I was lounging around in the lush green lawn in front of Laxmi Vilas Palace, feeling a bit down since DSLR photography of the exteriors was not allowed. I had an instant thought of going Live on both Facebook and Instagram. It was a memorable Live video where I didn’t have to bother about the loss of 4G internet connectivity. By a stroke of luck my friend Jinit also happened to tune in to the live video. He lives in Baroda and we had met in Pushkar, back in 2014. After an immediate phone call, we met right away and decided to leave for the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Champaner – Pavagadh next morning!
The Punjabi family that I was staying with in Vadodara insisted that I have breakfast and only then leave from home. Many thanks for the same, it was super tasty! We had a quick chai on the road and reached Champaner in around 1 hour’s time from Baroda. The weather was impeccable and a cool breeze blew on the highway as we were on a two-wheeler. In hindsight, I can say that the biggest reason for me exploring Champaner Pavagadh Archeological Park in a detailed manner was the cool weather.
We crossed Halol bypass and the highway immediately gave way to small country roads surrounded by gently curving green hills. I could barely believe my eyes when Jinit pointed toward a high mountain and remarked Pavagadh is on top of that mountain! When we were about to enter Champaner, we spotted an old looking monument to our right. Since I had not done any research before coming, it was to unknowingly become the start of our exploration of Champaner – Pavagadh Archaeological Park.
History of Champaner – Pavagadh
The Champaner – Pavagadh Archeological Park is a UNESCO World Heritage Site; and was bestowed with this status in 2004. It is widely believed that the 8-9th Century fortress town of Pavagadh was first ruled by Solanki Kings and then by Khichi Rajputs. The founder of Ahmedabad, Ahmed Shah laid siege to Champaner-Pavagadh in 1419 but was unable to capture it. Sultan Mahmud Begda captured it from the Rajput Kings in 1484 after a 20-month siege. It was thereafter renamed as Muhammadabad, and was made the capital of the Gujarat Sultanate in 1485.
Less than fifty years later in 1535, Muhammadabad fell to Mughal Emperor Humayun who wanted to lay his hands on the treasures of the Gujarat Sultanate. After this battle was won by the Mughals, the gradual decline of Champaner began and it fell from being the capital of the Sultanate to an obscure and deserted town. The city of Champaner is sprawled over six square kilometres and is situated near the foot of the Pavagadh Hill. Champaner was later ruled by the Marathas and also by the Britishers for a short period; but it was never able to regain its lost glory.
Tools recovered from the region indicate that the Champaner Pavagadh region was inhabited since as early as the Stone Age. The oldest historical monument of Champaner Pavagadh is the 10th-11th Century Lakulisha Temple; adorned with stunning images of deities including Brahma, Vishnu, Gajendramoksha, Dakshinamurti, Indra and Ambika. In total, 38 monuments in Champaner – Pavagadh are centrally protected and under the care of Archaeological Survey of India (ASI).
Champaner Pavagadh Archaeological Park
UNESCO WORLD HERITAGE SITE – 2004
The biggest surprise for me was that the locals are hardly aware of the UNESCO World Heritage Site tag! Champaner Pavagadh was awarded the UNESCO tag at the 28th Session that was held at Beijing, China in 2004. Throughout the day, we did not spot any other tourists (outsiders) visiting the mosques of Champaner. Instead, it is Pavagadh hill that draws visitors in huge numbers.
Kalika Mata on Pavagadh Hill is a popular pilgrimage site and religious tourism scores big in India. Jinit informed me that the temple on top of Pavagadh Hill is counted among the Shakti Peeths; legend says that the toe of Goddess Sati fell on Pavagadh Hill. Champaner – Pavagadh is located in Halol Taluka of (Godhra) Panchmahal district in Gujarat.
Introduction to Champaner
Champaner was originally ruled by a Rajput Chauhan Dynasty, and was captured by Mahmud Begda in 1484. Mahmud Begda is said to have spent more than 20 years in rebuilding Champaner; and added mosques, palaces and tombs within the massive walls of Champaner. Subsequently, Champaner was renamed as Muhammadabad in Mahmud Begda’s honour.
