Champaner – an offbeat UNESCO heritage site in Gujarat

“Are you sure”, we were asked by the car rental agency we went to for hiring a car to Champaner. Champaner is a UNESCO world heritage site which apparently no one had heard of!

And yet, we had read that walking through Champaner would feel like retracing the footsteps of our ancestors! All of this added to the intrigue and gave it a sense of being a hidden treasure. On a short holiday to Vadodara in Gujarat, we decided to spend a day exploring Champaner.

“Shahar ki Masjid” – First mosque of Champaner

Shahar ki Masjid (The Mosque of the city) is so called, for being the first mosque in the walled

Champaner is part of the Champaner-Pavagadh Archaeological Park which was declared a part of UNESCO world heritage site in 2004. The place is rich with monuments that are a confluence of Islamic and Hindu architecture from the 15th and the 16th centuries – the pre Mughal era.

We got to Champaner by sunrise and were greeted by the Shahar ki Masjid resplendent in a golden light. However, a big black gate blocked us from entering its premises (we somehow managed to sneak in!). Unlike other UNESCO sites in India (which open at sunrise), the monuments at Champaner open only at 8 AM.

We literally drove through history, as we entered the arched gates of what must have been the walled “city” of Champaner.

In the old times, the walled city of Champaner began after these gates. These and the walls are on the list of monuments in Champaner which are now a part of UNESCO world heritage.

Shahar ki Masjid translates to the Mosque of the city. It was used by the members of the royal family of Champaner to offer their prayers. It is surrounded by dilapidated walls of the palace of Champaner.

These walls, the boundary of the old city of Champaner are now in a dilapidated state. They are on the list of monuments in Champaner which are now a part of UNESCO world heritage.

It was past 8 AM by then, and the village life had started in full force. Youngsters were seen monkeying around. Few of them were stepping out on their bikes, for work. Women were cleaning the front yards of their houses, which were more like huts. Men were taking their cattle out to graze through these gates.

Walking further ahead we saw the post office, police station and also one dharamshala (guesthouse). This must be specifically for devotees who come to visit the temple on Pavagadh, the hillock next to Champaner, another site for the Champaner-Pavagadh Archaeological Park.

Following the Citadel Wall, we reached the star attraction of Champaner. It is the biggest and the most beautiful monument here.

Jami Masjid of Champaner

These are the minarets flanking the central arched opening of the Jami Masjid. Jami Masjid is the biggest mosque at Champaner which is now a part of the UNESCO world heritage.

This was the main mosque of Champaner, where everyone came to offer their prayers, especially on Fridays. The crowds that would gather here is evident from the number of prayer pillars inside.

In between these columns was where the Namaz would be held at Jami Masjid in Champaner.

A little boy offers prayers with his elders at the Jami Masjid in Champaner. Ever since it became a part of the UNESCO world heritage list, regular prayers are not allowed inside the Jami Masjid.

It is built from the locally sourced limestone and has shades of pink and yellow. Every corner of the Jami Masjid is a piece of art. The exterior pillars, walls, windows, all are covered in intricate stone carved designs.

Such intricate designs are found in every corner of Jami Masjid in Champaner, now part of the UNESCO world heritage.

The exterior pillars of Jami Masjid are covered in intricate designs. The Jami Masjid in Champaner, now part of the UNESCO world heritage.

Every corner of the Jami Masjid is a piece of art. The exterior pillars, walls, windows, all are covered in intricate designs. The Jami Masjid in champaner is now part of a UNESCO world heritage site.

On the east side there is porch with some delicate perforated stone work. It looks like jaalis or lattices carved out of stones.

Jami Masjid, a UNESCO world heritage structure is the main mosque in Champaner. The pinkish hue is from the sandstone used in its construction. The East side has a porch with a perforated stone screen.

The specialty of Jami Masjid is the dizzyingly beautiful domes and ceilings.

Even the ceilings of the Jami Masjid are exquisitely carved. The Jami Masjid is the biggest mosque in Champaner. It is now part of the 17 monuments in Champaner that have attained a UNESCO world heritage status.

Even the ceilings of the Jami Masjid are exquisitely carved. The Jami Masjid is the biggest mosque in Champaner. It is now part of the 17 monuments in Champaner that have attained a UNESCO world heritage status.

