Junagadh the Ancient-Modern city:
After visiting Udaipur, Mumbai, Shirdi, Nasik and Ahmedabad, traveling around 2500 km in 8 days, we were still energetic and my 3.5 yrs. old Basanti (Swift Vxi) was also looking healthy except demanding fuel and occasional air checks. The fuel average so far was almost 15.3 km/l despite of running at 100 km/h most of the time with AC which I always prefer, to avoid dust and noise. Our next destination was Junagadh as a base for the most awaited Darshan of Sinh in its territory at Gir (Lion is called Sinh in Gujrat, WB and some other parts of India) besides Somnath and Diu. Logs in Ghumakkar on Junagadh convoluted me so much that I decided to travel like a lay man when in Junagadh with fun, collecting facts in spontaneity.
Ahmedabad to Junagadh is around 320 km on Ahmedabad-Rajkot HW. The NH 8-B continues upto Porbandar on a superlative 4-lane however, a 30 km bye-pass from Jetpur on NH 8-D proceeds towards Junagadh on a single road with occasional pot holes and bumps. To avoid, one may continue on NH 8-B towards Porbandar upto Dhoraji, then a left on Jamnagar-Junagadh HW, 25 km on better tar.
Starting at 9 am from Ahmedabad, we reached Junagadh by 2 pm via Jetpur. To our surprise the place looked like an age old ancient historical place with very old buildings in crumbled state with a few newer ones at some places. A few hotels with modern look on the way to the Railway Station were however, a relief. Much before entering the town, we were slowed down to 10 km/h for allowing innumerable pedestrians mostly rural, on some sort of religious Yatra, bare footed. We stopped at one point where, I couldn’t find a way to move an inch amidst the packed crowd of such pedestrians on the main road comprising of men, women and children of all age. A few minutes later, I could see a hotel on the left corner and preferred to park aside the car to reach the hotel for an accommodation related enquiry. To my utmost surprise, the tariff was unbelievably high, Rs. 5,500/- with a check out time at 9 am for an ordinary hotel. Reason was, a very important ritual of Parikrama of the very revered Girnar Hill started from the 11th day of Dipawali, which was today on 13th Nov’13. After hunting for a few more even at the outskirts including at Leo, no rooms or exaggerated tariff perturbed us. In distress, I decided to stay away either at Sasan Gir or Somnath where, I was assured by locals, have adequate options.
We decided to reach Somnath because Sasan Gir has limited options. Keeping in mind that a less than 90 km on HW to Somnath may take around one hour, I decided to venture the historical city as much as possible, which was not so hospitable to us due to the obvious reasons. Agreed upon by both of us, we decided to park our car at the outskirts and hire an auto rickshaw for venturing the old city. The places of interests were mainly Girnar Hill and the Junagadh Fort. Others being, Narshim Mehta no Choro, a lake in its name, Wellingdon dam etc. Swami Vivekanand Vinay Mandir one of the oldest HS School is also famous because of the legendary Dhiru Bhai Ambani studied there.
Locals informed, car is allowed to go in all these places and specially the fort area which is too large to cover on foot similarly the Girnar Hill is not comfortable to go around it in auto because of too much of dust due to thousands of devotees performing the Parikrama. With so much of expert opinions, we dared to drive and started with the Girnar Taleti first, unfortunately the road was closed for vehicle’s entry. We then, headed towards the fort which is called Uper-Kot and is pronounced “oopar-kot” and not Upper-Kot, mind it!
Junagadh, as the name implies its relevance, literally means Old-Fort, is actually older than history. Once you dig into wikipedia, you will be left in awe, knowing its extensive historical stories backed with mythological attachments. Not going into that, I found the place retaining its history in pride with appropriate blend of its culture conserving its mythological importance. Very calm, in no hurry, satisfied faces of the residents were a remarkable distinct from ours. After enquiring on every turns of the narrow lanes, sometimes too narrow to accommodate my car, we reached the entry gate of Uper-Kot (by which time I amended the pronunciation). A GP (Gujrat Police) instructed to keep the car aside and buy the ticket before entering. With due regards, I abided when a Guide approached us with an offer to acquaint us with the important sites inside the fort on a fee of Rs. 150/- which may take 2 hours. It was already 3.30 pm and the fort’s closing time is 6 pm so we agreed and allowed him to sit inside. Entering through its huge gate, we could easily realize its magnificent glory in the past but what amazed was its construction in 319 BC which means the fort is 2332 years old now and similar be the age of the city which was therefore, obvious to look older as described by me earlier.
With so much to see and know in the fort, we didn’t want to miss any, thus hurriedly followed our guide through the steeps of ups and downs to the sites with extra energy. Soon after entering the fortified area, our guide asked to stop near a large open space with two canons kept side by side facing towards the city. He told us that those canons are known as Nilam and Manek, were brought from Cairo, Egypt by the Turks to defend Diu & Daman from Portuguese invasion and annexation were however, never used. A few steps upwards on its right is the ruined fort which was originally a Palace of Ranak Devi later converted to Jama Masjid by Sultan Begda after conquering Saurashtra, is now tourists spot. Supported by 140 stone pillars with intricacies, not well kept, impressively attract attention, the door like structures with beautiful stone carvings now serve to frame photos of couples and children besides shelter to pigeons. A narrow steep and low stair cases leads to the roof of the fort-palace-mosque for better view of Mt. Girnar on its backdrop. Mt. Girnar with two other hills on its both ends resembles human face from the other side on photographs taken in clear weather. A series of graves on an edge of the Jama Masjid were lying covered in colored cloths with a small mausoleum at the backyard, clicked it too without knowing facts.
