Loath as I was to leave Gir, I had to skip the loving invitation by a local lady to a traditional home cooked meal and move on. The next stop on my itinerary was Junagadh – the old fort. In 1947, when India and Pakistan got independence from the British Empire and became independent of each other, Junagadh was the only state where a plebiscite was held. Junagadh chose India. This is what most of us (in India) studied in history class. As we grew older, a few more details were revealed. The Nawab of Junagadh, being a Muslim wanted to accede to Pakistan but since an overwhelming population of the state was Hindu and they did not accept this, a plebiscite was held. The story ends with the wicked Nawab and his family being forced to flee to Pakistan.
The truth about Junagadh’s plebiscite is slightly more complicated. When the Nawab of Junagadh decided to accede to Pakistan, India refused to accept his decision. India cut off supplies of fuel and coal to Junagadh, severed air and postal links, sent troops to the frontier, and occupied the principalities of Mangrol and Babariawad that had declared their independence from Junagadh and acceded to India. The Nawab and his family fled to Pakistan following clashes with Indian troops and here is where the story gets a little more interesting. When he fled, he gavehe handed over the administration to his Diwan (or administrator) Shahnawaz Bhutto. Soon, Shahnawaz Bhutto too fled to Pakista and his family went on to become a leading political family there. Soon after the plebiscite was held. The example of Junagadh has often been quoted in the case of Kashmir, where the Hindu ruler acceded to India presumable against the wishes of his Muslim majority subjects, but no plebiscite was held.
Junagadh is however, far older and its history goes much further back in time. My first stop is the old fort – Uparkot. This ancient fort is believed to have been built in 319 BC by the Emperor Chandragupta Maurya, and extended through the times. The fort has been besieged 16 times, and legend has it that the fort once withstood a 12-year siege. Key to this 12-year siege survival, were the great underground granaries and Navghan Kuvo – a 52m deep step well. The well is partially hewn out of soft rock and partially built up structurally, but this is not the only uncommon aspect of this well. This well has a spiral staircase, as opposed to easier to navigate straight stairs. Imagine having to climb back up the 52m elevation, with a pot on your head on a dimly lit spiral staircase.
There is another step well close by – Adi Kadi Vav. This one is carved entirely out of hard rock. It is said that when no water was found even after going really deep, the king sacrificed two virgins on the advice of his priest. Lo-behold – water was found. The well supposedly gets its name from those two ill-fated girls.
At the top of both wells, are a series of pigeon holes – ancient post offices of sorts. I somehow found this very fascinating. In recent times people have taken to building little stone pagodas in these niches, and all around this area. People also carry water from the well up in their mouths and spill it over their pagodas in some bizarre wish fulfilment ritual. Given the smell and colour of the water, it could only be a death wish!
Close by is a three-storied complex of caves carved out of the rock about 2000 years ago, by Buddhist monks. The caves are remarkable clean. In fact all of Junagadh’s monuments are exceptionally well maintained, except for the water in the wells. The quietness here is a welcome respite from the general noise and hullabaloo of tourist centres.