Rani-ki-Vav — the Queen’s Stepwell that harks back to Patan’s lost glory

Certainly one of the most gorgeous stepwells in the country, Rani-ki-Vav in Gujarat has immortalised both Patan’s former fame and a queen’s eternal love for her husband.

Every great civilisation is remembered by its contribution to the pantheon of world architecture. In India, magnificent stepwells from bygone eras, specially found in the northern part of the country, elevated the humble act of collecting water into extravagant pieces of public theatre. Rani-ki-Vav is counted among the most spectacular feats of water architecture, but its glory goes beyond what meets the eye.

Rani-ki-vav
Rani-ki-Vav is a monumental stepwell in Patan, Gujarat. Image: Courtesy Instagram/anupgandhe,

Built in 1063 by Rani Udayamati of the ruling Chalukya dynasty in the loving memory of her deceased husband, Bhimdev I, the ancient stepwell is the oldest and finest in Gujarat and is remarkably preserved. It is located on the bank of Saraswati river right outside the city of Patan, the former capital Gujarat’s Chavda and Chalukya dynasties in medieval times. Once a thriving trading capital, the only reason why this forgotten, sleepy town is placed on the travel map is because of the glorified stepwell.

Translated as ‘Queen’s stepwell’, Rani-ki-Vav is a whole subterranean world, featuring steps leading down through seven levels, endless passages, carved pillars and over 800 sculptures, as well as striking geometric patterns. The fact that one can still marvel at the beauty of this 11th-century masterpiece today is remarkable in itself.

Patan
The stepwell has seven levels and intricate carvings. Image: Courtesy Gujarat Tourism.

For centuries, it stayed hidden due to a massive floods. The present incarnation of Rani-ki-Vav is the result of more than 50 years of excavations and restorations! You can only descend the steps of one half of the mighty stepwell, but once you do, you’ll find yourself surrounded with many remarkable sculptures on the walls and pillars, including some representing the Buddha, as well as sadhus (ascetic holy men), apsaras (celestial dancers), and priests.

Right down in the depths of the well, there’s an intricate carving of Sheshashayi-Vishnu, in which Hindu god Vishnu reclines on the thousand-hooded serpent Shesha, sleeping through the infinity between ages.

Places to visit in gujarat
Remarkable sculptures can be found on the walls and pillars. Image: Courtesy Gujarat Tourism.

The monumental stepwell was rightfully added to the UNESCO World Heritage list in 2014, both for its super-sized structure, and for the intricacy and elegance of the carvings of Vishnu and other deities that cover every spare inch of the exposed stone.

Rani-ki-Vav impresses not only with its architectural structure and technological achievements in water sourcing and structural stability, but also in particular with its sculptural decoration, of true artistic mastery in Maru-Gurjara architectural style.

Best stepwells in india
The stepwell is designed in Maru-Gurjara architectural style. Image: Courtesy Gujarat Tourism.

Getting there: Patan is around 130 km northwest of Ahmedabad, and makes for an easy three-hour drive by taxi, or by bus from city’s ST Bus Station.

Where to stay: There are no luxury hotels in Patan but you can find decent properties with modest amenities like Hotel Grand Piano and The Grand Raveta.

Best time to visit: October to March.

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