Adalaj stepwell (Adalaj ni vav) near Ahmedabad and the haunting story of Rani Roopba

Adalaj Stepwell or Adalaj ni vav in Ahmedabad, Gujarat, is a stunning example of Indo-Islamic fusion architecture work. It was built by the Hindu queen Rani Roopba with help from neighbouring Muslim ruler King Mehmud Begad. However, it's history is full of drama and Bollywood like twists and turns. Here is a brief account of the story and my visit to Adalaj ni vav.

Adalaj Stepwell Ahmedabad Gujarat vav carvings beautiful steps travel tourism
Adalaj ni Vav in Ahmedabad

Stepwells are common in the arid and semi-arid regions of India, especially in Gujarat and Rajasthan. The term used for stepwells in Gujarat is Vav while in Rajasthan they are called Baoli. They are similar in form and function, but have unique architectural characteristics which can help differentiate the two. It is believed that about 200 such stepwells survive in the Gujarat region itself, so its easy to imagine their numbers in the bygone era. However, stepwells have always been a part of the history in this region - the oldest stepwells (or even cylindrical wells) are believed to have been built at Mohanjodaro during the Indus-Valley civilisation.

History of Adalaj ni Vav

The construction of Adalaj ni vav Stepwell Ahmedabad Gujarat carvings beautiful steps travel tourism was started by King Rana Veer Singh and finished by his queen Rani Roopba after his death. The structure is built in Solanki style of architecture, with Islamic influence, and consists of five storeys, each of which is uniquely designed with beautiful carvings all over the walls and columns.

Adalaj ni vav Stepwell Ahmedabad Gujarat carvings beautiful steps travel tourism
Priests going in to the Adalaj ni Vav

Traditionally, stepwells served two key purposes - as a place to store water in an arid region, and a place for travellers to stop by during their long journeys. Due to the design of the stwepwell, very little sunlight actually enters the lower levels which keeps them cool during the day time. This allowed for travellers to take shelter from the sweltering sun. Each of the level at the vav is also quite big and can easily accommodate many people. Back in the days these storeys were used for hosting travellers (no hotels at that time). This was also a part of a traditional trade route and hence their usefulness was quite high.

Adalaj ni vav Stepwell Ahmedabad Gujarat carvings beautiful steps travel tourism
Some water at the base of the stepwell

The stepwell was also a meeting place for the women from the neighbouring villages, who would come here in the afternoon as the temperature was much lower, sit around, gossip, pray a little and go back when things cooled down outside. The walls at the stepwell are adorned by figurines of various Hindu and Jain gods and they served as mini-temples for the women. Some of these temples are still functional, and its common to see saints visit these and offer flowers etc to the deity.

Adalaj ni vav Stepwell Ahmedabad Gujarat carvings beautiful steps travel tourism
Hindu gods in Adalaj

The Legend of Adalaj ni Vav

The legend associated with Adalaj ni Vav is a story of war, love and betrayal, almost like a Bollywood drama. This is how it goes. King Mehmud Begada was a neighbouring king to Adalaj and he entered into a war with King Rana Veer Singh. Before the war started King Rana Veer Singh has already commissioned the stwepwell and work was in full swing. However, King Rana Veer Singh died in the war and the kingdom fell.

Adalaj ni vav Stepwell Ahmedabad Gujarat carvings beautiful steps travel tourism
Intricate carvings

Now his Queen Rani Roopba was already a legend in the region for her beauty and it took no time for King Mehmud Begada to fall head over heels in love with her (maybe her beauty). He proposed to marry her and make her the queen and surprisingly she agreed. However, she had one condition - King Mehmud would finish the pending work on the stepwell, the swan song of her late husband. Our noble king readily agreed and work started again. The style remained largely unchanged and the stepwell was built in Hindu style, but King Mehmud got some Islamic influences which can be seen more and more on the upper levels.

Adalaj ni vav Stepwell Ahmedabad Gujarat carvings beautiful steps travel tourism
Another view

When the well got completed and it was time for marriage ceremony to take place, Rani Roopba jumped into the vav and committed suicide. It was all apparently her ploy to get the king to finish the stepwell which was husband's dream and possibly his last wish. King Mehmud was devastated but decided against destroying either the stepwell of the carvings and idols of Hindu gods inside, possibly because he really did love the queen.

My recent visit to Adalaj ni Vav

Having lived in Gujarat for years, I have been exploring the architecture of the state a lot. I revisited the site once again recently and fell in love all over again, not just with Gujarat but also the vav. It was a Sunday, but not just any Sunday - it was the day when India and Pakistan were playing each other for the sixth time in a World Cup match and the whole world (well, India and Pakistan for sure) was glued to their television sets. It was also the day of Sabarmanti Marathon (I participated in the inaugural race a few years back) which meant that most roads were blocked and taking an auto out of town was going to be difficult. I released this when I left my hotel at the break of dawn, only to find hundreds of people walking (not running) on the streets. I had to walk about three kilometres before I could get out of the marathon zone and find an auto to take me out of town.

Adalaj ni vav Stepwell Ahmedabad Gujarat carvings beautiful steps travel tourism
Gorgeous light at Adalaj Stepwell
Adalaj ni vav Stepwell Ahmedabad Gujarat carvings beautiful steps travel tourism
Some more visitors

Forty-five minutes later I was at Adalaj, at about 8 am which is the official time for it to open. Since it was match day, there was absolutely no one there. My friend Ajay who had come from Gandhinagar was already there and soon we met on the top level - very much like the travellers of the olden days. It was cool outside, but inside it was much colder. I immediately convinced him to walk with me to the extreme edge of the first level, an area which is generally prohibited due to possible risk of fall. Thankfully it was only after we reached to the end and took some pigeon shots, that the caretaker saw us and angrily asked us to come back.

