Thursday, February 11, 2010

Picnic paradise: Pavagadh.

With his exquisite monuments and adventure sports, this tiny hill station in Gujarat is an ideal holiday destination
By Eisha Sarkar
Posted On Monday, February 08, 2010 at 08:06:55 PM

A red ribbon flutters in the wind. It's past noon. We try to ignore our baked backs as we take in the breathtaking view of the valley below the 2,700 ft Pavagadh hill. "Now!" We turn our heads to see a man running backwards with a giant bow-shaped parachute attached to his backwards. "Not there, not there. There are too many trees," shouts the instructor. The man moves a little to his right, gathers speed and flings himself off the cliff as we marvel at the chute. The paragliding adventure finally kicks off at Gujarat's most popular picnic spot, Pavagadh

We watch as the paraglider hovers at the base of the cloud. The proud instructor, Mumbai-based Sanjay Pendurkar of Indus Paragliding, tells us, "You need to look for a thermal (hot air current that rises up in a spiral m
Fort of Champaneranner) as soon as you jump off the cliff. Once you find it, you can stay in there for as long as you want to. The day before, a man was up there for five hours!"

As people wait for tandem paragliding (the term used for the joyride-like experience where a trained paraglider will take you along to give you the feel of the sport), we look at the landscape sprinkled with exquisitely-carved monuments that make up the only UNESCO-World Heritage Site in Gujarat.

On our way to Pavagadh we had passed the Jama Masjid, the Fort of Champaner and Uohra Mosque that had been built by Gujarat's Muslim emperor Mehmud Begada in 15th century AD. We had also gawked at the Saat Kaman - the seven arches made of blocks of stone that were built without using any kind of binding matter. In the queue for the ropeway, we had jostled for space for over an hour with hundreds of pilgrims on their way to the ancient Mahakali Temple at the top of the hill. From the cable-car we'd spotted the Vad Talav (Banyan Pond) and remains of the Palace of Begada. Making our way through rough paths cut through the thickly forested hill slopes, we'd come across witch-doctors and tantriks clad in black selling talismans even as carefree children got themselves photographed with life-
Cable cars sized stuffed-toy tigers (the vehicle of Goddess Ambaji). For all the developments the government has initiated in the nearby industrial areas such as Halol, Pavagadh is still steeped in Gujarat's magnificent past.

"Yeh paper ka hai?" We snap out of history and see a girl pointing to the wing. "No, it's cloth," she is told by her friend. For adventure sports buffs, Gujarat offers little. People are willing to pay as much as Rs 14,500 for a five-day paragliding course at Kamshet in Maharashtra. "We're trying to bring in more activities here and develop Pavagadh as an adventure sports hub with rapelling, rock-climbing, trekking and of course, paragliding," says Captain Rajeev, an ex-armyman and one of the organisers of the Pavagadh Paragliding Festival. "That way, Pavagadh could be of interest to adrenaline junkies, history buffs and religious devotees." Indeed!

Travel tips
1. Avoid Sundays as the place is very crowded with pilgrims
2. Accommodation options include Hotel Champaner and Caravan Serai (which is another 15 km from Champaner). Ideally stay in Vadodara and take a taxi to Pavagadh and Champaner as the archaeological sites are scattered all over
3. Wear comfortable walking shoes, as the slope is steep. It's best to take the cable-car up and the stairs down the hill so that you can get the feel of the place and still save time
4. Drinking water is scarce, especially if go monument-hopping into the forest so please make your own provisions

Getting there
The closest city is Vadodara 47 kilometres away. Vadodara is well connected to Mumbai by road, rail and air.
(Pix: Eisha Sarkar)

1 comment:

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