Road Trip to Gujarat – A Cocktail of History; Pre-History; Jungle Safari and Sea, Sand & Sun

santanu

Well-Known Member
Day 4 (28th December 2020) – In continuation

Gir National Park is the only dwelling place of an endangered Asiatic lion other than Africa. It was established on 18th September 1965 and is spread on 1413 square Kilometres of land. Its altitude varies from 150 to 530 meters above mean sea level. The average daytime temperature in summer is 45 degrees centigrade. Winters are moderately cool and pleasant. The average rainfall is 100 mm in the western part of Gir and 650 mm in the eastern region of Gir. The park remains closed from 15th June to mid-October every year.

The main attraction of Gir National Park is Asiatic Lion. As per the 2011 census, there are 411 lions there – 97 male, 162 female, and 152 cubs. Besides, it is also home to thousands of aerial and terrestrial animals. Over 606 varieties of plants, 36 species of mammals, over 2000 genus of Insects, and approximately 300 sorts of birds dwell in Gir forest.

After a 30-35 minutes’ drive, we spotted the first wildlife of the safari – several chitals.

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The vernacular name "chital" comes from cītal, derived from the Sanskrit word citrala, meaning "variegated" or "spotted". The name of the cheetah has a similar origin. Variations of "chital" include "cheetal" and "cheetul". Other common names for the chital are Indian spotted deer (or simply the spotted deer) and axis deer.

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The chital is a moderately sized deer. Males reach nearly 90 cm (35 in) and females 70 cm (28 in) at the shoulder; the head-and-body length is around 1.7 m (5.6 ft). While immature males weigh 30–75 kg (66–165 lb), the lighter females weigh 25–45 kg (55–99 lb). Mature males can weigh up to 98 to 110 kg (216 to 243 lb). The tail, 20 cm (7.9 in) long, is marked by a dark stripe that stretches along its length. The upperparts are golden to rufous, completely covered in white spots. The abdomen, rump, throat, insides of legs, ears, and tail are all white. A conspicuous black stripe runs along the spine (backbone).

After ten minutes, we spotted a couple of sambars.

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The sambar (Rusa unicolor) is a large deer native to the Indian subcontinent, South China, and Southeast Asia. The appearance and the size of the sambar vary widely across its range. In general, they attain a height of 102 to 160 cm (40 to 63 in) at the shoulder and may weigh as much as 546 kg (1,204 lb), though more typically 100 to 350 kg (220 to 770 lb). Head and body length varies from 1.62 to 2.7 m (5.3 to 8.9 ft), with a 22 to 35 cm (8.7 to 13.8 in) tail.

The large, rugged antlers are typically rusine, the brow tines being simple and the beams forked at the tip, so they have only three tines. The antlers are typically up to 110 cm (43 in) long in fully adult individuals. As with most deer, only the males have antlers.

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The shaggy coat can be from yellowish-brown to dark grey in color, and while it is usually uniform in color, some subspecies have chestnut marks on the rump and underparts. Sambar also has a small but dense mane, which tends to be more prominent in males. The tail is relatively long for deer and is generally black above with a whitish underside.

Our drive through the rugged terrain filled with mixed deciduous trees continued in search of the star attraction. In course of doing that, we crossed narrow and shallow water streams few times. Those water streams were part of the Hiran river system.

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Hiran River’s source is near the Sasa hills in Gir forest. Its drainage basin has a maximum length of 40 km (25 mi). The total catchment area of the basin is 518 km (322 mi). Its major tributaries are the Saraswati River and Ambakhoi stream, and many other unknown branches make this river almost complete near Talala town. It supports a variety of wildlife ecological systems and human settlements. Kamleshwar Dam, often known as Hiran-1 and Umrethi Dam, are some of the major projects on the river. As Hiran flows from the western part of Gir forest, it is a major source of water for the forest's ecology and biodiversity for the whole year.

