Monday, Sep 26, 2022

Follow This Unesco Heritage Trail In Gujarat On Your Next Holiday 

Planning your next holiday to Gujarat? Here is a handy guide to the state’s rich architectural heritage 

The Hutheesing Jain Temple
The Hutheesing Jain Temple Shutterstock

Unesco believes that no development can be sustainable without a strong culture component. But culture has been missing from the development equation for long. This is why the organisation has put places of outstanding universal value to humanity on the World Heritage List. Three sites in Gujarat have made it to the UNESCO heritage list for their rich architectural heritage. 

Champaner and Pavagadh Archeological Park, Panchmahal

The Kevada Mosque in Gujarat
The Kevada Mosque in Gujarat Shutterstock

Make time for Champaner, the forgotten city that was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2004. The medieval town possesses an extremely rich architectural heritage. The palaces, fortifications, residential complexes, stepwells, tanks, cemeteries and gates are a perfect blend of Indo-Saracenic architecture. Spread over an area of more than 3,280 acres, the Champaner- Pavagadh Archaeological Park is located around the historical city of Champaner, which was founded by Vanraj Chavda, the most prominent king of the Chavda Dynasty, in the 8th century. Sultan Mahmud Begada, following his capture of Pavagadh, turned Champaner into his new capital. Pavagadh stands tall on the hill that looks over the sprawl of monuments at the base in Champaner. The rich heritage site is dotted with forts, monuments, mosques, tombs, arches, temples, stepwells, and fortresses that span the 8th to 14th centuries. 

The Saher ki Masjid in Gujarat
The Saher ki Masjid in Gujarat Shutterstock

Things to do and see:
Champaner’s heart is the citadel, where the mosques—long used for worship—stand out. Prominent among these is the massive Jami Masjid, where the carved entrance porch leads into a lovely courtyard surround- ed by a pillared corridor. The prayer hall has two tall central minarets, multiple domes, finely latticed windows, and seven mihrabs (prayer niches). The mosque, which dates to the 15th century, is regarded as one of the finest mosques in Western India. The Nagina Masjid, known for its intricate carvings, is built on a high plinth. The main entrance is flanked by minarets and the three large domes over the main prayer hall are supported by decorative columns and windows. About 300m north of the Citadel is the Kevada Masjid, a small mosque that’s big on minarets, globe-like domes, narrow stairs, and intricately carved mihrabs. The niches are replete with floral and geometrical designs, and windows are exquisitely decorated. Other beautiful mosques include the Saher ki Masjid and Lila Gumbaj ki Masjid. Once done, scale the summit of the imposing Pavagadh nearby to visit the Kali temple that dates back to the 10th-11th centuries. On your way to Pavagadh from Champaner, you can stop at Saat Kaman. One of the most prominent structures in Champaner, this seven-arched monument stands in all its past glory on the verge of a hill on Champaner’s southern tip. Built by Chavda King Vanraj Chavda during the 8th century and named after his loyal friend and general Champa, Saat Kaman is a protected monu- ment of national importance. Adorned with imposing windows and carvings, the beauti- fully curved arches are a sight to behold. The windows also offer stunning views of the verdant forests that encompass the spot. The magnificent Vada Talao or the big lake can also be seen from here. 

The 600-year-old walled city of Ahmedabad was in 2017 recognised as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the first Indian city to be added to the coveted list. Founded by Sultan Ahmad Shah in the 15th century, on the eastern bank of the Sabarmati River, the city has a rich architectural heritage. It is home to Indo-Islamic monuments of the 15th to 17th centuries, heritage precincts in the form of pols, and numerous traditional residential clusters of the medieval period. 

Things to see and do 
Shree Swaminarayan Mandir, Kalupur 

Shree Swaminarayan Mandir, Kalupur
Shree Swaminarayan Mandir, Kalupur Anil/D Shutterstock

This multi-coloured, intricately carved wood temple in the old city was built in 1822 as the first temple of the Swaminarayan Hindu sect. Each panel is made of Burma teak wood and is adorned with artistic embellish- ments. The sculptures on the gateway are resplendent in Rajasthani costumes and colours. The daily Heritage Walk starts from here at 8am, and coincides with the soulful aarti at the temple. 

Hutheesing Jain Temple 
Crafted out of white marble, this elegant temple has been sacred to Jains for genera- tions. It was built in 1848 by a rich merchant, Sheth Hutheesing as a dedication to the 15th Jain Tirthankara. Located outside Delhi Gate, the temple has a sprawling courtyard and a mandapa that is topped by a large dome, supported by 12 ornate pillars. The small garbhagruh ends in three carved spires and is encircled by 52 small shrines. 

Jama (Jumma) Masjid 
This 15th-century mosque, built by Ahmed Shah in 1423, is a beautiful blend of Hindu and Islamic architecture. Constructed out of burnished yellow sandstone, the mosque is a fusion of Hindu, Islamic, and Jain architectural elements. The complex includes a vast paved courtyard that is colonnaded on three sides; the main prayer hall encloses the fourth side. The prayer hall has an astounding 260 columns that support the 15 domes on the roof; some of these displaying a Hindu aesthetic. The mosque showcases ornate jalis (latticed screens) that are carved in geometric and floral patterns. 

Sidi Saiyyed Mosque 
Locally known as Sidi Saiyyed ni Jali, this 16th- century mosque is an outstanding showcase for India’s African architectural legacy. Built in 1573, the last year of the Gujarat Sultanate before the Mughal invasion, the mosque one of foremost architectural accomplishments of the Sidis. The mosque is a medley of arches, domes, vaults, and squinches, but what stands out are the latticed windows, resplendent with intricately carved filigree work. The jalis have been described as the most artistic stone lattice-work to be found anywhere in the world by art historian Vincent Arthur Smith. 

Bhadra Fort 

The Bhadra Fort in Gujarat
The Bhadra Fort in Gujarat Shutterstock

Constructed by Ahmad Shah I in 1411, Bhadra Fort takes its name from the nearby Bhadrakali Temple. It was captured by the British in 1817 and used as a prison until Independence. The fort complex originally had many mosques, temples, palaces, and other structures. It has a number of gates; Teen Darwaza is the most monumental and opens from its east side on to what was once the public square and is now a bustling market. The wall between the two towers behind this gate houses a 19th-century clock. The fort now houses government offices. 

Two things have put this small Gujarat town on the tourism map: the Patola sari and the Patan stepwell, better known as Rani ki Vav. A state capital in medieval times, the city is dot- ted with numerous Hindu and Jain temples. 

Things to see and do 
Rani Ki Vav, Patan

The magnificent Rani ki Vav
The magnificent Rani ki Vav Shutterstock

The pride of Patan, this intricately carved stepwell has stood the test of time beautifully. Built in 1063 by Rani Udayamati to commemorate her husband, Bhimdev I, the stepwell showcases superlative architectural craftsmanship of the era. Situated on the banks of the Saraswati, steps lead down through seven levels of stairs that showcase artfully sculptured panels. The stepwell is constructed in the unique Maru-Gurjara architectural style. Over 500 principal sculptures and more than 1,000 smaller ones combine religious, mythologi- cal, and secular imagery and floral as well as geometric patterns. The stepwell has been listed as one of UNESCO’s World Heritage Sites since 2014.