January, 3, 2019
After leaving Muscat we spent a couple of days moving eastward across the Arabian Sea before docking in Porbandar, birthplace of Mahatma Ghandi.
Coaches took us from the ship to the terminal where our papers and handbags were scrutinized by customs officials. Outside the terminal a sea of auto rickshaws (tuk-tuks) waited to take us into the town. We’d been assigned a particular tuk-tuk two by two and told to stick with the same vehicle throughout until we returned to the ship.
It took forty-five minutes to get to the city proper. And what a ride it was–like sitting inside a popcorn popper. The roads weren’t good and the drivers moved fast, but they knew what they were doing in spite of how close we came to the tuk-tuk ahead of us. Like me, everybody clutched the strap hanging above the open doorway. This nervous exhilaration harkened back to how I felt as I child when I went on the roller coaster in the amusement park.
Porbandar was my first-ever view of India, and it shook me: so much garbage along the roadside as we rode into town, mangy dogs rooting around the piles of refuse looking for food; rotting sea vessels piled up along the banks of the sea, and shacks where locals made their homes. At one point I saw graceful flamingoes in a waterway that stunk so badly we covered our mouths and noses.
Porbandar has a population of about 150,000. At first glance, the town’s main thoroughfare me think of an old-fashioned Western movie with its one- and two-storey buildings. We made our first stop at the Sudama Mandir temple. Built in the early 20th century it is the only one in India dedicated to Sudama, the childhood friend of Lord Krishna.
After the tour we found our tuk-tuk driver without too much trouble and moved on to Ghandi’s birthplace, Kirti Mandir. This townhouse or haveli had belonged to Ghandi’s family for many generations. In the mid-20th century an adjoining temple (79-feet tall, one for every year of Ghandi’s life)and library were added, and turned into a shrine.
After that we had a little free time for shopping at a bustling local market. This time I didn’t buy anything, although they had lots of lovely things on offer (lots of jewelry shops!) and prices were extremely reasonable. However, since it’s not a destination for foreign tourists shopkeepers spoke almost no English, and it was difficult to make myself understood, and even more difficult to barter with them.
This excursion was also my first encounter with beggars, kids mostly. They follow you around, tap you on the arm and stare at you with their big eyes. (Our local guides discouraged us from giving them money.)
The excursion also came as my first encounter with stately sacred cows wandering the streets as if they own them, which they do as everyone makes way for them. The animals looked clean and well nourished, unlike the many dogs, who mostly sleep in the shade during the day. I caught sight of a few goats in the market area, and got a peek at a sow and her piglet in a courtyard.
Most of left the market without any loot, and returned to the agreed upon meeting area where the tuk-tuks waited. But a surprise awaited. In tuk-tuk number eight (mine and Felicia’s) sat another fellow passenger. The seat assignment system had broken down and those of us who hadn’t already started back to the ship on just any old tuk-tuk had to wait almost forty-five minutes for things to get sorted out.