Travel Bucket List – India: Gujarat Part 4

In this post we will visit the northern part of Gujarat. This region comprises of the districts of Gandhinagar, Banaskantha, Sabarkantha, Aravalli, Mehsana, and Patan. The diary industry dominates this part of the state. An interesting trivia about this part of the state is that the dialects of the language Gujarati differ not only from each other in the region but from dialects in the other parts of the state with minor differences. Water scarcity is also a big issue in this part of the state which share a border with Rajasthan. The water table here drops by as much as six meters each year which is a huge cause of concern for the people.

Gandhinagar
Gujarat’s planned capital Gandhinagar is located on the west bank of the Sabarmati river, about 23 km north of it’s biggest city of Ahmedabad and on the industrial corridor between India’s political and financial capitals of New Delhi and Mumbai. In a determination to make Gandhinagar a purely Indian enterprise, because this state was the birthplace of Mahatma Gandhi, the planning for the new capital was done by H.K. Mewada who apprenticed with Le Corbusier and his assistant Prakash M Apte. The capital was formed on March 16, 1960 after the partition of the Bombay Presidency into Maharashtra and Gujarat.

One of the biggest temples in India, the Akshardham Temple is an architectural masterpiece dedicated to Lord Swaminarayan and builts by the BAPS Swaminarayan Sanstha. The 10 storied temple with its 97 sculpted pillars is situated in the centre of a 23-acre complex and was built using 6,000 tonnes of pink sandstones from Rajasthan which took over 13 years to build with the temple being innagurated on 30 October 1992. The temple complex also houses an herbal garden, a lake and a waterfall.

The principal structure in the complex is the Akshardham Mandir, which is 108 feet high, 131 feet wide and 240 feet long. The temple is held in place by 97 intricately carved pillars and is embellished with 17 ornamental domes. In addition, there are eight balconies, 220 stone beams and 264 sculpted figures. Because the temple is built in accordance to Vedic architectural principals, no steel or iron has been used anywhere in its construction. The temple’s central chamber houses a seven-foot-tall sacred image of Swaminarayan, who is worshipped by followers and is visited by around two million devotees each year.

Spanning over more than 40,000 sq ft, the Trimandir temple which means three temples celebrates Jainism, Shaivism and Vaishnavism under one roof. The entire temple is surrounded by a lush green garden, classic wooden benches and a beautiful towering fountain. The premises of the temple also include an informative museum and a mini-theatre that plays shows about the history of these cultures. The temple is open from 5:30 am to 9:30 pm daily and has no entry fee.

Built over 2, 000 years ago, the Mahudi Jain temple houses the infamous idol of Ghantakarna Mahavir Dev, which is believed to possess miraculous powers. Thousands of devotees, Jain and otherwise, come here to pray to this idol and seek the blessings of the lord. Once visitors make a wish, they climb 30 feet to ring a bell to have their desires fulfilled. There is no entry fee to this temple which is open 24/7.

Boasting of a unique blend of Hindu and Mughal architecture, Rani Roopmati’s mosque is an architectural gem of Gujarat. Built in the early 1400s, the mosque is dedicated to Rani Roopmati, the Hindu wife of the Sultan of Ahmedabad. The ostentatious pillars, intricately carved walls and the ornate three-dimensional decorations are sure to leave you awestruck. The mosque is open from 9 am to 8 pm daily and has no entry fee.

Built to mitigate a water crisis in and around the Adalaj village, the Adalaj Stepwell is located at a distance of 3-4 kilometres to the south-west of Gandhinagar. The stepwell was built in 1498 and is one of the many step wells built in India to provide access to groundwater. Walk into the stepwell and be amazed at the sudden yet soothing drop in temperature. When the stepwell was built, the villagers would fill water every morning and offer prayers to the deities exquisitely carved into the walls. The place also served as a venue to socialise and celebrate local festivals.

The ceiling of the step well has an opening which allows the entry of light and air into the premises of the octagonal structure. However, the construction is such that direct sunlight does not touch the steps or landings except for a brief period at noon. This allows the temperature inside the well to be around six degrees cooler than the outside. Another remarkable feature of the Adalaj step well is that out of all the step wells in Gujarat, it is the only one with three entrance stairs. These stairs meet at the first storey which has an octagonal opening on top. The best time to visit the stepwell is between October to March as the well is not full of water and visitors can explore most the floors of the stepwell. There is no entry fee and the stepwell is open from 9 am to 5 pm every day.

