1992 was a very important year for me. A turning point, you could say. A coming of age even. I can’t pinpoint to a particular moment or event for there were many that made the year so memorable. But two of them were really special and, interestingly (or maybe not !) both involved travel. It was not the kind of travel I do today; rather, it was travel for the purpose of study as part requirement of the Master’s programme in Geology I was pursuing at that time.
In May 1992, I arrived in Bhuj (in Kachchh district of Gujarat) with AK, a classmate, to undertake a 15-day field trip for our Master’s dissertation in Geology. Though both of us were based in Bhuj and had a common faculty guide, we had separate field work sites (about 15 km away) and our field work was individual. Our faculty guide was scheduled to join us in Bhuj after about 10 days when we would have finished the bulk of our field work and be able to present our preliminary findings to him.
I was very excited about this field trip to Bhuj for this was to be my first solo field trip. Previously, I had always been part of a larger group of classmates. Having a geological hammer, compass, and topographical map all to myself and not share it with anyone made me feel quite grown-up, important and empowered ! 😛
The first day of field work was exhilarating and as perfect as a young geologist like me could hope for — excellent rock exposures, variety in rock structures and textures, fossils, some intriguing geological puzzles… It was also very distracting, but I soon settled down and within the next day or two established a field work routine.
The door to the Amter Mata Temple opens noiselessly and I hesitate before stepping into a large courtyard. It is three in the afternoon on a windy day in December last year and the temple, which is in Vadnagar (Gujarat), is officially closed at that time. But the shopkeeper outside the temple urges me to go in saying that nobody would mind.
There is no one to be seen inside; I am not really surprised for it is siesta and relaxation time before the evening worship begins. As I look around, I feel an uneasy prickling sensation at the back of my neck — the kind when you feel that someone’s watching you. I look around but cannot see anyone or detect any movement.
I call out once and then again, but get no response. It appears that I’m alone in the temple. Or am I? The sensation of being watched grows and I feel that the gaze is hostile, angry, even malevolent.
I don’t scare easily, but I must confess that I’m feeling quite spooked. As I wonder if I should leave, I spot a large sculpture placed against the wall behind the main shrine at the far end of the temple. I can’t make out what the sculpture is, but something about it gives me the shivers. I decide to explore further and as I walk towards the sculpture I feel waves of anger wash over me.
Yes, really. It was a random photograph that had popped up when I was browsing through an equally random photo-stream. The photograph was of a grand and towering toran or a decorative arch with the caption, “Kirti Toran, Vadnagar”.
My first reaction was where is Vadnagar? I mean, I knew that Vadnagar was in Gujarat and also that it was India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s native town, but where was it? When a location search revealed that it was only about 40 km from Mehsana, I was stunned, for at that time, I was planning my North Gujarat trip in December 2014 at that time. And Mehsana was to be my base ! I took this happy coincidence as a sign that I needed to visit Vadnagar. 🙂
Once upon a time there was a prince. He wasn’t particularly a happy prince or, for that matter, an unhappy prince; but he was an ambitious prince. He wanted to be remembered for posterity for his conquests, and his rule. The prince wanted to be like his grandfather, who had founded a great city and named it after himself. But the prince had to first become the king. And one day, he became the king.
The prince, now the king, set his eyes on a neighbouring kingdom, which was very well fortified and was known to have an impregnable defence system. The king’s advisers and soldiers urged him to consider some other kingdom to conquer.
But he declined; it had to be this kingdom. The king’s strategy was not to engage in a battle or a war; he captured the lower fortifications of this hilly kingdom, and then laid siege to it and cut off supplies.
The kingdom’s ruler was amused and offered the king money, women, and jewels, but the king was not enticed. He was firm about his intentions—he wanted the kingdom. Nothing else. To show that he meant business, the king laid the foundations for his palace and a place of worship for his soldiers just outside the fortifications and at the base of this hilly kingdom.