Sandwiched between Maharashtra and the Arabian Sea, the seldom-visited southeastern corner of Gujarat harbours few attractions to entice you off the beaten path to or from Mumbai. Vadodara (Baroda), former capital of the Gaekwad rajas, is most appealing for its proximity to the old Muslim town of Champaner and the ruined forts and exotic Jain and Hindu temples crowning Pavagadh Hill. Further south, dairy pastures gradually give way to a swampy, malaria-infested coastal strip of banana plantations and shimmering saltpans cut by silty, sinuous rivers. The area’s largest city is modern, industrial Surat, while in the far south of the state is the dreary former Portuguese territory of Daman.
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Champaner and Pavagadh
Champaner and PavagadhRising 820m above the plains of Panchmahal is the solitary hill of Pavagadh, overlooking the almost forgotten city – and World Heritage Site – of CHAMPANER. Although the city was fortified centuries earlier, in 1297 the Chauhan rajputs made Champaner their stronghold, fending off three Muslim attacks. It remained Gujarat’s capital until 1536, when the courts moved to Ahmedabad and Champaner fell into decline. When the British arrived in 1803 it was almost completely overrun by the forest.
The massive city walls with inscribed gateways still stand, encompassing several houses, exquisite mosques and Muslim mausoleums, all imbued with a strange, time-warped atmosphere. The largest mosque is the exuberant Jama Masjid, east of the walls; two minarets stand either side of the main entrance, and the prayer halls are dissected by almost two hundred pillars supporting a splendid carved roof raised in a series of domes.
The patha (pilgrim’s route) ascends 4km from Champaner to Pavagadh, passing the old battered gates of the fortress. Roughly midway up, the road ends along with a cluster of snack, souvenir and chai stalls, the cable-car station and Pavagadh’s sole hotel. Continuing the ascent on foot, pilgrims pass numerous Jain temples and several sacred lakes along the trail to the summit, where the eleventh-century Kalikamata Temple stands, along with a shrine to the Muslim saint Sadan Shah on its roof.