A rainy day in September 2011. It is mid-morning and I have just completed a climb of the Pavagadh Hill to visit the Mahakalika Temple on its summit. It has been a tough and painful climb, partly because of the steep steps, and partly because of a sprained ankle. By the time I finish with the darshan at the temple, I am quite bad-tempered with pain and just want to get back to my hotel room and rest my ankle.
I decide to take the cable car back to the base and as I make my way to the cable car station, I see something that stops me. It is a smile. A beautiful smile beaming away at me from a small roadside shrine built under a tree. It is a smile that literally shines and sparkles amidst other expressionless, almost dour faces surrounding it. It is an open, wide and happy smile, and one so infectious that I forget my painful ankle and smile back in turn.
The town of Champaner is situated at the base of Pavagadh Hill, which is a sudden rise in an otherwise gently undulating landscape. A climb up Pavagadh Hill reveals a heady mix of interesting geology, mythology, religious confluence, history, strategic military brilliance and foresight, clever design and architecture, rainwater harvesting systems, sustainable measures, a hidden valley of flowers, etc.
Geologically, Pavagadh Hill is quite different from Champaner. The Hill is composed of rhyolite, a volcanic rock, while Champaner is almost entirely sandstone, a sedimentary rock. It is this volcanic feature which made Pavagadh an important and strategic location for whoever ruled it. About 830 m high, it descends or ascends (depending on your point of view) in five plateaus, each of which are separated by steep cliffs. This feature enabled fortifications to be built at vantage points around the hill in a circular manner, making it indefensible and non-breachable. And also confusing for the visitor/tourist.
“It has not rained in Champaner for 2 years, and then it rains like this. When it rains…” the guide’s voice trailed off mournfully.
About 20 pairs of suspicious, skeptical eyes looked at the muddy, slushy path that seemed to worsen as it wound its way to apparently nowhere. But according to Manoj, the guide, the path led to 2 mosques, one of them with the most beautiful embellishments imaginable on its walls.
Maybe Manoj did not sound convincing enough, or maybe it was the mud, but most of the owners of those eyes decided to forego seeing those two mosques. But some did agree to go with the guide and see the mosques. I was one of them.
Our tour group was in Champaner for a 2-day visit. We had arrived that morning from Mumbai to a cloudy, rainy and wet day, in the wettest rainy season that Champaner was experiencing in a long time. We were to see the ruins of the medieval city of Champaner, which included many mosques in various stages of restoration or disrepair, depending on one’s point of view. I wondered how many we would be able to see with the heavy rains having made the access roads paths almost impossible to negotiate. (There are reportedly 18 such mosques, and we managed to see about 5 of them.)
Once upon a time there was a prince. He wasn’t particularly a happy prince or, for that matter, an unhappy prince; but he was an ambitious prince. He wanted to be remembered for posterity for his conquests, and his rule. The prince wanted to be like his grandfather, who had founded a great city and named it after himself. But the prince had to first become the king. And one day, he became the king.
The prince, now the king, set his eyes on a neighbouring kingdom, which was very well fortified and was known to have an impregnable defence system. The king’s advisers and soldiers urged him to consider some other kingdom to conquer.
But he declined; it had to be this kingdom. The king’s strategy was not to engage in a battle or a war; he captured the lower fortifications of this hilly kingdom, and then laid siege to it and cut off supplies.
The kingdom’s ruler was amused and offered the king money, women, and jewels, but the king was not enticed. He was firm about his intentions—he wanted the kingdom. Nothing else. To show that he meant business, the king laid the foundations for his palace and a place of worship for his soldiers just outside the fortifications and at the base of this hilly kingdom.