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Authored by Vyjay Rao

It was a hot summer afternoon in Ahmedabad, a historic city in Western India. It was the month of May and the temperature had soared well past 40 degrees centigrade. Hot winds blew across the city and singed my bare arms as I looked for an auto rickshaw (a three wheeler moto taxi) to take me to my destination.

I heaved a sigh of relief as one of the ubiquitous green and yellow vehicles slowed down. I sank into the cooler environs of the auto rickshaw, thankful for some respite from the glaring sun, and instructed the driver about my destination. I was headed towards a small village on the outskirts of Ahmedabad, called Adalaj. I had heard about a unique stepwell which was over 500 years old that was located here and wanted to have a look.

I had seen pictures, but pictures never do justice, especially to historic sites. You need to be there in flesh and blood to experience the strange vibrations and aura that one finds in these places. Moreover, I had been fascinated by the legend behind the building of this stepwell and this was one of the prime motivators for heading towards a sleepy village on the outskirts of the Indian city of Ahmedabad.

The Legend Behind the Stunning Architecture of Aadalaj, Ahmedabad

Adalaj Stepwell is a unique Hindu 'water building' in the village of Adalaj

Adalaj Stepwell is a unique Hindu 'water building' in the village of Adalaj

As the auto rickshaw weaved its way through the city traffic, the years fell away from me and I was transported back in time to the 15th century. A small kingdom known as Dandai Desh was once ruled by a Hindu King called Rana Veer Singh, who had a beautiful wife named Rani Roopba. The King had started the construction of a huge stepwell for the welfare of his subjects, though this project was short lived as the army of a neighbouring kingdom invaded.

In the ensuing war, Rana Veer Singh was killed and his kingdom annexed by the invading King. The Muslim King Mahmud Begda was smitten by the beauty of Rani Roopba and proposed marriage to her. The grief stricken queen agreed to the proposal on one condition: That the king would complete the construction of the Stepwell and only then would she marry him.

The king agreed to this condition and the construction of the Stepwell recommenced. Soon the Stepwell was completed. The patient King Mahmud Begda now proceeded to remind his lady love of her part of the proposal. The Queen Rani Roopba who was faithful to her husband in his life as well as his death, proceeded to the newly built Stepwell, jumped in and drowned, giving up her life after having fulfilled her husband’s dream.

Adalaj Stepwell is a unique Hindu 'water building' in the village of Adalaj

Adalaj Stepwell is a unique Hindu 'water building' in the village of Adalaj

Visiting the Stepwell Today

The Auto rickshaw screeched to a halt, the driver looked back and smiled, saying, “We have reached, Sir”.

I stepped out and looked around, we were in a sandy open place and I could see a simple structure with some steps in front of me. There were some small shops around and a group of small boys apparently from the village cooling off under the shade of a solitary tree. The place seemed to be enveloped in a cocoon of lethargic stupor induced by the overwhelming summer heat.

I made my way into the Stepwell which was shaped like an Octagon and descended the first flight of stairs. The Stepwell is five storeys deep and supported on huge pillars intricately carved. The entire structure is built in sandstone. Each floor has huge halls which can accommodate a large number of people. Apparently the place acted as a resting place for caravans and also as a place for local womenfolk to spend time sharing tidbits of gossip as they came to fetch water for their daily chores.

The region was arid and rains scarce, so as the people had to depend on wells and ground water for their needs, these multipurpose stepwells were indeed an ingenuous solution.

It was remarkably cool inside, I felt as if I was in an air-conditioned building compared to the sweltering heat outside. It was said that the temperature inside the Stepwell would be at least 5 to 6 degrees lower than what it was outside. The pillars and walls of the stepwell are replete with intricate carved motifs of elephants, flowers, Hindu and Jain Deities and these amalgamate very well with examples of Islamic architecture which is evident in places. The entire structure is an architectural marvel and blend of Hindu and Islamic styles, and is no less than a palace.

I reached the bottom of the well which is a square stepped floor shaped like a funnel extending to the lowest plane and cut into a circular well. The top part of the well is a vertical space that is open to the sky.

I walked around the different floors of the stepwell marveling at the great architects and masons who had built this wonderful structure. I sat down for a few minutes and closed my eyes, a gush of cool breeze caressed me and I could almost hear the excited chatter of womenfolk as they gossiped some 500 years ago.

The Stepwell is five storeys deep and supported on huge pillars intricately carved.

The Stepwell is five storeys deep and supported on huge pillars intricately carved.

I slowly made my way out and the harsh rays of the sun hit me, the sudden light temporarily blinded me, but some tombs nearby caught my attention. On enquiring I found out that these were tombs of six masons who had built the Stepwell.

