There’s no better season than winter when it comes to exploring the remains of an erstwhile fort or building whose only link to the past is the history it holds within its walls. One destination dotted with such remnants of a bygone era is Champaner, which is situated about 50km away from Baroda in Gujarat.
This place has something for everyone – if you are religiously inclined and willing to brave zealous crowds, you can make a trip on a ropeway to the Kalika Mata Mandir atop the Pavagadh hill looming over the region. In case ruins, history and architecture are more your flavour, explore the many mosques and fort ramparts that dot the plains of this region. The fortified walls of the citadel exist to this date, while life moves forward in the Pavagadh village. In 2004, the Champaner-Pavagadh Archaeological Park was finally declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
The Jami Masjid was built by craftsmen of this region in the 16th century, at the behest of Mahmud Begada, the powerful Sultan of Gujarat (also credited with capturing the island of Bombay from the Kolis, before his descendants handed it over to the Portuguese). The two 30-metre tall minarets, standing tallest on the landscape, can be seen from a distance as one drives down the Pavagadh hill.
The main entrance is a square shaped enclosure with imposing arched doorways in all four directions. This structure ornamented with stone engravings and latticed windows opens up to a ridged circular vent above. Looking up, the blue sky provides a pleasing contrast as the rays of the sun stream in, lending a golden hue to the sandstone.
One steps inside into a rectangular courtyard, with pillared corridors on three sides flanking the lawns and the main structure in the front. A little known peer (some argue it is a temple priest instead) rests here in complete solitude with red roses, laid by visitors as homage, adorning his grave.
A musty air pervades the main two-storeyed sanctum, with intricately sculpted pillars separating the many prayer halls, its high ceilings inhabited by bats and pigeons. This place does not seem to have traversed the dimension of time.
On Pavagadh hill, there is no milestone or board announcing where this mud path leads to. We discover Saat Kamman only out of sheer curiosity, after following a group of friends trekking down the path. The arches are all what remains of what was perhaps a mosque. Blocks of yellow sandstone, perfectly chipped so as to tightly fit into each other, refuse to let natural elements make them part ways.
A shifty stairway up the last arch leads to a perch, where one can sit and admire the dense foliage sharply steeping down, all the way below, to the foot of the hill. The waters of the Vada Talao (big lake) are brightly lit up by blues of the sky, before they turn hazy and melt into the sky on the horizon.
An interesting play of shadow and light come to life at dusk when the lights of approaching vehicles cast long shadows on the gates and pillars of the Kabootarkhana. These are two ancient structures built along the lake, presumably for travellers and wanderers to take shelter in.
A solitary boat gliding silently along the lake is a visual, along with so many others, that you get to carry with you as you head back to where you came from.