Ambaji, Kumbharia Jinalaya, Jain Temples, Gujarat, TRavel

The legends and temples of Ambaji

Ambaji is a temple town located in the Aravalli ranges of North Gujarat, just 10-15 km from the Rajasthan State border. The town gets its name from the Arasuri Ambaji Mata Temple or the Ambaji Temple, one of the 51 (or 52 or 64, depending on which list you follow) Shakti Peeths located in the sub-continent. The name ‘Arasur’ itself is derived from ‘aaras’, the local name for marble which is available in plenty. In fact, the ancient name for Ambaji was Arasan Nagar.

When I first put together a plan to visit North Gujarat in December 2014, Ambaji didn’t figure in the list. It was later, while checking road distances and connectivity between the various destinations that I intended to visit, that I discovered the fact that Ambaji was just 125 km from Mehsana, my base for the trip. Considering Gujarat’s excellent quality of roads, I knew that Ambaji could be visited as a day trip. And that’s exactly what I did.

Ambaji, Road Trip, Palanput to DantaIt was a cold and windy December morning when I set off from Mehsana at 8 am. Since there were no direct buses to Ambaji around the time I left I had to break journey at two places.

First, I took a shared private jeep to Palanpur, and then to Danta, and finally completed the last leg of my journey to Ambaji in a Gujarat State Transport bus. It was a picturesque journey throughout along tree-lined roads. The change in landscape from flat to hilly, as well as the climb from Danta to Ambaji was particularly enjoyable.

Amter Mata Temple, Ambaji, Gujarat, Travel, Shakti PeethIt was around 11 am when I got off the bus at the Ambaji bus stand and headed straight for the Ambaji temple. I didn’t have to ask for directions; all I had to do was to follow the people shouting Jai Mata Di. Within 10 minutes I was at the temple gates and could see its golden spire beyond the entrance arch.

Due to security reasons, visitors are not allowed to carry their bags or any electronic item into the temple and lockers are provided for storing bags and valuables. As the caretaker of the locker room stored my backpack in the locker and handed the keys to me, he casually said: “I think you should hurry up. The temple closes at 11.30.”

I looked at my watch. It was 11.20 am.

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The ascent of Pavagadh Hill

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.

Photo: Rupal Parikh

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