DHOWS AND PILGRIMS

IMG_5386.JPGMandvi sits on the shore of a long inlet, its foreshore littered with great wooden dhows in various stages of construction. These ships are made completely of wood, and constructed by a crew of 100 men without benefit of engineering blueprints, only experience to guide their hands. It takes a couple of years to construct one, and then the job of getting it to water starts. They build them on tidal flats, held up by scaffolding, surrounding by a low dyke for when the tidal area has water. When the water is higher during the rainy season they dig a trench from the bow to the deeper water where they can be launched, a distance of a kilometre. One thing they have here is manpower, as this is done by men with shovels. They then attach the ship to ropes and at 100 metres per day, they painstakingly drag it to the edge. If it tips over, it is toast, they just have to burn it!  If the launch is successful, the ship is towed down the coast to get the motor installed.

img_5417These ships ply the west coast of India and travel to the Arab states.  A crew of at least 30 is required, as they take cargo on and off as they go and have to re-balance the cargo in the hold each time. This goes on for 9 months, at which point they return to Mandvi, haul the thing up again, and do a refit for 3 months. This process is hundreds of years old and one wonders how much longer it will be viable. We have seen dhows like this in eastern Indonesia, particularly Sulawesi, and years ago in Kenya. Fascinating.

The Rekmaviti Guesthouse was another basic deal — very different from the comforts of our lovely home in Devpur, but again a very helpful management drew us there. Vinod arranged our boat tickets to get across the gulf to Dwarka on the Saurasthra side, and helped me find a hotel in Dwarka, which was a bit difficult as unbeknownst to us we were arriving the day before the anniversary of the adoption of the Indian constitution in 1950, hence a national holiday. Kind of like Canada Day with flag raising and parades. However Dwarka is all about temples and pilgrims so celebration was muted, just more pilgrims than usual. Vinod had maps, directions, suggestions — really it is too bad you always have to go to these super cheap places to find traveller assistance! Also a very pleasant terrace where we enjoyed sitting.

img_5283We went out to the Vijay Vilas Palace on the beach, the summer residence of the current Maharani and her nephew the Maharao, though as she is now very elderly she only visits a few times a year and lives in Mumbai. Our host at Devpur is a distant relation of this maharani and had written a book in honour of her 75th birthday, filled with photos and stories collected from relations and friends over the years. It was in our room and I found it very interesting reading so a visit to the palace was in order. Quite the fly in amber situation, built and furnished in the 1920’s, all is as it was. The pictures of the royal family, their dogs, and their cars on the wall, along with those of safaris of old were entertaining.

IMG_5361.JPGThe nearby beach was entertaining in another way. Scads of people everywhere (this is India, there are always scads of people) dozens of drink stands, camels and ponies offering rides, dozens of strolling cows and dogs (watch where you step with all the livestock. Most people strolling or taking camel rides, but some were in swimming, fully clothed as is the Indian way. Screaming their heads off with every tiny wave, a whole school group seemed to be on a trip to the beach. I really cannot understand what happens to a sari after it is soaked in sea water…

IMG_5434.JPGAfter a couple of days, we took a small launch over to the other side of the gulf, a 4 hour trip. The service is new, though the boat is not, and saved as a long bus ride back the way we had come. Vinod had arranged a “4-wheeler” (large sized tuk tuk) owned by a friend of his to pick us up at the dock, which was nice as night was falling as we disembarked. What was not so nice was his total inattention to the road as he talked and texted, and finally got out a pad and paper to make notes, at which point I threw a fit. Trucks roar along here and only turn their lights on as they approach you, there are motorbikes, bicycles, cows, carts and pedestrians on the road and no lighting. We never drive at night if we can possibly avoid it.

 

The temple at Dwarka is one of the 7 most revered in India and the town is pretty much devoted to the pilgrim trade. The Dwarkadish Temple is large and rambling, and contains the “actual” image of Lord Krishna, this having been his first settlement in India. However a man from Manchester who, like us was battling through the seething crowd to get near the image, told me that the real one is actually in safe keeping and this one is a copy. People get a few seconds at the brass rail in front of the image to offer money, flowers, coconuts, and gold badge-like things that you can purchase on site. You are supposed to ask for your heart’s desire – “Money and health” said the man from Manchester. Sadly for the photo nut, no cameras or cell phones allowed, they had to be checked along with our shoes, and we were frisked and bags searched at the entrance to the temple. Doug was quite put out to see that the priests had cell phones in the pockets of their robes and broke off in the middle of ceremonies to take calls.

Quite the visual extravaganza as usual, and we enjoyed walking below the temple along the water where people were bathing in kind of mini ghats, the water was not what you or I would call sanitary, but a lot better than the Ganges.

 

We were excited to stay in a pretty much brand new one star hotel for a change, with an actual shower apparently with hot water, all shiny new with marble tiles. After letting the water run for a good five to ten minutes to get it hot, I leapt happily into the shower only to have the handle come off in my hand when I tried to adjust the water. A moment of panic ensued until Doug was able to rush into the bathroom and stick the tap on in a haphazard way so that the water could be turned off. Bathrooms are really a weak link in this country.

img_5338On now to Jamnagar, will keep you posted!

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