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.
We saw forts within forts, gates that led to twisted paths, a mint that had underground cells for the minters to work in, granaries, jail cells, guard rooms, underground passages that seemed to disappear into nowhere, a giant catapult, and a seven-storied structure hugging the hill-side and practically invisible till one came to the very edge of the cliff (see photograph above). Then there were water tanks named Ganga, Jamuna and Sarawati, and ponds or talavs called Dudhia (milky) and Chhasiya (Buttermilky) !
But what attracts hundreds and thousands of people every year to Pavagadh Hill is its status as a sacred site, a pilgrimage site. On its highest point is the Mahakalika Temple, which is considered by many to be one of the 51 Shakti Peeths. According to a popular legend, it is also the site where the Goddess revealed the sacred Navarna mantra Om Aiem Hreem Kleem Chamundaya Vicche to Maharishi Vishwamitra. In addition to the Mahakalika Temple, there is one dedicated to Lakulisa or Bhairava. Built in the 10th or 11th century AD out of the local stones, it has been partially restored. Pavagadh Hill is also a sacred site for Jains with temples dedicated to Rsabhanatha, Chandraprabhu and the Parsvanatha.
Our tour group was on a 2-day visit to Champaner and Pavagadh and we were staying in Hotel Champaner on Manchi Plateau. It was with this fascinating and sometimes confusing mix of information that we began our exploration of Pavagadh Hill. While Day 1 saw us exploring the lower parts of the Hill (Saat Kaman, Giant Catapult, the Mint, gateways), Day 2 saw us ascend the hill to its highest point, that is the Mahakalika Temple. About half of the group decided to take the cable car to the top of the hill, while the other half decided to climb the almost 2000 steps (gulp!) and cover a distance of approximately 3.5 km. I chose the latter option and this post is about that ascent.
It was raining when we started the ascent at 6.45 am and though a gentle rain persisted for most of the climb, the sun did come out every now and then. Presenting some highlights from that climb in photographs.
About 60% of the way up, we left the main climbing path to take a path less travelled that would allow us to visit the ruins of some Jain temples, water reservoirs and granaries. That path would ultimately bring us to the base of the Mahakalika Temple.
The final climb of 250 steps was excruciating and I don’t know how I did it. After darshan, it was time for the descent by the ropeway. On our way down, we saw a few more “sights”.
This climb was toughest that I have done, and one that exposed my woeful lack of fitness. I was huffing and puffing by the time I made it to the 32nd step. It took us a little over 3 hours to climb up to the Mahakalika Temple and just 5 minutes to descend ! I was left feeling with a sense of an anti-climax and a little bit cheated. But the fascinating mix and range of experiences that Pavagadh Hill packed into the little time that we spent there more than made up for it.
Don’t you think so?
P.S.: I had meant to count the number of steps while climbing but left it on the 116th step when I sprained my ankle. A painkiller, some biowater sprayed on the affected area by Subhash, and encouragement of Firouza, Rupal and Subhash (all members of my tour group) made it possible for me to complete the climb. Thank you so much, guys