Adalaj Ni Vav – a beautiful melancholy in stone

She traced the flowers with her fingers as she recalled her beloved.
With tear-filled eyes, she sought the blessings of the Lord etched on the walls.
Murmuring a silent prayer, she completed the circumambulation of the new Adalaj ni Vav
And then without hesitation, she plunged in to the very dream she had completed.

Adalaj stepwell is a timeless tale of beauty and melancholy that never fails to captivate its visitors. Right from the time that I had first seen pictures of Adalaj vav Ahmedabad, I found myself bewitched by its architecture. I could sense many stories hidden within its fold and could not wait to uncover them all. Those few extra hours before my flight gave me the perfect opportunity to make that quick trip from Ahmedabad to Adalaj. What follows now will give you enough reasons to visit Adalaj ni Vav in person.

Adalaj ni Vav near Ahmedabad
Adalaj ni Vav near Ahmedabad

Adalaj ni Vav translates to “a well in Adalaj”. Vav essentially means a well in Gujarati and Adalaj is the name of the town near Ahmedabad. One would wonder what is the big fuss about a source of water – aka a well. Why was it constructed so elaborately? To explain that, let me first dive into the importance of stepwells in India.

Stepwells in India

There are numerous heritage stepwells found across India. Down south, they are generally attached to temples and are termed as Pushkarni or Kunds. In the north and west, they are a little more elaborate in terms of their structure. They are generally multi-leveled and exist either independent of any religious building or are attached to one. In Gujarat, these are termed as Vav or Kuvo while in Rajasthan, they are termed as Baoli (Baori). Most of these places are dependent on rains or monsoon-fed rivers and the step-wells help in collecting and storing this water for the rest of the year.

Madhwa Sarovar - the Udupi Krishna temple pushkarni
Madhwa Sarovar – the Udupi Krishna temple pushkarni in South India

Vavs and Baolis in the two arid states of India (Gujarat and Rajasthan) also, served as water stops for the weary traders traveling on the renowned trade routes. The elaborate building of these stepwells doubled up as a shelter from the cruel heat of the land. In addition to that, the villagers used the well as their community center – celebrating festivals around the spot. For the women, it was a place to meet and share news about their lives. And thus, the importance of stepwells in India.

There are four types of Vavs and these are named based on the number of entrances they offer. These are

  • Nanda – a single entrance
  • Bhadra – there are two entrances to the stepwell
  • Jaya – a stepwell with three entrances
  • Vijaya – when the stepwell can be accessed through four entrances

Adalaj vav Ahmedabad is a Jaya style of stepwell.

History of Adalaj ni Vav

One of the most common questions that travelers seem to be asking on the internet is “Who constructed Adalaj Stepwell?” Turns out the answer to this is not a straightforward one. It was started by one King but finished by another. And despite that, the well is known by the name of the Queen – Rudabai ni Vav. Three different people involved – that sets the stage for an interesting tale.

The corridors in Adalaj stepwell Ahmedabad where the visitors used to rest and the women sat around to gossip
The corridors in Adalaj stepwell Ahmedabad where the visitors used to rest and the women sat around to gossip

The Adalaj stepwell history goes back to the 15th century – specifically 1498 AD when the Vaghelas ruled Ashaval (now Ahmedabad). Adalaj was a hamlet on a popular trading route. The then ruler – Rana Veer Singh began the construction of a stepwell for the villagers and the traders. Midway through the construction, the kingdom got attacked by Mahmud Begada of Junagadh. Sadly, the Rana died in the battle and the kingdom was taken over by the new Sultan.

The Sultan got smitten by the pretty widow of Rana Veer Singh – Queen Rudabai (also, called Roopba). He prevented her from committing Sati and proposed to marry her. Rudabai put forth a condition that the Sultan must complete the last dream of her dead husband. Only once the Adalaj well was complete would she marry him. And so, continued the construction of the magnificent stepwell of Adalaj.

The well where Rani Rudabai ended her life in Adalaj
The well where Rani Rudabai ended her life in Adalaj

Upon completion, Rani Rudabai called some saints to perform a Puja and purify the water of the well. She circumambulated the well herself and once done, she jumped in and ended her life – leaving the Adalaj Vav for her beloved subjects. Mahmud Begada honored her by giving this well its alternate name – Rudabai ni vav. This credit has in fact been given to the Queen through an inscription that details out the construction of the well, the amount spend (a whopping 5 lakh in those days) and the people involved. The said inscription is on the first storey of the Adalaj stepwell but is not accessible by the general public.

