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