We reached Kamleshwar dam around 4.15 pm.

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The Kamleshwar Dam, officially known as the "Hiran-I Dam", is a rock-fill embankment dam. Measuring 764 ha (7,640,000 m2), the dam was completed in 1959 for irrigation purposes. The reservoir created by the dam is known for its populations of birds and mugger crocodiles.

The Kamleshwar Dam was the mid-way stoppage for the Gir Safari. There were toilets for the tourist, There was a watchtower too. While most of the tourists thronged there, we were busy with some family photography.

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After spending around 25 minutes there, we started our return journey. We crossed few water streams again, saw some more deer but the Asiatic Lion continued to remain evasive. After 30-35 minutes of return drive, we finally hit the jackpot. A lion was having its lunch a few hundred meters away from the driving trail. So, there was a huge queue on that part of the driving trail. Each vehicle was passing slowly so the tourist can take few clicks. The lion was completely oblivious about the presence of so many tourist vehicles and was relishing its hunt.

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Our safari came to the end around 5.45 pm. After giving some tips to the guide as well as the driver, we took our vehicle and came back to Rajwadi Dining Hall. The idea was to pick up something for dinner. But its evening opening time was 7 pm. That meant, we were required to wait for almost an hour. We were in no mood to do that so immediately started for Club Mahindra, Sasan Gir. By the time we reached Club Mahindra, Sasan Gir, the day was more or less over.

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santanu

Well-Known Member
Day 5 (29th December 2020)

We slept quite early the previous night. So, I got up a bit early, around 5.30 am, and came out to the terrace. It was quite cold outside. It was pitch dark too. The moon was glowing profusely on the western sky.

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The original plan for the day was to go to Junagadh in the first half of the day to see the historical attractions there and to go to Somnath from there in the second half of the day. The plan for the next day was to do the Gir forest morning safari and then proceed to Diu. But after doing the afternoon Gir forest safari on the previous day, we decided to skip the next day’s morning safari and instead of that, going to Junagadh the next day morning and to head to Diu from there directly.

So, there was no hurry in the morning. We went for a round in the Club Mahindra property and spent rest of the morning sitting on the terrace with hot coffee and tea. Like yesterday, it was also a clod, breezy but sunny morning.

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After having lunch at the resort, we started for Somnath around 2.30 pm.

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Typically, people go to Somnath for pilgrimage. The site of Somnath has been a pilgrimage site from ancient times on account of being a Triveni Sangam (the confluence of three rivers: Kapila, Hiran, and the mythical Saraswati). Soma, the Moon-god, is believed to have lost his luster due to a curse, and he bathed in the Sarasvati River at this site to regain it. The result is the waxing and waning of the moon, no doubt an allusion to the waxing and waning of the tides at this seashore location. The name of the town Prabhas, meaning luster, as well as the alternative names Someshvar and Somnath ("the lord of the moon" or "the moon god"), arise from this tradition. It is believed that the Shivalinga in Somnath is one of the 12 jyotirlingas in India, where Shiva is believed to have appeared as a fiery column of light.

However, Somnath does have few ancient Buddhist cave and Hindu temples. So, our plan was to see those ancient caves and temples first and then finish the day with Somnath darshan.

We reached the first destination of the day, the Buddhist caves of Prabhas Pathan at 4 pm. There were two caves facing each other with a small courtyard separating them. Both of the caves were simple in design with four square pillars. Except for a row of niches on the outside, there was no ornamentation. The floors of the caves were below ground level. There was no lighting there as well as there was no other person in the vicinity. So, we decided not to venture inside caves and kept ourselves restricted to taking few photos from the outside.

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Those two caves used to be a part of the Buddhist vihara in the 3rd and 4th century CE.

The next destination was Suraj Mandir near Triveni Sangam. The temple was a few hundred meters away from the main road. Since the temple was a practicing temple, the walking path was well-paved and there were shops on both sides of the path. When we went to the temple, it was 4.15 pm. Therefore, there was absolutely no crowd and most of the shops were closed.

