Sometimes it so happens that a wonderful destination is within one’s grasp, so much so, that one only has to venture out of one’s place and get going to that destination, which is at an arm’s length from one’s abode, without any planning and without working out any micro-details of the trip – it’s such an easily done day trip! Yet, it is years before that day arrives when one ventures out to go to that beautiful place; something just prevents one from going there, perhaps the proximity, which seems so easily met, becomes the most formidable distance, shrouded in the fog of – ‘ oh! we can go there anytime’- syndrome. Or perhaps – life happens.
It indeed is true for my wish to visit -Rani ki vav- an UNESCO world heritage site, sitting in all its glory, just 125 kms. from Ahmedabad, where I have been staying for roughly two decades now.
I have always wanted to go to Patan, where this gem of a monument is situated, since the day I first landed at Ahmedabad, as a dreamy eyed teenager way back in 1999, to enter the gates of medical college and study medicine. But as the fate would have had it- it was only recently that I ventured out to go there- a much married man, with a lovely wife and two sweet kids.
So, one fine sunday, we set out in our car to visit this approximately 1000 year old masterpiece of ancient architecture, which has survived earthquakes, floods and submersion in silt for many centuries.
Hugh! If only our roads could be like this!
Anyway, as we were nearing the end of our journey, I, as usual began cribbing that even though this place was an important historical structure, it would be suffering from the usual apathy and neglect of the government and A.S.I.(archeological survey of india). My wife chided me for my cynisicm, but I was quite sure that my words would be proven right once we arrived there.
Surprise!..Surprise!…For once in my life, I was very happy to be proven wrong. The place turned out to be a delight from the start – well maintained and spic-spac!
There is a huge well maintained garden as one enters the premises, and it is pretty clear that this place is well looked after and certainly lives upto the expectation of a world heritage site.
There was only one problem though – only manicured lawn was visible; nothing else – only a perimeter of a fence was to be seen at one end of the garden, no structure was visible.
At that moment it struck me fully – what was the meaning of a step-well, everything was subterranean!…Not a teeny-weeny brick or stone above the ground.
As we went near the fence, the full grandeur of the place was revealed to us.
Rani ki vav as seen from one end.
This magnificent step- well was commissioned and built by Queen Udayamati, around 1022-32 A.D. in the memory of her husband – King Bhimdev 1, of Solanki dynasty; which is said to be the golden period of Gujarat and Patan(which was capital of Gujarat from 8th century to 15 th century).
It is situated near river Saraswati, which was said to be flowing quite near the site, but over the ages it has disappeared and has gone subterranean, or so they say.
But sometime after Patan lost its splendour and the kingdom floundered in 15th century, the structure got buried under layers of silt, which was brought by a flood.
Over the coming centuries all signs of this magnificent structure were lost and it lay forgotten. It was only in 1940’s that few signs were detected by the farmers of the region. But it wasn’t until 1980’s that full excavation of the site began under the aegis of A.S.I.
Slowly, this grand underground building emerged from layers of soil, and thankfully a major part of it had survived the centuries.
It’s journey to fame reached the peak, when it became only the second site in gujarat to get world heritage site status in 2014 ( first was champaner).
This is named ‘Rani’ ki vav, as it was built by a queen for her husband, rather than other way round,which was the norm in that era.
Exact purpose for which it was built is not clear, but it is supposed to be a temple dedicated to water and Vishnu.
The area receives quite less rain, and so, such step-wells were common in the region in those times as a measure of storing water, and helping people to use water. But it’s no ordinary well…It’s designed as a temple dedicated to hindu mythology and way of life.
The vav is built in the -‘ Maaru-Gurjar’ style of architecture, which was prevalent in this region at that time; and is classified as a- ‘Nanda’ type of stepwell (there are four types, according to our guide).
There are four horizontal floors, which one descends one by one. The walls of all four floors are adorned by beautiful statues depicting various forms of Lord Vishnu (Dashavatara), other dieties, various apsaras, saints and scenes from hindu mythology.
After the horizontal floors, there are seven verrical floor descending down and ending in a well and a reservoir which was filled when the well over flowed. Unfortunatley, now its only filled for few months in the rains.
I am not a religious person and have no inclination for mythology, but I sure can appreciate excellent craftsmanship and art when I see one.
And I can assure you that the craftsmanship on display here is breathtaking to say the least. Infact, I would stick my neck out and say that statues and sculptures at Rani ki vav are at par with such art on display anywhere in India and in world.
In all there are around 500 major and about 1000 minor statues here, and we all were blown away by the beauty of these statues and art carved on sandstone, which is the stone from which the whole step well was built.
In the absence of cement, earlier artisans had amazing technologies to fit stones amongst each other. They used an ‘interlocking’ technique, which comprised of locking two stones with a piece of wood (which swelled and contracted in presence and absence of water) and locking stones with each other with clever use of slits.
With this masonry, the structure has survived centuries of torment by the elements like floods and atleast two very severe earthquakes, one in 1819 and recently in 2001 which ravaged north gujarat, and in which yours truly had the unpleasant opportunity of trembling along with terra firma.
The rough dimensions of the step well are – 64 meters long, 28 meters deep and about 20 meters wide.
Concluding thoughts :-
Rani ki vav is easily accessible from Ahmedabad and other major cities, on Mehsana- palanpur highway and should be visited atleast once in lifetime.
I have written this blog, not to show our happy pics. from the trip but to generate more awareness about this fantastic place, very near to Ahmedabad. Because, unfortunately it has not received enough attention as it merits. I was surprised that even my family members were not aware about it till we visited there. Even though Rani ki vav has been placed on the back side of new hundred rupees note by the government.
Also, it’s my humble opinion that although it’s very essential to have fabulous vacations like going to hill stations or exotic foreign destinations; and day outings like going to resorts, waterparks, picnic destinations are most welcome; but once in a while, we can have a funfilled visits to to places of historical, architectural and cultural importance, and that can prove to be very gratifying.
However, I don’t want to sound preachy.
If you think that our kids would have got quite bored, you could not be more wrong….They had a great day and enjoyed a lot.
In the end I would say that it was a great experience to be there and we all enjoyed a lot.
A trip to Patan can be combined with a trip to Patola weaving centre, which is the place where world famous Patola sarees are woven, the only place in the world where it is done, and a short detour to – Modhera sun temple (35 kms. only ), which we did.
Go out and start exploring your neighborhood and have great fun. Enjoy!
The Kneedy traveller.