Ahmedabad to Champaner-Pavagadh: On a heritage trail

A colourful market, ‘masjids’, ruins on the hillside, 250 steps to a temple and more


The Sahar Ki Masjid at Champaner. Photo: Anuradha Goyal
The Sahar Ki Masjid at Champaner. Photo: Anuradha Goyal

This Unesco World Heritage site in India had been on my travel list for a long time. So when friends living in Ahmedabad invited me to join them for a trip to the Champaner-Pavagadh Archaeological Park, it could not have been more serendipitous. 

The park includes the sacred 762m volcanic hill, Pavagadh, and the heritage settlement of Champaner at its base, with a fortress, mosques, temples and stepwells.

It took us just a few hours to cover the 146km distance from Ahmedabad to Machi, a small town that serves as a base for Pavagadh. From there, you have to choose between a hiking trail to the top or an udan khatola—a cable car, in modern parlance. The climb seemed steep, so we decided to take the cable car. We glided up effortlessly in 8 minutes and it was clear we had made the right decision when the striking sight of ruins on the hill came into view.

The story goes that it was Mahmud Begada, a sultan, who reclaimed Pavagadh from the Chauhan Rajputs in 1484 and turned Champaner into a vibrant capital. But the days of glory didn’t last long, and the city was captured by Humayun in 1535 and then abandoned, pushing it towards ruin.

Atop the hill, we walked through a colourful market where devotional sentiment was blaring from speakers and every imaginable item of worship was being pushed into the hands of pilgrims making their way to the 10th century Kalika Mata temple. We climbed the 250 steep steps to the temple, which sits on the pinnacle of Pavagadh hill. There are no intricate carvings; the sanctum has an idol of the Hindu goddess Kali.

A little way down from the Kalika temple are the Lakulisa temple (dedicated to the Hindu gods Shiva and Ganesha) and several Jain shrines. The day passed swiftly as we wandered around, sparing some time to sit by the edge of the hill to enjoy the view of the lush valley below.

We decided to visit Champaner the next day.

At the heart of Champaner is a glorious citadel, a fortified area within which lie mosques like the Jami Masjid, Sahar ki Masjid, Kevada Masjid and Lila Gumbaj ki Masjid. The latticework is delicate, the carving, profuse, and the architecture has a hint of Hindu-Islamic fusion. Opposite the Jami Masjid is the Kabutar Khana pavilion.  

Last on our list was a helical-shaped stepwell that has stairs spiralling down to the base. It made us wonder if this was just the architect’s fantasy, or whether it had something to do with water preservation. A few theories were debated before it was time to head back to Ahmedabad. 

We hadn’t had the time to explore the 15th century fort, or even all the temples. The aerial view had made up for much of this, but a sense of sadness gripped me as we left the last World Heritage Site on my bucket list. I would have liked to stay longer.

Weekend Vacations offers suggestions on getaways that allow for short breaks from metros.The writer tweets at @anuradhagoyal.

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