Rani Ki Vav is maintained by ASI. Its entry fee is Rs. 35/- person. From the previous day’s experience of tickets at Saher ki Masjid and Jami Masjid, I booked tickets online before starting our journey from Kensville Golf and Country Club Resort. So our entry was hassle-free. It was a few hundred meters walk north from the parking lot.
Stepwells are a distinctive form of subterranean water resource and storage systems on the Indian subcontinent and have been constructed since the 3rd millennium BCE. Stepwells are typically found in those parts of India where monsoon is scarce and groundwater is well beneath the surface like Rajasthan, Gujarat, Delhi, and parts of Karnataka. In Gujarat, Stepwells are called ‘vav’ in Gujarat, ‘baoli’ in Delhi, ‘bawri’ or ‘bawdi’in Rajasthan and ‘bavi’ in Karnataka.
Though stepwells started its journey as a simple pit in sandy soil. However, over a period of time, aesthetic became as important an aspect of the stepwells as the utility used to be. Stepwells evolved into an elaborate multi-storey work of art and architecture.
India has a number of spectacular stepwells and Rani ki Vav is one of the best among them. As per the literary work ‘Prabandha-Chintamani’ composed by the Jain monk Merutunga in 1304 CE, it was constructed by Rani Udaymati. It is generally believed that Rani Udaymati built it in the memory of her husband of Bhima I. However, there are conflicting opinions about the exact time of construction of Rani ki Vav. According to ‘Prabandha-Chintamani’, it was commissioned in 1063 and took almost 20 years to get completed, well after the death of Bhima I in 1064 CE. Probably, Udayamati and her son Karna completed the construction. However, the view, that Udaymati was a widow when she commissioned it, is disputed. Based on the architectural similarity to Vimalavasahi temple on Mount Abu, another view is that Rani Ki Vav was constructed in 1032 CE, the year of construction of Vimalavasahi temple.
Rani-ki-Vav, built on the banks of river Saraswati, is a single-component, water management system divided into seven levels of stairs and sculptural panels of high artistic and aesthetic quality. It is oriented in an east-west direction and combines all of the main components of a stepwell, including a stepped corridor beginning at ground level, a series of four pavilions with an increasing amount of storeys towards the west, the tank, and the well in the tunnel shaft form. More than five hundred principle sculptures and over a thousand minor ones combine religious, mythological, and secular imagery, often referencing literary works. Given its look like an inverted temple, it is assumed that the stepwell was constructed not only as a functional structure but also as a religious structure highlighting the sanctity of water.
It impresses not only with its architectural structure and technological achievements in water sourcing and structural stability but also in particular with its sculptural decoration, of true artistic mastery. The figurative motifs and sculptures, and the proportion of filled and empty spaces, provide the stepwell’s interior with its unique aesthetic character. The setting enhances these attributes in the way in which the well descends suddenly from a plain plateau, which strengthens the perception of this space.
View of Rani ki Vav from the entry point
View from the opposite side
Rani ki Vav was later flooded by the nearby Saraswati River and silted over. In the 1890s, Henry Cousens and James Burgess visited it when it was completely buried under the earth and only a well shaft and few pillars were visible. In the 1940s, the excavations carried out under the Baroda State revealed the stepwell. In the 1960s, the major excavation and restoration were carried out by the ASI. An image of Udayamati was also recovered during the excavation. The restoration was carried out from 1981 to 1987. Rani ki vav was added to the list of UNESCO's World Heritage Sites on 22 June 2014.
Rani ki Vav compound is well maintained with manicured lawn and lots of trees. People, after visiting Rani Ki Vav, typically spends some time there. We could not afford to that because of the paucity of time.
From there, we went to Sahastralinga Talav which was 5 minutes drive.
Sahastralinga Talav is a medieval artificial water tank constructed by the Chaulukyas. The tank used to receive water from a canal of the Saraswati River and had spread of about 5 km with good stone masonry embankments. There were thousand Shiva Shrines on the edge of the tank. Some remains of the same are even visible today. The embankment surrounding the tank is of solid brickwork and was faced with stone masonry forming flights of steps to the water's edge. Near the middle of the eastern embankment are the remains of the old Siva temple, comprising the basements of the pavilions together with a colonnade of forty-eight pillars; it was in good condition till 16th century C.E. Towards the western end there is a rudra kupa in which water from the river Saraswati was collected and then allowed to pass into the inlet channel of the Sahasralinga Tank. This cistern is about forty meters in diameter.
