
Saturday – rest of the day: A safari trip in Devaliya National Park  or Gir Interpretation Zone (since Gir sanctuary is shut doing the monsoon months). We saw different types of deer (sambar someone said), black bucks with curved horns that looked too beautiful to be true, birds and finally the one we’d all been waiting for – the king of the jungle. Two lions lay beneath the shade of a tree, quite oblivious to our staring eyes. Or perhaps, they were plain bored. I wish I could have seen their royal stride but that itself was miraculous – to see them in their natural habitat rather than behind the bars of a sorry zoo enclosure.
Saturday night: We were treated to an electrifying tribal-style dance performance by Siddis with painted faces that still bore signs of their African descent. They cackled, jumped and shimmied to the primitive beats of the drum and the bonfire and the surrounding darkness of the forest heightened the feral nature of the experience.
Sunday morning: Bus back to Junagadh where we had a sumptuous lunch. Food in Gujarat is tasty and inexpensive (predominantly vegetarian), although I’m sure non-vegetarians might find attractive fare as well, thanks to the sizeable Muslim population.

Footnote 1: What is a modified bike-rickshaw?

It’s the only kind of ‘rickshaw’ you’ll find in those parts. They are noisy yet utterly charming and colourful contraptions consisting of a cart fixed behind a motorbike. You sit on top of the cart, or inside it and enjoy the 360 degree view while the driver rumbles down the lane.
Pluses: The view, the feeling of riding at the back of a truck, the cost (100 rupees for a longish ride)
Negatives: The noise but who cares when you’re doing something so unique!

Footnote 2: Who are the Siddis?

Courtesy: Wikimedia Commons
Gujarat is home to many ethnic groups; one of whom are the Siddis, originally descended from Bantu peoples from Southeast Africa that were brought to the Indian subcontinent as slaves by Arab and Portuguese merchants. Wikipedia says: “Although Gujarati Siddis have adopted the language and many customs of their surrounding populations, some African traditions have been preserved. These include the Goma music and dance form, which is sometimes called Dhamaal. The term is believed to be derived from the Ngoma drumming and dance forms of Bantu East Africa. The Goma also has a spiritual significance and, at the climax of the dance, some dancers are believed to be vehicles for the presence of Siddi saints of the past. Also worth mentioning are the Maldharis, who are religious pastoral communities living in Gir, known to have survived through the ages by having a symbiotic relationship with the lion.

For more on Gir’s lions and ethnic communities, you may want to watch the BBC documentary ‘The last lions of India’ at