The Uparkot fort also houses 2nd-3rd century Budhhist caves that served as living quarters which are 2 storeys under the ground level with areas for prayer and rest. Interestingly the entrance is via a space with one deep tank and what looks like large puddles filled with water that could be thought of to be for the purpose of providing a place to bathe.
The 11th century – Navghan Kuvo (well) named after a Chudasama King who reigned Surashtra and whose son is the Khengara from the Ranak Devi story. The step well itself is 52 mt deep and there are spiral stairs right to the bottom. It is said that the Uparkot fort was able to withstand long sieges (one up to 12 years) due to the availability of water from this well. There are numerous cubes carved into the walls of the well to serve as dovecots- presumably from the era where they were used to carry messages. The path down the well even has rooms on either side that are definitely cooler than the outside.
The Adi Kadi Vav is a truly breathtaking step well inside Uparkot and I don’t use the word breath-taking casually. It’s like you had this stealthy view into a cross section of the earth all the way into it’s very core. The 15th century well with 120 steps has a stunning beauty with how raw it seems. This for me was one of the highlights of our trip. 2 dogs decided to give us company as we went right up to the shaft of the well feeling like explorers who had stumbled upon a new world.
Legend: After digging the earth for a long time and not finding water it was decided to sacrifice 2 unmarried girls Adi and Kadi after which they struck water.
Guide’s heresay: People believe that if they carry water from the bottom of the well in their mouths to the top and spit it out under the tree just opposite to the well, and then pile a bunch of stones under the tree, one would be assured of owning a house of one’s own in the next birth. Ah well. It is also believed anyone who visits both the Adi Kadi Vav and the Navghan Kuvo would attain be immortal – so I guess we’re not going anywhere anytime soon.
Starving by now, we took the guide’s recommendation for a restaurant for lunch and the police recruits were kind enough to lead us there via the narrow alleys of Junagadh before bidding us goodbye. It was a no fuss restaurant with one of the most attentive owners we’ve ever seen across different ranges of eateries. We’d have water refilled and a second helping before we even requested for it and thoroughly enjoyed our meals there.
Hunger satiated, we now went to Gondal to the 18th century Naulakha palace. The alleys to the palace are very narrow and like Junagadh overrun by cows so navigating through them is an interesting experience in itself. This and the next 2 places on the itinerary had relatively high entry fees of a couple of hundred rupees per head. The entrance to the palace itself is via a clock tower.
The first structure one is led to via wide stairs leading up, has a pillared courtyard with a seemingly mismatched set of architectural elements- the traditional jharokas, decorated arches casually mingling with and the very European gargoyle like creatures.
The durbar(audience) hall inside has appropriately high ceiling, grand furnishings, chandeliers and seating suited to royalty.
On the other hand the taxidermy of the hunted animals displayed around is quite unsettling to our current mind-sets. There are several rooms further inside with busts of a varied set of people from the past, furniture draped with silk, Kutch handicrafts, cupboards bursting with old books (my favourite part).
There are several separate sections of the palace currently used to display both items of regular use and collectibles of the royal family- the structures themselves from various points of view seems like areas in a school from the British era. The displays are of various degrees of interest- from the trophies of the royal family for various sports (mostly racing), different types of male headgear from the region and the world, the queens childhood personal collection of dolls from all over the world, to a whimsical collection of kettles one even shaped like a sewing machine!
My personal favorite of the displays was the dining area with the shiny copper vessels displayed all over the walls.
A short distance away is the car museum with vintage cars from the 1910’s to the 1950’s in all shapes and sizes about with some very evocative horse drawn carriages too. When here it’s easy to imagine the era and its good looking automobiles some of which are as big as a small truck of the current times. What’s hard to imagine is how they got the cars got to the museum via the alleys of Gondal.
With a sprinkling of peacocks strutting around casually, the Orchard palace is in the same complex as the car museum and is more a luxurious home with seemingly handpicked handicrafts, furniture, art-work and color schemes from an era gone by. If one has both the time and the money- one could choose to stay at the Orchard palace or the Riverside Palace at Gondal, both of which are used today as heritage hotels.
Away from man-made grandeur we next headed to the Hingolgadh Sanctuary: administered by the Gujarat Ecological Education and Research (GEER) Foundation in Gandhinagar as the Hingolgadh Nature Education Sanctuary. The guy collecting entrance fees asked for my name and then checked to confirm “Divya ben likh du?”(Shall I write it down as Divya ben?”)- now who could say no to that 🙂
To people from more greener parts of India, it may not seem like much, but passing by the semi-arid regions of Gujarat leads one to appreciate this pocket of green that perhaps allows for a few fauna to flourish.
After a stroll around the area we meanwhile spent most of our time watching 2 small nests one with the fledglings being continually fed by the parents to calm their hungry twittering and another just being built painstakingly, one twig at a time. It took all our resolve not to pile a small heap of twigs to help the little bird.
After spending a moment at Bhimkui, a well with large catfish, dropping into another area that housed a couple of snakes and being fascinated with a beautifully blue dragonfly we drove just around 200km back to Ahmedabad and called it a night.
Note: This place also had a steep entrance fee,which we aren’t completely sure of since the receipt we received said it was an infrastructure donation, so you may want to be a bit more aware of it when you visit.