Champaner remained the capital of Gujarat till 1535, when it was conquered by the Mughal Emperor Humayun. After that it fell into a gradual decline and in the present day most of Champaner lies in ruins. The mosques of Champaner reflect a blend of Islamic & Hindu traditions. The most prominent among the mosques is the Jami Masjid.
Jami Masjid was built in 1523 and is a large, symmetrical structure with stunning latticework (designs on stone). Its rich exterior with 172 pillars and 100 feet high minarets makes it one of the finest Islamic monuments in India. In fact, the architecture of Champaner is believed to have been an inspiration for subsequent Islamic architecture for the Mughals in India.
The Portuguese traveller – Duarte Barbosa who visited Gujarat between 1511 and 1514 is known to have written that Champaner was a great city full of life. He found it very fertile with abundant provisions and cows, sheep, goats and lots of fruits.
Another account of a foreign traveller mentioned in Ain-i-Akbari who visited Champaner in 1590 states that ‘There are many grand edifices surrounded by a fortification wall eleven miles in length with a pleasure house every 3/4th mile and an enclosure for deer and other games.
Monuments in Champaner
Champaner seems to be in a time warp of its own. Timeless massive city walls with inscribed gateways stand proudly; and there are dwellings of locals amidst the ruins. The surroundings are ringed by exquisite mosques, cenotaphs and a few stepwells to complete the fairytale. Since the city was abandoned suddenly 500 years ago; a popular legend among the locals is that Champaner was deserted because it was a cursed city.
Historical accounts indicate that Mahmud Begda had invited a Persion landscape architect from Khorasan in Iran to design the layout of the garden within the Royal Enclosure (Hisar-i-Khas). In the present day, it appears that only ruins of the same are left and I could not conclusively spot the Royal Palace of Mahmud Begda.
As soon as we entered Champaner; we noticed a series of fortifications that looked very old and possibly dated to the origins of the ancient city. The fortifications continue for a considerable distance and consist of massive sandstones with intermediate bastions; some of which appeared in an urgent need of repair.
Champaner is a classic example of a pre-Mughal Islamic township. The architecture and designs of the monuments are a blend of local Gujarati traditions and Islamic designs. To use the cliché, Champaner feels like a town completely lost in time. The deserted looking ruins have a dazzling array of architectural delights; and numerous mosques from the 15th Century dot the landscape in and around Champaner. There are also a multitude of stepwells and Champaner at one point of time has also been called ‘city of a thousand wells.’
The mosques of Champaner are all built on high plinths and are ornamented with fine geometrical and Islamic designs. They have 3 / 5 / 7 mihrabs which are beautifully decorated with flower, chains and foliage motifs. Mihrab is the maulvi’s standing place at the time of the prayer. Mosques of Champaner are mostly in the column and beam style of architecture while only Bawaman Mosque and Iteri Masjid were built in the column and arch style.
Among the important and must see mosques in Champaner for visitors are : Jami Masjid, Shahar-ki-Masjid, Kevada Masjid, Nagina Masjid, Lila Gumbaj-ki-Masjid, Ek Minar-ki-Masjid, Panch Mahuda-ki-Masjid, Bawaman Masjid, Khajuri Masjid, Iteri Masjid and Kamani Masjid.
Sakar Khan’s Tomb (Sakar Khan’s Dargah)
Just before the entrance gate to Champaner, Sakar Khan’s Tomb (Dargah) was a bolt out of the blue. Before the journey, I was aware that Champaner and Pavagadh were separate areas and was under the impression that all the monuments in Champaner would be clustered together. But it was not so. If truth be told, Champaner would have been very difficult to explore on foot. Since we were on a two wheeler, it was easy to just stop on the side and decide that the huge tomb be visited.
An ASI signboard outside the gates informs us that Sakar Khan’s tomb in Halol is the largest tomb in the old city of Champaner. It also states that the structure is datable to 15th Century AD. There was a guard outside the structure but he had no idea about the history of who Sakar Khan may have been. The lattice work inside the tomb was stunning for a monument that was 500 years old. Views on the other side of the tomb were spectacular; especially because of the green cover with a misty backdrop.
