Champaner Pavagadh made it onto our list of places to visit in Gujarat because it was added to the UNESCO list of Indian sites in 2004. It’s listed as an outstanding blend of Hindu-Muslim architecture. The sites date back to a regional Capital City built in the 16th century that now represents cultures that have disappeared. UNESCO also referenced that the Champaner Pavagadh Archaeological Park remains a place of worship and continuous pilgrimage for Hindu believers.
This site, in March 2015 is a gloriously quiet, empty site, with amazingly little graffiti and spectacular detail on stone carving. Go before it gets too busy! In our trip we saw six other people visiting.
Entry Fees to Champaner Pavagadh
Entry fees are 10 INR for Indians and 250 for Foreigners (Children up to 15 are free). Still photography is free. Ticket offices open at 8am. If you do get there earlier, the fences are low enough to climb over – and of course pay for the ticket later.
Getting to Champaner Pavagadh
Getting to Champaner Pavagadh seemed like an easy option. We’d be based in the city of Vadodara . We planned to take a local bus to the UNESCO ruined site, and have a wander around. Of course nothing is EVER that simple in India
All the Gujurat tourism websites tell you that its possible to get a bus, but that it’s better to take a private car. Only one other reference that we found indicated taking a bus. They cunningly failed to mention details and that’s becoming my pet hate. I wasn’t too surprised when we arrived at the bus station (opposite the train station) this morning and couldn’t find any details in English. Or anyone who spoke more English than “No, no bus, take taxi”. If you know which bus and how to get there, please do post details!
Arranging a Car to Champaner Pavagadh
Our hotel (the Hampton Inn) could arrange a car for us. We’re using Hilton Honors points to have two nights of luxury here before they expire. However, the smallest and cheapest car wasn’t available. The cost would now be 1700 INR for 8 hours and 80 kilometers. Plus 10 rupees per kilometer after that.
“So how much is that?” I asked, – oh wait, they said. It would be 1900 INR because we’d need the package that was 120 kilometers. Champaner Pavagadh was 100 kilometers. Oh and also plus tax.
We walked back to the railway station, frustrated with being unable to get a straight answer. From there we picked up a cab, driven by Ragi, from the taxi rank. It cost us 1500 INR all inclusive, apart from the 110 INR toll for the road.
How to Go From Vadodara to Champaner Pavagadh
It takes an hour or so in the car to cover the 50 or so kilometers to Champaner Pavagadh. In terms of layout it’s a little like Annaradhapura in Sri Lanka. Which of course isn’t useful if you’ve never been there. Let me explain more.
The Layout of Champaner Pavagadh
The Champaner Pavagadh site is actually (in it’s base form), in two parts. There’s the bit that’s on the hill at 830m above sea level. That’s Pavagadh, where pilgrims head up to the Kalika Mata Temple. Then there’s Champaner, the ruins of an old walled town, citadel and it’s surrounding mosques and buildings.
Pavagadh has several plateaus on the way to the top – and there’s a road so far up, followed by a cable way, and then a final 1 kilometer walk to the top, where you’ll find the Kalika Mata Temple. We didn’t visit this part, we concentrated on Champaner.
The AIS Heritage Guide to Champaner-Pavagadh
The Indian Archaeological Society publish a heritage guide, which you can purchase from the ticket offices (at the Shahar-Ki Masjid or the Jami Masjid) for 100 INR.
These guides are not on display and you will have to ask for them, but they’re worth it. They might have guides for other locations on display, so if you’re reading this ahead of time, pick one up ahead of time, it will help you plan your time here.
The sites are spread over a pretty big area. You can see some idea of the distance from this view of the Jami Masjid from the roof of the Kevda Masjid.
If you’ve taken the local bus, then you’ll more than likely end up hiring a local auto-rickshaw to get around, or it will be a long slog even just to see the main sites. You could of course hop on one of the shared autos, if you’re OK with sitting on the roof, or hanging off the back and getting up close and personal with everyone else.
Ragi drove us around to the specific sites – although we walked between the Kevda Masjid and the Nagina Masjid – it’s about 800 meters each way – as there were huge thorns both on the ground and in the bushes along the side of the “track” – because it’s not enough of anything to be a road!
The Best Map of Champaner Pavagadh.
In the heritage guide is a useful map – the only one we found in days of searching, so here it is again.
You’ll notice a distinct lack of roads on this map, because most of those squiggles are actually the old city walls. The road from Vadodara is the one that heads to Halol, so you enter first of all past the Ek-Minar-Ki-Masjid on your left and the Panch-Mahuda-Ki Masjid on your right. But you likely won’t spot them.
Signage here is lacking and the sites themselves are well hidden and well off the road (and that’s a good thing!). Having Ragi drive us made all of that easy. Even if the weather hadn’t been so hot, this would have been a long hike around.
More on How Champaner is Laid Out
The sites that are on the north side of the road are the ones in Champaner and MOST of the sites on the south side of the road are on the Pavagadh Hill.
The Best Order to see Champaner Pavagadh Sites
Having been around the sites, I’d recommend seeing them following order.
- Shahar-Ki Masjid
- Three Cells
- Kabutar Khana Pavilion
- Khajuri Masjid
- Kevda Masjid
- Nagina Masjid
- Jami Masjid
- Sakar Khans’s Tomb
- Ek-Minar-Ki Masjid
(the final two because they’re on the way back to Vadodara, there are great views to Pavagadh and a glorious sense of peace at Ek-Minar).
Shahar-Ki Masjid – Champaner Pavagadh
We started at the Shahar-Ki Masjid, just inside the gates to the Citadel and behind a gate with a small ticket office attached. This is a quiet sleepy place, there won’t be guides hanging around to see if they can take your money, so don’t forget to buy the Archeological Society guide – or read up on the sites before you get there.
