The Fragrance of Gujarat

‘I’d rather have a passport full of stamps than a house full of stuff’ is a travel quote some of us have heard and one that resonates with me. On completing 20 years of marriage, my husband asked me what gift would I like: jewellery, clothes, gadgets and gizmos? I had no confusion as to what the gift would be.

How about making memories by visiting a UNESCO World Heritage Site in India, is what I suggested. After all, the allure of material possessions was slowly waning, and life to me now after two decades of marriage had a different meaning. It was about seeing places together, doing things that I hadn’t done before and always wanted to do, and now that the kids were a little older to be able to spend more time exclusively with each other. The couple that travels together stays together!

So, Gujarat it would be since it was closer in terms of travel time and it has two UNESCO World Heritage Sites Champaner and Pavgadh and Rani Ki Vav. (This was before Ahemdabad City was given WHS status). These are now famous thanks to Bollywood icon Mr Amitabh Bachchan promoting them in Gujarat Tourism’s “Khushboo Gujrat Ki” advertisements.

After breakfast at our hotel in Ahmedabad, we hired a cab that would take us first to Modera Sun temple and then to Patan to see the Rani Ki Vav and on the way back to Ahmedabad we would stop at Adalaj. The approximately 2 ½ -hour drive to Patan was smooth thanks to the good road conditions in an effort by the state to promote tourism. We took the Ahmedabad Palanpur road and GJ SH130 and en route passed yellow mustard fields that were in full bloom.

Yellow Mustard Fields en route to Modera
Yellow Mustard Fields en route to Modera @Rafiq Somani

Modhera Sun Temple

The Sun temple of Konark in Orissa is famous worldwide but there is another sun temple which is praiseworthy and is at Modhera in Gujarat. Located on the banks of Pushpavati river, it is dedicated to the Sun God and was built in 1026-27AD during the reign of King Bhola Bhimdev 1 of Solanki Dynasty.

Our guide explained that the temple is composed of three parts. The first is the Surya or Snan Kundh where worshippers to the temple would bath and purify themselves before entering the temple. Steps led to the rectangular well which was adorned by 108 small temples. Why 108 no less nor more? According, to Hindu religion this number has a significance as there are 108 beads in a mala/rosary used for chanting mantras, as well as, 108 names of Gods.

Surya or Snan Kundh, Modera Sun Temple
Surya or Snan Kundh, Modera Sun Temple @Rafiq Somani

In front of the kundh, an arch called the Kirti Toran lead us to the second part of temple the Sabha Mandap or Dance Gallery. In ancient times the worshipers would assemble, sing devotional songs and dance here. It is constructed on 52 poles that represent the 52 weeks in a year. Scenes from the epics Ramayan and Mahabharat were engraved on these pillars.

Intricately carved pillars of Modera Sun Temple
Intricately carved pillars of Modera Sun Temple @Rafiq Somani

After the exiting the Dance Gallery we entered the third part i.e. main temple or Mukhya Mandir. The pillars in the main temple had carvings of amorous couples a la Kama Sutra depicting various aspects of human life like birth and death. Our guide explained that centuries ago the main sanctum had an idol of a Sun god which had a diamond studded in its crown. On equinox (21st March and 22nd September) as the morning sun rose its first rays struck the diamond in the idol illuminating the entire temple. For once I wished I could go back in time and be a witness to this event.

Mukhya Mandir of Modera Sun Temple, Gujarat
Mukhya Mandir of Modera Sun Temple, Gujarat @Rafiq Somani

After spending an hour or so at Modhera we hopped into our cab and then headed for Patan to see the Rani ki Vav. On the way, we stopped at a roadside dhaba/ food stall for lunch. No fancy restaurants for us, as it is at these dhabas that you get to savour the best and most authentic local cuisine.  Sitting on khatiyas (cots) we ordered some traditional Gujarati food. Bajra rotla , bhakris dripping with ghee, masala chaas (buttermilk) and assorted vegetable dishes like ringda (brinjal), sev pyaz (onion with vermicelli) and bateka nu shank (potato vegetable). No counting calories for a change and only indulging in the flavours and aromas of Gujarat.

Rani Ki Vav

 Vav, as it is called in Gujarati and Marwari languages, indicates a well. The step wells are so-called because there is a flight of steps which one can descend to get to the bottom of the well. These step wells were just not reservoirs of water but were also structures that were intricately designed and carved. The stepwells also served as a place for socializing, when women came here to draw water and had a spiritual significance too.

