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Friday, 31 August, 2018, 16 : 24 PM [IST]

Dwarka - A glistening pilgrim city with leisure add-ons

A weekend sojourn in the pilgrim city of Dwarka on the invitation from Mercure Dwarka was a God-sent opportunity to refresh the mind and soul for one who is habituated with the mechanical life of the financial capital of the country, Mumbai. Akshay Nayak shares his pleasant experiences during his stay at one of the ancient spiritual abodes - Dwarka.
In less than an hour’s flight from Mumbai, I landed at Porbandar in the early morning. An hour-long drive from Porbandar airport to the Hotel by car was quite smooth with not much to soothe my eyes on the way but a stretch of windmills throughout. Having checked-in, it was almost lunchtime and I was joined by the Hotel General Manager Arindam Mukherjee at Maakhan, the all-day diner at Mercure Dwarka, where he also briefed me about the itinerary they designed for me to keep me busy for the next two days.

I chose for an Indian 3-co urse meal which I found top-notch in flavours. Even though Gujarat is predominantly a vegetarian state, this restaurant has got a wide range of vegetarian scrumptious international cuisines which would ensure a weekend-long stay to relish the most from the menu.

After the lunch, I moved to my room, which had a big painting of LordKrishna on one wall. The large windows of my room looked over the picturesque view of a dramatically silent highway and the rail track running parallel to, both heading towards the city.

Throughout the 2-day stay at Mercure Dwarka, I savoured the juicy Paneer Tikka, the creamy Green Thai Curry with Rice, and of course their signature Gujarati Thaali for its sev-tamatar ki sabzi and authentic Gujarati dal with a hint of sweetness to it.

Verdict: Dwarka is a pristine ancient city to visit and could be toured over a weekend easily. Mercure Dwarka reflects the local culture of the city in every corner, be it the calm and relaxing atmosphere in the room with a vivid painting of Lord Krishna on a wall, to the calm pleasing music being played at the Maakhan, etc., while owing to the international standards of services. Apart from the Pilgrim tour, the city is gaining popularity for both - on-beach as well as marine activities like Scuba diving, among others, which I couldn’t explore, unfortunately, for their ideal time is during the peak period i.e. October - January.

The Leisure Pursuit:
The first day’s evening, I set out on my way into the city. Joined by Jayesh (the hotel’s driver), the drive wasn’t monotonous at all for he was my guide throughout the tour too.

Having first hit the Sivrajpur beach, the potential long stretch is less visited during the vacation time but sees people flocking here during the peak period of this pilgrim city, i.e. during Janmashtami, in August- September time every year.

After leaving my footstep marks on the smooth-textured sand, we headed back on the route of the hotel where we were joined by Arindam to visit the Dwarkadhish temple. There I learned that the temple also known as Jagat Mandir, built by Raja Jagat Singh Rathore dates back to the 16th Century, and is at an elevation of 40 ft above mean sea-level.

Strolling through the market in the vicinity, I spotted a variety of souvenirs from a wide range of Lord Krishna’s idols, showpieces, and local confectioneries with a shelf life of about 10 days. We then turned back on our way towards the hotel, a mere 5-minute drive from the temple.

Q How is the hotel positioned for the mixed profile of guests?
Being easily commutable by road from the Porbunder and Jamnagar Airports, the hotel is just 5-km away from the city. We also provide Airport transport on request. Once in the city, the guests can opt the destinations according to their desire, be it the Dwarkadhish temple, Bet Dwarka, Dwarka beach, etc.

Q What is the peak season to visit Mercure Dwarka?
Janmashtami and Diwali are two important events where 80% of our hotel’s rooms are sold out. Apart from these two days the peak season that people visit the city is from October to January.

Q What is the guest profile visiting the hotel around the year?
Pilgrimage travellers are the potential guests for the hotel. With many industries like Tata Chemicals and the upcoming RSPL industry, etc., in the vicinity, we receive their employees throughout the week for lunch at our restaurant. We also had some local corporate events since the hotel first commenced its operations in mid-2017. With the on-going work of the bridge between Okha and Bet Dwarka, we also receive the corporates involved in the development, at the hotel. Apart from these we receive many foreign tourists who visit Dwarka - one of the foremost Chardhams.

Q How are you looking to promote the internationally branded hotel in a destination like Dwarka?
Mercure Dwarka is the first 4-Star classified internationally branded hotel in the whole of Saurasthra. Safety, security, hygiene and food are the four USPs that I am focussing at the hotel. When I talk about safety & security, we have luggage scanners, being the only hotel to have it in the entire city.

Moving towards food, the quality & quantity of food, and the ambience at the restaurant is very different from that of a city restaurant.

Also, we are looking to promote Dwarka as a destination where people often stereotype it as being a mainstream religious destination. But the city has good potential with several beach activities, scuba diving, snorkelling and other water sports, for which we have tied up with certified divers. So if a guest is visiting the city for 2-3 days, then on the first day they can opt for beach activities at the Dwarka beach, the second day for visiting temples, and the third day could be kept for other water sports and activities. This can be done in the peak period i.e. October to January.

The new offer that we had included for the summer vacation period was free stay for kids of up to 6 years coming with the family. Considering the season of mangoes during the summers, we made mango milkshakes, Aam ka Panna, and mango desserts.

The upcoming events include a Gujarati Food festival. In the monsoon, we will be organising the Delhi Chaat Festival. November onwards we are going to do a high tea concept. Usually, after the breakfast, people don’t visit for lunch, but they do come for snacks like sandwiches, samosas, dhoklas and khandvi, puffs & pastries and tea. We would be offering these at a reasonable price of INR 150.

The pilgrim tour:
On the next day, following the breakfast, we left early from the hotel to visit the temples. First, the Nageshwar Temple, where a 25-m tall statue of Lord Shiva sits, sees many families clicking pictures with the statue in the backdrop.

Next, we visited the Gopi Talav to experience the fragrant mud popularly known as the Gopi Chandan.

The sun was at its highest by the time we reached Okha Port. Interestingly we had to board a ferry from the port to reach Bet Dwarka - an island off the coast of Dwarka that is considered as the original residence of Lord Krishna. The 15-minute boat ride is just INR 10 per person for a ride. These ferries carry about 80-100 people on one go, to and fro between Okha Port and Bet Dwarka. However, by shelling some good amount, one can opt for a private ferry for their family too. The island is also popularly known for the Makardhwaj Hanuman Temple.

Heading back to Okha Port from Bet Dwarka, the scorching heat of the afternoon indicated that we need to get back to the hotel for lunch and some rest.

Waking up after a power nap, while gazing at the sun that was still high in the sky, I didn’t realise that the clock had already struck past 6 pm. Yes, during the summers, the sun usually sets here by a quarter to eight in the night. Freshened up in five minutes, we scooted to Rukmini Temple. A priest there said that when on a pilgrimage tour to Dwarka, returning without visiting the Rukmini temple would rest the tour to be incomplete.

While leaving the temple, I asked Jayesh for a detour to the Dwarka City. With small lanes and many local stores, we halted next to a stall to sip on some tea.

Ending the day with the dinner at Maakhan, the juicy Paneer Tikka; spiced-on-request Chole Kulche; and the Mango Yoghurt got me craving for more, but with no space in the stomach, I had to fold the kerchief.

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