When planning my trip to Ahmedabad, the biggest city in our neigbor state Gujarat, the first thing I researched was Adalaj stepwell. I’ve never heard of stepwells before coming to India, and exploring a new architectural form sounded like an adventure. And it was.
What are stepwells?
Stepwells are one of the most original India’s contributions to the art of architecture. Unlike in conventional wells where the water is pulled up in a bucket, in step wells the water is actually reached by going down the stairs. These structures were crucially important in western regions of India, ensuring availability of water during the hottest season. Stepwells were also used as places for social gatherings, festivals, traders’ stopover and religious rituals. Also, their cool and peaceful chambers, staircases and passageways served as a perfect retreat to hide from from the merciless sun, and the water was used for washing, bathing and drinking. The wells had been in use up to the 19th century, and there are plenty of surviving structures in Gujarat, Rajasthan, Karnataka and Delhi. Most of them were useful and practical rather than decorative, but a number of step-wells has a significant aesthetic component.
The history of Adalaj stepwell
Adalaj stepwell is one of the most ornate structures of this kind in India. The construction was started in the end of the 15th century by the king Rana Veer Singh. After his death on the battlefield, the Muslim conqueror Mahmud Begada built the remaining parts. The massive structure consists of five storeys and is built according to Indo-Islamic architectural traditions (one of my favorite styles).
There is also a tragic and beautiful legend associated with Adalaj step well. After the death of Rana Veer Singh his kingdom was conquered by Mahmud Begada. Deeply impressed by the beauty of the widowed queen Roopba, he came to her with a marriage proposal. The queen accepted it on the condition that he would complete the construction of the magnificent well started by her deceased husband. The construction was over in a very short period of time, so inspired and impatient the Muslim ruler was. However, his efforts were not rewarded as he expected – the grieving queen jumped into the depth of the well, ending her life as a sign of devotion to her beloved king.
The beauty of the structure
The well is situated 18 km away form Ahmedabad, and I would recommend this place as a starting point when exploring the city. The beauty of the stone carvings is mind blowing, and one feels like keeping in memory every single detail. We arrived at Adalaj at around 9.00 in the morning, and it took us around 20 minutes to walk to the place. Actually, it’s a 10 minutes walk, but there were two elderly ladies with us (my mom and mom-in-law), and my brother-in-low enjoyed photographing different representatives of fauna along the way (mostly cows and buffalos) 🙂 When we reached, there were just a few visitors, but in a couple of hours the crowds started to gather. To have the marvel of the stepwell to yourself, arrive early! Also, the morning sunlight is perfect for creative photography, with a beautiful play of light and shadows between the columns.
The intricate carvings made me think of the power of dedication and artistic capabilities of those who created them centuries ago.
Floral designs were predominant, but one could find some animalistic elements as well.
Every step in the well is a new discovery.
The ornate pillars give the impression of fragility, but the stonework has actually withstood a lot to survive till present day.
I loved the lower portion of this fragment – the sculptor was trying to depict the incense smoke rising from the lamp, and what a worthy attempt it is!
Inside the well – the view from bottom to top.
And the other way around – from top to bottom. The credit for this photo goes to my fearless and unstoppable brother-in-law. The area on the top of the well where he took this photo from was actually not accessible, but who pays attention to such tiny obstacles?:)
I explored the roof a bit, but without any extremities:)
And of course, one can hardly resist an improvised photo session in such a photogenic place. I think in this well I was closer than ever before to understanding girls and guys who took hundreds of selfies:)
Travel tips for visiting Adalaj Stepwell near Ahmedabad
- As I’ve already mentioned, for better experience arrive early in the morning. the place is open from 6.00 am to 6.00 pm.
- The cheapest way to reach the stepwell is by bus. We took a bus no. 22 from Gita Mandir bus station and reached the place in around 40 min. I don’t remember the ticket price, but it was something negligible.
- If you’re on a short visit, start exploring Ahmedabad from this place – after visiting sights around the city you may not feel like making an 18 km long journey, but the stepwell is not to be missed.
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