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!

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