Gujarat Travelogue – 2: Junagadh

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Hi :-) I hope that you have enjoyed the first part of my nine-part series on India’s western state of Gujarat.  If you are visiting me for the first time, here is the link: Gujarat Travelogue -1: Ahmedabad

In this second part of the series on Gujarat, I’m covering the ancient city of Junagadh. Before starting with my travelogue, here is a little bit about this colourful place, rich in myths and legends…

Junagadh, located 327 km from the state capital of Ahmedabad, means “Old Fort” referring to the ancient fort of Uparkot standing on the eastern side of the city. Ancient Junagadh was ruled by several dynasties of rulers such as Mauryas, Indo-Greeks, Kahatrapas, Guptas, Maitrakas and Chalukyas till 1297 AD. It was an important city during the rule of the highly illustrious monarchs of Maurya dynasty starting from Chandragupta Maurya (founder of the Maurya dynasty) in 319 or 321 BC till the death of its most famous monarch, Emperor Ashoka in 232 BC. Later, the city was ruled by the Gupta dynasty, starting with Chandragupta – I (founder of the Gupta dynasty) in 305 AD till its last monarch Skandagupta in 467 AD.

The prime attraction of this ancient city is Girnar Mountain – a gigantic five-peaked mountain of volcanic origin that rises steeply to a height of around 3600 feet. It is older than the Himalayas and is considered highly sacred to both Hindus and Jains. It is a holy pilgrimage site which attracted pilgrims even prior to 3rd century BC. There is a mosque that attracts Muslim pilgrims too. There are around 9,999 stone steps leading to the summit.

Sasan Gir, the last home of Asiatic lions, is 58 km from Junagadh.

Wednesday, 28 January, 2015

 

My 7:30 AM luxury bus from Paldi in Ahmedabad enters Junagadh around 2:00 PM. It has been a long and tiring journey so I feel very relieved when the driver shouts “Majevadi gate”. This is where I have to get down. I collect my bag from the luggage area and climb into an autorickshaw for Hotel Indralok. A short distance away, I realize that I have been overcharged when the rickshaw stops outside a hotel alongside the road.  I quietly pay the fare of 30 rupees and walk into the hotel.

It’s a nice place. Right now they have only deluxe rooms. The tariff is 1750 rupees plus taxes and includes breakfast. But in the tariff card given to me by the bus agent at Ahmedabad, deluxe rooms are at 1400 rupees. A good look at it shows me that it is five years old. And I was happily expecting a non AC room for 700 rupees! I manage to get a 20% discount from the young chap at the reception. All the rooms facing Girnar Mountain are occupied so I get my first view of the sacred mountain from one of the windows in the hallway. My road-facing room is nice. Above all, the bathroom is large and clean. A short while later I have lunch at the hotel’s multi-cuisine vegetarian restaurant. Tomato soup, vegetable hakka noodles and kesar pista (saffron pistachio) ice cream. After lunch, I leave for local sightseeing. Aware of the rich past of this ancient city, I’m very eager to wander around the place, especially the Uparkot fort, but I have limited time on hand. Tomorrow morning, I have to leave for Somnath. It is 3:15 PM so I have just three and a half hours to cover the nearest places before it gets dark. One of the interesting places, the Darbar Hall Musuem, is closed on Wednesdays so I won’t be able to visit it. Bad luck, because it’s a historical place and houses the royal treasure of the nawabs of the Babi dynasty who ruled Junagadh from the mid-18th century till India’s independence. Now I have four places to visit:  Uparkot Fort, Girnar Mountain, Ashoka’s Rock Edicts and Mahabat Maqbara.

Waiting for a passing autorickshaw along the road, I see something that I have never seen in any other Indian town till now…tuk-tuks! These colourful three-wheelers, seating six in two rows facing each other at the back, look so cute that I feel like taking a ride in one of them.  But the ones passing by are occupied. After some time, I get an autorickshaw. The driver tells me that it would cost 300 rupees to cover the four places. I have been told that this is the normal charge so I climb in. Junagadh looks more like a small town than a city and at this hour, it seems to be asleep.

