Champaner Glimpses

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January 30

The air pollution in the mornings in Gujarat is thick and uncomfortable.  There are small wood fires burning everywhere to counter the cold with smoky haze around the fires in pre-dawn hours.  Wood fires are also used for breakfast cooking in the villages, both outside and indoors.   Ginny and I have coughs and I have started wearing a mask in our bus which makes it more bearable.   At the moment we are driving on a bridge over water and I can’t even see  the river below because the smoke is so thick.  I don’t see any hope for change in the near future — until sources for wood run out.   

Our building at Champaner Historic Resort

We are at the Champaner Historic Resort, once again an old palace that was sold to a hotel developer which refurbished the two old style buildings for rooms and added a number of tents around an artificial lake for corporate group outings.  One team event is going on when we arrive and we see and hear the sounds of happy employees, probably between the age of 20-40, playing group games and enjoying themselves.  The advent of large companies into India, both domestic and international, has created a tension with the traditional social structures.  For the first time, young men and women are working and interacting together on a daily basis and it is natural, and inevitable, that some sparks of romance will spring up to create havoc with the arranged marriage system which is still strong and the accepted norm in Gujarat as well as elsewhere in this country.

Artificial Lake at Champaner Historic Resort

We spent a full day driving here from Poshina, which worked out perfectly for me as it gave my ankle a chance to rest and to write some of the blogs you have been reading.  With adequate stops and lunch along the way, it was a relaxing time on a paved divided highway (with tolls along the way) to watch the kaleidoscope world that is rural India fly by.  This is considered one of the achievements of P.M. Modi, better road transport around the country.

Jama Masjid Champaner

This morning we drove a short distance to enjoy the main sight in the area:  the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Champaner-Pavagadh which was a thriving community, once the capital of the Gujarat area, from the 8th to the 16th century.  Fortifications and walls still stand and a hill high above has an important Hindu temple shrine.  We visit two mosques built in the 1400’s, the large Jama Masjid, which was the public mosque for the population and the smaller and similar mosque for the rulers and royalty.  In the Indo-Saracene style, with Hindu, Jain and Muslim styles of architecture, with carved screen windows, both are beautiful and as it is early morning we are the only visitors.  The very large mosque has 172 columns inside plus about as many pigeons.

Columns inside Jama Masjid (photo by Ginny)

As we are about to leave, there is a whole class of 10-11 year olds sitting on one of the ancient steps listening to their teacher explain, I assume, the local history to them.

Detail of Jama Masjid (photo by Ginny)

In another part of the remains of these ancient fortifications is the Saher Ki Masjid a smaller version created for only the use of the royal family.

Saher-Ji Masjid

On to Vavodara, formerly called Baroda by the British, the home to the second richest royal in India.  The museum of his personal collection contains a number of undistinguished European oil paintings of landscapes and ocean (which are greatly in need of cleaning as they are very dark and dingy), a room of European bronze sculptures, a room of 19th century local portraits of the ruler and his family, and perhaps most interesting, a collection of traditional men’s turbans in a variety of style and materials.  We were told the present descendant of the family is doing a PhD on Gujarat headgear and I can understand why it would be an interesting subject.

Front of Laxmi Vilas Palace

The royal park is huge and the palace as well, designed by a European who committed suicide because he decided that the structural system he designed was not adequate for the load of the structure (we listened to an hour of an audiotape with stories about the building and its objects), built with an enormous amount of beautiful stained glass and seemingly designed to impress, with Italian sculptures and inlaid marble floors, great chandeliers and high ceilings. Photos are not permitted inside so I can only send you the exterior images of a unique monument to opulence.

Back of Laxmi Vilas Palace

It is interesting that in some of the larger cities we have seen many different billboards with Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s photo on it declaring something in Gujarati.   But here in Vavodara there is most prominently a large billboard of 3 freedom fighters from Independence who were hanged by the British and few displays of the current P.M.   We stop at an Apollo Pharmaceutical shop to buy some cough drops for Ginny and I and I actually find a bag of rolled oats I buy and have for dinner. The food has been good but a little salty and sometimes too spicy for me, with buffets the norm for breakfast, lunch and dinner. But our stomachs have all been healthy. Our last day ahead.

Our choice of sweets at our lunch stop