Tuesday, 1 March 2016

Day 3 of The Great Gujarat Road Odyssey: Vadnagar - Vad a Surprise!

Enduring Vadnagar

Today is going to be one of the most wonderful days of the trip. A bewitching sunrise will raise the curtains to a day that will see colourful kites dancing in the blue skies, smiling and friendly people of a small mysterious town celebrating Uttarayan, and the time travel that will take you across centuries every hour.

Kirti Toranas soaring unnoticed and mysteriously over Vadnagar

It is chilly and dark as you set off from Palanpur. Few days back you had no idea of this town. While researching Gujarat for the trip you come across these towering and majestic toranas. The pull of standing below these arched gateways is so strong that instead of starting the Gujarat trip with Dholavira, you have decided to visit the unknown town of Vadnagar as the first stop. Vadnagar it seems is an undiscovered trove waiting to surprise you. Usually the periods of courtship are prolonged. Vadnagar is going to be the quickest between coveting and actually being there face to face with the beauties. 

Road to Vadnagar
You will witness a brilliant sunrise on this lovely chilly morning

This is when the horizon on the left lights up in one of the prettiest sunrises you are seeing after a while. The last sunrise perhaps was the one you saw from the train on the way to Dimapur from Guwahati. Long driving hours late into the night during the trip will ensure you will not see many sunrises. There is an inexplicable streak of white running across even as the sky turns orange and red.

And then you hear the cries. Something is definitely in the air. Even at this early hour you can see excited kids running around flying and chasing kites. It is Uttarayan! Oh wow, first day in Gujarat and here is the festival you have always heard about and wanted to experience first-hand. The timing cannot be better.

This is how we do fafda and jalebis in Gujarat - On way to Vadnagar

It is going to be a long and exciting day. You need to fuel up and pull up at the first dhaba. You still remember seeing fafda and jalebi breakfasts being offered everywhere in your last Gujarat trip but do not remember actually eating them. This time around fafdas will be your lifeline during the long trip. The fafdas are coming hot straight from the kadhai. You munch on the salty besan fafdas and sweet jalebi. This is good.

This time around you are going to try new things - for one maybe some food photography. In your excitement you leave your unfinished plate to walk behind the counter where they are rolling up the dough, breaking it into small pieces, stretching the pieces into the lengthened forms, and frying them. You come back to your table. You are sure there were some unfinished fafdas on your plate. There is nothing. And then you realise. The excited mynas chirping around have just walked away with the fafdas! Well can’t blame them – fafdas is the breakfast for all beings in Gujarat.

Gujarat Tourism needs to seriously work on putting such signs across the state - Road leading to Vadnagar is the only place where you have seen such signs announcing the tourist spots

Uttarayan Festival fever on the way to Vadnagar

The All-Woman Kite Flying Team!

The Uttarayan excitement is building up every minute. You see whole bunch of kids out in the fields flying kites. You have to stop to take pictures. On one side there is a group of girls engaged in aerial battles with boys. There are shouts of joy every once in a while. This electric atmosphere is going to last all day today.

Gujarat Tourism's Hotel Toran in Vadnagar - The pillars look almost as if they came from temples

The filigree windows of Hotel Toran

The first building on entering the town is the Gujarat Tourism’s Hotel Toran. But it does not look anything like a hotel. The building is all stone and filigree. The lobby is huge with these jaali windows. The hotel is a lovely effort by Gujarat Tourism but you wish they would spend this money on maybe cleaning up the monuments and putting up signs elsewhere in Gujarat. Vadnagar does not have much choice in hotels. You check into the huge room. There is not a minute to lose. You are on your way to the first destination – Hotel Toran to the majestic Torans in the town.

Vadnagar is an enigmatic town that somehow has forgotten to wield its antiquity in the modern world. So while a huge mall like complex is coming up on the main road, the town itself built on a hilly mound ringed with walls and gateways is blissfully oblivious of the treasures that lie literally beneath their feet. With every hour in the town, Vadnagar becomes even more perplexing; every few minutes you get transported from one era to another. Like Viratnagar in Rajasthan, Vadnagar too seems to be timeless.

Some Art Deco going on
Continuing excavations by ASI in Vadnagar reveal a glorious Buddhist past when the Chinese traveller Hsuan Tsang came visiting. There are associations from Mahabharata to the retreating Greeks who probably settled down here. The town enjoyed its golden run during the Solanki era when the walled city, torans, temples and kunds were constructed. Then there is the folklore of Tana-Riri sisters and Akbar and Tansen (yes, just like Viratnagar, Vadnagar too has Akbar connection!). Oh yes, a certain individual, PM Narendra Modi was born in Vadnagar.

