Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Champaner & The Glory that Surrounds It

From : The DNA
16 November 2014

EAT AND DRIVE :- History, Spirituality, Royalty, Natural Beauty & a Unique Craft @ Champaner, Pavgadh, Jambughoda & Sankheda

The Foodie & The Fotographer – Kim & Brajesh go Road Tripping through Gujarat.

A Month Ago, (DNA, 16 Oct 14) we explored Patan, a recently declared UNESCO World Heritage Site, but Champaner was given the same honour more than 10 years ago in 2004, as the only complete and unchanged Islamic pre-Mughal city.

In 1484, Sultan Mahmud Begarah took possession of the Pavgadh Hill fort and renamed it Muhammadabad. Champaner was constructed as the Capital City of Gujarat by the 16th Century.

Today the town sees hordes of visitors, but 99.9% of them head only to Pavgadh Hill to the temple of Kalika Mata – belived to be a Shaktipeeth because Sati’s toe is supposed to have fallen here. Unusually, there is a shrine built over the temple dedicated to Muslim Saint Sadanshah, who supposedly pacified Mahakali, who in a fit of rage had set out to destroy the world.

It is possible to take your vehicle half way up the hill to the parking area, which has a basic Government rest house with very nice staff, who have snacks and tea on offer (if they are open) and usable washrooms. The view from their basic outdoor dining is gorgeous and with a steaming cup of tea and piping hot pakodas, you can forget the world and the crowds outside.

Many pilgrims climb the Pavgadh hill in pilgrimage (4-5 hours round trip), but for those less physically inclined, there is a mono-cable ropeway that can carry 1200 people per hour. However, this ropeway only operates in certain seasons and is often closed for repairs and maintenance, so be prepared for that eventuality.

The Champaner Heritage Site encompasses this temple, the living town of Champaner and the Heritage Buildings spread all over the area, many of which still lie unexcavated. You can see some of these monuments as you drive up the hill. If something looks interesting, park your vehicle (at a proper space that doesn’t obstruct other traffic) and get out for a walk. Walking around these monuments is the only way to truly appreciate their size and intricate work.

The ASI Website lists over 35 monuments that have been studied, but not all of them are easily accessible. Our car often had its capabilities tested to the maximum on some of the side roads and we still couldn’t find some of the monuments on the list. We treated the whole exercise as a treasure hunt and had loads of fun.

The main series of monuments is located directly opposite the path that leads up to Pavgadh Hill. The Jami Masjid here is accepted to be the model for later mosque architecture in India. Some of these Historic sites, now house Government offices. If you ask nicely, they will let you take a walk around their premises.

Champaner is 154 km away from Ahmedabad and takes around 2.5 hours to drive, bypassing Baroda, via Halol. However, you can also spend Friday night in Baroda and then it is less than an hours drive (58 km) to Champaner. You can choose to return to Ahmedabad via Baroda (stopping here for lunch), We however prefer the more scenic route via Jambughoda (25 km) & Sankheda (40km). Then another 167 km to Ahmedabad, for a round trip of around 400 km.

The Nature Lovers Retreat is a Heritage Property of the Jamughoda Royal family, that has guesthouse style rooms and serves brilliant food. Call at least 24 hours ahead to book for lunch. You may not see any Wildlife, but the Greenery is a soothing balm to the soul. Next time we may try the recently opened Champaner Heritage Resort or the Mount Heritage Resort. If you want to explore further, head to the Jhund Hanuman temple in the sanctuary, with its 18foot high murti, believed to date to the Mahabharata era or the Government Guest House which has great views of the reservoirs.

Then take a quick drive to Sankheda and watch the carpenters known as kharadis create the unique lacquered woodwork furniture of this region. It’s a 400+ year old craft, practiced by 100+ families. Pick up a sofa set or a photo frame and know that you have bought something that isn’t manufactured anywhere else in the world.

After such a series of varied experiences and sights, head back to Ahmedabad content in all that you have achieved for the day.

Champaner Heritage Site – the main mosque – 5 Rs – same ticket can be used for entry to the other monuments too.
Ropeway - 75 Rs

Read the Entire Article on the DNA Website


Sunday, November 2, 2014

Shock & Awe at Junagadh

From : The DNA
2 Nov 2014

EAT AND DRIVE :- Shock & Awe in Junagadh

The Foodie & The Fotographer – Kim & Brajesh go Road Tripping through Gujarat.