Apparently, there is another trail that climbs to Pavagadh directly from the mountains behind Sakar Khan’s Tomb. Jinit also showed me the outline of the gorgeous looking trek from the lake that lies just a little ahead of the tomb. As I am typing this, I’m yet to find out who exactly was Sakar Khan and why the tomb was built! In Champaner, the guard didn’t know and even extensive searching on google has yielded no results.
We entered the huge doorway that signalled the start of the old city of Champaner and came upon a market. A left turn from there meant we were in front of the fortifications and entered another huge gate to arrive at the ticket window in Champaner. The entrance to Shahar-ki-Masjid was elaborate and I instantly thought that this is the all-enclosing complex in Champaner where all the worthwhile sights are located! And the presence of a ticket window only seemed to confirm that fact until we entered inside.
There was a signboard inside with an elaborate map of Champaner – Pavagadh Archaeological Park and it was only at that moment that I realised the enormity of this UNESCO World Heritage Site. The monuments in Champaner were not at one place but were rather quite far away from each other.
This 15th century mosque has five arched doorways on its front façade and also five mihrabs inside. The central one is flanked by two high minarets splendidly enriched with geometric and floral patterns. Historians believe that the Shahar-ki-Masjid was the private mosque of the royal family of the Gujarat sultans when Champaner (Muhammadabad) was the capital of the Sultanate.
Jama Masjid (Jami Masjid)
The defining point of Champaner’s World Heritage status is the imposing 15th century Jami Masjid. It stands on a raised platform and comprises of a walled structure. The eastern entrance is the main gateway into the building and projects outward in the form of a wonderful doorway embellished with dazzling decoration in stone. There are amazingly intricate carvings and stone screen work inside the Jami Masjid.
Mihrabs in Jami Masjid are beautiful. Jami Masjid is well known as a perfect amalgamation of Indo-Islamic architecture and its intricate carving and perforated stone screen work. There’s also a separate portion in the mosque called Muluk Khana, reserved for royal ladies.
The Jami Masjid has a courtyard surrounded by pillared corridors, with the main shrine at the far end within which are seven mihrabs. Like the Shahar-ki-Masjid, Jami Masjid also has five arched entrances, with the central one flanked by 30m high minarets. Nearby is a stepwell with water that may have been used for pre-prayer ablutions. It was being restored when we were there. There is a single grave in the mosque compound and when we asked one of the locals, he said that it was the grave of the priest during Mahmud Begda’s rule.
Jami Masjid in Champaner is also known as The Great Mosque and it is believed to be the architectural example for later mosques in India. The foundation stone of Jami Masjid is said to have been laid in 1482 even before Champaner – Pavagadh was won in battle by Mahmud Begda.
The Kevada Masjid with its brilliantly decorated three-arched façade is located in a separate area in what seems like a forested corner. It is a rectangular structure and has a double storied main prayer hall. The minarets at Kevada Masjid are beautifully carved with elaborate floral and geometrical designs. The roof has collapsed over the centuries and that gives a different character to Kevada masjid.
Some ASI officials were present at Kevada Masjid to work on a survey; and the guard gave us a local cucumber. It was delicious and we had a wonderful time enjoying the views of the cenotaph as a cloud had covered the sun at that point and we could enjoy the breeze. The mihrab inside Kevada Masjid is very elaborate and well preserved with intricate carvings.
Nagina Masjid is a grand structure built on a high plinth. When we reached there, the sun had got quite strong and we spotted a few kids playing and chilling in the shade of the mosque! Nagina Masjid has 3 mihrabs and the defining feature of this mosque is its bulbous roof as seen from the outside. Entry to the Nagina Masjid is through an old gateway which seems to have been recently restored.
There was also a grown-up with the kids and he informed us that there was a well nearby for ablutions before entering the mosque.
Cenotaph at Nagina Masjid : The cenotaph in front of Nagina Masjid is exquisite and perhaps the most beautiful structure in entire Champaner in terms of architectural finesse. Before / after photographs of the same indicate that ASI has done a great job of restoring the monument. It is open on all four sides and is richly decorated by floral designs.