Vadnagar - The Majestic Kirti Toranas

The most prominent and defining feature of the town is the large Sharmistha Lake. The origins of Vadnagar and this lake are closely linked. Walking along the western banks of Sharmistha Lake you see these soaring majestic gateways. The forty feet high Kirti Torans are decorated with exquisite sculpture reminding you of Modhera Sun Temple’s torans. So while the temple’s torans have lost their arches, here the torans are in good shape with the arches intact. There are carvings of battle and hunting scenes. These red and yellow sandstone torans are believed to have been constructed by the Solankis. You are trying to remember if you have seen any other torans elsewhere in India. Some you have seen are the Kakatiya style torans in Warangal Fort, at Mukteshwar Temple in Bhubaneshwar and in Gyaraspur in MP. Of course, you will see even more startling torans tomorrow in Sidhpur and later, the oldest Toran of Gujarat in Shamlaji.

There are kites entangled everywhere

Torans were usually built to commemorate special achievements like victory in wars or gateways to palaces and temples. You are not sure for what purpose these two torans were built this close to each other. There is no temple to be seen here. The mystery is if the temples were dismantled how come these torans survived in their pristine form. Now only if they would not allow the neighbourhood houses to raise their floors spoiling the views!
Uttarayan Festival is for everyone - In the excitement I forgot to put on my shoes and now I am in trouble with mommy

We prefer balloons with strings

Boom Box - Check - ok let's get on with it

It is ten in the morning and Uttarayan festival is at its peak. Rooftops around the torans are teeming with people. Kites have filled up the skies. Remaining people of the town are running around reeling in the ambushed kites. Everything is in motion – in the skies, on the rooftops and on the ground. This is a day for kids and they are making the most of it.
Dargah of Peer Sayid Sadruddin and Peer Sayid Zaynuddin in Vadnagar

Lake Sharmistha makes its appearance behind the dargah - Vadnagar

You come back out and walk towards the white Dargah of Peer Sayid Sadruddin and Peer Sayid Zaynuddin by the lake. It is a serene place – white marble, blue skies and the lake beyond.

The ASI Excavation Site in the shadow of Kirti Toranas

The Pottery Yard with the Kirti Toran in the background

Here in Vadnagar, for the first time you see live ongoing ASI excavations. Across the Toranas several trenches have been cut. The excavations have revealed brick structures. At one point where the dig has been deeper, water can be seen. The excavated earth is put in separate piles. Giant sieves are used to sift through the earth to find artefacts of archaeological interest. The pottery shards are stored in a grid called pottery yard. Kids of the workers like everyone else in the town are engaged in kite flying.

Unspooling Unlimited Uttarayan Excitement

This site probably belongs to the Maitraka Dynasty of 5th to 8th AD. Maitrakas who were loosely feudatory to the Guptas came into prominence after the fall of Guptas. Hsuan Tsang visited during these times when the ruler was a follower of Buddhism.

Nagdharo Kund lined with reused temple stones

You continue your search for more delights. Vadnagar is blessed with water bodies – they are everywhere. A little distance to the north from the Sharmistha Lake is a square tank called Nagdharo lined with stones that seem to come from temples. It is possible that temple remains of Solanki era went into newer constructions. Nagdharo was designed to catch the river’s water and through a sophisticated system of locks and channels released into Sharmistha. It is believed that River Kapila, now vanished, once flowed from the Aravallis forming these lakes including the Sharmistha Lake. It was here on the banks of the river and the lake that Chamatkarpur, the city of Rishi Yagyavalkya, was established.

Saptarishi Aro

A little distance eastwards you come to another pond. The number of ponds appearing every minute in Vadnagar is quite pleasant. This place is called Saptarishi Aro. Aro in Gujarati means ‘ghat’ or steps leading down to the water. This pond like the Sharmistha and Nagdharo was probably lined with steps and temples out of which almost everything has disappeared. On one of the banks few harvested temple pieces have been put together to form a shrine to the Rishis or Siddhas. This probably is the location of Rishi Yagyavalkya’s ashram.

