Offbeat Legacy of Champaner and Pavagadh

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The divinity of the ancient temple permeated through my senses while treading along rocky surface over volcanic hills. Mountain breeze ruffled up everything in its way, rendering me to gaze down.

Clusters of monuments ran along meandering streets far into the distance. They were part of a citadel that laid quietly engulfing ruins of a pre-Mughal Islamic capital.

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Jami Masjid – Vageesha Mishra

Even in plain sight, the irony wasn’t lost on me as my eyes chased down sun beams falling on rugged climbs, dense leafy branches, pre-historic inscriptions and at last, dancing over rippling green waters in the lake below.

It irked me as to how the historical wonder of Champaner-Pavagadh Archaeological Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, still remained tucked away in the shadows of a lesser known legacy. As per UNESCO, the site was the only unchanged pre-Mughal Islamic city.

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A view from Pavagadh hills- Diego Tirira via Flickr

“If history were taught in the form of stories, it would never be forgotten.” The famous words of iconic author Rudyard Kipling occurred to me for there were centuries worth of stories lived through in the world of Champaner and Pavagadh, some told, many lost with time.

Complex history follows this archaeological park which is just about 50 kilometres past of Vadodara. It comprises of the volcanic Pavagadh hills and city of Champaner extending wide from its base holding together a fortified world.

The towering 800-metre-high Pavagadh hills is a revered site for the Hindus owing to the ancient shrine of Kalika Mata atop a steep mountain. Descending down from there is the Lakulisa temple. Round the year, these shrines are crowded with hundreds of devotees.

Pavagadh town being an integral trade route, often caught the eye of conquerors. The neighbouring Champaner was laid equal weight. Champaner was believed to have been founded by the Rajput ruler Vanraj Chavda, from Chavda dynasty in the 8th century. Sometime in 1300 AD, Chauhan Rajputs took over the reins of Champaner for nearly a span of 200 years.

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Champaner citadel gate – Diego Tirira via Flickr

Pre-Mughal Islamic footprints came through Mahmud Begada, in 1484. He was captivated by the strategic positioning giving it an upper hand in military and trading positions. Upon his victory, he moved his capital from Ahmedabad to Champaner after further elevating the city to a stunner with artistic architecture and urban planning.

Ahmedabad regained the status of a capital when Mughal emperor Humayun conquered Champaner. It slowly lost its charm to neglect, eventually slipping towards ruins. Pre-historic monuments amidst a jungle stirred the interest of Britishers years later. In 2004, the site was declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO.

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Sheher ki Masjid – Wikimedia

There’s quite a chance to feel somewhat overwhelmed with the scattered spread of monuments. A guide or a localised map would come in handy to figure out your whereabouts.

The broad outline involves several beautifully built mosques, ancient Hindu and Jain temples, a hill fortress, lakes, greenery, stepwells, fortifications, palaces, and granaries, among others.

Sky high gateways and ramparts are common along narrow roads. One street led way to the Jami Masjid (mosque) interchangeably used as Jama Masjid. Magical, intrinsic and finest artwork speak volumes about a bygone era like only a few. It served as a model for future mosque architecture.

Seamless blend of Hindu and Persian architecture makes up for an enchanting fusion. The splendid artwork of Jami Masjid involved stunning motifs, oriel windows, twin minarets at the entrance to doubled storied mosque, pillared prayer halls separating each one.

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Jami masjid in Champaner – Wikimedia

Jallis opened out to lake, greenery and sky! Further on, there were domed roofs, courtyards, arched pathways, and the like.

The ruler’s inclination towards crafty urban landscape shone through the many mosque strikingly different in design. Some of them being Sahar ki Masjid, Kevada Masjid, Lila Gumbaj ki Masjid, and Ek Minar ki Masjid.

A little farther from Jami Masjid, there was an ancient Jain Temple. After rambling some more on the pathway, it opened out to a Kabootar Khana pavilion overlooking a spectacular lake.

Water was abundantly placed in the walled city it seemed owing to lakes, carrier arteries and a helical stepwell. Explanatory enough from the name, it spiralled down as curving steps to the base.

Ruins continue to spring into my view from distance even along the hills which was draped in a cool greenery. Walking down the withered steps over a part of the climb suddenly brought in focus an intriguing seven arched passage. It was called Saat Kaman.

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Saat Kaman – Pixabay

Questions popped up somewhere in my mind. Before reckoning it as an aesthetically evoked structure, curiosity got hold of me. And off came the answers miles apart from my guesses!

For the arches ran adjacent to a still sturdy boundary, giving a glimpse of far flung areas. Placed on top, the vantage point worked as a competitive advantage for the yesteryear army rendering it a military base.

Serene and eye warming scenery of the whole world beckoned from beneath. It felt like being in the nature’s cradle, away from the hustle bustle of touristy roads.

Cool breeze nudged surroundings, whispering tales of the past, witnessing stories unfold in the present and waiting to capture those in future. Kipling’s quote reverberated through my head once more.

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