It was only by a stroke of luck that we ended up at Lila Gumbaj-ki-Masjid that was situated in a different corner of Champaner. Lila Gumbaj-ki-Masjid has a dominating central dome in white colour that can be seen from faraway in the landscape. Historical documents state that the dome was once covered with glazed work.
The stairs to reach the top were not locked up this time and we gleefully made our way in the slender pathway. I wondered why the royals made the space so small; we are both lean and could barely make our way to the top. The domes looked cool from close and the green landscape could barely be associated with dry and dusty Gujarat.
Ek Minar ki Masjid
I was pretty fascinated just hearing the name of the Ek Minar-ki-Masjid and the monument did not disappoint at all. As the name suggests, the mosque only comprises of a solitary minar. The single minaret is of five storeys and looks stunning in the green landscape. Ek Minar ki Masjid is located outside the city limits of Champaner entrance and it was nice to see a guard appointed by ASI even in this far-off place.
Ek Minar ki Masjid also had a stepwell in the complex and scattered stones indicating that there may have been more construction originally. It was constructed by Bahadur Shah during 1526 – 1535 AD.
Among the plethora of mosques in Champaner; Panch Mahuda-ki-Masjid was the least known and the most difficult to access. It may have been the farthest located from Champaner and lies outside the city limits. There was no signboard either and it was only our persistence that ensured we were actually able to reach Panch Mahuda-ki-Masjid.
The way to this monument passed through a small hamlet and after we reached, it was a pleasant surprise to see a small ASI signboard with details. A drunkard approached us and indicated that we were not allowed to click photographs. Nevertheless, I went inside and spent time at the beautiful masjid. Panch Mahuda-ki-Masjid seems to have been surrounded by 4 minarets originally; but now only 2 stand and only 1 of them is intact.
The mosque itself stands on a high plinth and has a commanding view of the scenery. Tombs are scattered in the mosque while the roof has caved in.
Couldn’t find any description of Kamani Masjid; just that it doesn’t have a roof and just arches.
Time was limited at our disposal and exploring more of the mosques of Champaner would have meant less chances of spending reasonable time at Pavagadh; but I guess luck intervened and we were able to have a glimpse of Bahaman Mosque on the way somewhere in Champaner. It was in the process of renovation and restoration and a quick look revealed there wasn’t much by way of archaeological beauty.
Historical documents state that it was built after other monuments in Champaner and is named after a saint Bawaman.
Also known as Helical stepwell, I was quite excited to see the Helical Vav having seen pictures of the spiral staircase descending to the water. The structure is quite well maintained but the joy was short lived : water level was high due to the monsoon and I wasn’t able to see any stairs.
It was purported to be a must visit place and had a signboard leading to it; but when we spoke to the local guards at other monuments they informed us that there was no way we could visit Amir Manzil and that excavations had revealed there was a nobleman’s residence there. We tried to take numerous turns but the growth of foliage in the jungle prevented us from reaching the exact Amir Manzil excavation spot.
Mandvi (Custom House)
While wandering around Champaner, we randomly stumbled upon this structure. During the Maratha rule of Champaner, Mandvi custom house was used as an octroi post. It doesn’t look big from outside but is actually a sizeable structure once you enter inside. The ASI (Archaeological Survey of India) office in Champaner is located adjacent to Mandvi Custom House.
It was used to house prisoners and was built by Mahmud Begda.
Sikandar Khan’s Tomb
It is located at Halol and is said to be an important monument in the history of Champaner. The carvings are known to be quite detailed as well.
A brick structure located near the water body or talao just outside Champaner.
Introduction to Pavagadh
Pavagadh in the present day is an important pilgrimage centre with throngs of devotees making a beeline to pay their respects at the Kalika Mata Temple. Pavagadh is situated on top of a hillock that rises around 800m from Champaner. The views are surreal and one can see the landscape for miles. For reaching Pavagadh, the road goes till a village called Machi – from where one can either hike to Pavagadh or take the udan khatola (gondola ropeway).