What's cooking in Vadnagar - but sure smells good!
Sharmistha Lake

You again skirt the banks of Sharmistha Lake. In the distance the marble dargah shimmers in the waters. You are looking for the Paschim Mehta ni Vav. Spotting a vav is tricky in the absence of signs. Even when people point it out it is difficult to locate them. Vavs or stepwells are subterranean structures with steps leading down to the water level. There is more to them below the surface than above the ground. But this vav has a domed chatri at the western end. The vav seems to be in an immediate need of conservation. The open area in which the vav lies is plain filthy and stinks. Surprisingly the vav is filled with water. On this lovely morning, local women use the water to do their laundry.

The Paschim Mehta ni Vav in Vadnagar

Despite the pitiable condition, the Mehta ni Vav does look different from the ones you have seen. The vav is quite long as it stretches from the dome to the well at the other end.  The vav does not seem to descend too deep into the ground. It is hard to see if there are more levels below as the water is almost brimming over. Apparently, the presence of huge number of water bodies all around the town has raised the water level. 

Amther Gate - one of the six gates of the walled city of Vadnagar

Amther Temple Complex in Vadnagar

Vishnu Shakti and Surya Temples -from left to right in Vadnagar
The Saptamatrikas Panel Holding Babies

Coming back into the city, you see the first of the six gateways of the walled city. This is the Amther Gate with the Amther Mata Temple Group. Inside you find the main temple and few pretty temples surrounding it. In the back there are three temples dedicated to Vishnu, Shakti and Surya. There is a rarely seen panel of Saptamatrikas holding babies.

Not sure - Is this PM Narendra Modi's birthplace?

We have all heard about the humble beginnings of our PM Narendra Modi as a chaiwalla. His father ran a tea stall at the Vadnagar Railway Station and as a child he would help him sell tea to the passengers here - Metre Gauge Railway Station,Vadnagar, District Mehsana Gujarat

Vadnagar is PM Narendra Modi’s birthplace and you want to see his house. Beyond the Amther Gate walking into the lanes of the town you come to the house that once belonged to Modi’s family. According to the neighbours the house has been sold. The new owner apparently has renovated the house. Later in the evening you visit Vadnagar Railway Station where as a child Modi used to sell tea.

The small pretty and clean Gauri Kund

Again stepping out of the town, you see the small Gauri Kund adorned with few pretty images at the water level. Again the tank is quite full of the green water and there could be more levels of images unseen below because of the mossy water.

You need to reach the Hatkeshwar Temple at the other end of the town and you go around the fortification walls looking for the remaining gates.

Vadnagar, Gujarat: Pithori Gate

Gap where Ghaskol Gate should have been

The next gate is Pithori Gate which has been raided by kids flying kites. Next in line is the spot where the Ghaskol Gate was supposed to be but evidently it got swallowed up by the town. All you see is the gap and some rubble. Vadnagar, along with the ongoing excavations, first needs to conserve its deteriorating heritage.

Vadnagar - Ghaskol Excavations revealing Monastery and Stupas

Catch of the Day!

This time you are almost on top of the mound inside the walled city. Here is another excavated marvel. A vacant plot miraculously not built over has been excavated revealing brick structures including Monastery with Stupas. This is probably the monastery with hundreds of monks that Hsuan Tsang saw when he came visiting in the 7th century. In Vadnagar, it seems every lane, every monument and every pond takes you to a different era and dynasty. Vadnagar is a serious time-travelling machine.
Amtol Gate

Again coming back out and driving along the fort walls is the Amtol Gate with canons and some black tiles adorning the walls. So called conservators who cover monuments with tiles should be publicly shamed and given permanent charge of maintaining tiled bathrooms at ASI sites.

Nadiol Gate - let me think, 100 rupees and they are yours - Deal?

Vadnagar Gujarat - Hatkeshwar Temple where PM Narendra Modi used to play drums during prayers in his childhood

Next to it is the Nadiol Gate. Stairs take you down to the Hatkeshwar Temple. Large scale beautification of the complex is going on. The temple itself is quite large and wholesome with beautiful sculptures adorning its outer and inner walls. You are not sure if the current temple structure belongs to Solanki era or if it has been renovated recently. The Shiv Temple belongs to Vadnagara Brahmins. It is believed that at the same time when Alexander was exiting India, some Greeks settled in Gujarat marrying the locals. Vadnagara Brahmims are probably the descendants of the Greeks.

Another Beautiful Water Body just outside the town hosting migratory birds
A Painted Stork

Away from the tangle of kitestrings, the pigeons take refuge on the water tank outside the city

You are once again heading out into the outskirts. There is a huge lake on the left which is home to thousands of migratory birds. On the right is the water tank where the pigeons of the city have taken refuge on a day when the kite strings are proving to be hazardous to the birds.

