In the Mahatma's town

Most famous as the birthplace of Mahatma Gandhi, the ancient port of Porbandar is also home to a bird sanctuary, beach, palaces and temples

The port of Porbandar

The port town of Porbandar in the Kathiawar peninsula of Gujarat is most famous as the birthplace of the ‘Father of the Nation’, Mahatma Gandhi. He was born on October 2, 1869, in his ancestral house here that is now converted into a memorial, ‘Kirti Mandir’, that sees hundreds of visitors every day. Maintained by the Archaeological Survey of India, this remains the most sought-after attraction among visitors to this ambient seaport on the Arabian Sea.

Indeed, it is a memorable experience to pay homage to Gandhiji. But if one has the time, it is also worth exploring this ancient town that dates back to 1045 AD. It has one of the oldest ports in western India, some old temples in town, a palace, a good sandy beach to hang out in the evening, and several small and large wetlands to lure birdwatchers and nature lovers.

Touring the town

For us, it was a pleasurable drive from Dwarka to Porbandar along the Porbandar Highway with wetlands spread all around. As soon as we entered Porbandar, Karly wetland flanked both sides of the highway with herons, flamingos and common teal visible even from a distance. The windmills in the periphery of wetlands loomed large and provided a lovely backdrop.  However, conservationists have often expressed concern about the possible collision of birds with windmills and electrocution by the power lines, especially for pelicans, storks, cranes, peafowls and raptor.

Our first destination in Porbandar was Kirti Mandir. We had to negotiate traffic in the old and narrow roads that had decrepit and worn-out houses all around. The busy Manek Chowk had a statue of Gandhiji from where we entered an old stone-arched gate that led us to Kasturba Gandhi Marg that houses Kirti Mandir. Inside, it was crowded with school children, tourists and elderly citizens. Realising the enormous significance of the place, everyone kept their exuberance in check and engaged in quiet conversation.  

Kirti Mandir, Porbandar
Kirti Mandir, Porbandar

The three-storey yellow building is a haveli with numerous rooms, passages and many iron grill windows having green wooden doors. The architecture is simple with very small rooms, thatched roofs, an open terrace, a courtyard, and a very steep wooden staircase with only a thick rope for support while climbing. Visitors took turns to climb up and down these rickety staircases and children had fun peeping from the windows and getting photographed. The rooms had cool interiors with wooden lofts and were decorated with torans. The exact place where Gandhiji was born to Putlibai was marked by a swastika on the floor. Two life-size oil paintings of Gandhiji and Kasturba adorned one room, while Gandhiji with his famous charkha found a place in another room.

Gandhi’s great-grandfather, Harjivanji Rahidasji Gandhi, had purchased this house in 1777 AD, and subsequently his grandfather Uttamchandji, and father Karamchand extended the house to three storeys and 22 rooms.

Glimpses of Gandhiji’s life

The adjoining Kirti Mandir has been built as a memorial taking architectural elements from all the religious temples of India. It was erected by Seth Nanjibhai Kalidas Mehta of Porbandar, and was inaugurated by Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel in 1950. It has a museum with a few of Gandhiji’s possessions and memorabilia, library, prayer hall, and also a souvenir shop. The corridors exhibit rare vintage photographs from Gandhiji’s childhood, his stay in South Africa, various important events in his life, including the country’s freedom struggle.

From Kirti Mandir, we headed to Porbandar Bird Sanctuary in the very heart of the city. Many migratory birds make this small one-sq-km bird sanctuary their home in winters. Varied species of birds like flamingos, grebes, ducks, herons, ibis, spoonbill, teals, egrets, redshanks among many others could be spotted there. If time permits, one can also visit the various wetlands in Porbandar’s vicinity.

Otherwise, visit Chowpatty Beach in the evening to just hang out, to snack off the pushcarts, and relax on the sand in the cool breeze as the sun sets behind the Arabian sea. There is also a majestic Huzoor Palace on the beach (not open to public) built by Rana Natwarsinhji, the last Jethwa Rajput maharaja of Porbandar. Further up, you could visit the Porbandar harbour and recall the scene from Richard Attenborough’s biopic Gandhi that was shot there with Ben Kingsley and Martin Sheen. 

The importance of the harbour in Porbandar could not be ignored, for trading and fishing thrive in this ancient port. It was known as ‘Paurvelakul’ in Sanskrit. It is one of the oldest ports in western India that is still a very busy and vibrant port. You could also see fishermen busy with their boats in the harbour. The port town was supposed to be founded on the day of Shravan Purnima that coincides with the festival of Raksha Bandhan. The sea and port hold great importance to the fishermen community here, known as the Kharvas. They still pay their obeisance to Paurva Mataji (the port goddess) on Raksha Bandhan when they herald their new year by beginning their fishing activity after a monsoon break.  

The town is also known for its many temples. One unique temple is the Sudama Temple in old Porbandar dedicated to the friendship of Krishna and Sudama. Prior to Porbandar, the town was known as Sudamapuri.  

In all, Porbandar offers a traveller a good mix of history, architecture and culture.

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In the Mahatma's town

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