Travel

The old world charm

Sites of Champaner. Photos: Mohit Goel and Aakash Mehrotra

Sites of Champaner. Photos: Mohit Goel and Aakash Mehrotra  

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History has shaped Champaner as a fascinating city,

A few faint images cross your mind when you talk of Champaner: a strategic trade route, the capital of arguably the most influential sultanate, a graceful example of urban landscaping, mesmerizing Muslim and Jain architecture. But the loudest of all images is that of a ransacked, deserted city. In Champaner, history speaks in its ruins. A city which grew from a town of moderate importance to become the capital of an influential sultanate, flourished for decades only to be attacked, ransacked and left deserted and lost to wilderness, all in one century.

Champaner has everything of the old world charm; there are mosques, an old palace, a fort, a step-well and ancient streets you can walk on. Along with the hill fort and temple of Pavagarh it is now called the Champaner and Pavagadh Archaeological Park. An hour’s journey from Vadodara, brings you to this UNESCO World Heritage site.

Champaner has a fairytale history. It was founded by the Rajput king Vanraj Chavda of the Chavda Kingdom in the 8th Century. The neighbouring city Pavagadh worked as a buffer area between Mandu and Gujarat, and a key strategic point on trade routes emanating from Gujarat to whole of India. After flourishing for years under the Rajput rulers, Champaner was captured by Mahmud Begda in 1484. He renamed the city Mohammadabad and moved the capital from Ahmedabad to here. In 1535, the city was captured by Humayun, and since the Mughals had control over both Gujarat and Malwa then, the city no longer enjoyed the status of a strategic buffer area. This marked the start of decline of Champaner and rise of Ahmedabad. When it was rediscovered by British, only 500 people inhabited the city.

Twenty years under the reign of Mahmud Begda gave this city models of urban planning to speak of. Being a capital and a strategic center, the city has huge fortifications. We entered through stoned road with huge ramparts on both sides. These ramparts led to mosques that still stand sound, with some wounds of history. The mosques of that bygone era lied unassumingly in the middle of the ruins of the citadel. One such elegant piece is the Jami Masjid. The intricate carvings in the pillars, walls and the mehrabs can give rise to many an artist. . One interesting thing about the mosque is the eclectic mix of Persian and Hindu style of design in the walls and the frescos. An evident piece is the kalash, a Hindu religious symbol on the mehrabs.

Our next halt was the Shehar ki masjid, contrary to its name which indicates it been a civilian place, it was the mosque reserved for the royal family. A little plain in design, the mosque is constructed on a raised plinth and the central arched entrance is planked by two minarets. At some distance in a secluded corner are the Nagina Masjid and the Kamani Masjid. Kamani Mosque is different from other mosques of Champaner as it follows the arcuate style (column and arch) indicating that it was built towards the end of sultanate period in Gujarat when this style had started gaining popularity.

Uphill enroute holy Pavagarh trail, is the Pavagarh Fort, located on the summit of the abrupt hills. The wide fortification walls, which once ran upto six kilometers, now stand in ruins with remains of variable height extants. Between the southern and the northern Gate, one can still find the patterns of the urban planning. In these complexes, one can find streets, civil baths, town patterns and even rows of shops, all having lived through the vagaries of time. The whole area is now an excavation site and the ASI never misses finding some rare jewels here. There are also graveyards, mausoleums and even richly decorated temples in these ruins.

As one moves uphill, following the Patha (pilgrim's route) leading to the ropeway to the Kalikamata temple, one comes across many architectural structures that were forerunners of the architectural styles adopted later. The elements indicate a fine import of Hindu design in the Muslim architectural ideology. Unlike the present mosques styles, some tombs are almost all square in plan, with a dome resting on columns.

Another elegant structure on the hills is the seven arches (saat kamaan) of which only the six arches remain. Built from yellow sandstone in arch form, this served as a military base. One thing that makes Champaner stands out among all its contemporaries is the adroit townsman-ship, which one can still trace in the ruins. Arranged in a circle with the Jami Masjid in the center, the water arteries run upto all nine gates of the city. Over hills there are evidences of large reservoirs and earthen beams which drained into these reservoirs to collect the rain water running downhill. This entire series of arteries and water reservoirs, eventually ended into the largest lake, the bada talao, on the plain below the city. The big mosques like the Jami masjid also had elaborate water harvesting structures in their compounds.

We headed towards the bada talao, where another beautiful, dilapidated structure draped in bright orange of the dusk, was waiting for us. Even though only the walls remain of Khajuri mosque, this structure deserves a long stay.

With my feet tapped in the bada talao, I looked at the Pavagarh hill, and the mystery draped in the evening mist. I saw a small town spreading across the floor of valley and trailing up the bare hills, with a lake in the middle and ruins of a fort looking down at it as guardian; the setting seemed a miniature painting of a place inextricably caught in the web of history; tucked on the horizon.

The author is a blogger at handofcolors@wordpress.com

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Printable version | Jan 18, 2020 9:14:16 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/features/metroplus/travel/the-old-world-charm/article6690944.ece

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