Memorial of Raag Malhar Singing Tana Riri Sisters of Vadnagar

Just beyond is a nicely maintained garden housing the samadhis of Tana & Riri. Here you breeze into another legend. Tansen sings Raag Deepak at the insistence of Akbar and along with the lamps his body is also on fire. Nothing can cure him of this heat hurting him. Looking for someone who can sing Raag Malhar he comes to Vadnagar then famous for its music and arts scene. Here he spots the two sisters and identifying himself as a Brahmin asks the sisters to sing Malhar. The sisters oblige and Tansen is relieved of the heat burning his body. Akbar is curious and wants to know how Tansen is feeling thanda thanda cool cool. Tansen narrates the events. Akbar is really interested now. He wants the sisters to come over to his durbar. The sisters do not want to leave Vadnagar and commit suicide. This legend gives another dimension to the already burgeoning archive of Vadnagar’s folklores. Every year a music festival is held at the Tanariri memorial.

So while elsewhere in the country the water table seems to be dipping alarmingly, here in Vadnagar it is apparent that the water is bubbling out of the land. Mehta ni Vav is brimming, the excavations near the toranas are sprouting water and now there is a waterfall in a well!

Another Vadnagar Delight- Jhinjhandia Kuan - what beautiful carved outlets - never seen anything like this before

There is another surprise waiting among the fields just beyond the city boundary. This is the 200 feet deep well called Jhinjhandia Kuan. According to the landowner, trying to commit suicide here is a dumb idea. Nobody has drowned by jumping into the well. Even his dog who fell inside was rescued harmlessly! The surprise is when you go quiet. You can actually hear water falling into the well. Apparently, the water level is high around the shaft and water actually falls down sounding like a cascading waterfall. The raised circular walls of the well are built of massive stones with deities in the niches. Outside, beautiful channels carry water through carved outlets – something you have never seen before.
Sharmistha Lake looks beautiful any hour of the day

Vadnagar - Arjun Bari Gate

You have now circled the Sharmistha Lake that brings you to the last and sixth gate of the fortified city. Arjun Bari gate carries some exquisite imagery on its high walls. Inside it has a Sanskrit inscription dated 1151 AD during the time of Solanki ruler Kumarpal.

Vad or Banyan Trees - Vadnagar gets its name from the banyan trees

The quiet waters of Sharmistha Lake have been witness to soo many eras. Now they see the modern skyline of Vadnagar

It is sunset time. You come back to the Sharmistha Lake banks to stand under the hanging roots of the huge banyan trees watching the sun going down. Vad means banyan tree and that is how the timeless town got its latest christening. After two sunsets on the road, you are watching today’s sunset over waters of this beautiful lake that probably gets its name from the Yayati episode of Mahabharat. Then the city was called Anartapur. Another day ends in this seemingly eternal town. It is all quiet and serene here. Is this the same place where the Tana Riri sisters came to collect water when Tansen asked them to sing Raag Malhar to cool his burning body? This town is teeming with stories, possibilities and legends. You just hope they do not fade away in the mists of time.

Kids Observe and Learn - This is how we light the Flying Lanterns

As you watch the flying lanterns take to the sky, you realise you just witnessed a truly glorious day. But sadly, it seems the ages old glory of Vadnagar is fading in the current times. The town is dug up and dusty and the heritage is largely crumbling. Now is the time for the people of Vadnagar to realise their city’s unparalleled glorious past and take pride in their town and rich heritage. They can start by sprucing up their streets and lanes. Next they need to own up their monuments and built heritage. Government can only do so much.

We are Styling!

The Beautiful People of Vadnagar - Will come back to see you all again

With the recent attention owing to the excavations going on, the people of Vadnagar should reclaim their important cultural standing at the interface of Gujarat, Saurashtra, Malwa and Rajputana. Just like the Toranas that seem to soar unnoticed and mysteriously, Vadnagar needs to peel back the layers of time shrouding its glorious past and once again announce its rightful place under the sun.

Vadnagar is as old as the raised mound it sits on and as old as the Sharmistha Lake. The town that has gone through four name changes is about 4500 years old according to historical records. Hsuan Tsang visited Vadnagar twice during his journey across India in the 7th century. The city was called Anandapur then. True to its name your day is as joyous as its people and the festival of Uttarayan. You are just lucky writing about a city that the ultimate itinerant Hsuan Tsang wrote about long ago. Just like Hsuan Tsang you too will come back to the City of Joy; to its banyan trees, to its many splendid lakes and to its stories as old as time itself.