The temple was on an elevated plain and we had to climb up around 20 stairs to reach the open platform in front of the entrance of the temple.

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When we reached there, the priest was sitting outside and having some casual chat with a local. Seeing us, he went inside. We followed him. While following him, I asked him about the antiquity of the temple. He did not reply. After entering Garbhagriha, he gave us some ‘prasad’ and put ‘tilaks’ on our foreheads. Then he replied to my question. According to him, this temple was built 5000 years back by the Pandavas and it was built overnight.

What the priest said was essentially the legend associated with this temple. There is no historical information available about the age of the temple. From the look, it appeared that the temple was quite old and it was in a bit dilapidated condition.

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The temple consisted of a Garbhagriha, Pradakshina Path, and Antarala. The Pradakshina Path had three niches. There were sculptures on the inner wall of the Antarala in a partially ruined condition. The outside of the temple wall was also carved. There were depictions of elephants, lions and various other birds and animals.

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Sculptures on the column of Antarala

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Sculptures on the outside wall of the temple

There was a small sacred water body, the Surya Kund within the temple premises.

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Adjacent to the Suraj Mandir, there was Panch Pandava Gufa, also known as Hinglaj Mata Mandir. It was discovered by the late Baba Narayandas in the year 1949. According to Mythological tales, the Pandavas worshipped Maa Hingalaj here, during their exile. The cave has a temple dedicated to the Pandava brothers. There are also shrines in honor of Shiva, Sita Ma, Ram-Laxman, Lord Hanuman, and Goddess Durga.

The entrance of the cave was very narrow and low. There were two levels in the cave. We had to bend down and crawl down the steps in a backward direction to reach the first level. The height of the first level was enough to stand. We had to again crawl down in a backward direction to reach the second level. The deity of Hinglaj Mata was on the second level two. It was not possible to stand at the second level. You have to offer prayer sitting only and crawl for moving.

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The first level of the Pandava Gufa

After visiting Suraj Mandir and Pancha Pandava Gufa, we resumed our journey towards Sangam and reached there within few minutes. However, we could not locate any Ghat and therefore continued our drive. After some time, the road came to an end and there was a temple with a crowd. We decided not to go to that temple and took a U-turn for Somnath Jyotirlinga temple.

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Somnath temple complex was heavily guarded with multiple security checks. The parking lot was at a distance. After keeping our vehicle there, we first went to the adjacent locality by walking to see another ancient temple – Daitya Sudan Mandir. But the temple was closed at that time and was supposed to open at 7 pm. So, we came back to Somnath temple, and then we realized that mobile, camera, wallet, handbag, etc. were not allowed inside the temple. We came back to the parking lot and kept all that stuff in the vehicle and returned to the complex for darshan.

The history of the Somnath Jyotirling temple is quite controversial. According to popular tradition, the first Shiva temple at Somnath is believed to have been built at some unknown time in the past. The second temple is said to have been built at the same site by the "Yadava kings" of Vallabhi around 649 CE. Subsequently, this temple was looted, desecrated, and destroyed multiple times by invaders, Delhi and Gujarat sultanate, and reconstructed by neighboring Hindu Kings. The last destruction of the temple happened in the hands of the Mughal emperor Aurangzeb in 1665 CE.

The present temple was constructed after independence for which the installation ceremony took place in May 1951. It was built in the Solanki style of temple architecture.

We spent around 30 minutes in the temple complex. Since mobile or camera was not allowed, I managed to take only one photo of the temple from a distance before keeping the same in the vehicle.

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We started our return journey for Club Mahindra Gir around 6.15 pm and took a tea/coffee break at a restaurant named ‘Hotel Namaste’ around 7.30 pm.

