A Trip to Byet Dwaraka - The Mystical Island in the Sea

An Island in the Sea
With the close of another year practically round the corner, it reminded me of a trip I had made when one century gave way to another―the new millennium year.
The new millennium was in the offing. Wondering what to do to commemorate a special moment of time, my eyes desultorily sifting through the various ads of revelries designed to mark the event, I happened to chance upon a little news bulletin, tucked away in one of the inside pages of the paper. An environmental group was organizing a trip to an island called Byet Dwaraka.

Byet Dwaraka? Sounded vaguely familiar. Now where had I heard that name before? Some wracking of the gray cells and driblets of recollection trickled in. A couple of years back my journalist brother had interviewed a Marine Archaeologist named S.R. Rao, who had been involved in some fascinating path finding discoveries at Byet Dwaraka. But, I'll come to that by and by.

So, to Byet Dwaraka I went to usher in the new millennium and to bid adieu to an old one. And Byet Dwaraka has been on my mind ever since. It was an extraordinary experience for me. We city dwellers never quite feel the vastness of the sky, condemned as we are to mere glimpses of it through the concrete rooftops. But at Byet Dwaraka, there was absolutely nothing to impede one's view of the huge expanse of sky in all its majesty and mystery. Except for a few cacti strewn about and a thin scattering of jute hovels, there was nothing much else on the island.

Byet Dwaraka is a tiny horseshoe shaped patch of sand in the Arabian Sea, about 5 km off the coast of Gujarat, at the westernmost tip of India. When we, a motley crowd of 45 or so, arrived at Okha, the port town from where we were about to embark on a ferry ride to this patch of sand, after a night and day's journey from Mumbai (Bombay), darkness was already falling.

Island Walk through

So, in darkness we made the hour or so ferry ride across, and in darkness we landed on the beach. Except for the sole lantern that was suspended on a bamboo pole, it was darkness that greeted us. For, there was no electricity there. Darkness, and the incessant swishing-swashing sound of the sea. Which only seemed to deepen the silence and darkness. A moderate wind whipped about, which would pick up during our stay there, into near gale force. The mildly cold weather, therefore, would bite through our layers of clothing, as the wind-chill factor would sharpen its razor edged teeth.

We lived in makeshift jute tents, the sand our floor. In addition to being electricity free, there was no drinking water either, which had to be brought in every day from the mainland. Freshwater being a scarce commodity, we even brushed our teeth with seawater. Try it some time, and you'll know how godawful it tastes! The island was so narrow that when the tides came in, the waters actually licked the edges of our tents. In the dark of the night that can be an overwhelming sight to behold indeed. That huge mass of water, the whole ocean, coming in closer and closer, until one felt it would swallow us all up, dragging us all in, into its dark, fathomless depths.

Jute and Cane Huts

And then, there was that dome of a sky. That huge entity. Making me feel as small as a grain of sand on that patch of sand lost in the middle of the sea. The night sky was particularly spectacular. There was no moon, and the stars looked close enough to touch. No electricity, you see, so the sky, the sea, and everything else, us including, melded together in the pitch darkness. We did have oil lamps and flashlights with us, of course, but we used to keep them off, reluctant to mar nature's grandeur. We would lie under that sky on the silky sand, the sea nibbling at our toes, and some of the more knowledgeable among us would point out the constellations. And astronomy was the main topic of conversation. It had to be. It was all over us.

Sunrise

But, the most fascinating thing about Byet Dwaraka lay unseen, submerged under the sea. But, I must tell you about Dwaraka city first. The city of Dwaraka, renowned in myth and legend, was once the capital of Lord Krishna's empire. It is one of the seven sacred cities, or Sapta Puris, as well as one of the four dhams, or great pilgrimage centers, for Hindus. Dwaraka city, as shown by archaeological excavations, stands on a site with five earlier archaeological layers of human occupation. Byet Dwaraka is said to be the place where Lord Krishna lived while he ruled Dwaraka.

Sunset

And his palace, inundated by the rising seas over eons of time, time which has since slipped into the pages of mythology and fable, lay right there under our feet, under those heaving, seething seas, discovered by the Marine Archaeologist, S.R. Rao. Artifacts like pottery and utensils have been brought up and are in the process of being carbon dated to establish the time period. Many Indians are convinced that the time period of the Hindu epics, the Ramayana and the Mahabharata, which features Lord Krishna, goes way further back than the mere 5000 BC that western historians date them at.

So, there were we, speechless at the wonder and the mystery of a philosopher king, cloaked in divinity, who gave us the Bhagvad Gita, the remnants of whom have been washed away by the oceans of time. And somehow time stood still. And a sense of timelessness engulfed me.

We spent eight days there. While the others poked around the island looking for sea creatures, shells, corals, migratory birds, like the plovers, herons, egrets, sandpipers―lots of that all around―all I did was sit at the edge of the sea and simply watch nature's pageant in awe, feeling the mystery of life wash over me. I went into the sea for swims, of course, but mostly I just sat and felt it all. It was that kind of a place. When I visit a new city, I walk. I walk and feel the place. But at Byet Dwaraka, I just needed to sit. Quietly.
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