Recently, I happened to visit Jamnagar to celebrate Diwali, with parents and my younger brother’s family. The last I had a reasonably long stay in this city was way back in 1999-2000, when I used to work near here. Here are my fond recollections and impressions of the city.
Jamnagar – to me – then
I have had a love-hate relationship with the city of Jamnagar – now called the ‘Oil City of India’ owing to more than a quarter of the country’s crude oil refining capacity being located there – Reliance Industries’ and Essar Oil’s refineries are located near here.
However, if you follow the folklore, the city has always been know as the ‘Oil City of India’ – thanks to the large number of ghanis (bullock driven peanut-crushers for extracting oil) located here. Incidentally Gujarat is called the groundnut bowl of India, and the Gujarati cuisine is notorious for being the oiliest in the country
When I was last here in 1999-2000, during my 18 months stint working for the then Reliance Petroleum Limited, it was still a pretty sleepy town with friendly unhurried pace, and oodles of old world charm – what with anywhere-to-anywhere shared auto rickshaws (tuk-tuks) costing no more than Rs 5, delicious food at cheap prices, and mostly easy going traffic. In those days, the only thing resembling hustle-bustle was the area around the Reliance refinery in Moti Khavdi village, and the Meghpar vegetable/meat market on Sunday mornings, when the crowd from Reliance Township (called the Reliance Greens) would step out to do their weekly shopping!
In those days, though most of our time was spent around the refinery premises and the township, or the nearby restaurants – Meeting Point (for their famed Madras Fish Curry) and the Express Inn hotel – we looked forward to going into the town every weekend, enjoying a walk around the tadaav (the pond – in the middle of which is the king’s palace), eating street food, heavy duty veg thali meals at the Brahmaniya Dining Hall, or enjoying the sea-food at the 7-Seas restaurant in the President Hotel nearby.
Being a dry state, it is illegal to buy or sell alcoholic drinks. However, the armed forces personnel are exempt from this rule. We did occasionally visit a house in Patel Colony, where a defense employee was only too glad to sell us our booze, at a slight premium over the price!
One of the most convenient ways to reach Jamnagar from Mumbai – other than flying – is to catch the Saurashtra Mail train, which chugs along quietly in the night to reach you Jamnagar by next day noon. The morning view from the train would mostly be flat farmlands with an occasional hillock in the distance – always with a temple or a shrine atop. And if you are lucky and the rain Gods have been good to normally arid lands of Gujarat, you will see small ponds with water buffalos.
As the train crawls past Ahmedabad, you would notice the surroundings getting increasingly infested with the thorny bushes, vernacularly referred as gando bavad (scientific name ‘Prosopis Juliflora’, if you must know). This incidentally is a common feature of the whole of Saurashtra and Kutch, wherever you go.
As the train chugs along, you will get an opportunity to have the famous tea at Vankaner junction, buy the very popular roasted salted peanuts – sheeng – at Surendranagar (be sure to buy some for your journey and friends back home). And if you are hungry, you can treat yourself to a round of idli/dhosa at the Rajkot station (platform number 1). These, by the way, ain’t good enough to justify the sales (you would have to queue up to place your order!), but I guess the availability of hot South-Indian food is the key, and not the quality.
Jamnagar – the city – now
Though the city visit this time around reminded me a lot of the friends and the good times we had here almost a decade back, there’s no void. The friends have now been replaced by family, and the new fun things you can do, touring a city with an ever-curious ever-questioning toddler!
The city of Jamnagar, from my point of view, can best be identified by its food. The place boasts of some unique foodie delights – like the dry-fruit kachoris of H J Vyas shop (though almost every sweet shop now has a look-alike taste-alike variant, and most of them are good to the palate. One of the good competing products (better in taste I would say, but not as long shelf-life) is available at Shrikhant Samrat shop, not far from the original HJ Vyas shop.
Another thing that Jamnagar is famous for is its dish golas – crushed ice balls, dipped in a variety of syrups and topped with milk concentrates. It is an awesome delight to eat and enjoy – especially when topped with a generous serving of dried fruits. In Mumbai’s Gujarati dominated suburbs you will often site many carts hawking ‘Jamnagar na prakhyat malai gola’!
To this amazing landscape of kachoris, golas and farsans, is a recent addition called the jeera soda.
Farsan, by the way, is such a popular Sunday morning breakfast, that you would have to queue up at the shop early morning to get your share! Having given in to the temptation for breakfast, we had to have Shrikhand in the lunch, and then retired to a blissful siesta!
And in the evening we went for a stroll around tadaav, which, since I now had a toddler in tow, seemed a much livelier place with lots of glitzy (with blaring music!) rides for the small kids, trampolines, et al. And then we wound up the evening with a sumptuous meal of Milan ni paav-bhaji, followed, of course, by a mouthful of meetha masaala paan.
Now that I was visiting Jamnagar as a family man, there are other aspects of the city which were unraveled to me. To begin with, Jamnagar is very popular for its bandhani (tie-and-die) cloth, often used in making women’s dresses, sarees, kurtas, etc. The cloth is prepared manually, by skilled craftsmen, who tie the cloth at the right places, and then dip the tied knots in various dyes to get the desired print. One good place to get your bandhani would be the Mahavir Bandhani Wala, in Chandi Bazar.
Some Things Never Change!
The city is as hot and dusty as it was a decade back. The occasional traffic woes still come from the cows and other cattle jay-walking on the roads.
The government has been generous to the industry workers, and has increased the number and frequency of long-distance trains (especially to the eastern state of Bihar, thanks to the then railway minister). However, not much could be done about the sheep and goats which roam freely on the railway tracks!
The medical college and the hospital road are still busy places any time of the day; the palatial ayurvedic college right opposite to the hospital seems haunted. These are the places I used to visit often back in 1999 to meet up with some school mates who took admission to these colleges. As a starry-eyed teenager, I always looked forward to becoming a doctor. During the admission process however, when I got an offer to join the dental stream – to become a dentist – I decided against it.
But now I feel that would have been a good choice – the people of Jamnagar still can’t speak properly since their mouths are always stuffed full of paan. In a paan-chewing country, a dentist will never go to sleep hungry!
Update 30th Dec 2011:
On my recent visit to the Shikhant Samrat shop to get my regular share of kachoris for the folks back home and office in Mumbai, I was recommended a place for good kathiawadi food nearby. The place – called the Ambika Lunch Home – is on the first floor of the building not far from the Shikhant Samrat shop, and serves amazing Gujarati kathiawadi food in an a la carte style – there’s no thali system here. The bajra no rotlo is amazing and goes well with almost any curry you may order.
Opposite Super Market
Near Jayshree Talkies,
Pancheswar Tower Road
Besides, my brother got recommended another place for getting good kachoris in Jamnagar – it is the kachoris from Pawan Dairy Parlour in Patel Colony. He tried the kachoris there and did have good things to say about them. Next time, you too might want to try that.