Based upon my personal visit in February 2017. Rajesh Deshpande © 2017
Destination type – Architecture and ruins. Trip type – Leisure.
The Champaner Pavagadh Archaeological Park is a UNESCO world heritage site. It is situated in the Halol taluka of Godhra Panchmahal district of Gujarat, about 45 Kms to the north east of Vadodara. The history of Champaner Pavagadh dates to the Maitraka period. The discovery of Maitraka coins from Champaner suggest that Champaner Pavagadh was under the Maitraka rule during CE 470 – 776. It was later ruled by Vanraj Chavda in the 9th century and then by the Khichi Rajput’s in the medieval age of 14th century. Mahmud Begda, the sultan of Gujarat defeated the Khichi Rajput ruler Patai Rawal in CE 1484 and made Champaner his second capital renaming it as Muhammadabad. Champaner became a flourishing city during the reign of Mahmud Begda but its glory short lived when Emperor Humayun attacked and plundered Champaner in CE 1535. Champaner fell in to the hands of the Maratha confederacy in CE 1727 under the command of Krishnaji Kadam and remained with the Marathas till the Scindias of Gwalior (defectors of the Maratha confederacy) handed it over to the British in CE 1853.
The Champaner Pavagadh Archaeological Park is dotted with many historical monuments. The hillfort of Pavagadh and the midway Machi plateau have vestiges of ancient Hindu and Jain architecture, this was the original Champaner built by Vanraj Chavda whereas today’s Champaner that stands at the foothills of Pavagadh was built by Mahmood Begda, it has vestiges of Indo-Islamic architecture. The Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) has excavated, conserved and protected about 38 monuments. Champaner exemplifies exquisite pre-Mughal architecture, it’s elegant monuments stand testimony to the harmonious blend of local and Islamic traditions. Champaner was planned as a series of fortifications, the main fortification housed the royal enclosure. Large mosques were built near the city gates. The most imposing and beautiful mosque is the Jami Masjid, a perfect example of Indo-Islamic architecture. Other mosques in Champaner are the Nagina Masjid, Kevda Masjid, Ek Minar Ki Masjid, Lila Gumbaz Ki Masjid and Shahr ki Masjid.
How to reach?
By rail – Vadodara is the nearest major rail head for Champaner, about 45 Kms to the south west. Numerous trains ply through Vadodara throughout the day. From Mumbai, the Ahmedabad Shatabdi, Ahmedabad Double Decker, Gujarat Express and Ahmedabad Duronto are popular trains. From Vadodara station, regular state transport buses ply to Pavagadh.
By road – from Mumbai, drive on the National Highway 48 (NH-48) till Vadodara. Take a right turn for Vadodara Halol road and follow directions till the walled city of Champaner. There are many private buses for Vadodara from Mumbai
By air – Jet Airways and Indigo operate daily flights to Vadodara. The airport is about 6 Kms from the city center.
Regular buses, taxi and auto rickshaws are available for Champaner from Vadodara
Where to stay?
Champaner is a small village and doesn’t have decent stay options except for the Digambar Jain dormitory which is available only for Jains. The best option is to stay put at Vadodara which as a variety of hotels to suit every pocket. Best Western, Express Tower, Welcome Hotel, Ginger hotel, Baroda Residency and Four points by Sheraton are some good 3 and 4 star hotels in Vadodara. The properties are centrally located in and around the upmarket Alkapuri, Race course road and Akota areas. Room rates are between Rs. 3,500/- to Rs. 5,000/- per night on a bed and breakfast plan. Hotel Richa and Hotel Sarvottam are some options to stay at Halol, about 8 Kms from Champaner. Room rates are about Rs. 2,000/- per night.
What to see?
The monuments in Champaner Pavagadh Archaeological park are far off from each other, some monuments are more than 2 – 3 Kms away. It is recommended to hire an auto rickshaw or drive in own car or on a bike to tread the dirt roads in the fortified city of Champaner. Pavagadh is a hill fort about 830 meters high. The motorable road is till the Machi plateau which is midway to the Pavagadh hill. From here, the summit can be reached through a ropeway or through steps.
Two full days must be reserved for fully exploring Champaner and Pavagadh. ASI charges a fee of Rs. 30/- per person for Indian nationals. The fee is Rs. 200/- per person for foreigners.
The excursion of Champaner begins from the south bhadra gate. The first relic just behind the ticket window is Shahr ki Masjid. It was a private mosque used by the royal family. The mosque was constructed on a high plinth. It has five mihrabs, the central mihrab has the arched entrance with two minarets. Each mihrab has a corresponding dome surrounded by cupolas. The interior alley and ornamented pillars look magnificent in day light.
A short walk down the dirt road from Shahr ki Masjid is Mandvi which was the customs house. Here the road forks out, the straight road goes towards the Kevda Masjid, Iteri Masjid, Amiri Manzil and the Nagina Masjid whereas the right turn goes towards the Jami Masjid.