Mahabat Maqkara, a mausoleum for one of the former rulers, is located close by, just opposite the Junagadh High Court. The beautiful architectural style is a mixture of Islamic, Hindu and European influences seen in most royal buildings of Indian princely states built during the British Colonial period.  Built in 1892, this boldly decorated mausoleum has everything from French windows to Gothic columns.

The first monument from the entrance is this mausoleum for a former ruler of Junagadh, Nawab Mahabat Khan II.

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There is nobody around except for stray dogs relaxing in the shade with their family. The doors are locked but I get a glimpse of the interiors through the broken glass panes and iron grills. There are some more dogs sleeping inside.

Surprisingly, the adjacent monument housing the tomb of the Nawab’s administrator, Vazir Bahauddin Bhar, is more attractive. It is flanked on its corners by four towering minarets encircled by twirling spiral staircases.

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Climbing up the tiny staircase, I reach the top of the minaret and get a lovely view of the surroundings.

View of the top of the adjacent Mahabat Maqkara…

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View of the High Court with Girnar Mountain in the background… 5   Watch my video: View from top of the Vazir’s Mausoleum at Mahabat Maqbara

After a bit of looking around, it is time to leave for the next place…Uparkot Fort.  I love visiting ancient forts and listening to stories connected with it so I’m very excited.  It’s a 15-minute ride passing through narrow streets and old quarters.  Parking the rickshaw, the old driver leads me towards the fort entrance where a couple of guides are hanging around. He tells one of them to show me the place and explain its history properly. The guide fee is 150 rupees.

The fort is huge, about 2 km in radius and it takes 2-3 hours to walk around the important sights. For this reason, light vehicles are allowed to enter the fort. The guide asks me if I need a scooter. No, I prefer walking even though it is a hot afternoon. It is 4:00 PM as we start with the tour. The fort’s closing time is 6 PM.

The outer walls of the fort… 6i   6ii

Near the entrance there are two small temples of Lord Ganesh and Lord Hanuman. The guide points out a sword and shield design on the ancient walls of the fort. It was the logo of Junagadh.

View of the entrance from inside the fort…

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This centuries-old heavy solid wood door grabs my attention… 6iv

The guide starts with the history of this imposing fortified citadel.  It is said that the fort was built in 319 BC during the reign of Chandragupta Maurya. The Buddhist caves inside the fort date back to 2nd-4th century. Somewhere in the 7th century, the fort was abandoned and was overrun by thick jungles. In the 9th century, a Rajput king from the Chudasama dynasty took over Junagadh. Realizing its defensive importance, the fort was rebuilt in the 10th century with 65 feet high walls and a 300 feet deep moat around it, making it an impregnable fortress. The Chudasama dynasty ruled over Junagadh till the last king Raja Mandlik III was defeated in the 15th century by a Muslim ruler Mahmud Begada from the Gujarat Sultanate. From then onwards Junagadh, which was hitherto ruled by Hindu kings, came under Muslim rule till India’s independence. After Mahmud Begada’s victory, the fort was abandoned. In the 16th century, Junagadh became part of the powerful Mughal Empire till the mid-18th century when the nawab of Babi dynasty, Sher Khan Babi, who had close links with the Sultan of Ahmedabad, took over Junagadh. Since then, Junagadh was ruled by the nawabs of Babi dynasty till India’s independence.

We come to the ramparts of the fort overlooking the city of Junagadh. Here, two cannons are kept side by side facing the city. Neelam and Manek, are they are called, were brought from Cairo in Egypt by the Turkish flotilla, who were invited by Bahadur Shah of the Gujarat Sultanate to defend Diu from Portuguese invasion in 1537.

