Welcome to the oyster of India. The pearl that awaits you, formed over the ages, is not the perfectly round and smooth one on a string, painted in royal portraits, but a rough, bustling, noisy one. Layer after layer has been laid on what used to be a tiny fishing settlement: pearl fishing, in one of the largest fisheries in the world; bandhani, the traditional fabric dyeing technique; master silver artisans; a series of Jams or rulers, who brought prosperity, glory in the world of cricket, and a Nature Conservation Park; an overflow of holy places for worship of different faiths; and a crumbling old city full of stories.
At the center of the pearl city waits an island fort in a lake, where humans enjoying kulfi share space with flocks of birds enjoying the breeze. At the sea, where oil refineries quickly gobble up the coastline, waits the spectacular and heroic Marine National Park and Sanctuary, the last vestiges of protection from human expansion.
Jamnagar was founded around Ranmal Lake, on the confluence of the rivers Rangmati and Nagmati, in 1540 by Jam Rawal who was chased south from Kutch after drama and conflict among the royalties. It was the capital of what was then called Nawanagar, “new city”. Nawanagar, later renamed for jam, meaning “king”, was one of the most important princely states of Saurashtra until joining the Indian union. The Jams, of the Jadeja Rajput rulers, are thought to be descendants of Krishna’s Yadav clan.
The city was fortified by Meraman Khawas, who ruled from 1744-1800. Under the rule of Jam Vibhaji in 1852, the city saw the opening of schools, hospitals, and the railway line to Rajkot. Jam Ranjitsinhji ruled from 1907-33 and redesigned the city in 1914, under the guidance of Sir Edward Lutynes, the architect of New Delhi, opening the previously walled city into wide roads and standardized houses with what is described as a “disciplined” look. Before becoming the ruler he had been a famous cricketer, one of the greatest in the history of the game, and had traveled widely to play for England’s team. His design of the city was inspired by what he saw especially in Europe, and thus Jamnagar was called the Paris of India.
He electrified the town in the 1920s, provided free primary education from 1911 and free secondary education from 1916, ordered the construction of Bedi port, and developed the railway connections further. It is said that, in order to clear the streets of stray dogs, he told the Jain population, whose religion forbid them from killing the dogs, that he would have the dogs killed if they were not removed by a certain date. A few days later, the dogs were gone, and apparently have not returned since. (See for yourself if this is true, and perhaps even ask around among the locals about this legend.) The Jam Saheb during Independence was one of the native rulers who joined the Indian Union on their own, and helped to convince others to do the same.
Once a small pearl fishing town, Jamnagar would then become the world's biggest pearl fishery until the early 20th century. It is also famous as a center of the traditional technique of tie-dye fabrics, bandhani, a time consuming process that is believed to have been used in this area for up to the last 500 years. It was later known for its brass industry, significant naval and airforce bases and its Ayurved University. More recently it has included the companies Reliance and Essar Oil as feathers in its industrial cap. Perhaps not unrelated to the growth of the city, the rivers Rangmati and Nagmati, once navigable by boat, have now dried up considerably, and its river bed is used for hosting events in Shravan, a holy month in the Hindu calendar.
How to get there
By road: Jamnagar is 92 km from Rajkot State transport buses and private luxury coaches connect Jamnagar with various centres of Gujarat. If you’re coming from Rajkot on bus, the bus passes right through town before reaching the bus station, so you can ask to be let off at Bedi Gate.
By rail: There are daily trains on the Western Railway with direct connections to Ahmedabad.
By air: There is an airport 10 km from town, so it’s a relatively inexpensive rickshaw or taxi ride. Various domestic airlines connect Jamnagar to Mumbai.