After an exhausting yet exciting day at Somnath, my next destination on the weekend trip was the old fort city of Junagadh. Junagadh, a small town in the foot of the Girnar hills, has an intriguing history spanning over two millenniums. The town has seen multiple change of regimes, some of them being laced with deceit and controversy before it was finally unified with India in yet another controversial move. In this post, I would restrain myself from discussing the history of Junagadh, lest we go into a storytelling mode and lose ourselves in the unceasing labyrinth of intriguing twists and plots which this ancient city holds in its bosom.
I boarded a GSRTC bus for Junagadh from the Veraval bus station (about 7 km from Somnath). It took 3 hours to reach Junagadh. After alighting at the Junagadh bus station, I tried to book an OLA/Uber cab but was surprised to find that these app-based cab services were not available in the town. Unavailability of travel apps is often a blessing in disguise for travelers. When you don’t have the comfort of apps, you have no option but to get yourselves on the streets, seeking help for roads by interacting with locals and heckling with the autowalas to strike a bargain. These often create memories that stay with you forever and gives moments that you cherish later as a traveler.
I shortlisted two historical places – Mahabat Maqbara and Uperkot fort as time was limited and I had to travel back to Ahmedabad in the evening; the scorching sun didn’t provide any motivation either. I was extremely hungry and before anything I wanted to have a good lunch. The auto driver I met could speak only Gujarati and I had to struggle a lot before I could convince him to take me to a good nonveg restaurant. Somehow I managed to make him understand and credit to the driver as well, he did his best to help me out.
After lunch, the first place I visited was the Mahabat Maqbara. It is an ancient mausoleum in the heart of Junagadh town. It is located in front of the district court. The premises has two tombs, one of Nawab Mahabat Khan and the other belonged to his wazir – Bahar-ud-din Bahar. The tomb of Mahabat Khan is an ornate building with a fusion of gothic, European, Hindu and Islamic architecture. The dome and the pillars have exquisite rock carvings. On the right is the Jama Masjid and on the left is the more iconic tomb of Bahar-ud-din Bahar.
The tomb of Bahar-ud-din Bahar resembles the iconic Taj Mahal. Like the Taj Mahal, this monument is also constructed on a slightly raised platform and has a large dome and four minarets in the corners. However, this tomb has spiral stairways winding on the minarets which gives them a unique disposition. The stairways wind the right minars in anticlockwise and the left minars in clockwise.
In the blistering afternoon, the place was completely deserted and there was no one around. As I walked in, two stray dogs woken from their sleep lifted their heads and looked at me with suspicion. The only other souls in the premises were the pigeons who had found themselves comfortable resting places within the orifices and vents in the architecture. For a place which is advertised as the icon representing the city, the negligence it suffered was abject. As I peeped in, I could see the cenotaphs in the center of the hall. There were few other smaller marble graves in the premises. I clicked a few photographs and spent around 15 mins at the place before leaving for Uperkot fort.This time, the auto driver perfectly understood Hindi and on learning that I have traveled solo in excruciating summer to visit Junagadh, he started a chauvinistic spree and tried to explain to me how Gujarat and especially Junagadh is the best tourist destination in the country. He asserted that Junagadh is the Devbhumi (Land of Gods) and is holier than Haridwar. Amidst his chauvinistic claims, he also shared some interesting historical stories on Junagadh and Uperkot fort including tales of Narsinh Mehta and the dog lover Nawab Mahabat Khan Rasul Khan. He dropped me right in front of the entrance gate of Uperkot fort.
Uperkot fort is an ancient fort which dates back to the period of the Mauryas. The fort is surrounded with high ramparts and has resisted multiple sieges, one lasting 12 years !!! There are 5 major points of interest in the fort complex – the Jama Masjid, the two medieval cannons, the 2nd century Buddhist caves and the two ancient wells – Adi Kadi ka Vav and Navghan Kuvo.
On reaching the fort, you will be approached by locals working as guides. It’s always advisable to hire a guide while visiting historic places but they try fleecing tourists and you need bargain hard with them. The entrance to the fort is through a mammoth gateway. On entering, there is a sharp left turn; the guide explained the strategic importance of this turn – it breaks the speed of the attacking army and confines them in a small place only to be attacked with heavy boulders and scalding oil from the top. The second gate is flanked by two Hanumanji temples. On walking ahead, there are stairways leading to a large water tank which was used to store water for the soldiers and residents who encamped within the fort.
Next, you come across the two medieval cannons – Neelam and Manek. These guns were used against the Portuguese in Diu in 1538 AD by the Turkish naval force under Suleman who was invited by the Sultan of Gujarat to aid him in the battle against the Portuguese.
Opposite to the cannons is the Jama Masjid. It’s an abandoned mosque having a pillared hall with light entering through the openings on the roof and the orifices on the walls. There is a narrow staircase to the roof. From the roof, one can see the monolithic Girnar hill on one side and the entire Junagadh city on the other. At the entrance to the mosque is the tomb of the renowned Islamic preacher Nuri Shah.
Walking ahead from the mosque, I came across the Buddhist caves. It was the residence of Buddhist monks who inhabited this place during the 2nd and 3rd century. There is a ticket tor this site. Its an underground cave scooped out in three tiers. There are three rock-hewn meditation chambers, open to the skies. The pillars are ornately carved and there is a system of pipes and cisterns to hold water.
From the Buddhist caves, there is a road to the Adi Kadi ka Vav. It is a deep, unconventional stepwell known to perennially hold water, even in the harsh summers of Gujarat. According to legends, once there was an acute water shortage in Junagadh and all wells went dry. The king ordered digging into the hard rock at this point, but no water was found. The royal priest asked for the sacrifice of two unmarried girls after which Adi and Kadi offered to sacrifice themselves for the purpose and eventually water was found. Strange as it sounds but the well has been named Adi Kadi ka Vav, vav meaning well in local language, after the two girls. It’s a very deep well and one has to descend 120 steps to reach the water level.
It was a real challenge to explore the fort for 2 hours under the afternoon sun with a heavy backpack over my shoulders trying to weigh me down. I was badly dehydrated and unavailability of drinking water was appalling. Fortunately, there were some coconut water sellers. I feel the fort like Mahabat Maqbara definitely needs more administrative attention. Anyway, this brings me to the closure of a tiring yet fruitful weekend in which I visited Somanth jyotirlinga and Junagadh town. I hope you liked the posts. Please share your feedback and queries in the comments section below. Travel and spread Love.
My blog on Somanth: Somnath: History, mythology and the 1st Jyotirlinga of Lord Shiva