Digging for gold begins at Unnao fort

Lucknow, Oct 18 (IANS) The first day of excavations to unearth a purorted 1,000 tonnes of gold at the Daundia Kheda village in Uttar Pradesh's Unnao district ended at sunset Friday, an official said.

The village is 70 km from the state capital Lucknow.

The gold is said to be hidden under the fort of Raja Rao Ram Bux Singh. On the first day, the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) restricted digging to the peripheral area.

The work started amidst chanting of hymns after which the district magistrate and the district police chief began the symbolic digging. The boundaries of the area to be dug up have been marked and wooden nails and coloured poles have been erected.

"Points" would be dug at every two metres of the marked area, informed ASI circle in-charge Pravin Kumar.

ASI officials have been camping at the site for the past three days. As thousands turned up for a sight of the fort as news of seer Shobhan Sarkar's gold dream spread, the district administration has now banned entry of people into the fort's court.

Sarkar wrote to the prime minister a few weeks back narrating the king had come in his dreams and asked him to get the treasure dug up and hand it over to the government of India to tide the economic crisis.

His devotee, Congress leader Bhakt Charan Das visited the saint and then urged the ASI to take up the issue.

Preliminary findings, officials say, suggest presence of "some metal underneath the earth", following which ASI teams decided to proceed with the excavation. Experts, however, are not too sure about the possibility of gold buried underneath.

While many do not rule out discovery of some gold, they say it is not possible for 1,000 tonnes of gold being under the fort as the king was a ruler who presided over a zamindari stretching not more than 25-30 km.

"He was not a big king and hence it looks unlikely that such huge gold reserves are there," opines D.P. Tiwari, former head of the history and archaeology department at the Lucknow University.

For the villagers, however, Sarkar's words are sacrosanct and final. Mahendra Pratap Singh, a descendant of the Unnao ruler says people firmly believe that if the seer has said it, the gold has to be there.

People have also demanded that in case the gold is found, 20 per cent of it be spent on development of the area.

The king along with Rani Laxmi Bai of Jhansi fought the British during the 1857 Mutiny and was overthrown in the process. He went into hiding only to be captured in Varanasi after which he was sent to the gallows.

Unnao is 50 km from the state capital.