Watch my video: Neelam and Manek cannons

This is Neelam, the larger among the two cannons. It is 17 feet long and has an Arabic inscription. 7

However, the cannons were never used. This is the story…

Facing attacks from the Mughal Empire at one side and the Portuguese at another, Bahadur Shah made a peace treaty with the Portuguese who agreed to help him against the Mughals on the condition that he had to accept Portuguese Rule in Diu and allow them to construct a fortress there. Some time later, the Mughals got occupied with other battles. Bahadur Shah took this opportunity to turn against the Portuguese. But by then the Portuguese had got a strong foothold over Diu. So he invited Turkish intervention to expel the Portuguese and to re-establish trade with the Turks. Meanwhile, the Portuguese invited him for a peace pact aboard their ship which he accepted, only to never return. He was killed on the ship and dumped into the Arabian Sea. The Turks were defeated at sea. The cannons were later brought to Junagadh and installed here.

By the way, the Portuguese occupation of Diu in 1537 went on till 1961…that’s 424 long years!

The guide comes to the 20th century history of Junagadh, when India gained independence from the British in 1947. After Independence, all princely rulers within Indian boundary acceded to India but the Nawab of Junagadh, Mahabat Khan III, was interested in merging his kingdom with Pakistan. The majority of his subjects were Hindus and they wanted to merge with India which was right – Junagadh was deep within Indian land. The Nawab strengthened his military power to crush any rebellion against his decision. When the people of Junagadh strongly revolted against him, he gave power of attorney to his Diwan (or administrator) Shahnawaz Bhutto, father of Pakistan’s ex-President Zulfikar Bhutto, and fled Junagadh with all his dogs, wives and all the royal treasures that he could carry with him to Pakistan. Soon, Shahnawaz Bhutto too fled to Pakistan leaving the people of Junagadh the option to remain independent or merge with India. In February 1948, a plebiscite took place in which Junagadh voted with overwhelming majority in favour of accession to India. In November 1948, Junagadh got integrated into India.

Stories abound of the Nawab’s excessive love for his pedigree dogs from all over the world. He was said to own about 300 of them, each with a personal attendant to keep them clean, fit and healthy. A state holiday was declared to celebrate the marriage of his bitch, Roshanara to Bobby, the dog of the Nawab of Mangalore. It was a three-day extravaganza. And when one of his champion dogs died, he declared a day of public mourning. One of his kin was the Junagadh-born beautiful Bollywood actress, Parveen Babi, who was the first Indian actress to grace the cover of TIME magazine in 1976.

We turn away from the ramparts to walk towards the right, to Ranakdevi ka Mahal (Ranakdevi’s Palace) which was converted into a mosque by Mahmud Begada after he defeated the last Hindu ruler of Junagadh, Raja Mandlik III in 1473.

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The guide narrates the stories of how the last Hindu king’s doom was foretold.  It is said that Raja Mandlik III, a devout Hindu, once grabbed the land of a lady who had treated him as a house guest. Infuriated, she cursed him: He would lose his kingdom to Muslims and a mosque would stand in the place of his palace. Another story is about the well-known Gujarati poet, Narsinh Mehta, whose devotional songs are widely popular in Gujarat. He was said to have been blessed by Lord Krishna who helped him and looked after his family in difficult times. One day, the king arrested him on receiving complaints from some people jealous of his growing popularity. Narsinh Mehta was sentenced to death and told that he would be released only if the garland placed on Lord Krishna’s idol at a temple would reach him in the prison. The king promised to free him only if the lord garlanded him within a short time. A miracle happened and the garland was around the neck of Narsinh Mehta. The king realized his mistake and fell at Narsinh Mehta’s feet. When the Sultan of Gujarat began hearing stories that the people of Junagadh were unhappy with their king, he invaded Junagadh. Raja Mandlik III was defeated. The devout Hindu was forced to embrace Islam. He spent the rest of his days in prison. Ranakdevi’s Palace became Jama Masjid.