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We reached the resort around 8.30 pm.
 

mousourik

Who Am I
As the Bengali adage goes - Karo Sarbonash karo poush mas - someone's bad time is good for another - you kept on making mistakes unknowingly, and those led us to some unforeseen (and perhaps never-to-be-seen-in-future) places.

Great going. Enjoying it.
 

santanu

Well-Known Member
As the Bengali adage goes - Karo Sarbonash karo poush mas - someone's bad time is good for another - you kept on making mistakes unknowingly, and those led us to some unforeseen (and perhaps never-to-be-seen-in-future) places.

Great going. Enjoying it.
Thank you!!!!:)
 

santanu

Well-Known Member
Day 6 (30th December 2020)

The plan for this day was to go to Junagadh to see various historical attractions at Junagadh and then go to Diu from there where we were scheduled to stay for 3 nights.

Junagadh is quite an old town. Translated, Junagadh means "Old Fort" (Jhuna Gadh). The earliest historical evidence found in Junagadh is the Uparkot fort which was constructed in 319 BCE by Chandragupta Maurya, the founder of the Mauryan dynasty. Then Junagadh came under the control of Sakas (Scythian) who had a strong presence in the Kathiawar region. Post Sakas, Junagadh became a part of the Gupta empire. Post Guptas, Junagadh came under the control of Maitrakas who ruled Gujarat from 475-767 CE. After Maitrakas, Junagadh was ruled by Chudasams, Solankis, and Vaghelas. Vaghelas was the last Hindu ruler of Gujarat. After their fall, Junagadh came under the control of the Gujarat Sultanate who was ruling from Ahmedabad/Champaner. During this period, for some time, Junagadh was being ruled by fairly independent rulers with token allegiance to Gujarat Sultanate. Junagadh became a part of the Mughal Empire at the time of Akbar. In 1730, Mohammad Sher Khan Babi, who owed allegiance to the Mughal governor of Gujarat Subah, founded the state of Junagadh by declaring independence after the invasion by the Maratha Gaekwad dynasty. Babi founded the Babi Dynasty of Junagadh State. His descendants, the Babi Nawabs of Junagadh—who were Babi or Babai Pashtuns from Afganisthan—conquered large territories in southern Saurashtra and ruled for the next two centuries, first as tributaries of Marathas, and later under the suzerainty of the British, who granted the honor of a 13-gun salute. Post-independence, though the ruler of Junagadh was keen to accede to Pakistan, Junagadh became a part of India.

We started for Junagadh from Club Mahindra, Gir at 10.30 am. The list of attractions to be visited included the Junagadh rock inscription, Baba Pyara caves, Uparkot Fort, Navgan Kuvo (in the premises of Uparkot Fort), Uparkot caves, Adi Kadi Vav, Khapra Kodiya Caves, Mahabat Maqbara Complex.

We reached Junagadh around 11.30 am.

Just before entering Junagadh, we again encountered Gujarat police. My daughter was not wearing a mask. So, they demanded Rs. 1000/- as fine. But this time, I argued with them vehemently. My line of argument was that the inside of a private vehicle cannot be treated as a public place and therefore, we had not broken any law. After an argument for 5 minutes, they let us go. We reached the first destination of the day, the Junagadh rock inscription at 11.40 am. It is also known as the Girnar rock inscription. It is at the eastern side of the Junagadh town, on the road leading to Girnar Hill.

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This rock inscription was discovered by Colonel James Todd in 1822. But he could not decipher the writing and therefore copied it and sent the same to the great scholar James Princep in 1837. Princep decoded the content of the rock inscription which was written in Brahmi script and found that this rock contained three sets of inscription – that of Ashoka (written around 250 BCE), of Western Satrapa ruler Rudradaman I (written around 150 CE), and inscription of Gupta King Skandagupta (455-467 CE). The inscription of Ashoka is considered one of the fourteen major rock edicts of Ashoka. While Ashoka’s inscription is written in the Pali language, that of Rudradaman I and Skandagupta are written in the Sanskrit language.

