champaner—the muslim part of the champaner-pavagadh unesco world heritage site

Fairy tales often start like this, don’t they: Once upon a time there was a fearless, virtuous king who had dreams of conquering an invincible fortress perched on a hill. His father and grandfather had time and again attempted to defeat it too, but to no avail.

The tale I am writing about continues like this: The brave king was Sultan Abu’l Fath Nasir-ud-Din Mahmud Shah I, ruler of the Gujarat Sultanate and great-grandson of Ahmed Shah I, founder of Ahmedabad, Gujarat in 1411. The invincible fortress belonged to the Kichchi Chauhan Rajputs on Pavagadh.

Calling himself “Sultan al-Barr, Sultan al-Bahr” meaning “Sultan of the Land, Sultan of the Sea,” history knows him as Mahmud Begada. The name “Begada” was derived from his winning two gadhs in his lifetime, namely Pavagadh and Junagadh. Continue reading

pavagadh—the hindu part of the champaner-pavagadh unesco world heritage site

I have a book titled Speaking Stones World Cultural Heritage Sites in India which I must confess is my most prized possession. Coming to terms these past few months with some harsh realities on death and the transience of life, I reached out to the hard bound volume on my bookshelf to see what I could add to a wish-list to make come true.

The pages opened, almost as if urged by some mysterious calling, on Champaner-Pavagadh. Truth be told, I had never heard of the place before. But it was nearby and seemed doable over a few days. A friend pointed out the weather was all wrong for the rendezvous: “No one travels for pleasure to Gujarat in May when temperatures are soaring at 43 degrees.” The little voice in me said, “Who cares about the heat. Remember life truths!” 🙂

And, thus, one fine early morning, I found myself boarding a train to Vadodara, my base for my explorations. What I learnt and saw and experienced in the ensuing days far outweighed my expectations. But I run ahead of myself. Let’s start at the beginning. Continue reading

global travel shot: champaner, a 500-year-old indo-saracenic poem in stone

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“Look up, at the ceiling.” I am broken from my reverie, as I drift through a forest of 172 stone pillars, by my guide Manoj’s voice prodding me to halt in my tracks and raise my eyes, heavenwards.

High up, inside a dome above the main mihrab is the most exquisitely carved sculpture I have seen to date. And I find myself gasping in awe. Is this for real? I am not too sure what stuns me more. Its immense size, the fineness of the swirling leaves, or its incongruous placement—I am in a 500-year-old mosque in Champaner in Gujarat, 50-odd kilometres outside Vadodara, and the sculpture is Hindu-Jain in style and content. Continue reading

36 hours in pune


Pune youth at the 8th Century Pataleshwar Cave Temple celebrating Pune Heritage Week
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It took me three years to make the journey to Pune, a city nestled in the Sahyadri hills four hours by road and 149 kilometres away from Mumbai.

Every second person I have met in Mumbai has been somehow connected to Pune. It is either through their family or studies [when they were younger] or if nothing else a place they go to chill out. I figured this in itself warranted I see it with a local, and here I mean a Mumbaikar with one foot in Pune. And so I waited. And waited. Till my desire to explore the city out-weighed the comfort of a well-versed, impossible to pin down, human guide.

Clueless about the geography of the city, but armed with a smattering of facts, figures, and stories from poring over books and articles, I found myself one fine morning seated on a bus aptly named Shivneri. For the uninitiated, Chhattrapati Shivaji Maharaj was born in Shivneri Fort on the outskirts of Pune.

But more of that later on in the post. I was headed to Mumbai’s lesser known and lesser glamorous, yet historically and culturally [as I was soon to discover] richer neighbour. It also happened to be heritage week in Pune which turned out to be in my favour. Continue reading

st. mary’s church in camp, the oldest anglican church in the deccan

For some obscure misguided reason, I was under the assumption Camp [the Cantonment] area in Pune would be just one road. To add to it, my rather simplistic imagination envisioned Pune’s famed historical churches, built to serve the then Poona’s British Raj gentry, to be standing sentinel on both sides of it in a homogenous line. I could not be more wrong.

After being driven through a maze of wide, empty streets on a Sunday morning, I found myself dropped outside a poker faced, art deco facade by a cab driver with the announcement, “Old church.” Before I could ask or argue he had sped away, and there was I in the slowly rising heat, wondering, my brows raised towards the heavens, where the hell was I?

Almost, as if in answer, a woman with a beaming smile stepped out and wanted to know what I was looking for. Her name was Sheeba Reuben Deshmukh, a counsellor and committee member of the Oldham Methodist Church, the church I had been dropped at.

I explained to her I was a blogger from Mumbai and exploring Pune that weekend.

“Have you been to St. Mary’s?” Continue reading

kelkar museum: one man’s collection of 21,000 objets d’art

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Chess: Ivory; Maharashtra; 18th Century

“Aapko andar aadhaa ghanta hi lagega [It will only take you half an hour inside],” the auto rickshaw driver tells me with full conviction. A little voice inside of me shakes its head and mutters, “Naaaa, an hour. I need an hour.”

Neither know me well. I end up spending two hours.

Remember when we were little children and the whole world was one fantasy land filled with fantastical objects, much like an Aladdin’s cave? The Raja Dinkar Kelkar Museum is a manifestation of that fantasy.

Tucked inside an obscure lane in Pune’s Old City—2,500 pieces of a whopping 21,000 objet d’art collection—are displayed over three floors and 42 sections of what was once Dr. Dinkar G. Kelkar’s (1896 – 1990) home. Though much of the edifice is now a museum the family continues to live in a portion closed to the public. Continue reading