We spent the next one hour talking about our travels and making plans for a road-rip together in Gujarat. It was time for the match and so Ajay left, but I stayed back as my interest in Cricket has waned in the past few years and I was anyway getting updated through my phone. I have always enjoyed places like these alone, and here was absolutely alone. Only a handful of visitors came and they all left within fifteen minutes. This allowed me to have small chats with many, including the young man, Jayesh, who was cleaning the steps. I made him walk a few steps for me and after that we both kept saying 'Thank you' to each other :)

Adalaj ni vav Stepwell Ahmedabad Gujarat carvings beautiful steps travel tourism
The cleaning boy at Adalaj ni Vav

I also met this bunch of guys who worked in a band, not the rock band, but the kind which plays music at weddings and some other cultural events. They were in their white uniforms and in really good mood. One of them, Nilesh, also agreed to be part of my #TellMeYourDreams2015 project. The rest all posed for the camera and told me lots about their lives. Interestingly all, but one, of them were from Maharashtra and they come to Gujarat only for two months to play during the wedding season. When they are back in town they work in their fields.

Adalaj ni vav Stepwell Ahmedabad Gujarat carvings beautiful steps travel tourism
Met and interviewed this bunch at the stepwell

At about eleven it was time to leave as I a flight to catch in three hours. I spent about three hours there, but to me that was still insufficient. There was still so much more to see, so many more people to talk to and so many more pictures to take...

Adalaj ni vav Stepwell Ahmedabad Gujarat carvings beautiful steps travel tourism
Kids playing at Adalaj Stepwell

Practical tips for Adalaj ni Vav

The best time for a visit is early morning. The light is great, crowd is less and so place is pretty much to yourself.

The visiting hours are 8am to 7pm.

If you are traveling on a backpacker's budget, this is what you need to do:

1. Go to Lal Darwaza (its the central bus station)
2. Take a shared auto or a bus to Adalaj town (inform that you want to go to the vav)
3. An auto will cost Rs 30 and bus will be much cheaper

If you have some more money, you can take an auto from Ahmedabad city and directly go to the stepwell. Let the auto not wait for you otherwise he might charge you a bomb as waiting fee. You can find an auto/ bus/ shared-auto easily after you are done with the visit. You can also take a radio cab for a drop and then take an auto for the return trip.

The non-shared auto will cost about Rs 200-250, cab will be slightly more.

The journey takes about forty-five minutes in auto.

Adalaj ni vav Stepwell Ahmedabad Gujarat carvings beautiful steps travel tourism
Goodbye to the stepwell

Other Stepwells (vavs) in and around Ahmedabad

There are hundreds of stepwells in Gujarat and many of these have not even been discovered by the travellers. Sharing links of a few that I have been to so far.

1. Rani ni vav (Queen's stepwell) in Patan
2. Vidyadhar ni vav in Vadodara
3. Dada Hari ni vav and Mata Bhawani ni vav

Comments

  1. Our history is so rich and intense with so much to explore and learn, that one life time seems insignificant.
    Thanks for this really nice post.

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  2. Beautiful photos! You are just getting better and better! Enjoyed reading this piece... Detailed and interesting.

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  3. Hari OM
    Educational as well as beautiful and heartfelt! I adore such places, so full of history you can almost hear the walls whisper... YAM xx

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  4. Beautiful post! I have been fascinated by stepwells ever since I visited the less ornate Delhi ones. Would love to see every one of them :-)

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  5. Wonderful captures of the exquisite sculptures and architecture. Glad to read in detail about this Vav.

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  6. I agree...one lifetime is just not enough!

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  7. Thanks a lot Yamini...the place is certainly loaded with history :)

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  8. Thanks Madhu :)

    I am also quite fascinated with the step-wells actually...

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  9. You have captured the beauty of stepwells in a very interesting way! Enjoyed reading it !

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  10. Really a great example of wonderful architecture. Amazing pictures.

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  11. The first time I came across with the name Gujarat was at school when we learned about the Gujarati Muslim traders who came to the Indonesian archipelago to trade and spread Islam. Little did I know that the Indian state was home to many architectural treasures, like this beautifully carved stepwell.

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  12. Ah! Gujarat is home to some amazing historical monuments...this is just one of them :)

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  13. Finally I am here again at the Adalaj Stepwell !! After reading this I realize I am yet to learn on Blogging :) I am sorry if my comment sounded like an Order or something but gr8 I came across this Lovely post on my fav.place !! I am yet to cover the other 2 stepwells...

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  14. very interesting post. never knew that appreciating an image of the same vav of another traveller will open floodgates of more images and history of this artistic utilitarian structure for me.

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    Replies
    1. All thanks to you Alka! You share such lovely pics which inspires us all to share even more :)

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  15. nice information.
    you can also read my
    http://www.knowindianhistory.com/

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  16. Great post! I love the perspective and I LOVE the photos! I always love hearing the stories behind the great sites!

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    1. Thanks so much Perviz! I am glad you enjoyed the post :)

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  17. Innate photos and neat description.

    You might want to put up a sentence about Tri Mandir located 5 mins from Vav. It's also an excellent place to visit while you're at Adalaj.

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  18. India Government know how to utilize their's historical places.

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