From Sahastralinga Talav we started for our next destination for the day, the Sun Temple at Modhera at 4.30 p.m.
The distance of Modhera Sun Temple from Sahastralinga Talav is 35-40 km. It was a state highway. The road condition was good. We managed to reach the temple by 5 pm. There is a huge parking lot adjacent to the boundary wall of the temple complex and we parked our vehicle there.
Though I had managed to book e-tickets for Rani Ki Vav at Patan in the morning before the start of the day’s trip, I could not do the same for Modhera Sun temple. So we spent 4-5 minutes there to book the e-ticket with the help of the ticket counter fellow. Each ticket cost Rs. 20/-.
The entry of the temple complex is from the east. There is a paved path of a few hundred meters from the boundary wall gate to the temple proper.
The temple complex has three components: (1) Kunda (Ramakunda/Suryakunda), the reservoir, (2) Sabhamandapa (Nrityamandapa), the assembly (dancing hall) hall, and (3) Gudhamandapa, the shrine hall in the same order from east to west. It appears that when the temple was functional, then people used to take bath first in the Kunda, then came to Sabhamandapa, and from there used to enter the Gudhamandapa for worship.
The Sabhamandapa is arranged with its long side transversely disposed towards the principal orientation of the temple complex, its plan spreading outwards in several projecting bays. Balcony slabs of the Sabhamandapa are divided into panels carved with attendant figures above which rise the column with vase and foliage motifs at their bases. The capitals of these columns are diminished, thus emphasizing the brackets fashioned into foliage and animal motifs. The interior columns have their shafts carved with bands of lion masks and mythological scenes. Springing from intermediate capitals half-way up the shafts are open-mouthed aquatic monster brackets supporting curved and cusped arches created by garlands and lotus buds. These appear to hang suspended between the columns framing the entrances to the hall and the central interior space. The outer columns have their brackets supporting an overhanging eve.
Toran of Sabhamandapa
Carved pillars of Sabhamandapa
The Guhamandapa is adjacent to the Sabhamandapa but on a separate plinth. The entrance to the Guhamandapa is from the east, facing the Sabhamandapa.
Entrance of Gudhamandapa
The Gudhamandapa measures 51 feet 9 inches by 25 feet 8 inches. It is equally divided between Antarala (the hall) and the Garbhagriha (sanctum sanctorum). Both Antarala and Garbhagriha are rectangular in plan with one projection on each of the smaller sides and two projections on each of the longer sides. These projections on the smaller sides form the entrance and the back of the shrine. The three projections of the outer wall of Gudhamandapa had windows on each side and the east projection had the doorway. These windows had perforated stone screens; the northern is in ruins and the southern is missing.
Today, there is no idol there. It is said that the main idol was made of pure gold and depicted the sun sitting on his chariot with 7 horses with his Sarathi Arun driving the chariot. It is said that the diamonds on the idol could lit the whole temple. The idol sat on a deep plinth that was again filled with gold coins. Today, all you can see is the deep pit in Garbhagriha. Nobody knows where the missing idol is.
Antarala and Garbhagriha of Gudhamandapa
There is a Pradakshina Path, which is a passage between the walls of Garbhgriha and the outer walls of Gudhamandapa, surrounding the Garbhagriha from three sides. The roof of the Pradakshina Path has stone slabs carved with rosettes.
The Gudhamandapa is designed in a way that the first rays of the rising sun lit up the image of Surya during solar equinox days and on summer solstice day, the sun shines directly above the temple at noon casting no shadow. It sits on a plinth that is designed like an inverted lotus. On top of lotus petals is a panel carved with Elephants called Gaj-Petika. Above these the entire life cycle of a human being is carved; starting right from the time a human being is conceived with an act of intercourse to the death depicted with last rites. There are other erotic figures as well on the exterior as was the norm in the temples of that era. There are sculptures of people playing various musical instruments. Above these flora/fauna/life are deities. There are 12 idols of Parvati in her various forms called Dwadash Gauri. There are 12 idols of the Sun as if he is all-pervading. Some idols of Sun are in Irani Style with Gumboots and a long cap. Probably this is because the sun worship started in Iran.