Even the lawns of Jami Masjid we impeccable. It was refreshing to see such a well maintained heritage structure in India, not hampered by any modernisation.

The mosques and temples at Champaner in Gujarat are now a UNESCO world heritage site. Jami Masjid is the biggest and the most beautiful mosque of Champaner.

The only sign of modernity was the ramp built at the main entrance of Jami Masjid.

Jami Masjid, a UNESCO world heritage structure is the main mosque in Champaner. The only modern touch here is the ramp constructed at the entrance.

After spending over a couple of hours at Jami Masjid, we headed to the outskirts of Champaner, towards an industrial town called Halol. This was where we had our lunch. There are several heritage monuments on this Champaner-Halol route.

Tomb of Sikander Shah on the Champaner-Halol road

The tomb of Sikandar Shah is part of the list of monuments in Champaner which are now a part of UNESCO world heritage. It is a little outside the main town of Champaner, on the way to Halol.

It is a circular structure, with the tomb inside. The whole structure had an airy feel to it.
A young guy was sitting inside the structure, surrounded by his books. We started chatting and realised he was preparing for the police entrance exam. He said the place is calm and peaceful. And since no one ever visits, it’s a good place to study!

A heritage structure, well used, we say!

Minar ki Masjid, One column mosque of Champaner

Also known as Ek Minar ki Masjid which translates to mosque with a single column. It is also on the list of monuments in Champaner which are now a part of UNESCO world heritage.

The next stop was this eerie sort of place called Ek Minar ki Masjid – the mosque with one pillar. It is nestled amidst the mountains and all there is, is one pillar standing tall surrounding by nothing. The gate of the pillar is now locked permanently. There is some exquisite carving under the balconies of the pillar on each floor.

The sides of the pillar increase on each storey, with 4 on the first. The pillar on the next storey is octagonal, followed by a hexadecagonal pillar.On the last storey, the pillar becomes circular.

There is a deep well next to the pillar, thankfully its covered. There is also a tomb in front of the pillar. It looked like somebody had offered prayers to the tomb, we saw a flower and an incense stick next to it.

Kevada Masjid, back in Champaner

From here, we headed back to Champaner and turned in the direction of the Kevada mosque. It is at the end of a pretty rundown lane and difficult to spot or get to. The lane is lined with thorny shrubs on both sides and the branches come well onto the road. So approaching it, you either risk your car breaking down or if you decide to walk, getting scratches on the hands and legs. We chose to take the car in!

The main structure of the Kevada mosque is similar to Jami masjid – two minars (columns) flanking the main entrance. Here too, the blend of Hindu and Islamic elements in the design were unmissable.

Blend of Hindu and Islamic architecture is seen in the beautiful design on the Kevada Masjid at Champaner. It is part of UNESCO world heritage list of monuments.

The distinguishing part of Kevada masjid is the Cenotaph in front. Cenotaph is a tomb without the actual grave, built in honour of the person whose grave is elsewhere. There was also some excavation work happening on this site.
Though not as intricate as the Jami Masjid, the Kevada Masjid has some fine carvings on the pillar and the windows.

Kevada Masjid, though not as beautiful as the Jami Masjid, is also on the list of monuments in Champaner which are now a part of UNESCO world heritage. Its distinguishing feature is a Cenotaph in front. Cenotaph is a tomb without the actual grave, built in honour of the person whose grave is elsewhere.

It was evening by the time we left Kevada masjid. We decided to leave the sites on Pavagadh – like the Jain caves, Hindu temples and a few more mosques for another day.

Our day in Champaner really did take us back a few centuries – for the heritage monuments as well as the village life and its surroundings. It indeed felt like walking the footsteps of our ancestors !

Tips for visiting Champaner:

  • Champaner is situated in the state of Gujarat in western India, around 50 km to the east of Vadodara.
  • One can travel to Champaner from both the major cities of Gujarat – Vadodara and Ahmedabad as an easy day trip
  • This is specially for travellers interested in photography: Try to reach Champaner early in the morning, preferably by sunrise to take advantage on the golden light on the pink and yellow hues on the monuments.
  • If you plan to visit Pavagadh as well, you will have to hire a local vehicle to take you up the hillock. Vehicles from the rest of Gujarat, outside of Champaner aren’t allowed up at Pavagadh.
  • A guide book on Champaner-Pavagadh Archaeological Park is available at Jami Masjid. It has a map which gives you an idea about where all the heritage monuments are located.
  • Tourist facilities like local transport, food and refreshments are not available at Champaner. Carry enough supplies. Wear comfortable shoes.
  • The best time to visit Champaner is in the winter months. November to January is the perfect time.