Much of the palace area is in ruins. Stones, crumbled walls, accumulated heaps of tree branches… As I walk towards one of the dark spaces to take a close look inside, the guide stops me. It is not safe because everything is a mess. He leads me towards the entrance door of the palace (or the Jama Masjid) beside which lie a couple of graves covered with coloured cloths and a small mausoleum.

A view of Girnar Mountain from the palace…

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Girnar Mountain resembles a sleeping human face as can be seen from this photograph…

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Entering the palace, I see floor-to-ceiling pillars everywhere. The guide tells me that there are 140 pillars in total. Being a mosque, this place is well-maintained.

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View of Girnar Mountain from the palace… 39 Ancient wall carvings inside the palace… 12

The most interesting story associated with the fort is about Rani Ranakdevi, after whom this palace is named. The guide narrates this enthralling legend about the 12th century queen…

Rani Ranakdevi was an abandoned child brought up by a potter family of Junagadh with loving care. She grew up into a very beautiful woman. Stories of her exquisite beauty reached far and wide. The famous Hindu ruler of Solanki dynasty, Siddhraj Jaisinh (1094 -1143 AD) the powerful King of Patan, sent her a marriage proposal.  But Rani Ranakdevi got married to Raja Rakhengar, the ruler of Junagadh. Angered, Jaisinh attacked Junagadh. Raja Rakhengar’s army strongly defended the fort and the siege continued for 12 long years. By then, the queen had two sons. Jaisinh did not give up and tried hard to conquer Junagadh. Raja Rakhengar had two nephews whom he looked after as his own sons. Lured by Jaisinh’s words of making them the king, they conspired against their uncle. They hid Jaisinh’s men in sacks and loaded them onto carts with food supplies for the fort. They ordered the guards to open the entrance gates of the fort and let the carts pass in. With the enemy inside the fort, the fort’s defence collapsed.  Raja Rakhengar was captured and beheaded. Rani Ranakdevi’s two sons were beheaded before her eyes. She was forced to leave the palace with Jaisinh but she refused. An ardent worshipper of Girnar Mountain, she screamed at it for not protecting her. At her bitter words, a terrible avalanche shook the mountain, threatening to destroy it. The queen pleaded it to stop and miraculously, the avalanche stopped. Knowing that the queen would leave the palace if her husband’s head was carried away, he ordered his men to carry the head of Raja Rakhengar to Patan. Rani Ranakdevi followed her husband’s head and left the palace with Jaisinh and his army.

The two nephews who conspired against their uncle came forth to claim the throne as promised to them by Jaisinh. But the latter put the two traitors to death as he did not expect trust from those who betrayed their own people.

On the return journey to Patan, the king’s convoy camped at a village called Wadhavan. Rani Ranakdevi pleaded to commit the ritual of sati (self-immolation) to protect her honour. Jaisinh was battling a serious illness, a bad omen because he was forcibly taking Rani Ranakdevi to Patan against her will. So he allowed her to commit sati. Rani Ranakdevi sat on a burning pyre with her husband’s head. A temple was built on the place where she committed sati, as a tribute to the woman who preferred death to marriage with the person who killed her husband and her sons. Ranakdevi’s temple stills stands today at the same place in Wadhavan. Rani Ranakdevi’s legend has been a source of inspiration to many Gujarati poets.

Hearing this epic story, I look around the palace with great interest, imagining the tragic scenes that took place here more than 850 years ago. The guide tells me that many locals claim that the area around this palace is haunted after dusk. Umm ghost stories…

Like most ancient forts, this one too had escape routes and secret passages which went out to different locations, near and far.  They all started from this palace. I start to walk towards the other end but the guide tells me there is nothing there. He is in a hurry to leave the place. We proceed towards a 2nd century Buddhist cave complex. On the way I see a peacock. There are about 300-400 of them here, the guide tells me. The sprawling fort area is home to plenty of birds and animals. Walking briskly, we reach the Buddhist cave complex within three minutes.