Rani Ki Vav, Patan, Gujarat
Rani Ki Vav, Patan, Gujarat @Rafiq Somani

We all know that The Taj Mahal is an epitome of love and was built by Moghul Emperor Shahjahan in memory of his wife Mumtaz Mahal. But how many of us know that the Rani Ki Vav (The Queen’s Well) was built in 1063 by Queen Udaymati in loving memory of her husband Bhimdeva 1? (Yes, the same king who built the Modhera Sun Temple) The stepwell was flooded due to relocation of Saraswati river and forgotten for centuries until in the 1980s when it was excavated and desilted by the Archeological Survey of India to reveal an architectural marvel. Rani Ki Vav was included as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2014.

Rani Ki Vav, Patan Gujarat
Rani Ki Vav, Patan Gujarat @Rafiq Somani

As we entered the complex, after purchasing the entry tickets, manicured lawns lead us to the stepwell. The Rani Ki Vav designed in Maru Gurjara Architectural style is as an inverted temple that measures 64 m in length, 20 m in width and 27 m in depth and is divided into seven levels or terraces. It also has lateral staircases and corridors. On descending the main flight of steps, we began noticing the numerous sculptures (more than 500) which adorned the sides of the well. Referring to my guide book we could identify statues of various incarnations of Lord Vishnu, apsaras (celestial female beauties) showcasing the Solah Shringar or 16 styles of makeup.

Rani Ki Vav, Patan, Gujarat
Rani Ki Vav, Patan, Gujarat @Rafiq Somani

The image of Sheshashayi Vishnu, in which the lord Vishnu leaned on the thousand-hooded serpent Shesha is another striking beauty. We even noticed geometrical and decorative patterns carved on the walls which are seen even today in the Patola textile. Since the stepwell was under maintenance we couldn’t go right to the bottom of the well.

Geometrical and Decorative patterns of Patola, Rani Ki Vav, Patan, Gujarat
Geometrical and Decorative patterns of Patola, Rani Ki Vav, Patan, Gujarat @Rafiq Somani

The architectural brilliance of this vav was simply breathtaking and left us speechless, as we sat on the staircase soaking in its beauty. In fact, it was hard to believe that this was a well because most of the time one sees these kinds of carvings and sculpturing on walls of temples.

Buddha, Rani Ki Vav, Patan, Gujarat @Rafiq Somani
Kalki Avavtar of Vishnu, Rani Ki Vav, Patan, Gujarat
Kalki Avavtar of Vishnu, Rani Ki Vav, Patan, Gujarat @Rafiq Somani

We left the Rani Ki Vav and headed to the Patola House who is the master weavers of the double ikat fabric Patola made using vegetable colours. It takes months to weave a single sari that is adorned with motifs of elephants, parrots, peacocks and other figures and the cost of these masterpieces is upwards of Rs. 1.5 lacs! The gallery had samples of various designs of patola, a weaving loom, photographs of prominent celebrities who had purchased patolas, as well as a family tree of the Salvi family which had carried forward the tradition from 11th Century.

Weaving Loom at Patola House, Patan Gujarat
Weaving Loom at Patola House, Patan Gujarat @Rafiq Somani

Adalaj Ki Vav

Our last stop was the Adalaj Ki Vav or Rudabai Stepwell which is in Adalaj village 19 km from Ahmedabad. Legend has it that in the 15th century, Rana Veer Singh a Hindu ruler who reigned over this territory was killed by Muslim ruler Mohammed Begda. Rana Veer Singh’s beautiful widow, Rani Ruda though devastated by the death of her husband, agreed to a marriage proposal made by Mohammed Begda on the condition that he would first complete the building of the stepwell that was initiated by her husband. The stepwell was built and now the queen was obliged to marry the Muslim king. The queen having achieved her objective decided to end her life by jumping into the well, as a mark of devotion to her husband.

Adalaj Ki Vav, Ahemdabad, Gujarat
Adalaj Ki Vav, Ahemdabad, Gujarat @Rafiq Somani

The Adalaj Ki Vav is five stories deep and we could see an octagonal opening that allowed light and air to enter the well. Three entrances lead to the vav which is a fusion of Indo- Islamic architecture. We saw intricate Islamic floral patterns, carvings of elephants, birds, fish, Hindu and Jain gods, and mythological scenes that adorned the walls of the well. We could descend right to the bottom of this well unlike the Rani Ki Vav. It was now closing time and we left Adalaj and were driven back to Ahmedabad.

Adalaj Ki Vav, Ahemdabad, Gujarat
Adalaj Ki Vav, Ahemdabad, Gujarat @Rafiq Somani

I had received a priceless gift for my 20th wedding anniversary- “The Fragrance of Gujarat” which lingered long after we had bid adieu to glorious Gujarat.

Nearest Airport: Ahmedabad is the nearest airport. From Ahmedabad, you can take a train, bus or choose to drive down to Patan.
Modera Ahmedabad 100km
Patan Ahmedabad 135km
Adalaj Ahmedabad 19km  

This travelogue was first published in Corporate Tycoons Magazine, Nov 2016.

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