When one talks about pilgrimages then the most common and popular Yatra to come to mind are the Chota Chardham Yatra in India, major Chardham Yatra, Panch Badri Yatra in Uttarakhand, Panch Prayag Yatra and Panch Kedar Yatra all in the same State. The lesser known Yatra that devotees of Krishna undertake is the Panch Dwarka Yatra. Like Shiv and Vishnu, Lord Krishna, an avatar of Lord Vishnu, too has his divine places and these are located in the Western part of India. Let’s start by knowing more about Panch Dwarka and then how you can travel to these dhams of Lord Krishna in India.
Lord Krishna’s Panch Dwarka are located in the Western Part of India in Gujarat and Rajasthan. At the top is Dwarka located in Saurashtra, the kingdom of Krishna. Then there is the Bet Dwarka and Dakor, also in Gujarat followed by Shrinathji in Nathdwara and Dwarkadheesh Temple in Kankroli, both in Rajasthan.
Dwarka in Saurashtra was once the golden kingdom of Lord Krishna and it dates back to 1500 BC with mention in the Puranas. It is located at the tip of the Saurashtra peninsula and overlooks the Arabian Sea. The name Dwarka stands for gateway to spiritual union with Brahma, the Creator. The town is home to the Dwarkadheesh temple where, on Janmashtami, a grand ceremony is held to commemorate the birth of the Lord. The temple also finds mention in ancient texts like Divya Prabandha and it is on the major Chardham circuit too. It is considered as one of the 108 Divya desams of Lord Vishnu. The temple is richly carved and some say it dates back to 2000 years or more.
From Dwarka one proceeds to Bet Dwarka. Bet in the local language means island and it is located 5 kilometres off the coast of Gujarat off the Okha peninsula. It is said the Bet was the original place of residence of Lord Krishna. There is a Shri Krishna Temple on the island and there is also another temple, the Dandiwala Hanuman temple. Unlike the Dwarka temple, the temple here is only about 500 years old and it is supposed to have been set up by Shri Vallabhacharya. It houses an idol supposedly created by Rukmini, the consort of Lord Krishna. According to legends, Lord Krishna destroyed Shankhasura, a demon, at this place.
Ranchhodraiji Temple at Dakor
Dakor is a small town in Northern Gujarat about 60 kilometres from Ahmedabad in Kheda district and here you will find the famous Ranchhodji temple. Dakor and Lord Ranchchodji are famous pilgrimage spots and people undertake a padyatra or a pilgrimage on foot to reach here from various parts of the country. Lord Krishna acquired the name Ranchhod when he escaped from the battlefield at Mathura in order to avoid Jarasandha. The temple has an idol depicting Lord Krishna with a conch, discus, lotus and mace in his four hands. There is a small water tank adjoining the temple and people feed fishes and tortoises in the tank. Here too the festival of Janmashtami is celebrated with pomp as are other festivals like Nand Mahotsav and Annakut.
Nathdwara Shrinathji Temple
Nathdwara is about 48 kilometres Northeast of Udaipur and it is home to Shrinathji temple. Shrinathji is another name for Lord Krishna and the temple is a famous pilgrimage spot for vaishnavites. The temple was built in the 17th century by Maharana Raj Singh of Mewar and it houses the black marble idol of Shrinathji that originally resided at Govardhan. Devotees queue up in the early morning for a Darshan of the lord at this temple.
Kankroli Dwarkadheesh Temple
On the route from Ahmedabad to Udaipur you will come across Kankroli a small town that is home to the Dwarkadheesh temple of Lord Krishna. The temple here is a place of pilgrimage for people belonging to the Vallabhacharya sect. It is believed that the idol of Lord was carried from Gokul to Ahmedabad by Shri Gir darji Maharaj to prevent its destruction by the Mogulas and then it was shifted to Kankroli at the request of Maharana raj Singh and kept at Asotiya village until the temple was finished. The temple stands on the shores of a small lake and it is built in the Haveli style.
How to Travel
The starting point for the Panch Dwarka Yatra could be Ahmedabad since it is well connected by air, road and train to other parts of the country. From here you can take a state road transport bus or a train and travel to Dwarka. The journey takes about seven hours. It is customary for pilgrims to then proceed to Bet Dwarka and pay their respects to the Lord at the temple here. You travel to Okha along the coastline and then take a boat to reach the island. From Okha you can take a train to Ahmedabad and then travel to Kankroli or you can drive all the way to Dakor. A train would be more convenient since the overnight journey allows you to grab some sleep. From Ahmedabad one can travel by bus or by private taxi to Dakor. The same taxi can take you to Kankroli. The alternative is to return to Ahmedabad and grab a bus to Udaipur and get down at Kankroli or take a train to Udaipur and reach Kankroli. It is better to reach Kankroli first and then move on to Udaipur and then travel upwards to Shri Nathdwara. One can then return to Udaipur and proceed to Jaipur or Ahmedabad and return home.
Best Time to Visit
Winter could be the best time since it is pleasantly cool in these parts. However, if you wish to view the pomp and religious fervour, time your visit for Janmashtami day when Dwarka, Dakor, Kankroli and Shrinathji will be teeming with pilgrims from all parts of the country and they stay awake through the night to celebrate the birthday of the Lord.
There is no lack of accommodation at these pilgrimage spots on the Panch Dwarka circuit in Western India. You can find plenty of Dharamshalas that offer cheap, no-frills rooms for the entire family. You can just as well stay in modest hotels or you can take your pick from some of the better hotels according to your preference.
Places to Visit
If you are in a hurry you can cover the main spots. However, if you have time to spare there are places worthy of a visit at each of the Panch Dwarka spots.
- Dwarka: you can visit Nageshwar Jyotirlingam, one of the 12 Jyotirlingas in the country and the temple also houses the idol of Lord Nageshwar Mahadev, one of the forms of Lord Shiva. The Rukmini temple is also worthy of a visit because it has some beautiful wall paintings. You can then take a short side trip to Somnath temple to view the famous Shiv temple that was sacked and looted and rebuilt many times over. If you have time you can visit the Marine National Park along the coast, the largest in India.
- From Dakor you can drive to Galteshwar a popular picnic spot with a Shiv temple on the banks of a river.
- At Kankroli you can have a delightful time at the Rajsamand Lake, one of the biggest artificial lakes in Rajasthan and admire the toranas and other royal structures.
- At Nathdwara you can visit the Charbhuja temple dedicated to Lord Vishnu, said to have been built sometime around 1444 AD. You can also visit the Rakht Talai, a site where Maharana Pratap fought against the Mughals. Rakht talai means pool of blood. It is believed so many died that their blood formed a pool at this place. The Eklingji temple is also worthy of a visit. From here you can go to Ranakpur with its famous Jain temple, a marvel of sheer beauty in its architecture.
- At Ahmedabad you can have a short trip inside the city to admire the old architecture, the Sidi Saiyyed Jali, Sarkhej Roza at one end and the Vintage Car museum with its large collection of vintage royal vehicles like Rolls Royces and Bentleys.
You will find mostly vegetarian food at the Panch Dwarka spots, mostly local cuisine. In Saurashtra you can enjoy Bajra Rotla made of millet with khadi and baingan bharta, a staple. At Dakor you have traditional Gujarati Food and in Rajasthan you can enjoy the local thali.