This plaque gives visitors a detailed information of the caves…

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Carved into the rocky hill, the caves are quarried in three tiers in such a way that even the lowest floor gets light and ventilation. Elaborate rain harvesting techniques can be seen here.

Watch my video: Underground Buddhist Caves

Bathing area near the water cistern… 20   21

The lower floor of the three-tier cave complex includes assembly halls, windows, meditation cells, resting places, etc.

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It has exquisitely carved pillars carrying unique decorative designs… 18   The ornamented pillars carry animal figures like lions, among others. 19 A faint outline of these ancient motifs is visible… 17

After spending twenty minutes at the caves, we start for the two unique stepwells on the other side of the fort, facing Girnar Mountain.  I see plenty of wild pigs running around the place and can’t stop myself from taking this photo of a piglet walking on the fort wall.

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The stepwells served as water sources for those living inside the fort.  Their date of contruction is not known but they are said to be among the earliest stepwells in the country. They are unlike the ornate stepwells found in the rest of Gujarat. The first one is Adi-Chadi Vav, which looks like a canyon and is carved out of solid rock. It is 81 metres long, 4.75 metres wide and 41 metres deep. There are 162 primitive steps leading to the well shaft.

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Thinking that it might be dirty and smelly I decide not to climb down the steps to the water level.  A short walk away, I look down into the open deep well…

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The rock stratum along the side walls looks amazing but deep below the water is further contaminated by trash including plastic bottles thrown in by callous people. Thank god I didn’t take the stairs!

Watch my video: Adi-Chadi Vav

The second stepwell, Navghan Kuvo, is close by. This stepwell is deeper than the first one and has a circular stairway that descends 52 metres down into the well shaft. Here too the rock stratum along the side walls is a splendid sight.  A look from the top…

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Watch my video: Navghan Kuvo

A small arched doorway leads down a flight of stairs. I, of course, skip the trip down below. The surroundings of this place are unique. Pigeons fly everywhere around, and why not? They have centuries-old homes specially built for them.

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Ancient pigeonholes… 28

It is sad to see these two heritage architectural marvels turning into dumping grounds with people throwing all kinds of litter into them. I have not seen a single garbage bin inside the fort till now. Rubbish is dumped in the open. Prime Minister Narendra Modi had visited the fort when he was Gujarat’s Chief Minister. Even the Bollywood superstar and brand ambassador of Gujarat, Amitabh Bachchan, had visited the fort for shooting the tourism videos. So, did they see the litter around the place? Maybe not, the guide says, the place was probably cleaned before their arrival.  Really, it is pathetic that the authorities have neglected the maintenance of the fort for so long.

A short walk later, we come to this 1000-year old large granary…

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Here, the grains were preserved with natural herbs and kept safe from rains and pests by using wise storage techniques. The huge granary helped the fort occupants to withstand long sieges.

Watch my video: Granary

We stopped for a while at the water reservoir built by Mahabat Khan Babi. It is a scenic place with Girnar Mountain in the background. It supplies water to residents of the old city area.

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Watch my video: Water reservoir

Around the corner is the third cannon left by the Turks after their defeat with the Portuguese.

It is 6:15 PM by the time we walk out of the fort entrance. The guide has explained the fort’s history very well and has been patient enough to let me explore the place and take photos at my own pace.  I pay him 150 rupees plus 50 rupees as tip for good service. His colleagues expect me to pay twice the amount for the 2.15 hour tour. The guide waves off their comments and looks around for the autorickshaw driver. The latter greets me with a surprised “You spent two hours in the fort!” He is happy that I have enjoyed my tour and that the guide has explained everything very well. He stops the rickshaw to show me this window called Dhakka Bari standing high above on the fort ramparts.

