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North Gujarat: A Perfect Trip

The historical sites that dot Gujarat, some dating as far back as the Indus Valley Civilisation, are architectural marvels not to be missed  
Photographer: VINOBHA NATHAN

Gujarat is a treasure trove of architecture and history, and Kutch truly comes alive in the winter months



Best for architecture

“We have to leave now!” It’s a soft but firm whisper that breaks my trance.

I’m standing inside the garbha gruha (also garbhagriha, where a temple’s idol resides). It’s dark and damp, and I’m trying to picture how beautiful it must have been at the equinox, when the rays of a just-risen sun would reflect off and dance around the golden idol. Now that the main idol no longer exists, this part of the temple seems abandoned, except for the many bats hanging above my head.

“We can’t stay for much longer, the smell is too strong, and bats spread ebola!” At the persistant urging of our guide, we’re out of there. But that’s okay, because even looking at the Modhera Sun Temple in its entirety from outside is nothing short of breathtaking. This incredible feat of design and engineering dates back to the 11th-century Solanki dynasty, and, today, stands majestically amid green lawns. The three parts of the temple line up from east to west and were designed to sit right on the Tropic of Cancer. As you enter the temple complex, the massive surya kund (step-well) takes your breath away, its walls a labyrinth of carved shrines and crisscrossing steps. Beyond the kund is the 52-pillared sabha mandap (assembly hall) that I can’t take my eyes off. The walls and pillars are covered in exquisite carvings depicting stories from the Ramayana and Mahabharata, and subjects like the meaning of life, love-making and the scriptures all share space here.
I’m loath to leave, but I’m coaxed away with the promise that the Rani ki Vav (queen’s step-well) in Patan is just as stunning. As I walk the stone paths that meander through the lawns dotted with families enjoying picnics, I spot the edge of what is the most stunning step-well I have ever seen. Commissioned by Rani Udayamati and built in the 11th century, it’s like a sunken art gallery. This multi-storeyed magnum opus has several pillared pavilions with delicately carved niches and over 800 sculptures. I stand three storeys below ground level to marvel at the design, craftsmanship and talent.

Early the next morning, we wind along the roads up the green Taranga Hills in the Aravali Range, cresting just in time to see the sun rising over the magnificent Taranga Jain Temple, the main one of the tirth. Bathed in the glow of the dawn, the 12th-century derasar (Jain temple) is covered in beautifully-carved friezes from the steps right up to the very top, and spectacular. I’m alone in the massive rectangular courtyard with only the slight chill in the air and chirping birds for company; it is a most surreal experience.

Our team also travelled through Little Rann, Bhuj, Datia, Orchha, North Kutch and Mandvi. Get everything you need to plan and travel this trip in the November 2015 issue of Lonely Planet Magazine India. Pick up a copy from your newsstand or click to subscribe via Zinio or Magzter.