Had our prebooked breakfast at the hotel then wandered around the corner to pick up the bus to Junagadh from Mahasagar Travels. Followed a road through begetable farms and cotton fields and stopped at a village to change a flat tyre. While there Merrill experienced her worst toilet ever, watched a herd of buffalo pass us, then found a little river that had more species of birds around it than we’d seen at National Parks! Even India’s funniest bird, the hoopoe. After passing through the fortified town of jetpur (?) we arrived in Junagadh where we were dropped off outside of town, but no idea where. Caught an auto to the bus station as we knew there were some hotels near there, and after trying a few settled on the fabulous Harmony Hotel, which possibly has the craziest decor in India but a very nice large room that accommodated the 4 of us for 2080 Rs. The hotel is located on the top floor of an oddly designed shopping mall.
Had a quick lunch of dhoklas (like a soggy curried sponge) and bhajis at a stall opposite the bus station, before walking up past the old train station to the Maqbara. This amazing building fulfils a lifelong dream of mine. It all goes back to when I was doing a major essay on Gandhi at uni in 1981 and came across this bizarre building in a very old book. It was simply labelled as “Kathiawar” which is the name of the peninsula part of Gujarat and I think an old kingdom, but nothing in the book said exactly where it was. Anyway, while researching this trip I found the very building on a travel website when looking for hotels in Junagadh. I was so excited, it was a must see while in Junagadh. The building is in fact a mausoleum, and part of a small complex of quirky tombs of the nawabs of Junagadh. Great little place overrun with cheeky kids but in great need of restoration – one staircase had fallen apart at the top and the stucco work was crumbling.
From there we continued on to Uperkot Fort, a fascinating fort enclosing all sorts of wonders including ancient Buddhist caves (with one of the most ridiculously high admission charges in India!), some very deep step wells, a mosque, cannons, tanks and a very odd entrance. We shared the fort with some very exuberant schoolchildren and their teachers. Wandered back through a market area then caught an auto back. Mez and the kids had dinner in the room whilst I tried a Gujarati thali place, Patel’s Dining Hall, which was spicy but also very oily. I was also watched closely the whole time I ate, which is a bit disconcerting. Early night as we have The Big Climb in the morning.
Last day of 2010. What better way to end a year than to go for a walk up 7000 steps? Well that’s what we did. Started with a bhaji breakfast opposite the bus station and then caught an auto to the base of mount Girnar and commenced our ascent. It wasn’t too bad at first, in the shade and climbing up through sal forest past lots of monkeys, and great views all the way. Once out of the forest though the climb got steeper, and the views got more amazing. The path started to run up along the rock face and ended at the first complex of Jain temples. The temples were very ornate, and decorated with flags, whilst worshippers made pretty patterns with rice grains. Highlight was a pure white pyramid shaped temple with beautiful paintings. Headed up the hill past some other temples, and we had to stop often to pose for photos with the locals. I think we only saw one other group of foreign tourists the whole day. Had to do a lot of handshaking too! Finally reached the top after about 3 hours which was a big relief, so sat on the steps of a Shiva temple and enjoyed the view when not posing for more photos. The walk down was hotter and in fact harder on the stone steps, especially on my knees and calves. Got an auto back to the hotel, then went out to the Santoor restaurant for New Years Eve dinner, where we waited for ages to eat, and sadly it wasn’t orth the wait as it was probably the worst meal of the trip. Stayed up to midnight in our room as there was nothing happening in town at all, as you’d expect in a dry state!
After all the excitement and defying death to get on the train, and then all the hassles of finding we’d been bumped down the waiting list by VIPs and having to sort out sleepers at 1am at night, the rest of the journey was pretty slow. Only entertainment provided by the late running train was lots of great platform snacks, and passing through the town of Wankaner. Checked in at the Hotel President, Teen Patti, Jamnagar and had tiffin in our room, before walking up to Lake Lakhota along with hundreds of locals out for an evening stroll. Interesting night market and a nice holiday atmosphere, and saw an owl. Tasty dinner at the Fresh Point restaurant on Town Hall Rd and then back to our rather noisy room and bed.
Next morning Aidan had the shits so left him behind and went to Lakhota Fort, in the middle of the lake, former home of cricketing prince Ranjitsinghji. Interesting fort, with weird stuffed animals, a museum and lots of water birds roosting there as well. Also some annoying staff who followed us and kept telling us all things we weren’t allowed to do. Continued over the bridge to see the Hanuman temple that is only famous for its worshippers chanting for 40 odd years without stopping. If they weren’t doing this I doubt anyone would visit this nondescript temple. Next the Kotha tower, Jain temples, which were closed, a shabby market, and then back to hotel for paneer pakoras. Caught an auto back to the Jain temples in the evening, which were very colourfully decorated with paintings, chandeliers and mirrors. Dinner at the Kalpana restaurant, a bustling place with lots of yummy dishes near Bedi road at Teen Patti Chowk topped off with icecreams from a friendly ice cream parlour.
When we arrived in Jamnagar we found that as it was public holidays we couldn’t visit the bird sanctuary or the coral reefs, so today we hired a car for the day to go to Balachadi beach and attempt to get into the Khijadia sanctuary. When we got to the very flat and uninspiring park the staff wanted 1300RS each to let us in, so we told them to forget it and went to the beach instead, where we saw more amazing birds than at the sanctuary (at Lakhota lake we even saw maybe 30+ species too!). Beach was pretty much mud flats as it was low tide, but had nice sand and lots of bird and marine life and bizarre religious statues stuck in the mud. Walked for miles before finally getting a glimpse of the Gulf of Kutch, which was still at least another 3km away. Anyway, nice to see the sea at last, and you could also see the giant ships being dismantled on the mud flats, and also the famous training school there which used to be the Rajah’s summer palace. Also a very out of place and very large mosque! After a rest back at the hotel Merrill still wasn’t feeling great so went up to the lake again and watched birds and people for a while before having a South Indian cooking oil curry at the Madras hotel. Early night as its a bus tomorrow morning.