Next we visited the two step-wells, the oldest ones, sadly in pitiable state due to negligence on part of the administration and indifference and ignorance of general public. One with straight inclined entry is open on the top with enough water, badly contaminated by tourists throwing all sorts of wastes and garbage into it shamelessly. A man sitting inside was alarming visitors of its high contamination and keep away from drinking. When I asked him why the water is not treated or cared to cover with some nettings at the accessible openings, he innocently answered that two of them who are earning in the name of religious services there, have cleared the visible objects few days back in view of increased tourist inflow but can’t do that frequently because of the cold water. Poor guy, he was not aware that the water is more dangerous than just cold due its invisible toxins. The next well adjacent to the previous one is deeper and can be reached by its circular steps are supposed to be in existence since 10th century. The two heritage architectural marvels are known as Adi Chadi Vav and the later Navghan Kuvo.
The Budhist cave next, with a nominal entry fee, quite well preserved was a silver lining. The 2nd century caves with rock sculptures by the Buddhist monks were perhaps used for their meditation. The three tier excavated structure with geometrical architecture, floral designs and symmetrical balances was genuinely delightful to know our rich expertise in the ancient eras. Wish we can preserve them at-least as good as they are now.
Finally a huge granary, a few steps from the step-wells, covered with stage wise storage facilities enabled the curators to use the stocks in hardships as per its requirement by taking it out of the selected chamber designed by high class engineering technique without disturbing the entire storage. Preserved with natural herbs and their way of modern-ancient techniques of keeping the grains dry and free from pesticides is a matter of research. We are happy with pride to know that we were always ahead of time.
An interesting fact, which I feel prominent to mention, is that Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, the deceased veteran of Pakistan, hanged in a political trial was an administrator of the Nawab of Junagadh and played a role during annexation, post independence. Also the very famous, beautiful actor in Bollywood, Parvin Babi was a kin to Junagadh Nawab of Babi dynasty, sadly died in pitiable condition. A few fresh blooms and a solitary eagle on a dead dried tree impressed me with the balance of nature.
It was 6 pm and we decided to come back to present from the history. Down the hill, we were informed by one taxi driver that Somnath HW is in very bad shape post monsoon and under construction suggesting, go via Sasan-Gir, Talala & Veraval on a single but smooth road, just few extra miles. After re-confirming with a couple of locals about safety driving through the jungles of Gir at that hour, we were assured with certainty about the safety except some distant instance of confronting wild animals including Lions or Leopards with remedial to stop the vehicle distantly and wait as long as they don’t traverse the road on their discretion, as no traffic rules binding upon them.
To be honest it was not an easy decision to make, neither could I share my inevitable fear with my wife. Best of West is that, the sun here sets late and at 6 pm it was quite bright with the sun still shining with glow so I started off, with a hope to cross the jungle before its dark. On the contrary, my wife insisted to visit the Narshim Mehta no Choro temple on the way. A quick visit and prayer for safe journey, we were through on the real wilderness. Another halt on a bridge over a reservoir with a dam on one side forced us to spare a few more minutes in capturing the captivating view in orange low light.
Beyond my expectation, in the dense forest, the sun vanished much earlier leaving a dusky and dreadful atmosphere with canopies of trees ensuring no light penetrate, in the territory of the K(Sing). I have never driven more cautiously than on this route (not even in the highest motor-able road). My eyes were constantly vigil on the edges of the dense bushes on both ends of the narrow path with illusions of sighting something shadowy and dreadful every moment. I can’t ever forget the thrill of silence in those 30 minutes. Soon, thereafter, some open space, much brighter, broader road and hoardings of Resorts in the Gir were a satisfying moment. The welcome board by the forest department, in the territory of the Asiatic Lion’s only home, made me emotional and compassionate for the helpless creature, spontaneously forgetting the stressful state of mind, a few moments earlier.
Soon a broader road with rows of road-side shops, tea stalls, eateries, with glittering twilights fed the mind with sense of guaranteed safety. On the left a large boundary of the only FRH, Sinh Sadan with a large gate at its entry intensified the long awaited desire and shivered the body in exhilarated feverishness. Further the road ahead was again through forests forced me to re-think of searching a staying option there only. A quick look inside the FRH reception was futile as it was close and guards informed of a house full too.
Across the road I found a hotel kind of building, a few steps closer revealed it of Annapurna Hotel. Soon I recalled the very extensive post on Gir by Mr. Manish Khamesra regarding their visit in 2009 which I perused but didn’t feel helpful as it was written 5 years back and things change a lot in so many years but I was wrong. It was the same Annapurna Hotel Manish Bhai but I couldn’t find Ghanshyam Bhai instead Hitesh Bhai a young man in early 30s was in the general store and his younger brother looking after the restaurant and Hotel. I asked them if they have a room available and readily they provided one on the 1st floor, luckily vacated one hour prior to our arrival for Rs. 1,000/- which he admitted was exaggerated due to the rush else may provided it for Rs. 600/-. Without caring to check the room quality I asked my wife to check-in and the baggage was later shifted by the attendants.
The journey continues……