When I got a chance recently to make a professional visit to Anand in Gujarat, I decided to use the opportunity to visit Champaner/Pavagarh. This is a UNESCO World Heritage site, the location of the capital city established by Mahmud Bagda in 1484. It is part of the Sultanate period (1196-1526), which represents the various Muslim invaders and rulers who tried to establish themselves in India up to the time of the Mughals. I looked for an ASI (Archeological Survey of India) publication on Champaner I found one called Champaner/Pavagadh and on reading it learnt that Pavagadh has the ruins of a number of Hindu and Jain temples, the earliest dating back to the 10 thcentury CE.
So, keeping in mind the local weather (which was already touching day time highs of 38 C) I set off on a Sunday morning at 7 am. As soon as we started out the driver, a smart young guy called Anand, informed me that ‘the temple would be very crowded on Sundays, the lines would be long and did I plan to walk up or take the rope way?’ All of this left me confused, as the ASI book had not mentioned anything of all this. Persistent questioning revealed that one of the temples at Pavagadh is a functioning one dedicated to Mahakali and a popular one to boot!! And he assumed, that like most of his earlier customers, I would be headed for the darshan!
Champaner/Pavagadh is close to the town of Halol and is about 75 Km from Anand – but thanks to the excellent roads of Gujarat, we reached there in an hour or so. The Mauliya plateau is an isolated promontary, that rises starkly and dramatically from the sorrounding flat countryside and can be seen from more than 20 Km away. The Kalika Mata temple, located at the very top of the 800 m plateau, is supposed to stand at the spot where the right toe of Kalimata fell. And since the Sunday in question was the panchami after Holi, a particularly auspicious day in the local calender, the crowds were there in plenty.
When we reached the base 0f the hill (about 800 m in height), Anand’s questions started to make sense. A large number of people were walking up all the way, no mean task as the sun was already hot at 9am. Of course, the early birds were already coming down after the darshan. The second option is to go up as far as the road takes you, about 500 m up, either by the jeep service (Rs 100 round trip) or private car, which is what I did. The last 300 m you can either walk up or use the ropeway (Rs 100 round trip), and I again in the interest of time opted for the ropeway. I cannot vouch for their claim to be the “most modern ropeway in India” as I have not used many (any?) others – but it was definitely efficient! I did feel for a moment that I should back off, as the long lines were a little intimidating and ‘darshans’ are not my ‘favorite thing’. But then i thought of the view from the top and decided to brave it. I did not regret it however – the queue was orderly, moved quickly and the cable car carried me to the top efficiently. I was probably the only non-Gujarati in that crowd, probably the only single person (that is not with family, friends, school gang etc…) and the only female over the age of 18 (??, maybe even 16) in pants!! So, automatically that made me a ‘firangee’ and many other names – and since Gujarati is not difficult to understand, I was entertained by the cool way that I was discussed by all those around me – nothing lewd or threatening or disrespectful!! It was just curiosity for the ‘other’!!! Since each car carried 6 people, I got into one with 4 men ranging in age from 18 or so to 50+. The senior gentleman sitting next to me, asked me if I was an American (in Gujarati) and even after insisting that I was from Delhi and spoke Hindi (which I suspect was as foreign to him as English), kept urging his young companion to speak to me in English!! “English medium, English medium’ he kept saying and urging the young man to talk to me, leading him to comment “Very high, very high” or something like that!
After getting off the cable car, there is still a good climb up to the temple and the whole way is lined with the typical shops that crop up at these religious destinations – selling the same brand of junk jewellery, assorted stuff for the pooja, hats etc….I followed the line up the steps walked past the “deity” and was out in a jiffy – there was no scope for stopping and admiring anything of this 10th century structure – the original parts hardly recognizable as much construction has taken place over it! At one time it was probably even a mosque – I am not quite sure how true that story is.
Then I came down determined to find where all the wonderful Jain and Hindu temples described in my book were. I entered the Jain temple that was on the way, and in conversation with the priest there learnt that the temple was 4000 years old and the site was visited by Lav and Kush in their travels. He also said that Lav and Kush were converted to Jainism here – a story that with my level of mythological knowledge I cannot authenticate! With directions from him I could finally locate the sites I was looking for.
And what an amazing group of temples these are. The Jain ones, dating to the 13th-14th century are better preserved. Of the Hindu temples, the oldest is the Lakulisa, of which very little is left. But, even this reveals how exquisite this must have been when it stood intact. The Jain temples are a few centuries younger, but are also wonderful.So after spending 3 hours or so, I headed back to the ropeway and headed towards the Anand’s taxi. All in all, although the day started with an unexpeced turn, in the end it was a grand experience.