Champaner; World Heritage Site to Ourselves

Trip Start Jun 05, 2011
Trip End Feb 28, 2013

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Flag of India  , Gujarat,
Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Vadodara to Champaner, 53km by Motorcycle
WHY: Champaner-Pavagadh Archaeological Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site
STAY: Champaner Hotel 650Rs ($12)
New Plan for Selling the Motorcycle

Both Dave and I tossed and turned instead of falling fast asleep like we usually do. We were mulling over the prospect of riding back to Ahmedabad to sell the motorcycle. How long would that take? A day to drive, 2, 3, 4 or more days to sell it. And then how much could we really get for it? We'd have hotel expenses and no activities on our agenda. 

Then Dave joked that he would rather drive the motorcycle all the way to Mumbai Airport on our departure then leave it running in front of the departure hall as we go in. (Actually, he insisted that he is not joking.) But even if we could only get a hundred bucks for the bike, it would still be better than four hundred in Ahmedabad when considering all the wasted time.

The more days we ride, the more we've gotten into the rhythm and freedom of riding and have become somewhat desensitized to the insane Indian driving habits.

Still, I regularly get a knot in my stomach at the thought of navigating through madhouse traffic with heavily loaded bike. I do take my job of directing traffic while sitting on the back very seriously. My hand-signals stop traffic in its tracks and my choice words at any dip shit who fails to heed would make a dockworker blush. But behind all that bravado I am close to losing my last meal and breathe a sigh of relief when we hit the quieter roads on the outskirts.

With the troubling prospect of a return to Ahmedabad off our minds, and a long pleasant ride south to Ellora, Hampi, Oti, Goa, or as far as Kerala, in our thoughts, we fell fast asleep.

Getting out of Vadodara

We took advantage of the high speed internet connection at our hotel until noon.

We followed our city map and directions from the hotel manager for the best way out of town. Not any of the streets have signs. Whenever we thought we were due for another turn, we asked. 

Big Mountain On the Horizon, Our Destination.

Champaner is just over 50 km from Vadodara, mostly on a toll-road. As got half way, we could see the volcanic mountain jutting up. It seems out of place in this otherwise completely flat landscape. The highway was flat to the landmark fort at Champaner, then a steep serpentine road led up the mountain.

Our hotel is in Pavagadh, halfway up that mountain from Champaner Fort. It is near a cable car lift that goes up most the way to Kalikamata Temple on the mountain’s summit.

We checked into the government run guest house in Pavagadh named Champaner Hotel. Its location is convenient and views fantastic. But sadly, like many buildings in India, it appears pretty rundown with peeling paint, cracked concrete and unwashed windows.

Our room was simple but has balcony overlooking the forest to plains in the distance below. The only sounds were of the many birds. And aahhhh.....crispy clean cotton sheets, and we got a top-sheet, towels, soap and TP. Hot water buckets can be ordered between 6:30 am and 8:00 am!! We asked ours to be delivered at 8 am. We relaxed the rest of the day reserving exploration of the UNESCO World Heritage Site for the next morning.

The hotel restaurant has limited snack menu and they told us they understood our request for NON SPICY and promised to make our samosas not spicy. Of course, they were painfully spicy.

The dinner thali they made us was only mildly spicy but swimming in oil. I asked, for the next evening, to just boil vegetables, cauliflower, potatoes, carrots – no sauce, no curry, no chili – and maaay-beeee, a pinch of salt and some butter. It is frustrating sometimes but the restaurant's pleasant manager sure tried to listen and make us happy.

The restaurant looks out over a neglected flowering garden where many different birds take advantage of a leaky hose. They spatter and preen. Black hummingbirds, with blue iridescent backs, made it back and forth to one favorite flowering bush right in front of us. For us it was like sitting in an aviary. I could have watched for hours.

17 January Visiting the UNESCO Heritage Site of Champaner & Pavagadh 

 - Cablecar to Kalika Mata Temple
 - And Lakulish Temple (on a small lake)
 - The arches Saat Kaam (meaning 7 arches) Kamana Gate
 - Mosques down in the valley in Champaner:  
     Kevda Masjid, Jama Masjid andSahar Ki Masjid
 - And Champaner ancient fort walls

Cable Car Ride to the Temples

The cable car to the top of the mountain was a 10 minute walk from our hotel. We decided to make the pilgrimage to the top the easy way this time since we had a full day planned. The cable car was Swiss made and we felt safe. On top, we hiked the remaining 1.5 km to the Kalika Mata Temple. 

The entire trail to the top of the mountain was lined with a gauntlet of booths and stands, some with drinks and snacks, some with souvenirs, and some selling offerings to take into the temple.

The temple is total void of any interesting buildings or artifacts. It is an important pilgrimage site, thus very popular with Indian visitors. A small hut with a holy man giving blessings blocked the view down to the fort or archaeological structures. The view from the top over the plains was great.

1000 year old Lakulish Temple

Walking back to the lift, we almost missed the more interesting Lakulish Temple ruin near a small pond which was blocked from our view behind the trinket stalls. The ancient temple was perched on an outcrop above the small pond which was mostly dry. Later we saw a picture of the temple taken after the monsoon where it appears to be floating on a lake. 
Strangely, nobody stopped there. We had the place to ourselves.

Back Down the Mountain to Champaner

We got on the motorcycle and made our way down the mountain. The road was full of switchbacks and turns. Our first stop, just a few switchbacks from our hotel, were the arches Saat Kaam (meaning 7 arches).

There were stubs of fort walls here and there on the mountain and many Indians were following a footpath that goes by them to the top of the mountain.

At the foot of the mountain are the remnants of a 6 km long outer fort wall. The wall is no longer continuous. We drove by the prominent Jami Maj-id mosque and continued toward another picturesque mosque we could see in the distance and soon ran out of road. 

We parked and hiked to the front opening in the fence. We shared the Kevda Maj-id ruin (a mosque and cenotaph dating to 1511) with two young Indian men, who also arrived on a motorcycle, and a gardener. No other tourists within cannon range! We practically had the place to ourselves.

Two of the Mosques at Champaner had a ticket booth where they ask foreigners to pay 250 Rs each ($5). But because Indians are charged something like 20Rs, the request for 250 Rs from us seemed like a slap in the face. We had just seen the free, similarly beautiful, mosque and so admired the two pay mosques from the distance.

We hiked up steps to the top of the fort wall and took in the view before calling it a day and rode the 12km back up the hill to our hotel.

And YES, for dinner we were each served a big plate with boiled root-vegetables; potato, beets, carrots and some cauliflower thrown in for good measure. Deliciously fresh and, because they were not camouflaged in thick sauces and spices, we could taste the natural flavors!
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