Veraval’s saving grace is that it’s not too hot right now; around 30 degrees or so. Otherwise, the smells, the garbage, the noise – all are quite beyond belief. It is a fishing port on the west coast of Gujarat, close to the Somnath temple. Streets and courtyards are choked with plastic wrappers and debris, and fetid water fills cracks, holes and channels. Smells of dung, rotting fish, pan, and kerosene (which fuels the auto rickshaws) waft around. Cows amble and stand in the road, dogs sleep in the most exposed places, and small herds of pigs run from garbage pile to garbage pile. Sounding of horns is obligatory, of course, but the fireworks seem to have died down.
But it’s still surprisingly fun to be here. It’s a feast for the eyes, and Derek has great contacts from the time he lived here and from his on-going research in the area. We have been joined regularly by Kamlesh, one of Derek’s researchers who has been very friendly and well-informed, and we have run into other people he knows a number of other times.
Our train ride from Rajkot was sardine-like due to Diwali. We were fortunate to have seats since we got on at the beginning of the route, but many had to stand. We were joined by a revolving cast of characters who got on and off at the many stations we stopped at (it was a local train). It’s not a tremendous distance to Veraval, but it took about 5 hours.
The mob descended at Veraval station, and a new mob pushed on and climbed through windows for the return journey to Rajkot. We found an auto and drove through the crowds to our hotel, the Satkar, near the bus station and quite central. It’s a decent older place although our room is a bit dank and reeks of cigarette smoke. Pickings were slim because of Diwali.
Here is a video of our ride from the station.
We are a real novelty here. Very few foreigners make it to Veraval, so we are constantly chatted with and stared at. The most important question is where we are from. If Derek has energy, he’ll engage more in Gujarati.
We were starving by the time we checked in, so we walked a couple of blocks to the Prakesh Dining Hall where, after a short wait, had another delicious Gujarati thali: three well-spiced curries – potato, savoury little balls and bean, plus dahl, roti, pickles, chass and gelab jumen for a sweet. It really hit the spot. Total was 70Rs each.
We rested after that – Derek was really wiped after limited sleep before. After, we met up with Kamlesh and another one of Derek’s research assistants, and Derek shared his much-appreciated baby photos of Asha. With Kamlesh we tried to go visit the port around dusk, but were stopped by security guards when they saw my camera. I didn’t know this, but the terrorists who attacked Mumbai almost a year ago hijacked a Gujarati fishing boat and used it to get to Mumbai after killing its crew, so security around the ports is very high.
So we had cold milky drinks instead
So, we returned to the hotel and Derek and I went across the street to get a late-ish south Indian dinner of dosas and a sweetish yogurt dish called chat.
We had an early night, which was good as folks in the hotel woke up at around 6am and started talking loudly, banging doors, and, in the case of a kid, yelling playfully. Our doors do very little to control sound, so I woke early.
Outside it was misty and cool as it often is at this time of year in the mornings. We met Kamlesh at 8:00, had chai, then walked across the street for a traditional ghatiya (fried savoury dough) breakfast. I walked the fellow expertly making the curly strips and tossing them into the oil, then putting them on a plate with jelabi, fried green chillies and cucumber pickle.
Sipping chai from a saucer
A cow on the median
The three of us spent the morning walking the markets of the old town near the ocean. First off was the produce market. I continue to be impressed with the quality of the fruit, veggies and herbs for sale here. All look fresh, tasty and like organic produce back home.
The produce market
Next was the fish market, which I could smell long before seeing it. This was less appealing to the palate but still interesting. Fish was piled high on the ground with the exception of some of the higher-value varieties, like tuna. Women sold the fish; I assume that the men were out on the boats. Healthy-looking feral cats prowled, dragging away discarded bits of fish, of which there were many. As I photographed the scene, Derek worked Kamlesh for information on catch levels for different species, the market, and so on.
Fish laid out on the ground
Girl with a fish
His uncle has a towering courtyard house not far away, so we dropped in and climbed to the top for a great-bird’s eye view of the ocean and town.
We continued our walk through the old town for a ways, taking in the sights and smells, eventually making our way back to the tower in the middle of the main intersection, not far from our hotel. We had some cold milky drinks (rose for me, cardamom for Derek, something brown and mysterious for Kamlesh). Kalmesh went home and we headed back to the hotel to organize things and do some writing.
We had an excellent mid-afternoon lunch prepared by Kalmesh’s wife and mother at their house, about a ten-minute’s walk away. They cooked up a tuna curry, veg curry, yellow rice with big chunks of tuna, wheat and millet rotis, and an array of chutneys and pickles. It was delicious and much appreciated.
Tonight we will try and get back into the port, and tomorrow we’ll head to Derek’s village of Dhamlej, about an hour’s ride down the coast.