Set behind the Sabarmati river and popular for its Bandhani Sarees, the Craftsman Village in Gandhinagar is visited by hundreds of tourists and shoppers every day. Sarees and dresses are hand printed and decorated with wooden printing blocks in vivacious colours. The cloths available here are carefully worked on by skilled craftsman and are quite economical too.

Puneet Van whose name literally translates to “Holy forest” in Gujarati, is a botanical garden that has been carefully named. The uniqueness of this garden is that it houses over 3,500 trees and plants, and they are all chosen and arranged in accordance with Hindu mythology and astrological significance. The garden is divided into 4 astrological divisions and the plants are named after planets, stars and the zodiacs. The garden is open from 8-11 am and then again from 5-7:30 pm daily and has no entry fee.

Resting on the banks of River Sabarmati is a 400-hectare unique gem, the Indroda Dinosaur and Fossil Park. Not only is this park the second largest dinosaur-egg hatchery in the world, but it also houses skeletons of gigantic mammals like the blue whale. The premises of the park include a vast botanical garden, an amphitheatre and an interpretation centre equipped with full camping facility. Open from 7 am to 7 pm daily, the entry fees for children between the ages of 5-12 is INR 10, for all others is INR 20. For students in school groups and differently abled persons, the fees is INR 5 and children below the age of 5 enter free.

Patan
The capital of Gujarat in medieval times, Patan today is the administrative seat of district bearing its name and has many Hindu and Jain temples as well as few mosques, dargahs and rojas. This historical city is located on the banks of the Saraswati river, the remains of the ancient river of the same name which existed during the times of the vedas.

Patan was established by the Chavda ruler Vanaraja in 8th century as “Anahilapataka”. Between the 10th-13th century, the city served as the capital of the Chaulukyas, who supplanted the Chavdas. It is estimated that Anhilwara, the ancient city upon which today’s Patan is built on was the tenth-largest city in the world in the year 1000, with a population of approximately 100,000. The city was sacked between 1200 -1210 by Qutb-ud-din Aybak and destroyed by Allauddin Khilji in 1298. Between 1304 – 1411, Patan was the Suba headquarter of Delhi Sultanate and then the capital city of the Gujarat Sultanate after the collapse of the Delhi Sultanate at the end of the 14th century. A new fort was built, a large portion of which is still intact. In 1411, Sultan Ahmed Shah moved the capital to Ahmedabad. Patan was part of the Baroda state from the mid-18th century until India’s independence in 1947, when Baroda became part of Bombay state, which in 1960 was separated into Gujarat and Maharashtra. Today Patan is famous throughout the world for its exquisite Patola sarees which is included in every Gujarati bride’s trousseau.

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Designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2014, Rani ki Vav or Queen’s Stepwell is a stepwell constructed during the Chaulukya dynasty when the Solanki’s ruled Patan. It is a richly sculptured monument, designed in the shape of an inverted temple and divided into seven levels and was built by Queen Udaymati in memory of her husband, Bhima I in 1603. It was one of the largest and the most sumptuous structures of its type, however it became silted up and much of it is not visible, except for some rows of sculptured panels in the circular part of the well. Among its ruins one pillar still stands which is proof of the elegance of its design and an excellent example of this period. A part of the west well is extant from which it appears that the wall had been built of brick and faced with stone. From this wall project vertical bracket in pairs, this supported the galleries of the well shaft proper. This bracketing is arranged in tiers and is richly carved. There is a small gate below the last step of the step well which has a 30 km tunnel, which has now been blocked by stones and mud, which leads to the town of Sidhpur near Patan. It was used as an escape gateway for king who built the step well in the times of defeat. This stepwell is the oldest and the deepest among the 120 other stepwell in Gujarat. The Vav consists of more than 800 elaborate sculptures among seven galleries. The central theme of the stepwell is the Dasavataras, or the ten incarnations of Lord Vishnu, including Lord Buddha. At the water level you can see a carving of Sheshashayi-Vishnu, where Vishnu is depicted reclining on the thousand-hooded serpent Shesha. Today you can see its image in the new INR 100 note issued by the the Reserve Bank of India. Rani ki Vav is open from 8 am to 6 pm and visitors will need between one to two hours to explore the stepwell. The entry fee for Indians is INR 5 and for foreigners, it is around INR 100 per person.