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Those who were sentenced to death were given the final push into the valley from here. Public access to it is closed so it can be seen only from outside the fort.

I have had an enriching time at this amazing Uparkot fort, a must-see place while in Junagadh. Now it is time to visit another historical monument or rather, a rock boulder…Ashoka’s Rock Edicts. It is a huge uneven rock boulder, ten metres in height and seven metres in circumference, on which Ashoka the Great got his fourteen edicts inscribed in Brahmi script. The edicts include policy pronouncements and instructions to his administrators and people. The boulder also has later period inscriptions of two other illustrious rulers of ancient Indian history, Mahakshatrapa Rudradaman (130-150 A.D) and Skandagupta (455-467 A.D).

A little about Ashoka…

Emperor Ashoka of the Maurya dynasty ruled from 269 to 232 BC. His empire stretched from Afghanistan to Bangladesh and from Himalayas to southern India (excluding a few kingdoms in the south).   In his first eight years of reign he ruthlessly extended his empire. The turning point in his life was the war with the tribal kingdom of Kalinga (Orissa and northern coastal strip of Andhra formed the kingdom of Kalinga). He won the war but the massive bloodshed troubled him. He renounced violence and embraced Buddhism. His fourteen edicts in which he laid down his principles were engraved on eighteen rocks and thirty pillars throughout his empire. During this period, Buddhism had reached as far as the Mediterranean.

The rock boulder is housed inside a roadside heritage building, constructed around 130 years ago, on the way to Girnar Mountain. But when we reach the place, we find the entrance closed.  The sad story is that the building collapsed when heavy rains lashed the city six months ago. One of the locals shows us the way past the rubble. It surprises me very much to see this more than 2200-year old rock out in the open with only a blue heavy cloth covering it. Of the building, only one side of the wall facing the road is standing, rest all of it has collapsed. This is the same engraved rock boulder which was discovered in 1822 by a British historian, Colonel James Todd, which helped scholars decode the history of Ancient India.

The rickshaw driver uncovers the cloth on one side for me to take a quick look.

Watch my video:  Ashoka’s Rock Edicts

Inscriptions on the rock…

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Alongside the road to Girnar Mountain is another religious place…Damodar Kund, a temple complex with a pond.

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The driver tells me that it is a sacred bathing place. Pilgrims take a dip in the water tank before they begin their Girnar pilgrimage. During festivities, this temple place along with some others in the region attracts thousands of pilgrims from across the country.  The famous Gujarati poet, Narsimh Mehta used to come here daily for his bath. It is said that he composed most of his famous morning hymns at this place.

The driver urges me to visit the pond so I climb out of the autorickshaw and walk towards it.  We are met by a priest on his way home. A small chat takes place. It is a Hindu ritual to collect sacred water in both hands and splash it over the head while reciting sacred chants three times. The priest tells me to do so. I hesitate. As it is, I have scanty hair growth. I can do without additional hair problems. So I just collect the water in my hands and release it while he chants three times. The final time I touch my forehead. He gives me his blessings. I’m aware that I haven’t got anything less than 100 rupee notes with me. Still, it is customary to offer something to a priest when he recites sacred chants for you. So I offer him a 100-rupee note as dakshina (religious charity).  I catch his pleasantly surprised look. Well, at least I made a priest’s day in just three minutes!

On the road ahead, we pass these monkeys…

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There are many more of them at the entrance to the staircase going up to the summit of Girnar Mountain. There are more than 800 Hindu and Jain temples and hermitages scattered on the five peaks of this sacred mountain, some of them dating back to 12th century AD. For those unable to make the journey to the top by foot, one can hire a doli which is a wooden pole with a seat in the centre carried by two men.

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It takes 5-6 hours to reach the top. Hence, people start early in the morning to return by dusk.  Like every other pilgrim route, here too the road is lined with stalls selling idols of gods and goddesses, offerings including flowers, fruits and sweets for the deities, souvenirs, etc. After a look around the place, we leave. It is 6:50 PM.

