EX­PLOR­ING CHAMPANER

Ours did too as we took the Re­nault Duster on an im­promptu ad­ven­ture to ar­chae­o­log­i­cal ru­ins

Evo India - - CONTENTS - WORDS by AFZAL RAWUTHER PHO­TOG­RA­PHY by SACHIN S KHOT

Tak­ing the Re­nault Duster to a UNESCO world her­itage site

1200 YEARS. A UNESCO WORLD Her­itage Site. Those words carry a lot of weight and more often than not, the big head­line blurs out the de­tails to ev­ery­one but the most care­ful of read­ers. And more im­por­tantly, much of what the place has to of­fer is lost in the bar­gain. This time we wanted to fo­cus on those very de­tails and take a path not many ven­ture out on.

The plan was to head to Gu­jarat from our base in Pune to ex­plore the an­cient city of Champaner and the Pav­a­gadh fortress that sits on a hill over­look­ing it. Now, Champaner in it­self is not a des­ti­na­tion too many tourists flock to. Its prox­im­ity to Vado­dara en­sures it isn’t to­tally un­known ei­ther. What is cer­tainly over­looked, how­ever, is the stun­ning beauty of the mon­u­ments there, es­pe­cially the ones perched upon the moun­tain. The neigh­bour­ing Ka­lika Mata tem­ple’s pop­u­lar­ity cer­tainly dwarfs that of this UNESCO World Her­itage site.

The Champaner-Pav­a­gadh Ar­chae­o­log­i­cal park is a col­lec­tion of mon­u­ments, some of them more than a thou­sand years old, that range from forts to mosques, tem­ples and even ad­min­is­tra­tive build­ings in the his­tor­i­cal city of Champaner that was founded by Van­raj Chavda of the Chavda dy­nasty in the eighth cen­tury. There are palaces, en­trance gates and arches, tombs, res­i­den­tial com­plexes, agri­cul­tural struc­tures and wa­ter in­stal­la­tions such as step wells and tanks, dat­ing from the eighth to the four­teenth cen­turies. In the sixteenth cen­tury, Champaner even served as the cap­i­tal of Gu­jarat.

The drive to get there is a rather long one – a to­tal of 11 hours from our home base in Pune (though not

IN THE SIXTEENTH CEN­TURY, CHAMPANER SERVED AS THE CAP­I­TAL OF GU­JARAT

much if you’re in any of the big cities of Gu­jarat). Al­most all of our drive was spent on the bril­liant high­way that con­nects Mum­bai with Gu­jarat, re­mind­ing us of the bril­liant high­way sta­bil­ity of the Duster and the rugged un­der­pin­nings. Over the patched-up sec­tions, the Duster soaks ev­ery­thing up and we barely even feel it, and it eas­ily swal­lowed up the hun­dreds of kilo­me­tres that sep­a­rated us from Champaner. With a sta­bil­ity at speed over lessthan-per­fect roads, some­thing that few cars or SUVs can boast of, and a steer­ing rack with ac­cu­racy and feed­back that has all but dis­ap­peared in this era of elec­tric power steer­ings, driv­ing the Duster was rather en­joy­able and we main­tained triple-digit speeds with ease. The tried and tested en­gine and gear­box com­bi­na­tion (108bhp, 6-speed man­ual) proved par­tic­u­larly use­ful as we bar­relled down the fast high­ways, breez­ing past slow-mov­ing ve­hi­cles. High-speed cor­ners that we found near Su­rat were taken with con­fi­dence as the Duster’s in­her­ent dy­namic abil­i­ties shone through.

You will have no­ticed the SUV we have here sports new LED day­time run­ning lights and that is just one of the many up­dates to the 2019 Duster. The new al­loy wheels are par­tic­u­larly stylish and work well with the new front-end de­sign en­sur­ing the Duster still draws at­ten­tion. On the in­side too, a slew of changes have fresh­ened up the cabin mak­ing our time on the high­way rather plea­sur­able.

FEW CARS OR SUVS HAVE A STEER­ING RACK AS AC­CU­RATE AS THE DUSTER’S

We reached the Champaner-Pav­a­gadh Ar­chae­o­log­i­cal Park after nearly six hun­dred kilo­me­tres of driv­ing. De­stroyed, pil­laged and des­tined to be rel­e­gated to the mar­gins of his­tory books, the place has risen time and again in glo­ri­ous fash­ion. After be­ing re­placed by Ahmed­abad as the cap­i­tal in the sixteenth cen­tury, the place fell into ru­ins for the next few cen­turies till its cul­tural and his­toric im­por­tance dawned on the peo­ple.

Get­ting off the Na­tional High­way and onto nar­rower roads that led to Champaner, we re­alised that the place is a lot more pop­u­lar than a sim­ple Google search would have us be­lieve. Hun­dreds of ve­hi­cles thronged the nar­row dual lane car­riage­way that led to Champaner. It turned out that the Ka­lika Mata tem­ple on the Pav­a­gadh hill was wit­ness­ing an in­flux of tourists that it wasn’t pre­pared for. With thou­sands of peo­ple mak­ing the trek up, the road that led up to the hill was closed for ve­hic­u­lar traf­fic. Our hopes of hav­ing some fun go­ing up the nar­row roads now stood crushed.

Canon EOS 5D Mark III EF70-200mm f/2.8L IS III USM Ex­po­sure time: 1/640sec F-stop: F/2.8 ISO-100

Left: The in­tri­cate­ly­carved fa­cade at the Sa­her ki Masjid. Right: The com­bi­na­tion of Indo-Mughal ar­chi­tec­ture is clearly seen in the Jami Masjid

Bot­tom: Soak­ing in the last few rays above the Va­data­lav lake. Right: Even the dual-car­riage­ways are ar­row-straight and smooth. Fac­ing page, bot­tom: An en­vi­able spot to be in

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