In 1900, Nawab Rasool Khan of Junagadh built a protective building around the rock which was repaired and restored in 1939 and 1941 by the later rulers. At present, ASI manages this place and the entry fee for the Indians is Rs. 25/-.

As per the prevailing norms, we booked the ticket online there then entered the premises. As soon as we entered, we saw a huge white rock resembling the shape of a sleeping elephant. It measured ten meters high and seven meters in circumference. It was guarded by a wooden barricade from all the sides. There was a wooden staircase leading to a platform from which the visitors could get a clear view of the upper part of the rock.

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Other than this rock, there are multiple boards within the premises containing the translation of the inscriptions of Ashoka, Rudradaman I, and Skandagupta.

At this place, from the guard, we got another disappointing news of our trip. Uparkot Fort complex and Mahabat Maqbara Complex were closed at that time. This was not because of Covid-19, but because of ongoing restoration work. So we had only two other attractions of Junagadh left for the day - Baba Pyara caves and Khapra Kodiya caves. We started for Baba Pyara caves at 12.15 pm.

Both Baba Pyara caves and Khapra Kodiya caves are Buddhist. In today’s Gujarat, the most prominent pilgrimage sites are Somnath Jyotirlinga temple and Dwarkadeesh temple both of which belong to the Hindu religion. But in the ancient past, Gujarat was an important center for Buddhism. Although, several literary sources mention that Buddhism had reached Saurashtra the age of Lord Buddha, as per archaeological evidence Buddhism spread in Saurashtra region during the time of Ashoka. Junagadh rock inscription, Baba Pyara caves, and Khapra Kodiya caves, etc bear the testimony of Buddhist influence on the Saurashtra region in the distant past.

We reached Baba Payare caves at 12.30 pm. These caves are among the earliest and the most important three groups of caves at Junagadh – the other two being Khapra Kodiya caves and the Buddhist caves at Uparkot fort. All these caves were first reported by Sir James Burgess. Currently, These Baba Payare caves are being maintained by ASI and have entry tickets costing Rs. 20 per person. The same ticket is valid for the Khapra Kodiya group of Caves too.

Baba Pyare caves were close to the Modhi-Math, popularly known as Baba Pyare’s ashram and the name of these caves has been derived from that. There are three distinct levels of caves scooped out of the same rock face but these three levels do not follow the same unified direction. The topmost level has four caves, the largest one with three separate inner cells and a common front door, the cornice of which preserves the remnants of a chaitya window carvings. The next set of caves has a spacious courtyard with an apsidal hall. The balcony to this hall has six square pillars supporting Lion Brackets, a crude chaitya window, and a winged lion in low relief at either end of the wall. Auspicious Buddhist symbols like Swastik, Triratna, Ankush, Fist, etc. can be seen on the main door lintel of the cells and ‘Purnaghat’ with overflowing foliage, etc. on the doorjambs.

The lowest group of caves has a front courtyard and an inner cell. The caves flanking the southern edge have five steps of caves. The largest one has a squarish inner hall and a single octagonal pillar in the center which, with an Abacus of the three thin stepped chambers and an inverted globular jar from under it, resembles the western India caves at Nasik, Junnar, etc. All these devices show a direct impact of Satvahana art idioms and favor to date these caves not later than the 2nd century CE.

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After spending around 20 minutes there, we started for Khapra Kodiya caves and reached there in 5 minutes.

Khapra Kodiya caves are cut into a ridge of a trap rock in an east-west direction. All the chambers of these caves are a kind of broad “U” shaped quadrangle formed by rock excavation on the southern side. The prominent wings of the caves comprise of (a) an oblong western wing provided with a grid pattern of water tanks within having rock-cut steps, for harnessing and storage of rainwater; and (b)a roughly ‘L’ shaped wing fashioned to serve as the dwelling chambers of the Buddhist monks. There are many scribblings and short cursive letters on the walls of some chambers and their corridors. Based on all available evidence taken together, these caves are assumed to be dated before the 3rd/4th century of the common era.

