Most of the morning and a good part of the afternoon I walked the main spots of sightseeing in Junagadh. When I finish visiting the famous rock edicts of Ashoka, I find myself within a couple of miles of Mt. Girnar. So I begin walking to the mountain. I can see its rocky cliffs climbing to a peak. There are hills all around. Langurs are playful as ever. I pass Damodar Kund, a large tank.
‘Take a dip,’ someone sitting by the tank tells me. It is almost an order. Presumptuous. I ignore it. The tank and the temple above it do not interest me. I move on. When I reach the foot of the mountain it is 5 pm. I hope to climb to the top and return by sunset.
This is a place of pilgrimage sacred to both Hindus and Jains. There are many Jain temples and at least one Hindu temple that I know of. There is also a Muslim shrine. I have done little research.
‘How long does it take to the top and back?’ I ask a stall owner.
‘About six hours at least,’ he replies. That explains the returning crowds downhill. I don’t see anyone going up.
‘Are there lights along the path?’ I ask but I am not hopeful.
‘Up to Ambaji,’ he replies. However, I am not convinced. It might mean that there is a power line till the Amba temple. It does not necessarily mean that the pathway to Ambaji is well lit. I will be wise to walk up the steps for thirty minutes and return before its too dark.
‘How many steps are there to the top?’ I ask.
‘There are 9999 steps,’ he says. This staggering figure surprises me. I didn’t expect that many steps. The mountain doesn’t look that high up. ‘It is so exact that you could not carve out one more step. The cliff drops steeply the other side,’ he adds.
I climb about 1200 steps. I go above the tree line and get an open view of the summit where the Jain temples stand in a group. They are still a good uphill climb but I don’t have time, an allegory of life perhaps. I admire the scenery from where I am. Sunset is casting a warm glow to both rocks and tree cover. Stall owners along the way are closing their shops. Dolis lie in corners and sidelines having done their jobs for the day. A woman persuades a pilgrim to feed a hopeful langur. The langur takes its seat on a rock and feasts on bananas. A group of school girls are painting yellow lines on steps and marking step counts in red digits. Young boys and girls run up the steps and run back down. I think its a good place for an evening exercise. By chance I spot three foreign tourists I had seen at Modhera. It’s a small world. All this while, the sun has set behind the peaks. The shadows under rocks have darkened. The leaves have lost their twilight transparency. The undergrowth has deepened. The silouette of surrounding peaks are merging their outlines with the descending darkness beyond.
I return down the hill and walk all the way back to Junagadh where I hire an auto-rickshaw to Majewadi Darwaza. I buy some water and fruits. I look around for a place to dine but finally decide its best to eat at the hotel.