With this Adalaj stepwell history, you would have now realized why the answer to the simple question – who built Adalaj vav is not a straightforward one. The tale of Adalaj ni Vav does not end here. There is plenty more you will hear and see as we go along this tour of Adalaj vav.

Architecture of Adalaj Vav

The Indo Islamic  architecture of Adalaj stepwell
The Indo Islamic architecture of Adalaj stepwell

The change of hands in the construction of Adalaj stepwell created a delightful fusion of Solanki and Islamic architecture. Beautiful carvings of Hindu Gods intersperse with Islamic graphics throughout the five levels of the stepwell – constructed using sandstone.

The layout of the Rudabai stepwell is octagonal and there are numerous etched pillars. The manner of construction involves an interlocking mechanism and has several openings to allow natural air and light. At the same time, the structure prevents harsh sunlight from hitting the steps that lead to the well. In fact, the only time these steps get sunlight is at noon. At every level, there are sheltered passageways to allow weary travelers to rest. In fact, the temperature inside the Adalaj Vav is at least 5 degrees lower than what you find outside.

The carved pillars and open-to sky structure of Adalaj Vav
The carved pillars and open-to-sky structure of Adalaj Vav

There are actually two water wells enclosed within the structure. The first one that is accessed through the steps of the Vav is the one meant for people while the other one which is behind this one was designed for the animals. More on that in the later sections.

Ground level of Adalaj stepwell

The ground level of Adalaj Vav Ahmedabad
The ground level of Adalaj Vav Ahmedabad

The ground level of Adalaj stepwell is not the last floor. The well is actually five stories deep and hence, the ground level is actually the roof part of the vav. The roof actually allows you to see the scale of the entire Vav. You can walk along certain portions of it. When you walk to the far end of the floor, you can see the two wells of Adalaj. The opening has been closed with metal grills but you can peep down and see the five levels of intricate craftsmanship.

The pulley near the stepwell and you can see the small channel used by the people
The pulley near the stepwell and you can see the small channel used by the people

Near the well that is meant for people, you can see a pulley structure as well as channels that helped push water towards the fields and various other places. As per the guide, during festivals and specific occasions, water was pulled from the well and added to the channels.

A little away from the well on the roof are two spiral staircases – on west and east of the roof. These took people down the various corridors of the stepwell. They were used by the people who wanted to relax, rest or just socialize in the resting areas of the stepwell. One of them is completely boarded off but the other one is open only till the 2nd level. However, general visitors are not allowed to access this one. Only authorized personnel are allowed to go – largely to clean the place and also, perform small poojas in front of the various Hindu and Jain deities carved in the corridor.

The small watch-station at Adalaj Ni Vav
The small watch-station at Adalaj Ni Vav

Near the main entrance of Adalaj vav, on the roof, there are two interesting attractions. The first one is a small guard station and the 2nd is the tombs of the very people who actually created the Adalaj stepwell. Though you will see only 5 of them intact, there were actually 6. As the Adalaj stepwell story goes, Mahmud Begada loved the design of this stepwell and asked the 6 masons if they would be able to re-create this masterpiece. When they replied yes, he had them executed and buried here. The reason being – he never ever wanted this exclusive design to be replicated elsewhere.

Tombs of the masons who built Adalaj Vav
Tombs of the masons who built Adalaj Vav

The entrances to Adalaj ni Vav Ahmedabad

The western entrance to Ahmedabad's Adalaj ki Vav
The western entrance to Ahmedabad’s Adalaj ki Vav

As mentioned earlier, Adalaj Vav is a Jaya-styled stepwell with three entrances from the south, east and west. Currently, the East and West entrances are open for the public while the one from the South has been closed. All three of them meet at the first level of Adalaj ni Vav. The landing space has four rooms with stunning windows along the corners. These four rooms were designed to be mini shrines but today, they are devoid of any idols.

One of the empty shrines of Adalaj Vav
One of the empty shrines of Adalaj Vav
The gorgeous oriel windows of the stepwell at Adalaj
The gorgeous oriel windows of the stepwell at Adalaj

Each of those rooms has a stunning window. In architectural terms, this projected window style is called oriel. The entire window frames have gorgeous floral filigree. The same artistic splendor extends onto the pillars and even the border around the open-to-sky area of the landing space.

The missing dome over an ornamental octagon - the entrance of Adalaj
The missing dome over an ornamental octagon – the entrance of Adalaj

It might seem as if the landing space does not have a roof by design but as per the guide, the octagonal area was supposed to be covered by a dome – akin to the ones that you see in the typical Islamic monuments. Seems like, after the death of Rani Rudabai, Mahmud Begada stopped the finishing work and left some parts of the stepwell incomplete. This lack of the dome is one such part of the well. To me, it still looked complete and beautiful.

