AROUND 70 KILOMETRES from the home of the Asiatic lion at Gir National Park in Gujarat lies the city of Junagadh. While it’s thrilling to drive through a forest teeming with lions, the intricate layers of history and legends that Junagadh is wrapped in are no less exciting to explore. In fact, the very existence of the Asiatic lion in what is dubbed as its last wild home is linked to a chapter of Junagadh’s history. Lions were once on the verge of extinction, owing to indiscriminate hunting and habitat loss, but thanks to the conservation efforts of the last ruling Nawab of Junagadh, Muhammad Mahabat Khan III, the species got a fresh lease of life.
The Nawab belonged to a dynasty that ruled over the princely state of Junagadh for around two centuries. After India gained Independence from the British in 1947 and partitioned into two countries, the Nawab saw it fit to accede to Pakistan even though nearly 99 per cent of the population was Hindu. In a dramatic turn of events, a plebiscite led to Junagadh becoming a part of India. The Nawab reportedly fled to Karachi with his entourage of 200 dogs.
Our first tryst with Junagadh’s fascinating history begins at the entrance of an old citadel. Standing defiantly against the onslaught of time, Uparkot Fort has walls that wear innumerable scars. After all, it has seen 16 sieges—one lasting 12 years!
“This is the spot where the guards were killed through treachery and the fort breached,” says our guide, gesturing towards the inner gates. The fort also finds a place in mythology and is believed to have been built by the Yadava king Ugrasen, better known as the grandfather of Lord Krishna. It was then called Revatnagar, after the hill on which it was built. Strictly historically speaking, it is acknowledged that the first structure of the fort was built in 319 BC by Chandragupta Maurya.
Uparkot served as the seat of power of Junagadh state under different dynasties. For a period of time, between 73 BC and 70 BC, it was even ruled by the Greeks; a rock edict in Junagadh talks about a Yavana (Greek) king named Tushaspha. Subsequent rulers included the Shakas, or Scythians, and the Gupta dynasty. Following that, the fort lost its importance and faded into oblivion, claimed by the jungle and hidden from the world for almost three centuries.
In the 10th century, a king named Griharipu of the Chudasama dynasty is believed to have reclaimed and restored the fort. The Chudasamas ruled the region from Uparkot Fort till almost the end of the 15th century, when the fort was conquered by a ruler named Mahmud Begada. Later, it was the turn of the Mughals to rule over Junagadh for about 200 years. The last dynastic rule that again lasted for over 200 years was that of the Nawabs of Junagadh.
PALACE OR MOSQUE?
A cryptic board in Gujarati reads: ‘Ranakdevi Palace – Jumma Masjid’, with an arrow pointing towards a square structure with slim pillars in each corner. A series of steps leads to its entrance, where a woman sits and sells Ayurvedic oils.
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