Pavagadh is about 6 kms away from Champaner and has a cluster of Hindu shrines and Jain temples among the ruins of an ancient fortification ringed by numerous lakes surrounded by lush greenery. On the way to the hill of Pavagadh, are the ruins of the Sat Mahal – the seven storied Palace of the Chauhan Kings. The history of Pavagadh also faintly reminds me of Chittorgarh. Since the kings and queens did not want to covert to Islam after the Muslim conquest, the women and children committed jauhar.
For reaching Pavagadh, one can either take a bus from Champaner; or if one has the time then walk up the path that ascends through battered gates and past the old walls of the Rajput fortress to the on-the-way village of Machi. Here one can have snacks/food at restaurants and also find places to stay like simple guesthouses. Remember that the road is only till Machi and from here you can take the cable car to the top (Rs.116 return), or follow the uphill path on foot.
On top of the hill a number of Jain temples sit below a Hindu temple dedicated to Kalika Mata. The entire archeological complex of Champaner and Pavagadh is home to religious structures of Hindu, Jain and Muslim communities along with fortresses, fortifications, palaces, lakes and stepwells, granaries; and Pavagadh hill has most of the Jain, Hindu sites and Palaces and water bodies also called talao.
We had spent most of our day wandering around the mosques of Champaner and now were under serious danger of committing a mistake most people who visit Champaner – Pavagadh make. Detailed explorations of Champaner can easily take most part of the day leaving little time to do justice to Pavagadh. The weather had turned blustery at around 430 when we were scrambling up the hill having passed Sat Kaman and other important gates on the way to Machi village.
We were not very keen on taking the udan khatola (gondola) ride for Pavagadh but as we reached the parking spot it was quite evident that if we tried walking to Pavagadh hill it would not take less than 1 hour – eliminating all possibility of any explorations. Sense prevailed, I got the tickets for the gondola and we rushed to get inside one of the cable boxes.
As the tiny gondola we were in ascended the hill, the vast expanse of the countryside opened up all around. The shade of green was stunning and I could spot the hill slopes that were dotted with monuments. The gondola swayed and for a minute I was afraid of things going wrong! Thankfully all was well and we clicked numerous photographs of the surrounding landscape from our dslr’s and mobile phones.
Pavagadh feels like a religious town with a variety of shops selling colourful offerings. It resembles a mini-village with houses constructed on top of the shops itself. There are many restaurants serving snacks and tea along with dinner, lunch according to timings. Sunset at Pavagadh was spectacular and I’m sure night skies will be epic if one ends up staying here for the night.
Monuments of Pavagadh
The oldest monuments in Champaner Pavagadh Archaeological Park are located on Mauliya Plateau on the way to Kalika Mata Temple on Pavagadh Hill. Lakulisha Temple is from the 10th-11th Century AD. The Jain temples dedicated to Suparsavanath, Chandraprabhu and Parsavnath have been dated to the 13th-14th Century AD.
Apart from these temples, the noteworthy places to see on the way to Pavagadh are Atak Gate, Budhiya Gate, Moti Gate, Sadanshah Gate, Gulan Bulan Gate, Makai Gate near Makai Kothar, Tarapore Gate, Mint.
It had started drizzling as we alighted from the gondola ride to make our way to Pavagadh Hill. The time taken was hardly 7-8 minutes and we congratulated ourselves on our common sense and set about exploring the temples of Pavagadh. And at the outset, I asked the locals where Lakulisha temple is located?
Someone pointed to us the directions and we went walking by a slender path. Lakulisha temple appeared to be half sunk in water. It was built on a rock protruding from the Chasia Talao. The temple comprises of a garbhagriha, antarala, mandala and an entrance porch. Once the walking path ended, I was in a fix at how to get closer to the temple. There are rocks in the water and tip-toeing is the only way to have a closer look at Lakulisha Temple right now.
The walls of Lakulisha temple are adorned with super fine sculptures in stone among which the figures of Brahma, Vishnu, Dakshina Murti, Indra are noteworthy. This temple was constructed in the 10th-11th Century AD and has 8 beautifully carved pillars. The lintel of the mandapa entrance has an image of Lakulisha, which is delicate and unique!
