A few years ago, while sipping tea at a friend’s place on a cold January morning in Ahmedabad, we were talking of temples randomly and I wondered whether I would really want spend my old age making arduous pilgrimages or enjoying the hard earned luxuries of life. There are no age limits to pilgrimages. Why not do this now, when health is on the good side, the journey would be less painful and there would be enough energy to enjoy the overall experience. In that contemplation, I resolved to visit the char dhams (pilgrimage places for Hindus) before I reached the age of 35.
My friend pondered over this idea and suggested bringing it to action immediately by visiting the Dwarkadheesh temple while I was in Ahmedabad. The peak season was over and there would be no rush. She had been there recently with her family and from her experience, she vouched that travel from Ahmedabad to Dwarka was pretty easy and safe. An overnight bus would take me to Dwarka, I could do the darshan on the same day and return back at night. It definitely sounded like a plan. That night at 10 p.m, I was at the Ahmedabad bus stand waiting for what was just the beginning of the pilgrim’s progress across the temples of India.
The bus dropped me at the Dwarka bus stand at 6 in the morning. Exactly as my friend had mentioned, there were a number of travel agent’s shops at the bus stand itself who were booking for the 2 p.m trip to 6 temples around Dwarka including the Bet Dwarka or Dwarka isle where Lord Krishna is said to have resided with his family. I immediately booked myself on one of these tours. The next thing was to find a place to freshen up before I visited the temple. My friend had prepared me for this well. Just as she had said, a couple of people approached me for staying at their ‘hotel’ each of which was probably 100-200 meters from the bus stand. I realized that most of these ‘hotels’ were like dharamshalas. They were surprisingly clean and extremely cheap. A nice hot cup of tea and hot water for bathing, were immediately made available. I could have stayed there for the whole day for just Rs.300. However as everything was going by the plan there was no need to stay. So by 9:00 a.m, I was ready to start my Dwarka exploration.
The Dwarkadheesh temple was about 400 meters from where I was staying. I only had to cross a lane and there I was standing in front of the temple. The Sankranti season having just gotten over, the temple was quite empty. The lack of a crowd was so unexpected for me that for a few minutes I doubted if I was actually the famous Dwarkadheesh temple. After confirming from a couple of shop owners, I was satisfied that it was the right place. The temple does not allow leather bags, cameras, mobiles etc so I had to leave everything outside. The good part was that there was a dedicated place to deposit all this and collect a token. The temple was quite huge from inside and very clean. They were preparing for the morning Aarti so I sat down right in front of the deity waiting for the darshan.
The whole ritual of the Aarti was a very interesting experience. After waiting for about 15 minutes, the door to the temple opened and we got a view of the deity in his fancy clothes. The cheers from the devotees at the sight of the Lord was exciting. Within a few minutes, the temple doors were closed again. People waited peacefully for another 5-10 minutes before the door opened a second time. And now the deity was adorned with ornaments! Again the cheers rang all over. This ritual of dressing up the Lord went on for a few more times till the final Aarti began. The experience of watching the Aarti from such close quarters was enchanting.
I then went to the ghat behind the temple which offered a beautiful view of the confluence of the river Gomati into the Arabian sea. As there was no crowd, I could enjoy the view and complete some of the rituals peacefully.
By noon, I was done with my temple visit. If you want to take Prasad back home with you, you can buy it from one of the shops outside. There were quite a few ‘bhojanalayas’ in the lane that I had traversed between the bus stand and the temple. I ventured into one of those and was served a sumptuous Gujarati thaali. The shrikhand was the highlight of the meal. By the time I finished my lunch, it was time to get on to the 4 hour tour to the temples in and around Dwarka. It was a group tour in a mini bus with approximately 20 of us alongwith a guide. The co-passengers were very helpful. We all looked after each other and made sure no one was left behind. The high point of this tour was the visit to Bhet Dwarka. It was an isle in the middle of the sea. The way the place was maintained, it looked like Lord Krishna was still living there. You can make donations at Bhet Dwarka of a minimum amount of Rs.51/- Only if you make a donation, you get Prasad commensurate to the donated amount.
The tour ended at around 6:30 p.m and we were dropped back to the Dwarka bus stand. After a good dinner, I started on my journey back to Ahmedabad. One of the richest memories that I carried back from the temple was the fact that the darshan and the queue was the same for all devotees. And there was no payment required to be made for darshan.