I saw the photos of Champaner-Pavagadh Archaeological Park on someone’s travel blog, and they immediately intrigued my enquiring mind (long live the travel blogging community!). Further research kept fueling my interest until it finally crystallized into a firm decision to go and explore the ancient monuments on my own. So here I was, buying the train tickets to Vadodara and anticipating a new adventure.
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The less known UNESCO World Heritage Site in Gujarat
Apart from the beautiful Rani ki Vav, the Champaner-Pavagadh Archaeological Park is the only other UNESCO World Heritage Site in Gujarat, yet it could hardly be called a popular touristic destination. (Important update! Ahmedabad was declared a world heritage city by UNESCO on the 8th of July 2017, so there are three UNESCO heritage sites in Gujarat at the moment). Located around 50 km from the city of Vadodara, the park is spread over the area of around 1,3 hectares. One has an option of coming on a group tour or hiring a car with a driver in order to easily reach the scattered monuments. I came by a local bus, by the way, with a daring intention to cover the area on foot. Don’t repeat my mistakes! 🙂 Anyway, the experience was oh so worth it!
Exploring the whole park would take a full day, so I decided to go only for the Champaner part and leave Pavagadh for later. The archeological sites of the ancient fortified city form a time span of nearly 800 years (from the 8th to 16th century) and include mosques, step wells, city walls and gates, a tomb and a pavilion.
A brief history of Champaner
The toponym “Champaner” derives either from one of the key political figures of that time (minister Champa) or from the peculiar yellowish-orange stones of the area that resembled the blossom of Champaka flowering plants. Tracing back to its early years, the city was governed by King Vanraj Chavda. During the rule of Rajputs Champaner had a great significance in the region and served as the capital of Gujarat, retaining its status even after being conquered by Sultan Mahmud Begda. During his rule of around two decades, a lot of magnificent structures were built and the area thrived. The glorious history of Champaner came to an end when Humayun, the second emperor of the Mughal Empire, took over the region. All the headquarters were shifted to Ahmedabad, and Champaner was left in neglect. In the 19th century the abandoned medieval city was discovered by the British, but all the attempts to repopulate it and bring it back to life were of no success.Thanks to the efforts of Archaeological Survey of India and the Baroda Heritage Trust, the place was included into the list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites in 2004.
The monuments of Champaner
The enigma and subtle charm of the place hit us immediately as we went through these ancient gates, no matter how cheesy it may sound. I’m actually very tempted to photoshop the electric wires away, but let’s stick to the historical truth 🙂
The starting point of my visit was Saher-Ki-Masjid, a private place of worship constructed in the 15th century specially for the royal family and the nobility of the Sultanate.
The imposing structure is relatively well preserved. Just like almost any other monument of Champaner, the style of Saher-Ki-Masjid represents a sublime fusion of Hindu, Jain and Muslim architectural patterns. I don’t think the subtle mix of styles was intended by the Muslim rulers who ordered to build the structures according to the medieval urban planning. However, the local Hindu artisans and laborers, enrolled in the projects, couldn’t help implementing patterns they were previously familiar with.
To the next monument (and all the subsequent ones), people in charge of the place took me by their bike. They absolutely insisted, and I can’t express how grateful I am for this act of kindness. The territory is really huge, and it’s not only the question of extensive walking and blazing hot weather (pre-monsoon weeks are not the best time to visit Gujarat) – safety is a big consideration as well. I’m sure local people are very friendly, but still, walking along a deserted road through the forest is hardly advisable for female visitors (we were two women).
So, the next monument was the spectacular Jami Masjid. From elegant porches to elaborate stone screens, imposing prayer hall, arches, skylights and domes, every bit of this structure is a work of art.
I couldn’t help noticing how much effort has been taking over maintaining the surrounding lawns – they were green and spotless. Shady trees and flowering plants emphasized the splendor of the structure.
Behind the mosque there was a charming little step well. It seems I’ve developed a soft spot for this architectural form since visiting the mind blowing Adalaj stepwell near Ahmedabad, so it took me quite some time to leave the place.
Next destination was the Kamani Masjid. The ruins of this structure with all the pillars and arches were giving rather surreal vibes.
Then there was Kabutarkhana Pavilion. Here I’ve got a bit confused as there were two structures on both side of the road. “Kabutarkhana” means Pigeon House, so I suppose it’s this one, with lots of holes for the birds to sit in.
Stepping inside, one can immediately feel the drop of temperature. No wonder the pavilion was full of local people hiding from the sun.
The lake was completely dry, but it seems it fills up again during the monsoons.
And this structure across the road, I suppose, was meant for the royal family to relax and enjoy the breeze.
So that’s it. Hope this photo essay will inspire you to schedule a trip to the ancient city of Champaner, touch the stone and listen trustfully to the witnesses of the era bygone. As usual, they have lots of stories to tell.
Champaner-Pavagadh Archaeological Park: Travel tips
~ Champaner-Pavagadh Archaeological Park is located 50 km from Vadodara. I reached the site by a local bus, departing from Vadodara Central Bus Station. It took me 1.5 hours to reach, and the ticket price was Rs 32 one way. However, it’s advisable to hire a car with a driver – it’s not easy to cover the huge area of the park by foot.
~ Make sure you have a pair of comfortable walking shoes.
~ Take a lot of water, a hat and sunblocks. Life teaches me nothing – after getting badly sunburnt in the Golconda fort, I’ve done it again 🙂
~ Best time to visit – November to March.
~ The place opens at 8.00 am, and it’s a bit late for the photography enthusiasts – morning sunlight is perfect for creative photos.
~ Entry fees – Rs 30 for Indian visitors and Rs 500 for foreigners (where is justice? 🙂 )
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