A part of the erstwhile Solanki rule in Gujarat, the famous and beautiful Sun Temple is located in the village of Modhera, which lies around 35 km south of Patan. Dedicated to the solar diety of Surya or the Sun, the temple stands on the banks of the river Pushpavati. It was built after around 1026-27 during the reign of Bhima I of the Chaulukya dynasty. No worship is offered now and the monument is protected is maintained by the Archaeological Survey of India. The temple complex has three components: Gudhamandapa, the shrine hall; Sabhamandapa, the assembly hall and Kunda, the reservoir. The halls have intricately carved exterior and pillars. The reservoir has steps to reach the bottom and numerous small shrines. There is no entry fee and the temple is open to visitors from 6 am to 6 pm on all days.

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Patan is also home to as many as more than 100 temples dedicated to various gods of the Hindu pantheon, including a number of Jain temples. The most famous of these temples is the Jain temple, Mahavir Swami Derasar and is known for its beautifully engraved wooden dome. Amongst the other temples, the famous ones are the Kalika Mata temple, the Sidhwai Mata temple and the Brahmakund temple. The Hemachandra Gyan mandir stores many ancient manuscripts in Sanskrit and Prakrit. Hemachandra was a great scholar and is said to be the key man in formulating grammar for the Guajarati language.

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Situated in the north west of Patan, the Sahastralinga Talav is an artificial water storage tank constructed by the Chalukyan king Sidharaj Jai Singh in the late eleventh century. The tank gets water supply by a channel of the river Saraswati. When it was constructed, the tank would have been brimming with water, but today the tank is dry, the result of a supposed curse by a beautiful woman from the community which dug the tank. Because of this curse, the reining king died without a heir and the tank remains devoid of water ever since.

Mehsana
Mehsana was established by Mehsaji Chavda, the Rajput heir of the Chavda dynasty. He constructed the Torana or arc gate of the city and a temple dedicated to Goddess Toran in 1358. Another legend says that Mehsaji established it 1319 and the town is named after him. Gaekwads conquered Baroda and established Baroda State in 1721. They expanded their rule in north Gujarat and established Patan as its administrative headquarters. Later the headquarters was moved to Kadi and subsequently to Mehsana in 1902. The Gaekwad dynasty connected the city by Gaekwar’s Baroda State Railway. In 1904, Sayajirao Gaekwad III built Rajmahal palace in which was intended for his son, Fatehsinhrao, who died shortly afterwards in 1908. After Fatehsinh’s death, the palace was handed over to municipal authorities and is currently being used as a district court. After India’s independence in 1947, the Baroda State was merged into the Indian Union and Mehsana was merged into Bombay State as Mehsana district in 1949. It became a part of Gujarat in 1960 after the division of Bombay state into Gujarat and Maharashtra.

The Thol WildLife Sanctuary is an artificial lake near the Thol village in Kalol. The lake has a storage capacity of about 84 mcm of water and is mostly a wetland with marshes at edges along with scrub forests on either side of the embankments. The place is quite peaceful and is a perfect destination for those who want to avoid the hustle & bustle of the city life. The wildlife sanctuary shelters various species of domestic as well as the migratory birds. During winters one can see a large number of birds like flamingos, black ibis, waterfowls, grey pelicans, spotted flycatcher, graylag geese, waders, mallards etc. The best time to visit the sanctuary is between November and February and the sanctuary is open for 12 hours every day from 6 am to 6 pm.

