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Published: November 12th 2018
Champaner is just over an hour from Vadodara (or Baroda as many still call it), and one of the main reasons to come to Vadodara – not that many foreign tourists do, as we have only seen two white people here in two days.
Champaner expanded and flourished at the end of the 13th
century when it came under the Delhi Sultanate. The distinct Gujarat architectural style – a blend of the local Hindu style and the Islamic – came to prominence at the beginning of the 15th
century with the establishment of the Gujarat Sultanate. Champaner is said to be the only complete pre-Mughal city in India. It flourished until around 1534 when the Mughal ruler Humayun conquered the city briefly. It was then in and out of Mughal control until the early 1600s when for some reason the city was abandoned and lost to the encroaching forest. In 1853 the Maratha Scindias handed it over to the Raj and the British started to clear the forest, study the buildings and build access roads. The British with their love of Indian antiquities to the rescue!
There are mosques, tombs and palaces, city walls, gates and tanks.
There are two distinct areas, one north of the east-west road crossing the site and one to the south. The one to the south consists of monuments rising up the Pavagadh hill. Up the hill are a number of temples for different faiths, and today is a Hindu festival being celebrated at the temple at the stop of the hill. The south side is therefore heaving with pilgrims, many of whom we have passed walking along the road bearing devotional flags, coming from who knows where. Others have arrived on flat bed carts pulled by tractors with about 40 people packed on the flat bed. Mr Singh says only Hindus are allowed on Pavagadh hill, which we think means “Don't bother, it is hot, steep and impossibly crowded up there”. As it takes us three hours to see the sites on the north side, which have very few visitors, we don’t see the south side.
In any event, all the key sites are on the more accessible side. The first stop is the Shakir-ki-Masjid, where we follow the advice we found on a blog and spend 100 rupees on the invaluable ASI guidebook, without which we would never have
found our way round.. This is a magnificent intact mosque, with internal columns and beams, and a clerestory in the middle, a dome to add light and space, which is a particular feature of the Champaner mosques. The guide of the only other English (indeed European) couple we see all day politely asks us where we are from. Sara replies, and the woman he is guiding says “Oh dear, are these people adopting us?” staring at Sara. The guide chats to us regardless.
Next up is the Jama Masjid, the finest building in Champaner. Even more extensive that the previous mosque, with exquisite carving on the exterior columns and a jhali-screened area on the ground floor for woman to worship, presumably at the same time as men, which is unusual.
Then we visit the Nagina Masjid and the Kevda Masjid, which are down a tiny track hardly wide enough for our vehicle. However Mr Singh is undeterred and gets us there despite horrifying scratching noises as the Innova pushes aside the brambles on either side of the track. We find the Mandvi, the old customs house, and then try and visit another old civic structure, but the path
is blocked by a phalanx of langurs some of whom are nursing babies. We decide to give that one a miss!
Back on the main road the pilgrims are continuing to pile in. An excellent decision to not visit Pavagadh hill. We eventually find a stepwell – the Helical Vav – that curves down like a serpent to a pool of fetid green water, and then two fine tombs built in classic Islamic style which are the tombs of former rulers and their family members. Right, it's midday, 36C again inevitably under a cloudless blue sky, and time to go back to the hotel.
We are off again mid afternoon back into Vadodara. We visit Qutubuddin's tomb, a perfect octagonal Moghul structure from the late 16th
century, and the Khanderao market, a typical bustling market but one housed within a Raj era building. Then it's off to the Lehripura gate, one of the ancient gates of old Baroda. And that is enough for today! Back to the hotel and the pool.
Scroll down for more photos.
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