Junagadh is often overlooked by most travelers to Gir or Somnath as a tiny town that you pass along the way. However, it is the most undiscovered and untapped gem of Gujarat for us. We have never found tourists (local or foreign) here, except for the pilgrims visiting Mt Girnar, inspite of the town housing multiple sites of interest from Buddhist and Mughal time periods too.

The journey to Junagadh from Ahmedabad, via Rajkot is around 317 km and takes roughly 5 hours, unless you decided to break at Rajkot / Khamabaliya or take a detour into Gondal.

Junagadh means “Old Fort” and this little town has been ruled in turn by the Mauryas, Maitrakas, Solankis, Chudasamas & Mughals – each of whom have left behind a bit of their history, architecture and aesthetics.

For a regular tourist, the main place of interest is the Uparkot Fort which was virtually inaccessible when it was built. Today, you can drive your car right into the fort and actually drive around it. The entry is on the narrow side, but an SUV can get in easily, as long as you come to an understanding with any driver approaching from the opposite direction.

Inside the Fort, the largest spot of interest is the 15th C. Jama Masjid which is itself built like a fort. Its covered courtyard is a unique feature in Indian mosque architecture. Be adventurous and climb up to the higher floor on the rickety stairs. The views are most definitely worth it and you can take multitudes of profile photos (which is what most of the visiting kids end up doing)

The oldest part of the fort is its Buddhist caves that are 2 – 3 stories underground carved out of monolithic rocks. You may feel that there is hardly anything to see and everything is faded, but remember that these caves are almost 2000 years old and use your imagination to visualise what it would look like in its heyday filled with Buddhist monks.

Hire a guide if you would like to hear the mournful story of Adi Kadi – the sisters who were sacrificed, so the stepwells would fill with water. Or have your picture taken astride a stuffed tiger with a BB gun in hand to resemble a shikari of yore, or scramble down the Navghan Kuvo which provided the fort with water in case of long sieges.

There is a snack shop opposite the Adi Kadi Vav, who sells packaged namkeen and cold drinks and you will often find street vendors selling seasonal fruits and cholafali or singdana. You may also find a lady selling local herbs and spices, be wary of what you buy, we found that the aroma of everything vanished even before we returned to Ahmedabad.

Just walk around this whole place and take it all in and enjoy the beauty of the fort and its magnificent backdrop.

Come back towards town and head to the pinnacle of Islamic Architecture in the State – the Mahabat Maqbara, with its external spiral staircase encircled minarets - from the Babi period, but built with a mix of European (Gothic columns, French windows), Hindu and Moorish influences. Climb up one of those staircases for some brilliant views and pictures of the Mahabat Maqbara and the neighbouring Bahauddin Maqbara which is also extremely picturesque.

Stop for lunch at Petals in Lotus Hotel for a pretty decent Indian meal with usable bathrooms. It’s also a good option for an overnight stay with comfortable rooms.

After lunch head towards Mt Girnar/Neminath which is home to Jain & Hindu temples, Buddhist Cave shrines and even a Dargah of a Saint. The Amba Mata Temple is sacred to newlyweds, Guru Dattatreya Temple is built on the spot where he performed severe penance to Lord Shiva for 24 years and Kalka’s peak dedicated to Kali Ma and the resort of Aghoris are the most famous. The annual Girnar / Lili Parikrama is a festival spanning 7 days and involves walking 36 kms and climbing 4000 steps upto Girnar Taleti and most pilgrims do this over 3 days.

If this is not your cup of tea, just drive up to the furthest point and stop to visit one of the few surviving Ashokan Rock Edicts from 3rd BC along the way.

If you spend more time in the city, the other spots of interest are the Sakkarbaug Zoo – which has an excellent conservation program with Asiatic Lions, Narsinh Mehtha no Choro, Bhavnath Mahadev Temple, Willingdon Dam, Datar Hill or the Darbar Hall Museum.

If you want to extend your trip to Junagadh, you can head off on a spiritual quest for God at Somnath / Dwarka or find God in nature at the Gir Wildlife Sanctuary.


Uperkot Fort
Entry – 4 wheeler with passengers – 40Rs.
Entry – 2 wheeler – 5 Rs

Most sites are open from 9 – 6 and entry fee if any, is 5Rs per person.

Read the entire article on the DNA Website.