Kevda masjid is the most magnificent mosque amongst all the mosques in Champaner. It has a rectangular plan on a high plinth with a double storied main prayer hall. The two minarets on the central arched entrance are intricately carved. The niches are filled with floral design, the windows provided with balconies are exquisitely decorated.
Nagina Masjid is about a kilometer ahead from Kevda Masjid inside dense jungle. The mosque has three mihrabs, the central arched mihrab has two ornamented minarets at the entrance. The upper parts of the minarets are missing due to the vagaries of time. The surviving lower portions of the minarets are intricately carved with floral patterns. The mosque has three domes and ten cupolas supported on decorated columns. The central dome is raised to the first floor for providing adequate light and ventilation to the prayer hall. A cenotaph outside the mosque has exquisite carvings and fine structural balance.
A tar road from Kevda Masjid leads to the east gate of the walled city towards the Jami Masjid. The Jami Masjid is the most imposing monument in Champaner Pavagadh. It is a spacious, symmetric, proportionate and elegant mosque. It is a trabeate construction (column and beam) with a raised clerestory roof in the center of the prayer hall for allowing light and air. Jami Masjid has two tall and intricately carved minarets on the central mihrab arch. Covered cloisters, richly carved oriel windows and stone screens are some of the distinguished characteristics of Jami Masjid.
Jami Masjid is a perfect amalgamation of Indo Islamic architecture. The mosque is raised on a high plinth and can be entered through three imposing porches from the north, south and east side. The last is most remarkable for its intricate carving and perforated stone screen work. It occupies an area of 66m by 55m. The open courtyard in front of the closed prayer hall is surrounded on three sides by covered cloisters of one aisle deep. The prayer hall has five pointed archways, the central higher one is flanked by two slender minarets which rise in five stages to a height of about 30m. Four corners of the prayer hall also have smaller minarets. Balconied windows cut the plain look of the façade and the side walls.
The mosque has three mihrabs standing on a high plinth. The mosque is constructed on the trabeate system. The arch of central mihrab is flanked by two minarets patterned at regular intervals by horizontal cornices and mouldings decorated with niches. The three mihrabs are embellished with flower, pot, chain and foliage motifs. The extrados of the central dome has fluted ribs. The open courtyard of the mosque has three entrances on the east, north and south. There is a rectangular tank in the north-east corner for ablutions beyond the plinth.
The mosque has survived with only one minaret and remnants of mihrabs, hence the name. The minaret is five storeys high, the lowermost being square, the first octagonal, the second and third being hexa decagon (16 sided) and the top one being circular. The mosque is believed to be constructed by Bahadur Shah sometime between CE 1526 – 35. The mosque has a well and a water tank for ablutions.
The mosque has survived with two minarets on extreme ends. One of the four storey minarets is intact, its lowest storey is intricately carved in stone while the upper storeys are in brick masonry. The minar transforms from a square plan on the ground to an octagon to an hexadecagon to circular at the top exactly like the Ek Minar Ki Masjid.
The mosques in Champaner are built on high plinths and are ornamented with fine geometrical and arabesque designs. They have three, five or seven mihrabs which are beautifully ornamented with flower, chain, pot and foliage motifs. The minarets flank on either side of the central arched entrance to the prayer hall.
Water structures of Champaner Pavagadh
Champaner faced water scarcity during the summer and winter months. For overcoming the water scarcity, various methods of rain water harvesting were used. A landscape was turned in to an elaborate system of catchments, reservoirs, lakes and baolis (stepped wells). Channels were built for releasing water to various areas of the city. Pavagadh was provided with earthen embankments to hold rain water during monsoons. The mauliya plateau settlement had five talaos (Lakes) viz. Dudhia, Chasia and three Naulakha talaos. Overflow of Dudhia talao was directed in to Chasia talao from where the overflow was drained off in to the Vishwamitri basin forming the Vishwamitri rivulet.
The hill fortress of Pavagadh is left for another excursion to Champaner due to scarcity of time. The fortress built by the Rajput’s had three layers of fortifications pierced with Atak gate, Budhiya gate, Moti gate, Sadanshah gate, Gulan Bulan gate, Makai gate and Buland Darwaza and some other structures like the Makai kothar, Patai Rawal’s palace and Navlakha kothar. The foot hill is studded with many historical monuments of religious nature, although secular comprising of temples, mosques, tombs, cenotaphs, palaces, citadels, baolis (stepped wells) and pavilions.
What to eat?
Champaner is a small town and doesn’t have any decent restaurants. There are few roadside stalls that sell fast food near the bus stand. The nearest decent restaurant is in Hotel Sarvottam on the outskirts of Halol about 6 Kms from Champaner. It serves north indian and south indian cuisine.
What to shop?
There’s nothing to shop at Champaner except purchasing the ASI book at the ticket counter.
Information Credit (Monument Architecture, Timings and Entry Fee) – Archaeological Survey of India (ASI)
Research and Photography – Rajesh Deshpande and Rasika Deshpande
Copyright Rajesh Deshpande © 2017