Here’s some of what the Lonely Planet – India chapter Gujarat has to say about Patan:
“About 130km northwest of Ahmedabad, Patan was Gujarat’s capital for six centuries before Ahmedabad was founded in 1,411. It was ruined by the armies of Ala-ud-Din Khilji around 1,300, and today is a dusty, little town with narrow streets lined by elaborate wooden houses.
Rani-Ki-Vav (Step Well)
The only real sign of Patan’s former glory is this astoundingly beautiful step-well. Built in 1,063 by Rani Udayamati to commemorate her husband, Bhimdev I, the step-well is the oldest and finest in Gujarat and is remarkably preserved. Steps lead down through multiple levels with lines of carved pillars and more than 800 sculptures, mostly on Vishnu-avatar themes, as well as striking geometric patterns.”
KAPOORS ON THE ROAD
The initial plan that Flamingo Travels mapped out for us, had us heading straight across the state of Gujarat to the western city of Bhuj. From there, we were to branch out in all directions to explore all the small villages that are the centres for traditional handicraft production and textile weaving. We would also visit the salt flats in the region known as the Rann of Kutch.
Anil didn’t feel that we would want to spend all that uninterrupted time in a van on our first day, and after reading more about historic sites in Gujarat, he suggested that we head a little northwest to the cities of Patan and Modhera to see an 11th-Sun Temple and a step well, constructed during the period when Patan was the original capital of the region. It did mean it would be a much longer day, but at least we would be seeing something other than the countryside passing by, and we would have a chance to stretch our legs between stints in the vehicle.
It turned out to be a great move, because the Rani-Ki-Vav (Step Well) in Patan was probably one of the most amazing things we saw in all of Gujarat. We had seen step wells in other parts of India, so we weren’t really expecting much in advance. Our driver pulled into the parking lot and we walked over to purchase our admission tickets. Two or three school buses pulled in right behind us, so we hurried to get ahead of the crowd. Fortunately, the teachers were distributing snacks to the students so we had a little time at the site before the other visitors caught up to us.
I mention this because I love to take photos of places we visit with as few people cluttering up the view as possible. Sometimes it’s nice to have someone in the photo to give a sense of the relative size of things I’m photographing, but for most, I often take a little extra time before I hit the shutter so that I can capture a pristine shot.
We entered the site and all that we could see was a vast green park-like setting with a lovely paved path and a few trees and flowering shrubs. It was so refreshing to be out of the capital city with all its hustle and bustle. The sun was shining but it was only just past 10:00am so it wasn’t too hot to be walking outdoors. When we arrived at the edge of the step well, my jaw dropped in surprise.
The Rani-Ki-Vav (Step Well) was much deeper that any we’d seen in the past, but it was the elaborate carvings on the pillars and walls that were absolutely mind-boggling. We read the following on a stone signboard near the stepwell:
“The Rani-Ki-Vav had been buried for centuries and suffered damage in the past due to negligence and flooding of the nearby Saraswati River. Until the 1960s, no one was aware that there existed a most ornate and highly-sculptured vav. At the time, the stepwell was completely filled, up to the top edges.
The Archeological Survey of India started excavations in 1958 and painstakingly exposed the hidden treasures in their original dimensions and splendour. The loose sculptures and architectural members and stones that had fallen into the step well were lifted and set in their position.
Befitting its name, the Rani Ki Vav is now considered to be the queen among the step wells of India.”
After viewing the vast well, we took a stroll around the grounds just to stretch our legs a little. As we turned back towards the entrance, a young boy approached us hesitatingly and held up an Indian rupee note. At first we thought that he was asking for a handout, but then his parents were with him. They explained that he was trying to show us that the 100-rupee note has honoured the Rani-Ki-Vav (Step Well) by placing a photo of it on the backside.