Gir National Park : Vadodara to Mumbai via Champaner | Horn please, OK?

Gir National Park : Vadodara to Mumbai via Champaner

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Day 5: Vadodara -> Champaner -> Mumbai
When : May 2014 | How far : 510 kms | How long :  8 hrs 





We could feel the withdrawal effects that signal the end of a holiday. The prospect of a drive back to Mumbai bereft of adventure and explorations was plain depressing. We needed to find us some old forts. An online search of Gujarat's forts and palaces led us straight to the beautifully ornate citadel city of  Champaner-Pavagadh.


We built this city

A UNESCO world heritage site, the citadel at Champaner is 50 kms or an hour's drive from Vadodara. Wanting to reach before it got too hot, we left our hotel at 7 am. The very accommodating staff at 'The Fern' even packed us a picnic breakfast. 

The Champaner Pavagadh Archaeological Park, is located at the foothills of Pavagadh. The site is said to hold 38 monuments which include a smorgasbord of monuments  - mosques, Hindu and Jain temples, granaries and centres of administration. 

A brief history of time

Champaner was strategically located for anyone aspiring to rule Gujarat. As a result it was invaded and plundered many times, resurrected and finally forgotten. It was rediscovered by a British architect in the mid 19th century.

It was built in the 8th century AD and was once the capital of the Gujarat Sultanate under the rule of Mahmud Begada. In fact this sultan got the name Begada (meaning 2) after he captured Champaner; his second conquest after the Uperkot fort in Junagadh. Sometime later in the 16th century,  the Mughals invaded and conquered the city and moved the capital back to Ahmedabad. This was a death knell for Champaner. It wasted away, neglected and forgotten. 



Champaner - Pavagadh is said to be the only pre-mughal era (Islamic) city to have survived. The carvings and frescoes in the mosques also contain a lot of Hindu motifs (think lotuses). 

The best way to get there from Baroda is via the Baroda-Halol highway (SH 87).  Its a wide 6 lane road in mint condition with clear roadsigns at regular intervals.  


One Direction. Not

Like many of our undervalued monuments, Champaner hardly has any signs to help visitors find their way about the park. We picked the Jami Masjid, the most prominent structure in the area, to look for someone to guide us through the ruins. The mosque opens at 8 am and we early. A man setting up the ticket booth told us to check out some of the other ruins and come back to the mosque later.


Travel tip: If you get there before 8 am, first check out the ruins on Pavagadh hill. The bigger sites like Jami Masjid open only after 8. 

Navigating our way around was a challenge. No signs  no maps, not even a friendly ghost to follow. 

So here's something to make sense of Champaner

The Archaeological Park stretches over the flatland in Champaner and the Pavagadh hill. Some of the monuments/sites require a ticket to enter and the rest are open to whoever happens to stop by. If you reach before 8am, visit the sites on Pavagadh hill first. These are some worth checking out

  • Saat Kamaan
  • Atak Gate (its got a cool life-sized catapult)
  • Sadanshah Gate

None of them require tickets.

 And here's a list for Champaner

  • Jami Masjid (opens at 8am and requires an entry ticket )  
  • Saher ki Masjid (opens at 8am and requires an entry ticket )  
  • Nagina Masjid (no ticket)
  • Kevada Masjid (no ticket but it does have a caretaker you'll have to locate to let you in) 
  • Mandvi (no ticket)
  • Forttress walls, City Gate & Delhi Gate


Travel tip: Pick up the ASI booklet from the ticket booth at Jami Masjid or Saher ki Masjid. It has a comprehensive list of all the monuments worth visiting in the park. 38 at last count

With no idea where to start, we drove along the dusty, winding road through an entrance like arch in to the citadel. It brought us to the Custom House or as its called, The Mandvi.



Ornamentally scant, it was probably built so to reflect the seriousness of administrative business that was carried out here.





Our next stop was 'Saher ki Masjid' or 'Mosque of the city', ironically built for use by the royal family and nobles of the Gujarat Sultanate.






These elaborately carved indentations along the inside walls are called 'Mihrab'- the point closest to Mecca.



A rudimentary map near the exit showed us the lay of the land. It helped us decide which direction to go in next. A short distance from the mosque stood Pavagadh hill with a ropeway disappearing in to the clouds. 


The Hills are Alive

We drove up the hill (the other option for folks who get to Champaner by bus is to rent a 'jeep') over a very respectably tarred road. Pavagadh hill has interesting little paths running off into forested patches with ruins of structures once part of the citadel. Like a treasure hunt- with no clues. The ropeway on the other hand was a new addition and led to a Kali Mandir which we decided to skip.

Most of the sites that we stumbled upon during this strange version of a treasure hunt had no signs to indicate what they were. Between referring to the ASI booklet and using our laser sharp deductive powers, we concluded this was a doorway. (Sadanshah Gate)




Celebrating our deductive capabilities

Research on Champaner had put 'Saat Kamaan' or the 7 Arches on our 'must-see' list but it proved harder than looking for a needle in a hay stack. I like this metaphor because Champaner is very much like the hay stack of ruins. 

Up and down, left and right but the arches were nowhere in sight. We've learned by now that when all else fails the best course of action is to ask someone for directions. Unfortunately we asked the wrong person. A local resident with the stamina of an entire football team. On steroids. Was that redundant?


A 30 minute hike along a dry waterfall was all our sedentary city hearts could take. Once we spotted civilisation we hailed a ride back to our car and drove in the direction pointed to by our fit, local friend. 



No, he isn't our fit local friend. Just a sucker like the rest of us. The fittest sucker

This time we got lucky. Saat Kamaan is what is left of a lookout point constructed to protect the eastern wall of the citadel. 




Come one, come all

The sun was high up in the sky and Jami Masjid was open for business. The mosque was built to cater to the common man. Incidentally there is nothing common about the architecture. Words cannot do it justice but these pictures hopefully will.




















The man at the ticket booth said that it would be a good idea to check out two other mosques (Nagina and Kevada). A bind drive through bramble and a thousand scratches later we quite literally stumbled upon these beautiful abandoned structures. 














Our adventure-seeking appetites sated and with less than 6 hours of daylight left,we said goodbye to Champaner and headed back to Mumbai. 


Stories from the entire trip
Day 1 -> Mumbai to Bhavnagar
Day 2 -> Bhavnagar to Gir Forest
Day 3 -> Gir to Diu & Somnath
Day 4 -> Junagadh to Baroda
Day 5 -> You just read it
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