Excursions in Junagadh
While going from Somanath to Junagadh, our bus driver slowed the bus and told us to look to our left. It was an amazing scene. We saw hundreds of colorful boats. He told us that they were brought here for repair.
After a while we saw the forest. Every thing around was covered with varieties of plants, trees, bushes, and green grass. When we heard that we were going through the famous “Gir Forest,” a thrill passed through everyone. People were thinking about the famous “Gir lions.” Many were wishing that a lion would pass by on the road. Our escort and bus driver had selected an excellent route. Since there was a decent amount of rain this season, everything was covered in green. Suddenly, our bus driver Rafik stopped the bus and whispered to look at the beautiful deer on our right. He told us that a few of us could go down to take pictures if we did not make any noise. A few of us got down quietly tried to take pictures. The deer were very sensitive and started running. We were chasing them on the middle of the road with our cameras. A couple of us got glimpses of the deer.
After sometime, he stopped the bus so we could see peacocks. The youngsters were excited to see peacocks. Again, there was a chase between the photographers and the peacocks. Gir Forest excursions were closed for visitors during the monsoon season. We had initially been disappointed about not being to visit the forest. But, these little glimpses gave us some satisfaction.
It had been raining as we neared Junagadh, and we were running late for lunch. Our lunch was fixed at B.A.P.S. They were calling us inquiring when we would reach. Finally we arrived at 3:00 p.m. We had a very good lunch.
Then we went to Hotel Indraloka. As usual, we checked in. Many of us were too tired to do anything. But the youngsters wanted to see whatever they could since next day we had to start our long journey back to Vadodara.
Seeing their spirit, many others also got ready to go. Quickly, with the help of Kalpitbhai, we called several rickshaws and went to Uperkot.
There we found out that they were closing. We made requests, but they told us to come the next morning at 6:00 a.m. While some of the teachers were speaking to a local guide to discuss what else we could visit that day, the youngsters were busy looking up at something else. High above us on the fort walls, a peacock was sitting magnificently. It had charmed the youngsters. They started to mimic the sound of the peacock—some of them sounded almost like the peacock.
We found a guide and a few rickshaws that agreed to take us the town to see whatever was open at that time. We stopped by at Ashok’s Shilalekh where the message of the great king, Ashoka, had been carved on a huge black stone. The room was closed. People went around and found holes to peep through. Someone turned on the flash light from their cell phone.
Next, we went to the “Damodar Kund” where the famous Gujarati poet and saint, Narasimh Mehta, regularly took his bath. Narasimh Mehta had written the famous bhajan “Vaishnav Jana to tene re kahiye…” Gandhiji and many other had loved this bhajan. It is considered a very holy place. There we learned mythological stories and saw the Muchkund cave.
It was getting dark. But, we saw the Giranar Mountain and a part of the forest. We went to Giranar Mountain. It had 10,000 steps and several places of pilgrimage on the way up. It was dark and we did not have time. With a heavy heart we climbed the first few steps and returned.
The final destination was Narasimh Mehta’s birthplace. It was almost 9:00 p.m. and by now completely dark. There were no lights and it seemed to be closed. We entered the gate of Narasimh Mehta’s birthplace. Intuitively some of the students started singing “Vaishnav Jana to…” loudly and we went to his house. Listening to our song, Narasimh Mehta’s descendant and his wife came out and stood there, listening to us emotionally. He said that it was late and everything was closed. But upon seeing people’s love for Narasimh Mehta, he stood to talk to us. He said that he was not fit to talk about the great saint, but he would share his thoughts. Just like Sri Ramakrishna, Narasimh Mehta did not go to school. He realized God on his own intense desire and practice. Narasimh Mehta did not have regular academic education, but many received Ph.D.s on his work. His poetry expresses the fundamental truths of scriptures, especially of devotion. Such poems could not have been written without direct experience of God. Also, his poems have all the aesthetic beauty in them. The selections of words could not have been better. We saw where he used to sing bhajans every day. He was also going to devotees who were untouchables and would sing bhajans with them. His cast people threw him out of their cast. But, he did not stop singing bhajans with those that were considered to be untouchables.
It was really late at night. We came back and had dinner at the hotel.
The next day, a few enthusiastic youngsters and adults went to Uperkot at 6:00 a.m. They could not see all the sites because they were not open. However, they were happy to see what they could and especially happy to have sighted lots of peacocks.
After breakfast we checked out and started heading back to Vadodara. Swami Atmadipananda had told us that we must visit “Sarada Math of Upleta” on our way back.
That was our next destination and last thing to see on our trip.