THE RANNS, DESERTS, ARTISAN VILLAGES, STEPWELLS OF GUJARAT, AND NOW TO AHMEDABAD; EASTERN GUJARAT… IN 9 STORIES… THIS IS THE FINAL STORY: ‘STORY 9’
Where are we?
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Eastern Gujarat Part 2
Champaner-Pavagadh Archeological Park – UNESCO World Heritage Site
The following morning we enjoyed a leisurely breakfast in the dining room surrounded by the palace’s forested gardens and outdoor dining area.
We then drove about 25ks through the incredibly pretty tree-lined avenues that formed archways of green jungle flora over the road. This bought us to the former capital of Gujarat (1400AD–1500AD) called Champaner (population approx. 1000). We turned off the main road and drove up into the hills of Pavagadh and thus the Champaner-Pavagadh Archeological Park, a huge UNESCO* World Heritage site. This park contains the walls of an ancient fort, mosques, and temples. This is an area where Muslims, Jains, and Hindus have lived in harmony over the centuries. On top of the hill was our destination—a Kali Temple.
*UNESCO: United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization.
From about half way up the mountain you take a cable car to the top or walk up the pilgrim trail–1500 steps. From there it is a further 200 steps up to the Kali Temple, 762m above sea level.
There are many myths around sacred sites in India and this one is no exception. This is said to be the site of Durga’s toe and the oldest temple in the area dating from the 10-11th century. Pilgrims have continued to visit since the time before the town of Champaner was a major city right up to present day. The gaze of the idol’s huge dark piercing eyes held my eyes for quite some time and I found it hard to then pull away and leave, but there were other pilgrims awaiting that same gaze. About 10,000 people a day visit this temple on the top of the mountain, with thousands more on weekends and untold numbers at festival times.
Forts and mosques
We meandered down through the ruined walls exploring the ancient stone fortress built in the 1400s before driving down the hill and visiting about six 15th century (built between 1484-1536) cenotaphs and mosques.
These buildings have not been used since this time (1400’s) when the capital was moved back to Vadodara (Baroda), and so we got to experience the peace and quiet within, the stunning carvings in the big open spaces, the arched windows and the play of light and the high domes strategically placed in the various halls.
Many of these buildings are not visited by anyone, let alone foreigners our guide told us. He also told us we had got to see and do a lot of things most visitors do not get to see. Needless to say, we felt the privilege and were filled with gratitude that he went the extra mile for us.
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Vadodara (Baroda): Museums and Palaces
Driving through more beautifully forested countryside, we reached the city of Vadodara with its 2 million inhabitants. Over the centuries the city’s name has changed many times and it was only in 1974 the city was finally knows as Vadodara, but some still call it Baroda. It is famous for the Lakshmi Vilas Palace.
On the afternoon of our arrival, we visited a museum nearby our hotel. It was an eclectic and interesting collection of so much memorabilia that it would take many visits to really appreciate all that it has to offer. The ‘Baroda Museum and Picture Gallery’ is one of India’s oldest museums and said to be the first. With 28 dimly lit galleries full of collections from not just India but many countries that India traded with such as China, Europe, Japan, Tibet, and many others. The museum has a host of artifacts to delight all ages, ‘things’ preserved in jars, portraits and photos hanging from walls, and, to delight all, a massive whale skeleton gives you an idea of how small we humans really are! Fine silks and embroidered items are stored in cabinets, along with jewellery, items of war, and much more hidden in little rooms beyond those with high ceilings and few windows.
Lakshmi Vilas Palace
Visiting the Lakshmi Vilas Palace was a treat and the highlight kept for our last day in Gujarat; mostly because the previous day it was closed for a wedding. The gardens are a beautiful place and commonly booked for marriages. This enormous 170 room palace is set in 500 acres of manicured grounds which houses a zoo, a golf course, fountains, and a sense of space in the centre of the city. It was built between 1878 and 1890 for the Vadodara royal family—the Maharaja (Sayaji Rao 111) and his wife the Maharani—for the princely sum of 6 million Indian Rupees, back in the day!.
The chief architect, Major Charles Mant, designed this mansion and it was built in the Indo-Saracenic architectural style. The grand entrance way was created as a courtyard of palms and a large ornate fountain. The palace is still home to the current royal family who are held in high esteem by the residents of this fine city. Boasting modern amenities, such as elevators, the interior is spacious and airy, with many rooms open for public viewing and housing a museum of fine artifacts of war and peace, portraits and paintings. The Darbar Hall features the ‘Rajas throne’, along with an array of ornate artwork, stained glass windows, and beautiful Italian mosaic tiles that grace the floors and walls. Spending time inside and out delights the senses and offers a glimpse of craftsmanship that today would be near impossible.
Our Gujarati journey ends
Before leaving for the airport and saying goodbye to our wonderful host and guide —Hardik Valani — we wandered the market in the city centre delighting in the back streets as we chatted to the small shop owners and stall holders, asking about the different wares they were selling and purchasing our last gifts for this trip. The sights, colours, sounds, and huge history will forever remain etched into our memories; and the photos and stories only tell a postcard size amount of what there is to see and do in Gujarat, India.
We would like to thank all of our guides and Suresh Bahuguna for organising this 10 days of whirlwind magic for us.
Be sure to book any tour in India with Suresh at:
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