Who was Lakulisha?
In the 2nd Century AD, Lakulisha was an ardent devotee of Lord Shiva and is supposed to be the founder of the Pasupata cult. He is an incarnation of Lord Shiva. In sculptures, he is depicted in the padmasana posture and holds a club (also lakula) – hence called Lakulisha.
I was dismayed to see parts of the original temple submerged in the water; half statues in water with rich carvings. Locals indicated that once the water level comes to normal, then a statue is installed in the temple and pilgrims come for worshipping and paying their respects in the temple. I found that quite unique!
Kalika Mata Temple
It is located on the summit of Pavagadh hill and the chief reason for pilgrims to come to Pavagadh for paying their respects. It is regarded as a Shakti Peeth where it is believed that Sati’s toe fell here and the temple was constructed. Near the temple is also a hemi-spherical dome known as Sadan Shah Pir.
Pilgrims consider it auspicious to walk to Pavagadh Hill and even old people don’t take the gondola. The stairs are well defined and well lit even in the night and one can also walk back even after it becomes dark.
Jain Temples of Pavagadh
The Jain temples of Pavagadh belong to the Digamber sect of Jainism. Parsavnath Temple is located near Dudhiya Talao and has only known because of its ruins. Chandraprabha Temple has also undergone extensive repair. Apart from these well known temples; there are other lesser known Jain temples near Makai Kothar and Navlakha Kothar.
Gates at Pavagadh
Atak Gate – First gate while ascending Pavagadh Hill. It is a double storied structure with arrangements for catapults to surprise the enemy with an attack.
Budhiya Gate, Moti Gate, Sadan Shah Gate, Gulan Bulan Gate etc all lie in close vicinity of each other and can easily been seen in Pavagadh. They are worth a quick perusal to provide more insight about life in Pavagadh 500 years ago.
Jinit had spoken very fondly about Sat Kamaan and the possibility of night photography here. Sat Kaman is surely one of the most popular structures in Pavagadh and its easy to see why! There are seven arches (Sat Kaman) among which only five stand now and 2 seem to have broken down.
Splendid views of the landscape are on offer from Sat Kamaan and its highly recommended to spend some peaceful time here. It was built so that military personnel could see the entire expanse of the land below.
We entered a huge gate after seeing a signboard that indicated ‘Mint’ – from Gate number 4. The mint at Muhammadabad (Champaner) was founded by Mahmud Begda. Its importance can be judged from the fact that it was one of the only 4 mint towns in entire Gujarat during the Sultunate; the others were Ahmedabad, Ahmadnagar and Junagadh.
Coins made at this mint denote the place name with both names Champaner and Muhammadabad. Copper, silver coins were minted here. Humayun is said to have commemorated his victory by minting coins at the Takshila here.
Sunset at Navlakha Kothar
Enough said; I’ll let the pictures do the talking now! Thanks Jinit for an unbelievable sunset.
How to explore Champaner – Pavagadh Archaeological Park?
If you have the luxury of time; then I recommend staying at either Halol or Surendranagar or a cheap guest house in Champaner or Pavagadh and explore Champaner – Pavagadh over 2 days to do full justice to the plethora of historical monuments. There are basic hotels, guesthouses available in Champaner and Pavagadh.
We had lunch at a small town near Jambughoda Sanctuary; spicy Gujarati food comprising of fiery red garlic chutney, sev tamatar and rotla. Highly recommend the same!
From Ahmedabad to Champaner : Distance from Ahmedabad to Champaner is around 160 Kms and quite impossible to do a day trip.
From Baroda to Champaner : Distance from Baroda to Champaner is around 50 kms and it is possible to do a day trip if you leave early and come back late.
From Champaner to Pavagadh : The buses only take travellers up to a certain point; from there one can take the gondola ropeway or hike up via the walking trail. The gondola timings are till 7-730 pm.
Champaner Pavagadh Archaeological Park may be the most understated UNESCO World Heritage site that you will ever come across. Go while you can.