|Gir Forest, Dieu and Palitana|
Early on the morning of the fourth day the train reached the tiny village of Sasan, situated at the edge of the Gir Forest. It is one of the famous lion sanctuaries of India and protects hundreds of species of wildlife. We went on a safari into the sanctuary. The forest mainly consists of natural teak plantations and other varieties of flora. During our safari we came across a very majestic Neel-Ghai (Blue Bull). It was tall and handsome and was holding its head high, trying to eat the leaves on the branch of a tree. We also spotted cheetal, spotted deer, sambar and snakes. Eventually, we spotted a lion family consisting of very regal mother with two cubs and they helpfully posed for the photographs.
After the safari, we stopped at the sanctuary restaurant where we had tea and bought ‘lion caps’ and ‘lion T-shirts’. From here, it was back to the train. The train passes through the Gir forest at a very slow speed of 20 km an hour and one can enjoy the scenic beauty of the forest from the window of the saloon. Trains run slow on this stretch in order to protect wild life from accidents. After lunch and some rest on the train we went to Dieu our next destination.
We first went to the last village on Gujarat coast called ‘Mandavi’. On the Mandavi beach, the summerhouse belonging to the Nawabs of Juna-Garh has been converted into a beach resort. We got into our swimming costumes and went for a sea bath. There was a lot of sun & sand and surf to be enjoyed. After having tea in the garden under the exotic palms, we crossed the bridge, which connects the union territory of ‘Dieu’ to the main land of Gujarat. The island of Dieu has now been connected to the village of Mandavi.
Dieu is an exotic island and a miniature town. The sea is dominated by the old jail standing in the middle of water on a rock. It is a ‘small Kalapani,’ a mini version of the jail in Andamans. This jail was later used as a warehouse. Presently the jail is in the Fort. The Fort over-looks the sea and consists of a large complex of many buildings of different types. It is very interestingly designed, with multiple connecting passages, staircases, halls and chambers. You can enjoy the scenic beauty of the ocean standing on any part of the fort. You also get an excellent view of the island town from the ramparts of the fort. We were lucky to watch the sunset from here and saw the sky turning red, orange & yellow and the sea turning deeper and deeper blue.
The town is so small that you can walk around it in a couple of hours. We walked down to the church and were lucky to participate in a traditional Portuguese service that was going on. This may be one of the rare churches in India to still conduct a Portuguese service. The crowd in the church consisted of very religious and devout followers. I discovered that there were still seventeen Portuguese speaking families living in Dieu. Apart from the church there are other nice old buildings to be seen like the old schools, convents and offices. The town also boasts of the office of the District Collector.
The town is very beautiful, clean and neat and has narrow and interesting lanes. Like in Pondicherry one can walk along the coast. There are hundreds of liquor shops and bars, where people enjoy a drink. Beautiful filigree work in gold and silver is available at a very reasonable cost. Some of us purchased beautifully carved silver bracelets and gold earrings. This was one of the most charming places we had come across on this tour.
Early in the morning of the fifth day we arrived at the pilgrim town of Palitana. It is one of the major pilgrim centres for the Jains. There are over three thousand temples constructed on the top of the hill in a unique temple complex. One has to climb three thousand five hundred and seventy six steps to reach the top. The oldest temple in the complex belongs to the eleventh century and the latest is still under construction. From the railway station we were taken to the foothill in horse driven chariots through the bazaars of Palitana. At the bottom, Doli (Palanquin), carried by four men, is available for those, who cannot walk. The sticks and canvass shoes are also available for the climbers for a nominal charge.
I decided to walk since it is our belief that, as far as possible, we should go to a pilgrim centre by walk. The climb was reasonably tough, but very pleasant. The view from the top is very scenic and the temples are totally divine. It was heart warming to know that MAHAVIRA, the last of the Jain thirthankars, had attained his enlightenment in this place. On the top, time is frozen before you. Centuries after centuries unfolded in the form of the architecture of different periods. There are statues of tirthankars made of marble & granite, brick & mortar and a wide variety of stuccowork. There are temples after temples, in rows after rows, each more magnificient than the other. It is the most enchanting place I have ever seen in my life. The sheer number, size and style of these temples amaze one. It is an act of great piety to build a temple in palitana for Jains and that is how thousands of temples have come up there.
It is believed that the curd made in Palitana is delicious. They really feel divine in your mouth after a long hard climb. The milkmaids of Palitana climb over three thousand steps, so that we can enjoy some refreshment on the hilltop. The curds are set in terracotta plates made of ‘black clay’ and are very thick creamy and nourishing. They sell it for five rupees a plate at the bottom of the hill and ten rupees a plate at the top of the hill. But there is nothing like eating them on the top of the hill where you are really tired and hungry. In ‘Palitana’ you can buy ladies bags, embroidered and made of velvet and other ethnic fabrics of Gujarat.