Getting There: Vadnagar in Mehsana district of Gujarat is a comfortable 60 kms from Palanapur and 100 kms from Ahmedabad 

Day’s Stats
  • Route Covered: Palanpur to Vadnagar
  • Distance covered in Day: 88 kms
  • Total Distance Covered so far: 981 kms
  • Route taken: Palanpur to Ambaji Highway then SH 712 to SH 56 
  • Places seen – Attraction filled Vadnagar town

Travel Tips

  • Vehicle might be needed to cover the town and the places that lie around the city. Otherwise walking is perfectly okay
  • There are not many choices for hotels. If booking ahead, Gujarat Tourism's Hotel Toran is a good choice, but is a little away from the action
  • Town provides great opportunities for street photography
  • If visiting in winters, surrounding water bodies are filled with migratory birds


A lovely detailed blog by Mr. Harjivan Suthar who spent his childhood in this timeless town:

Yes, I was surprised by the number of water bodies around the town and amazing diversity of birds, mostly visitors from distant lands in the winters. Next time I will spend at least a day just birding in Vadnagar! The blog resulted from Mr. Suthar brother's efforts:


  1. I wonder if Hsuan Tsang would have seen this much in a day! I read it and felt that you were running or there were 3-4 Nirdesh(s) going around at once in the town. Thanks for visiting, writing and sharing! Oh yes, clicking too!

  2. Hi Krinna,

    What can I do? It was a gorgeous day and then it was Uttarayan. The whole town was one big disco with all these wonderful people. So I danced my way through the town and since the sights kept coming, motivation got doubled.

    Now let me check Hsuan Tsang’s travelogues – I am pretty sure he would have missed few places!

    Vadnagar is a wonderful place and I am sure I will be back soon!

    Thanks for reading!



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  4. The filigree you referred to about Toran Hotel has been copied from the similar designs in Sarkhej Roza, 25 kilometers away on Vadodara Road, Ahmadabad. Did you happen to see?

    1. Dear Ranbir Sir,

      Thank you for visiting!

      Yes, I did get to visit and see the wonderful filigree work at the Sarkhej Roza during my last trip to Ahmedabad. Maybe, next time we can do a reprise trip together.


  5. Lovely pics and great blog entry on Vadnagar.

    1. Hi Aadil ji,

      Nice to hear from you. Hope you are doing great.

      Yes Vadnagar is a real surprise.I hope they clean up the town and the heritage and promote is better.

      Please visit if you get a chance.

      Thanks much


  6. Finally, after almost an year, I get a reply from Mr. Harjivan Suthar who grew up in Vadnagar and has lovingly crafted the blog vadnagar.blogspot.in

    Thanks Nirdesh.
    You ought to be congratulated for writing that beautifully illustrated and very lucid piece of your visit to Vadnagar, and sharing it with the world wide visitors of the web.

    Yes, conservation is the urgent need; otherwise, whatever little remains too will be gone soon. Believe me, there was much more there seventy years back when i used to roam around as a youngster.

    In References section http://birdsofvadnagar.blogspot.in/ - blog about birds of Vadnagar doesn't seem to be properly linked with the site. Please check. That blog resulted from the hundreds of pictures very patiently clicked and dozens of videos tactfully taken by my younger brother who passed away a few months back. It has received a large number of visitors world wide in a short period.

    Best wishes,


    1. Dear Sir,

      It is lovely to hear from you. Hope you are doing fine.

      It has been almost an year since I visited Vadnagar and I can say it was one of the best days ever. I was lucky to be in your town on Uttarayan and the love of the people had to be experienced to be believed.

      I was amazed by the presence of water bodies around the town and next time I am there I am just going to be birding for an entire day.

      There is so much under the layers here - literally, since there were several ASI excavations going on. But what was surprising was the kind of indifference of the community to the heritage. In an urban village where there is no belongingness, it is understandable but here in Vadnagar where generations of the same families would have grown up, I would have expected them to take care of their Dharohar. Yes, I am sure seventy years ago, the town would have been beautiful with lots more structures around and in better condition. But then except the Unesco structures, the plight of heritage in Gujarat is universally sad.

      Thanks a lot for reading and writing to me. I do hope you get a chance to keep visiting your town. I have corrected the Birds link. I am sure your Brother is happy in the heavens seeing all this attention to Vadnagar.

      Best Wishes,