The Adalaj Stepwells came highly recommended by our Gujarati friends as a must visit attraction while we were in Ahmedabad. So when our driver cum guide at the House of MG recommended we ditch the day trip package and just let him take us to places he thought we’d like, we were thrilled to see him taking the 18 km journey to the district of Gandhinagar.
What’s a Stepwell?
It was an incredibly hot day in March and while we were sweaty and thirsty, burning under the midday sun, we appreciated the fact that these conditions were the very reasons for which the Adalaj Stepwells were made. This was an important trade route, and travellers and merchants would often find themselves unprotected from elements both natural and human while making stops along the way. The Stepwell offered them a place to bathe, rest, eat and remain protected (as the entire structure is built groundlevel down and is almost invisible along the horizon).
In the typical style of most structures built in India in the 15th century, this one too has a heartbreakingly beautiful legend. If the depictions on the wall are to be believed, the story goes that King Rana Veer Singh was killed by an invader Mahmud Begada who in turn fell in love with King Rana Veer’s widow Rani Roopba and proposed marriage to her. Since the grieving Rani consented to do so once the construction of the Stepwell was completed, Mahmud Begada had it finished in record time. The loyal widow, then satisfied that she had managed to complete her husband’s last unfinished task, took her life in that very well.
Built five stories low, the ceilings have openings that allow indirect sunlight to filter in, leaving the structure at least 5 degrees cooler than it is outside. An octagonal well provided water for travellers to bathe in as well as offer prayers.
Considering it was initiated by a Hindu and completed by a Muslim, the entire structure offers a stunning mélange of Jain and Islamic mythological scenes of women churning butter, dancers and musicians in the court of the king and more. A pot that is said to contain the water of life and an image of the tree of life are carved into a single stone. The nine planets carved out of the wall edge is said to protect the structure from evil spirits.
We visited on a Sunday, and the place was thronging with people, and while we would have enjoyed having the place to ourselves so we could photograph it properly, we quite liked imagining this was how busy it was in the old days with families picnicking and sitting around in the shade from the midday sun. Do remember to dress a bit conservatively, and watch your step while exploring the vertical maze, you never know when the ground opens to the floor below. Otherwise rather cynical about most Indian monuments that tend to be in a shoddy state of disrepair, we were pleasantly surprised to find that the Adalaj Stepwells look like they were made only yesterday. Yes there’s a sense of history, but the way it’s been preserved and how clean it is was just a big bonus.
SH 41, Adalaj, Gandhinagar District, Ahmedabad, Gujarat
Open all days of the week from 6 am to 6 pm
Recommended length of visit: 30 minutes All the above information is valid as of March 2014 when we visit the Adalaj Stepwells.