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More stories for winter travel in India:

Makar Sankranti or Uttarayan, the kite flying festival in India

Jaipur in 24 hours: A super short visit

Exploring a rural Indian bazaar, a weekly market and a cattle fair

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Sandeepa and Chetan. Married. Indians. Exploring Travel as Lifestyle. Featured by National Geographic, Yahoo. We hope that through our travel stories we inspire others to make their dream into a reality.

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Comments

15 thoughts on “Champaner – an offbeat UNESCO heritage site in Gujarat

  1. Pingback: Travel longer, for lesser: How we prepared to become full time travellers

  2. DHAVAL SHAH

    Hi Sandeep,

    Well written. i am planning a trip to Champaner in December as part of larger trip in Gujarat and we are 5 families with people across all ages.

    While doing research i could not find much help on if there is any tourist guide is available on ground. To show us arouns. you mentioned thus there is a tourist map available at Jami Masjid. is that the only official resource and help?

    Can this be covered in half a day?

    Regards

    1. Sandeepa Chetan Post author

      If you start early from Vadodara, you can visit all the monuments in Champaner in half a day. For Champaner and Pavagadh both, you might need a little longer. There is an office near the Jami Masjid, but we did not find any guide around. Some locals might approach you as guides however their authenticity might be a suspect.

    1. Sandeepa Chetan Post author

      Thanks, so much! Replying again because I just noticed my earlier comment got lost somewhere! Is there a link to the show you mention? Champaner was fascinating – the “lost in time” phrase fitted perfectly well for it!

  3. Maddy

    Hi Sandeep, this is awesome. I am planning a week trip around Vadodara this November. Your blog gave me “one must go to” place. Would you suggest similar old monuments around. I have been to Mandu in MP. That’s one awesome place which takes you back to 14th century having mosques tombs etc

    1. Sandeepa Chetan Post author

      Hello Maddy, Vadodara is a perfect city to understand the people and culture of Gujarat. In fact people of Vadodara take pride in saying it’s the cultural capital of their state. Vadodara is also very well connected to Ahmedabad which we can’t recommend enough – an absolute must visit! Also, November would be the beginning of winter – and if it sets in early, you might get a chance to taste the famous “undhiyo“. Enjoy your stay in Vadodara. Happy travels!

  4. Yamini

    Did they charge you for taking pictures. If so who did you get in touch with for the same and how much did it cost?

    1. Sandeepa Chetan Post author

      Hello Yamini, we paid some negligible amount at the entrance of the Jami masjid, the only monument in Champaner where there was someone official present. No where else did we see anyone else, neither a guide, tourism official or security. The office of the Champaner tourism site is close to the Jami masjid and the Shahar ki masjid, at the site of the old customs house.

    1. Sandeepa Chetan Post author

      Thank you, Darpan! We were quite pleasantly, surprised by what Champaner had to offer. You can have a look at Our Travel Gear to know about all the cameras and lenses we use when we travel. Also, clicking on the info button on the photos will give more information.

  5. Benjamin

    Dear Sandeepa,
    Beautiful narration about champaner.
    I am also planning to visit champaner this january. I will be staying in vadodara.

    I would like to know the following:
    1. Are there enough bus service from vadodara to champaner.
    2. Once I reach champaner, are there rickshaw and taxis to commute between sites. Or any local sight seeing organised by gujrat tourism.

    Thanks in advance.

    1. Sandeepa Chetan Post author

      Hello Benjamin, thank you for writing to us. Winter is a good time to visit Champaner, it was awfully hot when we visited in June. We had hired a car from Vadodara in which we traveled throughout Champaner. (These cars are however not allowed atop Pavagadh, you have to use local transport to get there.) We reckon there would be buses to Champaner from Vadodara since Vadodara has good connectivity with its neighbouring places. In Champaner, we saw local rickshaws waiting for passengers. There are definitely buses which take you up to Pawagadh. Also, most of the mosques are within walking distance, especially during the winter when the weather is pleasant. Wish you a good trip to Champaner!