Prominent carvings of Adalaj stepwell Ahmedabad

Elephant carvings on Level One of Adalaj well
Elephant carvings on Level One of Adalaj well

Hidden among those delicate stone flowers are some interesting carvings that bring alive the Solanki-Islamic architecture of Adalaj’s stepwell. Located on Level one is a line of elephants that reminded me of the facade of Chennakesava temple in Belur. Located along the walls leading to the well are a few symbolic carvings that every guide to Adalaj ni Vav will tell you. One of them is special to me as it explains the meaning of my name 😉

Ami Khumbor - the pot containing the water of life - a must-see Adalaj stepwell carving
Ami Khumbor – the pot containing the water of life – a must-see Adalaj stepwell carving

Ami Khumbor or the pot of the water of life – aka pot of nectar. (yes, my name means nectar and Khumbor is the pot). This particular carving is symbolic of Hindu culture. However, look out for a symbol that has significance in both Islamic and Hindu scriptures – the tree of life.

The tree of life carving of Adalaj
The tree of life carving of Adalaj
A glimpse of Amba Mata's idol in Adalaj stepwell
A glimpse of Amba Mata’s idol in Adalaj stepwell

While you are not allowed in the corridors of Adalaj Vav, you can still catch a glimpse of the various Jain and Hindu deities. Prominent among them is one of Mata Amba that is still worshipped by the locals. At the far end of the well, you can zoom in with your camera lens to see my favorite – Lord Ganesha. Also, watch out for a fresco with the Navagrahas (nine planets) on the 2nd floor.

Carving of a scene with the King depicted on the left hand side
Carving of a scene with the King depicted on the left-hand side

At one of the levels, look out for this panel with a story carved in stone. On the left is the king watching the various activities of women around it. Some of the ladies have been shown as churning butter while there are some adorning themselves. Then there are a few dancing. I would have missed this one- had it not been for my guide.

Close up of one of the carved brackets of Adalaj ni Vav
Close up of one of the carved brackets of Adalaj ni Vav

The two wells of Adalaj

The main well of Adalaj and the 2nd one behind it
The main well of Adalaj and the 2nd one behind it

Before you know it, you would have reached the final level of the main well of Adalaj. This is set in a square platform but is boarded off. However, from here you can see how the square platform has been expertly converted to an octagonal space with stone beams angled at 45 degrees and the pillars supporting the rest. You can also, see the 2nd well from this level, behind the first one. The only way that one can access this is through a small opening (currently out of bounds) at this level.

The five storeys of Adalaj ni Vav
The five storeys of Adalaj ni Vav

Adalaj ni Vav is no longer a functional well but there is still a strong faith in those sculpted deities that brings the locals on auspicious occasions. For the rest of us, Adalaj stepwell is a melancholic beauty – a story that is best lived by visiting the place. If you are planning to visit this piece of heritage near Ahmedabad, all you got to do is pin this post up and plan your trip soon!

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What is the best way to reach Adalaj ni Vav?

The distance from Ahmedabad to Adalaj Vav is 18 km and it takes around 30 minutes by road to reach here. Adalaj falls on the way to Gandhinagar – the capital of Gujarat. You can even plan to visit it straight from Ahmedabad airport, which is 14 km from the stepwell at Adalaj. You can hire a cab, rent a car to take one of the regular public buses to Adalaj.

Ahmedabad airport is well connected with regular flights from all the major cities of India. It is equally well connected by road and rail.

What is the best time to visit Adalaj stepwell?

Adalaj stepwell timings are from 6 am to 6 pm every day. I would recommend visiting this place in the first half of the day. The sunlight tends to enhance the gorgeous carvings of the well.

In terms of season, September to February is the best time to visit Ahmedabad and Adalaj. The weather is quite pleasant during this time. Summers are extreme and dry while the monsoons can sometimes, be quite heavy.

What are the Adalaj Vav entrance fees?

The Adalaj Vav entrance tickets cost INR 20 per person for Indians. You will need to buy these online by scanning a QR code at the gates of the stepwell. Cameras are charged extra. These charges have been introduced only recently.

Travel and Photography tips

  • There are rest rooms available near the Stepwell
  • A few refreshment and grocery shops are open near the attraction
  • There are no official guides here but a few locals are available to explain the history of the place. There is no fixed fees for them and you can pay them as you like. I highly recommend engaging them to see the best of Adalaj stepwell.
  • A wide lens and regular 18 – 55 mm is highly recommended here to capture the architecture of Adalaj ni Vav.

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