Champaner and Pavagadh Hill are the words – I always heard together. It was one of the few UNESCO world heritage sites in India that I had not visited. So I planned my Gujarat trip to cover this and the newly included Rani ki Vav. It is only when I reached the site, some 45 km’s from Vadodara, I realized that Champaner is the village below the hill. The monuments are of course scattered all over the hill, on the foothill and on top of the hill. You can hear and read as many myths, legends and stories about this place as the number of sources you access.
Almost everyone guided us to go on top of the hill first, before exploring the village below. We listened and reached the foothill to be told that cars are not allowed, as it was Navratri time. And a lot of people climb the hill on foot to reach the temple on top. However, there were ample Gujarat state transport buses to take you to a certain level on the hill called Machi.
Ropeway – Udal Khatola
From here there are two options – either take a ropeway called Udal Khatola to the top that takes about 6 mins on a steep hike. Or take the old route that goes around the hill through many man-made monuments that belong to different eras of mankind. And takes maybe 1-2 hours depending on your ability to climb. As you keep going up, the lush green hill starts appearing with its various ponds and lakes.
Temples atop the Pavagadh Hill
From the point where the ropeway drops you, there are another 250 or so steps that you need to climb to reach the Kalika Mata temple on the peak of Pavagadh hill. The hill keeps getting narrower as you reach closer to the temple. The climb is scary as one small slip can lead to stampede on a studded uneven staircase. But it looks worth the risk when you look back and see the landscape that keeps changing with every turn of the staircase. Old sculpted stones adorn the sides of the staircase. Some of them had vermillion marks – reminiscent of the times when they would have been worshiped.
Kalika Mata Temple atop Pavagadh Hill
The temple at top dates back at least 1000 years and maybe more. It is supposed to be one of the 51 Shaktipeeth temples across the country. It is said that the toe of the Goddess Sati had fallen here. A small temple with idols of three goddesses attracts a lot of cult devotees as we saw some women with swords in their hands moving through the crowds in a possessed state – obviously, everyone left the way for them. I was amused to see some women pretending to be possessed so that they do not have to stand in the long queue. I held one such woman’s hand and with my expressions asked her ‘what’s the matter’, to which she replied with a sheepish smile and joined the queue.
Temple in itself is ordinary looking but the devotion on the faces all around makes it special. Sacrificial altars still exist in the temple, though I am not sure if sacrifices are still made here. I did not see any in the process.
At the base of this temple are few Jain temples, which look at least 400-500 year old. We spoke to a priest at one of the temples. But his story was hardly convincing and we decided to make our own observations. Jains claim that this hill was once full of Jain temples before the Islamic rulers came and made Champaner their capital and it became dominated with mosques. Other records say that the tribes like Bhil and Rathwas used to live and they were Shakti worshipers and temple belongs to them. We may never know the whole truth. But what matters is that it is an ancient place of worship and is a living temple that appeals to millions of devotees.
The two ponds here on each side look beautiful from the top. But can do a lot of cleaning is what you realize when you reach closer. Shops selling all kinds of devotional stuff that are offered to the Goddess and mementos to take back line the sides of the path. There were photo studios with large backdrops of the hill against which you can get yourself clicked.
To see the hill properly you must climb it on foot right from the base to the top. But it would need a lot of endurance. We took the bus to the base and then ropeway to the base of the temple. It still took us almost half a day to complete the visit.
Recommend you to read the following travel blog on Places to visit in Gujarat.