I had no plan of spending any time in Bhavnagar but things have a way of their own on the road. I arrive into town at about 3 pm from Palitana. I find the bus station crowded. Most buses are full. People are returning from their New Year holiday. This is about the only time the public bus service in Gujarat is pushed beyond its capacity.
I ask for directions to get to Lothal. This is a town renowned for the ruins of an ancient dock from the Harappan Age. According to my tourist map, it should be a short detour on the road from Bhavnagar to Ahmedabad. I am advised to go to Bagodra and change to local transport. I board a bus to Bagodra but the conductor has no knowledge of Lothal or where I should get off. It is a three-hour ride to Bagodra and the bus is already full. I will have to stand out the journey. I hesitate a little and then get off bus.
‘You can reserve a seat at the counter,’ says a woman sitting next to me at the station, as I go through my maps and tourist brochures. I am wondering what to do for the rest of today.
I walk to the reservation counter. There is a long queue. I think I will stay here tonight and avoid this returning crowd. I step out of the bus station to find a room.
I have two choices – turn left or turn right. I turn left. I realize later that it’s a wrong move. I wander for 45 minutes without finding any hotel or lodge. I see the town’s jail. I pass lots of clinics, hospitals and nursing homes.
‘People of Bhavnagar must be really sick,’ I think.
Finally I find a large hotel, its distemper peeling off the walls. Many monsoons have taken their toll on this building which is clearly not well-maintained. The hotel is empty of guests. There is an eerie silence in its wide corridors and stairways.
‘You can see the room first. We will settle the price later,’ says the manager.
I am shown a couple of rooms. Rooms are large with spacious attached bathrooms and hot water. A coffee table with old upholstered sofas occupy a corner. Large thick curtains are drawn across the windows that open to a mediocre view, the little that Bhavnagar can offer.
‘The rooms are alright but too big for me. How much is it for a night?’ I ask.
‘We give it for Rs. 1400 but since you are single we will give it for Rs. 700,’ says the manager.
I feel I can surely bargain because I seem to be the only guest in this place. ‘It’s still too much for my budget,’ I reply.
‘What’s your budget?’
‘It’s way below your expectations. Two-fifty.’
‘The best I can offer is five hundred.’
I leave the hotel after wishing him a Happy New Year. After some more minutes of walking and searching, I find a dormitory bed at Rs. 100 for the night. I check into a room with three beds. It turns out that this place is only five minutes away from the bus station. I knew I should taken the right turn.
I walk around for a couple of hours looking for a cyber cafe and a decent place for dinner. All I find is a dried up lake. When I finally find a place to login, there are no free terminals. I am asked to wait for five minutes. I wait for twenty minutes, lose my patience and leave. At night, roadside stalls appear on empty pavements. They lay out a few tables and chairs under two CFL lights that run on batteries. The passing traffic is spewing its guts out right onto the plates. I settle for bread and salted chips.
‘Get up. Get up.’
I am woken up from my sleep. I check the time. It’s 10.30 pm. The manager of the guest house, an old man with bushy grey eyebrows, is staring down at me. Just some months ago he retired as a carpenter from the local PWD.
‘What’s up?’ I ask a little irritated at this break of sleep.
‘Move there,’ he points to a bed he has set up in the corridor outside. This is no request. It is an order garnished with a dose of rudeness.
‘Why? And so late.’
‘Some people coming here,’ he says with the same rude tone of voice. I begin to understand the picture. He has rented the dormitory room for a group of three.
‘I have paid for this bed in this room. Why should I move to the corridor?’ I complain.
‘People coming. Get up. Move,’ he shouts staring at me as if I were a fresh piece of wooden plank. His words are brief. His sentences are no more than hanging phrases. His Hindi is poor and mixed with Gujarati words.
‘This is terrible service, you know.’
‘What you expect for hundred rupees? This how it is around here. Don’t like, you leave,’ comes back the sharp reply.
At half-ten I don’t want to be walking around looking for another place or spend a sleepless night. I move to the corridor, cursing his service. My words have no effect on him. I catch a decent amount of sleep but wake up at times to swat mosquitoes.
So this is my impression of Bhavnagar – a dinnerless disconnected place with bad service.