Rear side view of the Gudhamandapa
The sculptured outer wall of the Gudhamandapa
The Shikhara of the Gudhamandapa now completely disappeared.
From the Sabhamandapa (Nrityamandapa), an exquisitely carved and lobbed archway leads to the Ramakunda/Suryakunda.
It has pyramid-shaped steps forming some intriguing geometric patterns on the steps. However, what makes this tank distinct from other similar temple tanks, is the presence of big and small temples on its steps. On the step directly opposite the temple, a temple has Vishnu on Shesh Shaiya. There are temples dedicated to Ganesha and Shiva as Nataraja. One temple is dedicated to Shitlamata – the goddess of Chicken Pox, whose vehicle is a donkey and she holds the broom in one hand and Neem leaves in another. Other temples are in various states of ruins, but they all look beautiful even now.
It is said that originally there were 108 shrines on these steps. It is difficult to count how many of them remain, but they are just simply beautiful. The geometry of the formations is breathtaking.
There is a legend associated with the Kund. According to Skanda Purana and Brahma Purana, it is said that when Ram was coming back from Sri Lanka after killing Ravana, he wanted to do absolve himself of the sin of killing a Brahmin, because Ravana was a Brahmin. He asked Vashishth Muni to show him a place where he can do the same and the sage pointed him to Dharmaranya – or the forest of the Dharma. Rama performed his Yagna here and established a village called Sitapur. Sitapur is the village that came to be known as Modhera later, which translates to a mound of the dead, probably because this place has seen layers of civilization, one upon the other. Another legend says this Modhera got its name from the Modh community of Brahmins who helped Rama perform his Yagna here.
This Temple was built during the reign of Bhima I of the Chaulukyas. However, exactly when it was constructed - that cannot be ascertained with certainty. An inscription has been found in the temple complex mentioning "Vikram Samvat 1083" in Devnagari script which corresponds to 1026-1027 CE. References of any other date have not been found either in the temple complex or in any other record. Therefore, based on the said inscription, some historians have formed an opinion that this temple was built in 1026-27 CE. Given that Mahmud of Ghazni had invaded Bhima I's kingdom in 1024-25 CE and Bhima I, with his 20,000 soldiers, tried to stall the progress of Mahmud at Modhera albeit unsuccessfully, these historians believe that this temple was built to commemorate the defense of Bhima I. However, there is a contrary view too. The said inscription has been found on a wall in an upside-down position. This strange position of the inscription gives a feeling that this temple was sacked at some point in time. That’s why some historians are of the view that the year 1026-27, mentioned in the inscription, is not the year of construction. It is rather the year of the sacking of the temple by Mahmud. As per them, based on the stylistic ground, the Surya Kund/Rama Kund with corner shrines were built first at the beginning of the 11th century. Once Mahmud went back and Bhima I returned to the power, the temple proper, the miniature, and the niche shrines in the tank were built. The Sabhamandapa/Nrityamandapa was added much later in the third quarter of the 12th century along with the gateways, the porch of the temple proper, and the doorframes of the temple and the cella during the reign of the Karna, son of Bhima I.
This temple is no more practicing and is being maintained by ASI.
We came out of the temple complex around 6.10 pm. There was a small museum within the complex but we had to give it a pass given the paucity of time. From there, we came back to Modhera village and took a tea break at a roadside stall. We bought few water bottles and cold drinks too. By the time, we resumed our return journey for Kensville Golf and Country Club Resort, it was well past 6.30 pm.
While returning, we took Route 1 mentioned in the previous post and realized during the course of the journey that it was a wise decision not to take this route in the morning. The entire stretch was made of State Highways which were of much inferior quality compared to that of traveling in the first half of the day. There was no decent family food joint in the entire route. We reached the resort after ‘not so enjoyable’ of around 2 hours.
On this day, our destination was Sasan Gir. On the way, after crossing Rajkot, we were to take a small detour for Khmbalida Buddhist Cave. Though we were crossing Junagadh and some historical places of Junagadh were in the ‘to see’ list, we planned that a couple of days later by doing a day trip from Sasan Gir. The reason was we wanted to ensure that we reached Sasan Gir before it got dark. Later, after visiting Junagadh after a couple of days, we realized that we could have covered it on the way to Sasan Gir from Kensville Golf and Country club, Ahmedabad.
Since the distance to be traveled on that days was less than 350 km, there was no hurry. We started leisurely at 10.45 am after doing some photo sessions at the resort.
From the resort, we again took Kerala-Naasarovar Road and after driving for 20odd km, got onto Ahmedabad-Rajkot Highway (NH47) and took a right turn towards Rajkot.
Ahmedabad- Rajkot highway was in excellent condition. The road was wide and the surface was as good as it could be. There was less traffic on the road. So we were driving at a speed above 100 km/hr. The only problematic stretches were where the wide road was being made wider and as a result, the commuters had to take diversions.
We crossed Limbdi around 11.45 am.
Our first break for the day was at a petrol pump 30-35 km before Rajkot. After filling up the fuel tank, when we got on the road, we saw an ‘Honest’ Food outlet immediately after. So we decided to take the lunch break there. We ordered for same dishes which we ordered the previous day on our way to Patan from Ahmedabad – Dosa and Punjabi Thali. Besides, we ordered a plate of 'Papdi' too. But here food was not that good compared to that of the Honest outlet on our way to Patan. It took around 35-35 minutes to finish our lunch. By the time, we resumed our journey, it was 1.45 pm.
We hit Rajkot at 2.05 pm.
I had come to Rajkot many times for professional work. One of my clients was based here who had factories at Shapar and Gondal. So, I was aware of the notorious traffic jam of Rajkot. However, given that it was a Sunday and we were in the middle of the Christmas holiday, I was hoping that we would not encounter any traffic snarl. But, immediately after reaching Rajkot, I found that my hope was misplaced. There was a humongous traffic jam on that side of the road on which we were driving. Fortunately, local police guided us to take the other side of the road, essentially the wrong lane. But when the police themselves advised you to take the wrong lane, then there should not be any problem. We obliged. For the first few hundred meters, driving was an absolute pain because there was a huge rush of vehicles from the other side. After that traffic eased up a bit and we continued to drive on the wrong lane albeit carefully. After covering 2-3 km, a flyover came. By then, there was no traffic jam on the other side of the road on which we were supposed to drive. So just before the flyover, we changed side and came back to the right lane.
We crossed the Gondal toll booth at 2.45 pm.
After Gondal, the road narrowed a bit. Instead of 3 by 3, it became 2 by 2 highway. However, the road condition was good. It was NH27. After driving for approximately 33km, we left NH27 and took a left turn to a village road. It was 3.15 pm then.
All of a sudden, the topography changed completely. We were driving through a barren and undulating landscape.
After driving 7-8 km on that road and passing a couple of villages, we reached Khambhalida Buddist Caves around 3.30 pm.
Khambhalida Buddist Caves are a combination of three caves. The complex of caves is said to be built in the 4th or 5th century AD but was discovered in the year 1958. These caves are known for presenting the history of the Kushana Kshatapa period. The cultures, stone carvings ad more present in the cave were made according to the Kushana Kshatapa dynasty. The caves were also used for meditation amongst the Buddhist monks who used to live near the caves and considered Khambhalida Caves as a holy land.
From the road, you need to walk a few hundred meters to reach the caves. In that open land, a new Buddhist center was being built, where the detailed history of the Khambhalida Caves would be presented to the tourists in the future.
A big parking lot had been already made on the other side of the road.
After that short walk, we had to walk down a bit using stairs and then walked through stone cut doors/tunnel to reach an open courtyard.
The courtyard facing caves were built digging the highland/hillock crossing over which we reached the caves. The caves were east facing. On the opposite side of the courtyard, there was a seasonal stream. Probably this stream was the source of water for The highland/hillock was of limestone rocks and the caves were carved out of the same. There were three caves, the central one contained the stupa which is known as chaitya cave. There were two sculptures of Bodhisattva on either side of the gate of the chaitya cave. On the left, the figure was probably Padmapani under an Ashoka-like tree with a female companion and five attendants. There was a yaksha-like dwarf on the left of it holding a basket. The figure on the right was probably Vajrapani under an Ashoka-like tree with similar attendants.
We did not find any signboard or similar thing giving descriptions of those caves at the site which was a bit annoying. We resumed our journey from there at 3.45 pm. Google Map advised us to continue the drive in the same direction. We obliged. The same undulating and arid landscape continued. We crossed a few villages and a wide but shallow stream/river.
After driving for 10 odd kilometers along the village road, we got onto NH 351. After another 2.5-3 kilometers, we switched to NH 151 towards Junagadh. That road was in excellent condition. We reached Junagadh around 4.30 pm.
Since we were having vegetarian food for the previous two days, so there was a craving for non-vegetarian food. So the previous day, I had searched for some non-vegetarian restaurants at Junagadh and on the basis of reviews in TripAdvisor zeroed on ‘Sabrin Non-Veg Restaurants’. But when we reached there around 4.45 pm, we found the restaurant closed. Apparently, it used to close at 4 pm and again reopened at 6 pm. We could not afford to wait till 6 pm. So we immediately set ‘Club Mahindra Gir’ on Google map and started for the final destination of the day. I had not an iota of idea about the roads of Junagadh and therefore, was following Google map blindly. Before leaving Junagadh, we again took a 4-5 minutes stop to pick us some chocolate and pastries from a Monjinis outlet.
We were out of Junagadh around 5 pm and were on Junagadh-Mendarda-Sasan Gir road. Club Mahindra Gir was still approximately 50 km away and it was 5 pm. So, I was trying to maintain a speed over 60km/hr so as to ensure we reach our destination before the dark. The road was single lane road. But the condition of the road was good and there was not much traffic. So it was an easy drive.
We crossed a jungle check post and entered the Gir forest buffer zone around 5.45 pm. There were some forest guards/police at the check post. So, we hurriedly put the mask on our face in order to avoid paying fines as we paid two days ago at Vadodara. But nobody stopped us at the check post and we continued our drive towards Sasan Gir. The day was approaching to its end fast and the surrounding was looking surreal in the fading light of the setting Sun.
We left Junagadh-Mendarda-Sasan Gir road 5 kilometers before Sasan Gir and took right turn onto Haripur-Bhalchhel road. It was a narrow village road, in not so good condition with few ups and downs and lots of twists and turns. There were few lodges along that village road. After driving for approximately 4 km, we reached Club Mahindra Gir. By the time we entered our room completing all check-in formalities, it was pitch dark outside.
The previous night was quite cold. The morning was cold too. The previous days were hectic. So, we started our day in a leisurely fashion. This day’s plan was a bit light - only an afternoon safari in the Gir forest was planned for the day.
Our safari was pre-booked. While planning the trip, I read in this forum that the authorities used to allow self-drive in the Gir forest. However, when I checked with the Club Mahindra people about this, they clearly said that safaris have to be undertaken by a government registered vehicle and guide. Further, they also advised us to book the safari online. The reason was that there was a cap on the number of safari vehicles that can enter in any particular safari timing and given that it was holiday time, a huge rush was expected and spot booking might not be available. Their apprehension was correct. We did the right thing by booking the safari online well in advance.
In Gir forest, two safaris used to take place in the morning and one safari in the afternoon. The morning safaris’ timings were 6.45 am and 8.30 am. The afternoon safari’s timing was 3 pm. In the summer months, the first safari of the morning starts at 6.00 am instead of 6.45 am and the afternoon safari starts at 4 pm instead of 3 pm. The duration of each safari was supposed to be 3 hours. The permit charge per safari is Rs. 1000 (up to 6 people). One gypsy used to be allocated per permit. The fees for the driver and the guide were not included in the permit charge. Those were supposed to be paid on the spot in cash.
Though the timing of our safari was 3 pm, we started at noon. The idea was to go to Sasan Gir first to figure out what were the formalities for safari and then to have lunch outside. So, we kept some buffer time. It was a sunny and windy day.
Starting from the resort, we first drove for 4 km on the Haripur-Bhalchhel road to come back to the Junagadh-Mendarda-Sasan Gir where we left it yesterday. There we took a right turn towards Sasan Gir. After driving around 5 kilometers, we reached Sasan Gir and stopped our vehicle in front of Sinh Sadan.
There some volunteers, who were managing traffic, approached us and asked whether we had the online permit. After getting an affirmative answer, they told us that we would be required to go inside Sinh Sadan but the registration process used to start at 2 pm, one hour before the scheduled commencement time of the safari.
So, we had enough time in our hands to have our lunch. We had noticed a market and few restaurants on both sides of the road, just before the Sinh Sadan. But based on the rating on Trip Advisor, we had already decided to go to a restaurant named ‘Swadesh Restaurant’ which was another 6-7 km drive from Sasan Gir. While going to ‘Swadesh Restaurant’, after 1-1.5 km from Sinh Sadan, we saw an entry gate for the jungle and few vehicles standing there. We guessed that this gate was the entry point for the safari but were wondering what the private vehicles were doing there given that no self-drive safari was allowed. However, we decided to keep that thought aside for the time being and direct our attention towards locating the ‘Swadesh Restaurant’.
We did not find it difficult to locate ‘Swadesh Restaurant’ but then realized that it was not a stand-alone restaurant. It was also a part of a resort and outside guests were not allowed because of Covid-19 related restrictions. So, we came back to Sasan Gir and asked the same set of locals with whom we interacted earlier about a decent place of eating. They told us to go to Rajwadi Dining Hall which was a few hundred meters from Sinh Sadan, on the main road itself.
Accordingly, we went there and parked our car. We noticed a non-vegetarian restaurant just beside that Rajwadi Dining Hall and got tempted for few moments to enter there. But then, we decided to go to Rajwadi Dining Hall only. The reason was that since non-vegetarian food was not in great circulation in that area, it might be stale.
Rajwadi Dining Hall was a medium-sized restaurant with a 30-40 seating capacity, I guess. It was neat and clean. When we entered there, it was almost empty. All of a sudden, it got filled up. We ordered for ‘Kathiyawadi Thali’. First, they brought six types of pickles/chatni. That was followed by four varieties of dal/sabzi. Chawl, Roti, Papad, and Chas came along with the same. The quantity was unlimited. The taste was spicy. I and my daughter enjoyed the food. That was exactly not the case with my wife. The rate per thali was Rs. 180/-.
We came back to Sinh Sadan around 2 pm. There was no parking place available inside Sinh Sadan. So we parked our car at the side of an internal road. By that time, a queue had been already formed inside Sinh Sadan in front of the designated center. We also stood in the line. Some people in the queue did not have confirmed permits. They were told to wait. If someone having a confirmed permit did not turn up then only they would be allocated a vehicle. Our time came in due course. We were handed over to a guide. He took us to another counter. There we paid Rs. 2100/- in cash – Rs. 1500/- for the vehicle and Rs. 600/- for the guide. The guide then told us to come back to the same place at 3 pm. We had good 30 minutes to kill.
So we came out and drove our vehicle towards the jungle entry gate which we notice earlier while going to the Swadesh restaurant. There were some guards. We asked them whether a self-drive jungle safari was allowed. Their answer was ‘no’. Then we enquired them about the few private vehicles which we saw a couple of hours back in front of the gate. The guards informed them that those vehicles were going to the Kankai Mata temple. Through conversation what transpired was that inside the jungle, there was a temple of Kankai Mata. The distance of the temple from that entry gate was around 25 kilometers. Though nobody is allowed to take his/her vehicle for the jungle safari and were required to mandatorily use the vehicle and guard provided by the forest department, people are allowed to go to the Kankai Mata temple on their own. So, the apparent intrigue became clear. Then we came back to Sinh Sadan again and parked the vehicle at the same place where it was parked earlier. Then we noticed another big entry gate just beside the Sinh Sadan. We enquired with the locals about that. They told that it was the entry gate for the camping ground. My family was never interested in camping not only at Gir but also anywhere. So, I did not enquire further about this and entered Sinh Sadan for the second time for the day.
Our safari started at sharp 3 pm. Our driver was Vijay and the guide was Jignesh. The vehicle was a Maruti Gypsy. The driver and the guide sat in the first row. My wife and daughter sat on the second row. I became the backbencher.
We came out from the Sinh Sadan and entered the jungle from the same gate after completing some registration formality which was done by Jignesh.
Immediately after crossing the gate, we took a sharp right turn. That was route no. 8 which was allocated to us. A bumpy and dusty ride started through ‘not so thick’ vegetation.