On the way back to the hotel, the driver suggests to me a few good restaurants which are of course vegetarian. Non-vegetarian food is sold only on roadside carts. Geeta Lodge serves the best Gujarati thali (a meal with a variety of local dishes) so that’s my first option. Second, is the lari (ladi?)ka khana or street food at Cheetah Khana Chowk.

Back in my hotel room, I refresh myself and start for Geeta Lodge which is a short distance along the dimly lit main road. The restaurant is closed. So it looks like I’m going to have non-vegetarian dinner. Following the road directions given by the autorickshaw driver, I reach the congested area of Diwan Chowk. The town has plenty of old buildings in crumbled state. I can see a few stalls selling egg dishes but not chicken. Thinking that it would be stupid to enquire about non-vegetarian food carts from strict vegetarians I walk around in search of them. Ten minutes later I give up and ask at the nearest shop for Cheetah Khana Chowk. As expected, the old shopkeeper tells me that I’m in Cheetah Khana Chowk area and wants to know what I’m looking for. Should I tell him? My conscience tells me: Yes, go ahead! Ask him, ask him… I tell him that I’m looking for street food.  He points out 2-3 stalls just opposite the road. I know, but they are selling vegetarian food. I’m looking for non-vegetarian food. Ahhhh… I wait for the old man’s reaction. Before he can say anything, another man sitting nearby helps me. He gives me the exact location of one of the stalls. Thank God!

I find the place easily. The food is being prepared on a roadside cart but there are two small rooms with a few tables for customers. In one room, some boys are enjoying their meal, in the other there are two vacant tables. A youngster leads me towards it. In chicken dishes, they have tandoori chicken, chicken tikka masala and chicken curry. I opt for chicken tikka masala with some rotis.

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It is a bit spicy but tastes good. After the delicious meal, I stop at a place to buy a water bottle and a malai kulfi stick (frozen dairy dessert). It is 8:15 PM and I still have to book a private taxi for my next day’s journey to Somnath. So I slurp on the malai kulfi while on my way to the bus stand area.  A metre-gauge railway track crosses the main road. I’m surprised. I never knew Junagadh had a metre-gauge train.  Further ahead, I see an eyewear shop and step inside. My camera lens has got plenty of smudges on it so I ask the young owner if he can clean it with a solution. He readily helps and even offers me one of their cleaning cloths for eye glasses. It is very kind of him to not charge anything for the small service. Walking on, I realize that I was fortunate to get a well-located hotel because the bus stand area is very congested.  After making enquiries, I find the place to book a car for the next morning. It costs 2200 rupees for the 88 km drive to Somnath. I want to take the road that passes through Gir Forest. Some tourists have been lucky enough to see lions cross the road before dawn. The chances of sighting a lion after dawn are close to nil but I’m sure that the drive would be very enjoyable. Booking done, I walk back to my hotel. It is 9:30 PM. As I climb up the stairs to my room, a woman dressed in festive wear surprises me with a sweet invitation, “Have you been to an Indian wedding? Would you like to see it?”  I try to make myself audible above the Hindi songs playing loudly on the upper floor. “Plenty, I’m Indian.” We reach the second floor where a party is going on. She tells me it’s the Ladies Sangeet for her niece’s wedding.  She is so eager that I attend it that I don’t have the heart to say no. Both the bride and groom belong to the Sindhi community. Dressed informally with a cap, I stick out like a sore thumb among all the females inside the room dressed in traditional festive wear.

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The music and dance programme is in full swing and I’m invited to join in the dance. I do so for a while. It is fun but I have to get up early the next morning so after a short but delightful chat with my new acquaintance and her family I take my leave. Back in my room, I can’t help smiling myself when I think about the entire episode.

A bit tired, I hit the sack around 10:30 PM.

Coming next: Gujarat Travelogue – 3: Somnath & Diu

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