Modhera and Patan

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November 22nd 2018
Published: November 24th 2018
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We though the imam had kept us awake again last night. But no, apparently it was a cricket match at the floodlit ground down the road. The game went on till 4.00am! Music, drums, clapping, it somehow didn’t square with noise coming from a mosque.

We make our regular 8.30am travelling day departure. Our first stop is the Sun Temple at Modhera. It’s a Hindu temple built in 1027 by King Bhimdev I of the Solanki dynasty, and is now a Unesco World Heritage Site. We walk through beautifully maintained gardens, towards the deep stepped tank in front of the assembly hall, which was used for storing water. It’s 100 metres square in size, with 108 shrines situated on different levels of the steps down, where devotees would give prayers at each one before washing in the holy water. The geometric precision of the steps is extraordinary for something built almost 1000 years ago. Behind it is an assembly hall built in golden sandstone, open on all sides with 52 carved pillars, each one different. This leads to the sanctum sanctorum, sitting on a lotus-base plinth. The statue of the Sun God was stolen centuries ago, but as the central chamber is locked, who’d know.

There are signs for a museum, so we make our way along the path. We find a small building which is unlocked, unmanned and in darkness. Eventually we find the light switches, and are able to illuminate the somewhat weather worn carvings that are on display. Nothing is labelled, in any language.

Another 40 minutes brings us to the Rani ki Vav stepwell in Patan. Patan was the capital of Gujarat from the 8th to the 14th centuries, This was also built in the eleventh century by the queen of Bhimdev I in his memory after his death. It was later flooded and filled with silt, remaining protected from the elements and undiscovered until the late 1960s when it was excavated by the Archaeological Survey of India. It’s impressive for both its sheer size and the intricate carvings which cover every column and wall. We descend slowly and carefully from ground level, until we’re able to peer down into the depths of the well itself. The steps are tall and so steep that when you first look in, you can’t actually see a way down. This site is clearly considered of greater significance than the Sun Temple, as it costs twice as much to visit – though still only 600 rupees or about £6.

Back in the car, we enjoy a cold Coke and a bag of crisps, provided each day by Mr Singh, as we set off to our destination for the night, Mount Abu. Mount Abu is a big destination for domestic tourists, who come to enjoy the cooler climate and to make a pilgrimage to the Jain temples at Achalgarh nearby. Once again, we harbour expectations of a Raj era colonial hill station that are entirely dashed. The town clings to the hillside at over 4000 feet, and is covered with a plethora or mostly small, cheap hotels, and stalls selling snacks and tatty tourist souvenirs. We check into our hotel, which is a modest but perfectly comfortable place where we seem to be the first Western guests they have ever had. Communication is difficult, as nobody speaks much English and we speak no Hindi, but we get by. Then it’s time to head to the Dilwara Jain temples – not the ones people go on pilgrimage to, which are, as ever, several thousand steps up a hill, but older ones which are easily accessed. ‘No shoes, no camera, no mobile, no leather’ warns Mr Singh. We don our flip flops and set off up a street lined with stalls towards the temples. We find two long queues, segregated by sex, which are not moving at all. After being repeatedly questioned about whether we have a mobile with us, and our bag being searched, we’re allowed to join the queue, having removed our flip flops. Eventually we’re let in. To our horror, it becomes clear we’re required to go round in a big group, with a guide alternately bellowing commentary (all in Hindi) and instructions about keeping up with the group. The sculpture is staggeringly beautiful, but we have little chance to enjoy it, as we battle through the crush and get told off every time we lag behind. The two main temples were built in 1031 and 1230, each involving 14 to 15 years of work by thousands of workers and skilled masons. They are made entirely of white marble. Both have a central dome, with an intricately carved ceiling, around which is a hall with little compartments housing white statues of the god, and in front of which is the inner sanctum.

As the tour draws to an end, David suggests we try to linger behind and look round again without the group. This works a treat. Nobody notices or cares we’re missing and we are able to look up at the carved ceilings to our heart’s content, without being disturbed. The workmanship in Jain temples is always staggeringly impressive and these temples are no exception.

Mr Singh then takes us to see the local pleasure lake, and starts to drive us towards the sunset viewpoint. The road is narrow and impossibly crowded as people have parked all the way down one side. We decide to give the view a miss, as it’s hazy, with little to see, and the sun has already set. It takes a good 20 minutes for him to extricate us, in a miraculous feat of driving.

After 2 nights of broken sleep we’re looking forward to an early night in a soft bed. Our plans seem fated, as first a local trio play Rajasthani folk music and then the most bizarre entertainment ever promoted begins – karaoke night for the specially abled. Special in this context definitely does not mean tuneful, but mercifully they stop by 10pm and we fall into a deep sleep.

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24th November 2018

Temples and step-wells
Oh boy, there sure are a lot of them in Gujarat!

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