Legend has it that after completion of the Stepwell, the Muslim King Mahmud Begda, asked the masons if they would be able to build a similar structure again, when they replied in the affirmative, they were sentenced to death. The Kind did not want this beautiful structure to be replicated.

The tombs stand today as a silent testimony to the ingenuity and skill of Man and also to his selfishness

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Vyjay is a Management professional who is passionate about traveling and writing. He and partner Sandy travel the world together, and love exploring world cultures, seas, mountains, nature, food, art, history and urban places.

They set up ‘Voyager’ blog as a place to share their stories and experiences, as well as to inspire other travel lovers to see what this amazing world has to offer through their stories, videos and photos.

Follow their journey on FacebookTwitterPinterest, Instagram, Google+ and YouTube.

Photo credits: Featured photo by Vyjay Rao. First four photos by Daniel Mennerich. Inside the stepwell by brotherlywalks. Close up of ornate walls by Ella. Looking down into Stepwell & bit of edging by Tin-Tin Azure. Final photo by Andrea Kirkby.

    38 Comments

  1. Thank you Meg for featuring my article. :)

  2. Beautiful architecture! I love the history behind the construction, even with a sad and tragic ending.

    • Glad you enjoyed the article Jen! It really is such a captivating love story despite a tragic one.

    • Thanks Jen, the place has an aura of a Shakespearean tragedy and romance.

  3. I can’t even begin to imagine the skill and patience that went behind creating something so stunningly beautiful. I wonder if they had any idea how The Stepwell would transcend time the way it has. The tragic end of the masons reminds me of the story of St. Basil’s in Russia, though it involved blinding rather than being sentenced to death.

    • I’m the same Patricia – the sheer magnitude of the effort and incredible skill it would have taken to construct this is awe-inspiring. We don’t produce anything which even compares these days.

      I haven’t heard the story of St Basil’s in Russia – will have to look it up – thanks for the tip :)

    • Yes Patricia, the people involved in creating such masterpieces in some ways would be an epitome of skill and patience. However it is really sad that many of these people met tragic ends only because of that. Even the Taj Mahal has a similar sad tale associated with it.

  4. Wow! What an incredible building. I couldn’t stop looking at some of the photos because of all the details there were to look at. So interesting that the building was much cooler than the hot temperatures outside. I would have guessed that is would be the same and not a good 5 to 6 degrees different.

    • The detail is incredible isn’t it! We just don’t make structures like this anymore!

    • Thanks, what is more incredible, is that at the ground level, nothing much is visible, everything exists below ground level.

  5. I’ve seen photos of step wells before, but yours are just beautiful. Also, I appreciate learning the history of this one. Well written and I learned a lot in such a short article. Thanks for writing!

    • Glad you enjoyed the article Jess! Hope you have the chance to visit for yourself too :)

    • Thanks Jess, writing the piece was a pleasure and indeed it was a joy being there.

  6. Wait… what? This place exists and you can go there?! Okay, hold on while I bookmark and make extensive notes.

    • Yes Hung, it exists in solid stone! need to get there to get a real feel of the place. If you are a history and monuments buff, Ahmedabad is a city full of excellent examples of Mughal architecture as well.

  7. Absolutely gorgeous, Meg — and beautiful writing as well! :)

    • Glad you enjoyed Vyjay’s post :)

    • Thanks for your kind words Natasha, cheers :)

  8. Great post Vvjay. I haven’t explored much in Ahmedabad, this architecture looks fantastic. Gives me a reason to go esp after a quick google search which shows plenty of amazing monuments.

    • Yes Jo, you should head there, another work of art that you may want to check out thee is the Siddi Sayyed Mosque, which has intricate lattice work in its stone windows.

  9. WOW! This looks like something straight out of Indiana Jones! Beautiful pictures too, what a fascinating place…

    • Hope you have the chance to visit too Andrea :)

    • Yes Andrea, it does really have an intriguing aura.If you happen to be alone inside, you can almost hear the voices of history!

  10. This place is amazing. I can’t just imagine staring at the details for hours. Enjoyed reading about it’s history as well.

    • Hope you have the chance to experience Aadalaj when in India Christina!

    • Yes Christina, it is amazing, I have spent some memorable hours in its cool environs while the sun was blazing outside.

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

    • Glad you enjoyed the post Paige! Happy travels :)

    • Thanks Paige, happy you liked it. It is a lovely place and not too well known as well. There are so many similar hidden gems in India, waiting to be discovered.

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

    • So glad you enjoyed the post Perviz! Hope you have the chance to travel to experience the stepwell in person too :)

  13. Hey Vijay,
    Such Breathtaking Stepwell of Aadalaj and You captured such amazing pictures.
    I have never heard about this place before.
    Thanks for exploring such beautiful place :)

    • So glad we could introduce you to the story behind the stepwell Shri :) Hope you have the chance to visit India soon! