These two places have been on my list for a while as well but I had heard mixed reviews. Firstly because the places are not as well publicized as, say a Hampi, I was not sure if the architecture was worth checking out. Secondly, various reports said that the maintenance was poor.
As it turned out both these misgivings proved unfounded.
From the Little Rann of Kutch, we landed up in Patan in less than two hours. On entering Patan, we began to make our way to a Gujarati Jain traveller’s guesthouse that a friend had booked us into. Said friend is originally from Patan and when googling did not throw up any well-reviewed hotels, I had turned to him for help. Little did we know that we would stand out as non-Gujju, non-Jain, city slickers.
This being a community guesthouse, there was no obvious reception area. An efficient lady managed operations from a small office filled with kakras and bill registers. In the ground floor was a massive hall with various ladies, loudly gossiping while rolling out kakras for commercial sale. People drifted in and out, past us, looking very busy till a loud aunty kindly and excitedly showed us to a room upstairs. Later I realized she was just another guest but had decided we would be best out of the way and settled into a room.
D and I settled in and after taking deep breaths, plunged into the world of loud and alien chatter to figure out where lunch was served. It was a street away and we joined a family (including the kind aunty) already munching their theplas away. The traditional grub was great. However, every time one of the kindly servers spoke to us in Gujarati, we looked so utterly flabbergasted that everyone was too worried to tell us anything. Which is perhaps why at the end of a highly subsidized meal, we were not asked to pay the bill. This actually unsettled us a bit. It seemed rude imposing ourselves through our stay.
Post lunch, we set out to explore the neighbourhood. The side streets were tiny. Cycles and three wheelers squeezed passed each other with barely a hair’s breadth of gap. To add to the melee were cows. They walked around as freely as people, lazily chewed garbage and were occasionally slapped on the rump by a disgruntled passerby. I must have plastered myself to the walls atleast thrice to avoid them despite their docility.
The main street was a lot broader, with more people and more cows and a lot more noise. After jumping out of the way several more times, we ended our stroll and made a futile effort to take an afternoon nap through the sound from the kakra factory below.
Water was a scarce commodity in those parts and a step well was a massive (and I suspect popular) public project undertaken by many rulers in Rajasthan and Gujarat. The step-wells got fancier and fancier till they reached the epic proportions of Rani Ni Vav where the well was 7 storeys deep, with each layer filled with elaborate carvings depicting scenes from the Ramayana and Mahabharata, and a large approach area that was also massively over-carved. Whether they made good wells or not, atleast the structure made for some enjoyable gazing.
The site itself is located in a lush green park that one finds in all UNESCO World Heritage sites (Rani Ni Vav has applied for the status) and beautifully maintained. D and I shamelessly tagged along the only guide in the vicinity, who had already been engaged by an important looking couple. We spotted the ten avatars of Vishnu, saw carvings of court ladies getting dolled up and admired various other statues.
After seeing the step-well from various angles, we sat down in the park and relaxed to the noise of birds singing. After the hustle and bustle of our temporary residence, this seemed peaceful, almost meditatively so.
The meditative break ended when we got back to town and decided to live it up by going to Patan’s most famous restaurant – Hotel Alpha. A hot Gujarati meal was available and it whetted my appetite considerably, till I spotted a huge rat jumping at one end of the room.
The next morning, we were up early for a car pickup at the crack of dawn. We had been told about a beautiful spot where peacocks, monkeys and various birds congregated. Despite the January chill, we enthusiastically followed our guide, Manish Bhai (Everyone is something-bhai or something-behen in Gujarat).
The place was another ancient tank called Sahastraling and was a two minute walk away from Rani Ni Vav. Morning walkers were beginning to pour in and we watched as some of them fed the monkey biscuits. Unlike the aggressive monkeys I have seen in the past, these politely took the biscuits offered. The sight was amazing.
As we walked around the tank, we realized that loads and loads of peacocks were also busy eating food thrown by walkers. I have never seen such a congregation of peacocks and it was mesmerizing to see them pecking away, taking off, hopping about and be their natural selves.
Much refreshed by this unexpected show of harmony, D and I made our way back to the guesthouse and got ready for the next stop – Modhera.
Modhera is a temple dedicated to the sun god and built by King Bhimdev. The architecture is beautiful and the sandstone carvings can keep you occupied for a long time, provided you have the patience to figure out what a scene depicts. Our Hindi speaking guide did the spotting and explanations for us. Unfortunately with no English speaking guides, we could see the handful of foreigners who had turned up just gaze with no context.
The Modhera temple also has a wonderful tank with 108 small shrines on the steps leading to the water. The garbage which is rumoured to float around in the tank had been cleared up on account of a visit by Amitabh Bachhan the previous day for a tourism promo shoot. Lucky us to have come right after his visit. Not only was the vicinity spotless, we had also missed being barred from entering since the govt authorities had taken it in their heads to allow only foreigners during Big B’s visit.
After an hour of admiring the work, we set off to Ahmedabad, with a quick stop at Mehsana for lunch.
For those who do have a Gujarati Jain friend to help out with accommodation in Patan, the option is to stay in Mehsana, which is 25kms away from Modhera. Or if one does not mind a little more travel, then Ahmedabad is 100 kms away. The usual itinerary is to visit the Modhera Sun Temple in the morning, have lunch and then visit Rani Ni Vav. I would add a visit to the Sahasraling Tank at sunset.