Built in 1781 by Manajirao Gaekwad, the Bahucharaji Temple is famous for the temple of Goddess Bahucharaji. There are three temples of the Goddess in the complex, of which two are termed ‘Adyasthan’ or the the original site, and the center temple as a ‘Madhyasthan’. The first of these encloses a Varkhadi tree from where the Goddess is supposed to have appeared. The little temple was built by Maratha Fadnis and is the principal place of worship while the outer temple was built by Manajirao Gaekwad. The presiding diety of the temple, Bahuchara Mata is shown as a lady who holds a sword in her right hand, sacred texts on her left and with the abhay hasta mudra symbolising protection, peace, and the dispelling of fear with a trident on her left side. She sits on a chicken symbolising honesty. The Adyasthan contains the Sphathik Bala Yantra which is covered in gold. On every full moon day, the temple of the Goddess is visited by a large number of devotees.

Palanpur
The ancestral home to an industry of Indian diamond merchants, Palanpur in early times is said to have been called Prahladana Patan or Prahaladanapura after its founder Prahladana.Later, it was populated by Palansi Chauhan from whom it took its modern name. Others say that it was founded by Pal Parmar whose brother Jagadev founded nearby Jagana village. Jain texts mention that Prahladana, the brother of Paramara Dharavarsha of Abu, founded Prahladanapur in 1218 and built the Prahladana-vihara dedicated to Pallaviya Parshwanatha. The town was re-peopled and ruled by the Chauhans around the 13th century. At the start of the seventeenth century, the Palanpur State was taken over by the Jhalori dynasty and ruled from Jhalor in Rajasthan. The dynasty came into historical prominence during the period of instability that followed the demise of Mughal Emperor Aurangzeb in the early 18th century. It became a British protectorate in 1817 and after independence, the Palanpur State was dissolved and merged with the Indian Union as part of Bombay State and then became part of Gujarat following the split in 1960.

Saluting the glory of the Nawabs of Palanpur is the Kirti Stambh, a tall pillar constructed near the railway station in 1918 by Nawab Shri Taley Mohammed Khan to commemorate the gallantry of Shri Sher Mohammed Khan. Today the pillar is a symbol of the city’s glory, and provides a record of Palanpur’s evolution, with the list of the rulers of Jhalore and Palanpur being engraved on it.

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The Mithi Vav is a five-storied stepwell which is the oldest surviving monument of town. It is situated in the eastern part of the town and can be entered from the west. Based on its architectural style, it is believed to be constructed in the late medieval period but the sculptures embedded in the walls may belong to an earlier period. The sculptures include those of Lord Ganesha, Lord Shiva, Apsaras or celestial beauties, dancing figures, worshiping couples and floral or geometrical patterns. A worn out inscription found on one sculpture embedded in left wall can not read clearly but the year Samvat 1320 or 1263 AD can made out.

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Palanpur has several temples dedicated to Hinduism and Jainism. Amongst the Hindu temples are the Pataleshwar Temple dedicated to Lord Shiva, the Lakshman Tekri temple, the Mota Ramji Mandir and the Ambaji Mata Mandir. Amongst the Jain temples, mention must be made of the Motu Derasar which is also known as the Pallaviya Parshwanath Temple built by King Prahaladan which is dedicated to Parshwanath, the 23rd tirthankar and the Nanu Derasar.

The Jessore Sloth Bear Sanctuary located in the Jessore hills of Aravalli range covers an area of 180 sq. kms of dry deciduous forest. This fascinating sanctuary is located about 45 km north of Palanpur and mainly works towards the protection of the endangered sloth bears. Apart from the sloth bear, other fauna reported in the sanctuary are leopard, blue bull, wild boar, porcupine and a variety of birds. Other endangered species harboured by the sanctuary are jungle cat, civet, caracal, wolf and hyena. The sanctuary has also identified 406 species of plants. Winters are the best time to visit the sanctuary which is open daily from 7 am to 10 pm. There is no entry fee to the sanctuary.

The Lohani Nawabs who reigned over the region of Palanpur or Banaskantha was believed to have utilized the Balaram Palace as his favourite resting place. Historical records claim that the Balaram Place was constructed between the years 1922 and 1936, by the 29th king of Palanpur. The interiors of this grand palace have been inspired by the neo-classical and baroque style of architecture. The total area occupied by this palace measures about 542 square kilometres. Lush green forests and gardens surround this magnificent palace. However, currently, this palace, which was once enjoyed by Nawabs and kings as a hunting retreat has now been transformed into a resort. It is situated at the topmost point of the area in northern Gujarat.

In the next post, we will try to discover Saurashtra.

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