This is a glorious site – if the sky is clear, then you’ll see Pavagadh in the background, it was the private mosque for the royal family. There are five mihrabs (prayer recesses) in the back wall and the entrance arch is flanked by two gloriously carved minarets.
Mandiv – Customs House
As you leave the mosque, turn left out of the gate and take a short walk – at the end of this lane – on your right, is the old Mandiv or Customs House. There’s not much left.
Leaving the Mandiv behind, and heading back towards the mosque, on the right hand site, behind a small kissing gate are the Three Cells or Chor Kothardi – built to house prisoners sometime between 1459 and 1511. There’s again not much to see and its pretty stinky inside.
Khabutar Khana Pavilion and Khajuri Masjid – Champaner Pavagadh
The pavilion stands on the edge of a small lake, opposite the ruins of the Khajuri Masjid. There are holes in the upper section for pigeons and some pleasant views over the water and surrounding countryside. The ruins of the Masjid are literally just a few arches. If you’re walking.. don’t bother coming out here.
Kevda Masjid – Champaner Pavagadh
Driving back past the Jami Masjid (trust me, leave it till later) and veering off to the right, the lane that leads to the Kevda Masjid was hidden between two shacks and a tractor. Ragi had to ask a local if it was the right track, but it was worth it when we got the kilometer or so down the narrow, bumpy thorn infested track.
There’s a basic cenotaph in front of this mosque.
The mosque is rectangular with a two storied prayer hall.
Two minarets on either side of the entrance way are spectacularly carved. The central dome is collapsed but don’t let that stop you.
There’s a small stone spiral staircase in each of the minarets Only one was open to the bottom when we visited. You’ll need a torch or a cell phone flashlight to see your way up and down. There were no spider webs or bats or anything nasty to worry about.
On the first floor, you can walk out onto the roof, walk around the collapsed dome area, but you can also go higher.
Right to the top of the minarets. And it’s worth it.
The view from the top is lovely. Not only you see the minarets of the Jami Masjid, but you’ll get some sense of the scale of the ruins.
Nagina Masjid – Champaner Pavagadh
Leaving Kevda, we walked the 800 meters or so to Nagina Masjid (follow the track around behind Kevda walking fully behind it and just walk until you find Nagina). There was some shade, but not a great deal.
The cenotaph in front of this mosque is spectacular.
The carving on both the columns and the edging around the collapsed dome is exquisite.
Nagina looks a little unfinished, because the minarets are stopped at the second level, but again, the carving is incredible.
Inside there are three mihrabs and 80 columns supporting the roof. There is again a spiral staircase that you can take up to the first floor and also to the top of the minarets too.
While it is possible to climb out onto the roof, the only word I understood from the locals was “heart attack”, so we didn’t and just waved at them instead.
It’s a hike back to Kevda where the car is and then the main attraction.
Jami Masjid – Champaner Pavagadh
The Islamic style of architecture flourished here in Gujarat for about 250 years from the 14th century, the Jami Masjid here at Champaner is the best example of the final period of time. The design of mosques took some time to materialize, but generally follows the same themes:
There is generally an open quadrangle. This is enclosed on three sides by covered cloisters that are connected to the prayer hall.
The prayer hall has arched mihrabs or prayer recesses in the back wall, which indicate the direction of Mecca.
Minarets were often added later. In Gujarat a special feature was added, the clerestory, in the center of the prayer hall, to bring in air and light.
The Jami Masjid is the most imposing and spectacular building in Champaner, that’s why you should leave it until (almost) last.
I got stuck in the entrance way, because the carving was wonderful. Nigel dragged me through with a “don’t just stop here.” You know when you walked through the great gate at the Taj Mahal? He said. It’s almost the same when you walk through the entrance way here. ” And yes. It was. It’s spectacular.
The Muluk Khana at Jami Masijd
There is a separate screened off entrance – the Muluk Khana that was reserved for Royal Ladies.
There are glorious mihrabs.
Carvings on the ceiling.
There are 172 pillars to hold up the domes and ceiling.
It is spectacular.
Leaving Jami Masjid and taking the road back towards Vadodara we head for our penultimate stop, Sakar Khans Tomb.
Sakar Khans’ Tomb – Champaner Pavagadh
This is the largest tomb structure in the old city – there’s not much to see. It’s square, covered with a large dome. There are open arches on each side and floral motifs decorate each side. There are views to Pavadgah behind the tomb.
Ek-Minar-Ki Masjid – Champaner Pavagadh
Our final stop in Champaner is here. It’s off the road to the right, down a small lane. There is a sign at the roadway, but it’s pretty overgrown. When we get there, two guys are sat in the shade another pulls up on a motorbike with his lunch. If we thought the rest of Champaner was sleepy, then this takes the biscuit.
There’s a cursory glance at our tickets and more of a surprised look that we’re actually here. Because there’s not much here.
Just the one minaret, with spectacular carving.
There are five stories on the minaret, the lower is square, the first has eight sides, the second and third have sixteen and the top is circular.
And – says the guide, “evidence of a well”.
Yup. That looks like evidence to me.
Final Thoughts on Champaner Pavagadh
What it does leave us with, as we take our leave of Champaner. Is an incredible sense of peace. Of what I think a UNESCO site should be. Maintained. Not destroyed or Disneyfied by the desire to churn through as many tourists as possible – like the Shilin Stone forest in China for instance.
We’ve spent perhaps 3 hours pottering slowly around Champaner, plus the hour each way in the car, its been a relaxed and lovely view into the history of this glorious place, there’s definitely something to be said for the UNESCO sites that are off the beaten track!