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Our visit to Khapra Kodiya caves got over by 1.25 pm and we started for Diu.

Day 6 (30th December 2020) - To continue
 

santanu

Well-Known Member
Day 6 (30th December 2020) – In continuation

The shortest route to Diu from Junagadh was through Sasan Gir only.

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We had already driven on Junagadh – Sasan Gir road twice and knew that not many food options would be available on that road. Therefore, we decided to have our lunch at Junagadh and accordingly went again to ‘Sabrin Non-Veg Restaurants’ which was very near to the clock tower.

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But there was no parking available nearby the restaurants so we had to drop our plan to have lunch there. After passing through the below of the clock tower, we saw a South Indian restaurant named ‘Speed Dosa’. That area was relatively less crowded and it was possible to park the vehicle beside the road. We ordered Dosa and Dahi-Vada. The food especially Dahi-Vada were really good. We started from there around 2.45 pm.

We took our first break after driving for 1 hour 45 minutes. By that time, we crossed Sasan Gir and Talala and were driving through the woods – probably an extension of Gir forest. From a distance, I noticed that some animals were crossing the road and accordingly put the brake. Reaching nearby, we realized that those were Chital deer. There was more than a dozen of Chital deer on both side of the road and some were going from one side to another. So, we stopped our vehicle there. I got down from the vehicle and had a smoke. All of a sudden, one of the deer started barking and for the first time in my life, I heard the voice of the deer. But that also alerted me. Why was the deer barking? Was there a ferocious animal nearby? I finished my smoke quickly and got into the vehicle. By that time, there were no deer on the road so, we restarted our drive.

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We took one more break before reaching Diu to fill up the oil tank.

The entire route from Junagadh to Diu was state highway except the last 16-17 km before Diu from Una. But the road surface was good and there were very few vehicles plying on the road. Therefore, driving was a pleasant experience.

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Diu is essentially an island off the Southern coast of Gujarat's Kathiawar peninsula, separated from the mainland by a tidal creek. The town of Diu and Diu Fort is located on the island. However, a part of the mainland is also a part of the Diu district and the Ghogla beach, one of the famous beaches of Diu district is on the mainland.

We reached the bridge connecting Diu island with the mainland at 5.45 pm and stopped over the bridge for few minutes to take some photos. The surrounding was looking beautiful in the golden ray of the setting sun.

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Our accommodation booking in Diu was at Azzaro Resorts and Spa which was an associated property of Club Mahindra. It took another 5 minutes to reach there. The check-in happened smoothly albeit after fulfilling Covid-19 related formalities.

After taking a rest for an hour or so, we decided to go out. We came down to the reception and enquired about the places where we can go in the evening. The reception people recommended Nagoa beach. They also said that there would be multiple dinner options at Nagoa beach. By the time we started for Nagoa beach, the moon had risen in the eastern sky. There brightly painted buildings at the other side of the road, getting illuminated by electric light and getting washed by moonlight, were looking stunningly beautiful.

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The roads of Diu are fantastic. It took around 15 minutes to reach Nagoa beach. Nagoa beach is the only beach of Diu which has been commercially developed. A vehicular road runs parallel to the beach and there are many stalls on both sides of the road. There are places for parking vehicles. During day time, several water sports take place at this beach.

We did not enter any stall and straightway headed to the east-facing beach. It was low tide then. The tides were gentle and caressing the shore lazily. Moonlight was getting reflected from the wavy seawater. At the backdrop, there were lights from other parts of Diu at a distance. It was a mesmerizing evening on the beach.

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There were several security guards on the beach who were ensuring that nobody went closer to the water. So, after spending some time at the edge of the beach, we went to Chulawala Restaurant & Bar across the road for dinner. We came back to our resort after having a couple of beer and ample non-vegetarian food there.
 
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