While Vadodara gets the lion’s share of art and history lovers, Champaner, located just 50 kilometres northeast, is blissfully free of tourists. A visit to the Champaner-Pavagadh Archaeological Park is a walk back in time—the UNESCO site includes remains from the Chalcolithic period (fourth and third millennia B.C.), a hill fortress of an early Hindu capital, and remnants of the 16th century capital of the state of Gujarat.
Built in the 16th century, the 100-foot-tall minarets of Jami Masjid atop the volcanic Pavagadh hill command all attention. Also known as the Great Mosque, the structure was a blueprint for later mosque architecture in India. Built by Sultan Mahmud Begada, Jami Masjid is a charmer with lofty doorways, lush lawns, stone engravings and gorgeous trelliswork windows.
En route a downhill climb from Jami Masjid on Pavagadh hill, a humble engraved stone plaque was the only sign that I was on the right track to Saat Kaman. The site consists of seven arches of yellow sandstone. A stroll under the archways leads to a small open space which affords expansive views of the region, including the Vada Talao or the big lake in the distance.
Perched at 2,500 feet on Pavagadh hill, a cable car takes visitors to the Maha Kalika temple, dedicated to goddess Kali and believed to be at least a thousand years old. Alternatively, those who want to earn their blessings can hike five kilometres up to the temple along a paved path through the surrounding jungle. While soaring in the cable car, roads and trees shrink and eventually resemble a Lego set. The temple premises thrum with sweet stalls and souvenir shops. Evening is the best time to visit, when the air rings with the aarti and the sun melts behind the hills.
Clouds loomed over the verdant Sahyadri hills in Saputara, and the roads were awash with August showers. Nippy breeze teased my hair; from my car I watched as a six-hour drive from Mumbai was taking me far away from cityscapes to swathes of green pastures and fog-veiled terrain.
Nestled in the lap of the Western Ghats, Saputara is south Gujarat’s answer to those who seek lakes, lush gardens, waterfalls and tribal villages. When in the hill station, all roads lead to walks on the green side.
At any time of the year, large groups queue up at this man-made lake to steer brightly coloured paddle and sail boats. The real treat however emerges at dusk, when you could witness rainbow-crowned sunsets in the monsoon. Entry to the premises is between 8.30 a.m.-6.30 p.m., so do squeeze in a cable car ride over the waters to soak in panoramic views. If you happen to visit the town during the month-long Saputara Monsoon Festival beginning in August, the light-and-dance show adjacent to the lake is a spectacle in itself as neon rays bounce off the waters.
An open ground just before Saputara Lake is the centre stage for the Monsoon Festival. Men and women dressed in colour-block outfits put up impressive shows of traditional Gujarati dances. The dampener? Bollywood music blaring off the boom box jars with the traditional mise en scène. A carnivalesque mood, the giant Ferris wheel, and stalls peddling instant noodles and roasted corn cobs are definite mood-lifters.
The loud gush of Gira waterfall can be heard well before you reach it. Located 49 kilometers northwest of Saputara, the muddy curtain freefalls from almost 100 feet and crashes into the Ambika river during the monsoon (the best time to visit is between June and November). The falls feel extra special when witnessed with platefuls of sliced mango in hand, sold by fruit vendors nearby. The view isn’t out of the ordinary, but the route leading up to the waterfall is a feast for the eyes thanks to a canopy of trees and gurgling streams flitting past the window seat.
Make a pit stop at Baj village which lies between Saputara and Gira waterfall. The tribal settlement in the Dang district is a peek into the lives of the Kukhma tribe: cows grazed lazily and a few chickens ran amok outside mud homes I visited. The community is known to deeply care for the surrounding forest, and around Holi, celebrates Dang Darbar, an annual festival that honours the village heads with traditional dance performances. Local tour operators arrange village visits which include spending time with the families and eat home-cooked meals.
Pooja Naik is Senior Sub-Editor at National Geographic Traveller India. She likes to take long leisurely walks with both hands in her pocket; channeling her inner Gil Pender at Marine Drive since Paris is a continent away.