Gujarat is a state full of wonders - both natural and man-made. I have lived the the state more than any other in the country and love almost everything about it. I have written extensively about Gujarat, and here's another special post about UNESCO World Heritage sites in the state - Rani ni Vav, Champaner-Pavagadh Archaeological Park and Old Ahmedabad.
But what exactly is a UNESCO World Heritage site?
UNESCO world heritage sites are places with cultural, historical, scientific or some other form of significance, and they are also internationally protected. In fact for a place to be called a UNESCO World Heritage Site is a matter of extreme pride and every year numerous places vie to be included in this list. Spread from North to South, and East to West, currently India has 35 such unique sites, and if you plan to explore the country, this list is a great place to start.
Globally Italy leads the pack, but at seven India is also one of the countries which can boast of its position in the top ten. The list is heavily titled towards Europe, but I think it's not the bias but the stringent conditions that a site needs to meet to qualify.
So without much ado, here are the two gorgeous UNESCO World Heritage sites from Gujarat!
Located on the banks of the historical and mythical river Saraswati in Patan, Rani ni Vav is the latest addition to the list from Gujarat. Built in the Maru-Gurjara in the 11th Century, the step-well was originally a memorial to the king, and slow took up the name of the queen.
In the dry lands of Gujarat, step-wells were the lifeline of the people and water was given the highest form of regard. Keeping that in mind, the seven story step-well is actually made like an inverted temple, with three over the ground and four below. However, it's not just the scale of the step-well, but the delicate and intricate work on walls, columns and roofs which is simply outstanding. There are numerous images of Gods and Goddesses, and some of these continue to be worshipped by travellers even today.
The step-well fulfils several criteria for making it to the list including Integrity (Rani-ki-Vav is preserved with all its key architectural components and, despite missing pavilion storeys, its original form and design can still be easily recognized.), Authenticity (Rani-ki-Vav has a high level of authenticity in material, substance, design, workmanship and, to a certain extent, atmosphere, location and setting) and fulfilment of Protection and Management requirements.
8am to 6pm
Indians: Rs. 5/-
Foreigners: 2 USD
Location: Patan, Gujarat
The best way to reach Rani ni Vav is via Ahmedabad. Ahmedabad is well connected by flights, trains as well as excellent road network with the entire country.
There are two ways of reaching Rani ni Vav. The most convenient way is to hire a local cab in Ahmedabad for a day and come here. While in the area it's also worthwhile to visit Modhera Sun temple as it's really close by.
The alternative is to come by bus from Ahmedabad. Take an early morning bus from Ahmedabad to Mehsana (2.5 hours) and then change into another bus there to Motera (about 30 minutes). Once there you can see the temple and then take an auto to Rani ni Vav and Modhera Sun Temple.
Let me share something that you probably didn't know - in the 16th Century the capital of Gujarat was Champaner, an almost abandoned town of ruins now. Now the entire area, Champaner-Pavagadh Archaeological Park, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and a must-visit for anyone who loves to explore architecture and history. Though the name is quite drab, let me promise you that the place isn't.
What's also interesting is that the park is a mix of heritage buildings from different eras, kings and faiths. On one hand it includes the very popular Pavagadh temple on the hill-top, it also includes the now-abandoned Jama Masjid on the foothills. The archaeological park is also the only complete and unchanged Islamic pre-Mughal city in India.
Just like Rani ni Vav, Champaner-Pavagadh also fulfil all the criteria for inclusion in the list. But the one which I found particularly interesting was this:
"The structures represent a perfect blend of Hindu-Moslem architecture, mainly in the Great Mosque (Jami Masjid), which was a model for later mosque architecture in India. This special style comes from the significant period of regional sultanates."
Indian Visitors: Total Rs 30/-
Citizen of SAARC and BIMSTEC countries:Total Rs.30/-
Other Foreign Visitors: Total Rs.500/-
Ticket with Facilities: Rs. 750/-
Location: Champaner-Pavagadh, Gujarat
To reach the Champaner-Pavagadh Archaeological Park, you can have two different cities as your base - Vadodara (or Baroda) or Ahmedabad. It's actually closer to Baroda and also better connected. Simply take a bus to Pavagarh from the bus-stand and get down at the foothills. The best way to see Pavagarh is after a hike or you can also take gondola to the top. Once done with Pavagadh, take a local auto guy and he will take you around to the ruins.
However, the better way is to do your research well in advance and take a cab from either Baroda or Ahmedabad. The ruins are scattered and far apart, and if you don't know where to go, the driver can skip some of the hidden ones. I went in a cab from Ahmedabad, and it works equally well from Baroda also.
This July old Ahmedabad became the first India city to be recognised as a UNESCO World Heritage City. The old city primarily comprises of the old and residential residential heart of the city - typically called 'Pol'. Each Pol is typically a gated society where people from one community would live. Back in the days, a Pol would be open through the day, and it's fortified gates would close at sunset, and guarded through the night. Now, many such Pol come together to make a 'Pur'. The city has several such 'Pur' neighbourhoods and each such unit is often self-sufficient.
The city was provided this honour for two key reasons:
There is, of course, no entry fee as it's a city which is given this tag. However, the best way to explore the Pol area of Ahmedabad would be through a heritage walk organised by the Ahmedabad Municipal corporation. Though organised by a government body, it's done very well and you can take my word for it (I have been on it thrice already, and learnt something new every time).
Even though it's not the capital of Gujarat, all the infrastructure here would make you believe that it is. The city has an international airport which is connected to a few international destinations, and a domestic airport which is connected to all major Indian airports with numerous daily flights.
Similarly, the city is well connected with the rest of the country well through railways and busses as well.