We were on our way to Patan, eager to visit the exquisite Rani ki Vav. I have seen many a monument built by a king in memory of his queen but this one where we were headed to was different, it was a testimony of a queen’s love for her beloved king. After a 2 hour drive from Ahmedabad, our car stopped next to a large garden with a vague board pointing somewhere inside for a stepwell. It was hot and sunny and the walk daunting. We wondered whether we had arrived at the right spot and all the pictures of the structure that we had seen was indeed inside that opening in the ground. When we stood at the edge of the step well, we gasped at the beautiful structure that lay below. Stepwells (Vav) are sometimes as large as a pond built in a way such that they tapered downwards from a rectangular opening into a deeper, rounded well at the lowest level. Built in multiple levels, each level had a partial roof or a pavilion which blocked direct sun light as well as served as a resting area for travelers.
This subterranean splendid structure better known as Rani ki Vav is about 64 meters long, 20 meters wide and 27 meters deep. As we kept going down the steps, we soon found ourselves in a different world where each wall and each pillar was beautifully sculptured. The next 1 hour was complete bliss, with the sun playing hide and seek from above the minute carvings of apsaras, the sculptures of different avatars of Vishnu and the Mother Goddess slaying demons came alive (Mahishasur Mardini). In the light and dark of it all unfolded the love of Rani Udaymati who got this built in memory of her husband Raja Bhimdev I of the Solanki Dynasty and hence the name Rani ki Vav or Queen of Stepwells. Built sometime in 11th century AD, it was silted up over the years and rediscovered and cleared by archaeologists very recently. Wells are not always dark, deep and mysterious, in this part of the world they are exquisite monuments.
We were told that there is a passage at the lowermost level now blocked by stones and silt which was intended as an escape route to a neighbouring town in the event there was an external attack when people gathered in the stepwell to rest or for a social activity. Rani-ki-Vav (The Queen’s Stepwell) at Patan, Gujarat made it to the UNESCO World Heritage list in June 2014 after being on the tentative list for a while.
Stepwells are fmostly found in the North Western States of Rajastan and Gujarat which border the desert. Faced with water scarcity as the monsoon water disappeared into the parched Thar Desert and the inability of the ponds to hold water due to the silty soil and scorching summer heat, stepwell was a practical solution for locals and travelers. It is just an ancient version of the pit stops on the highways.
Travel Tip: It is about 125 kms from Ahmedabad and best done as a day trip clubbed with Modhera (ancient Sun Temple). Do visit the Patola Design Printing centre close to the site. It is an amazing printing style done on silk and does cost a fortune by Indian Standards.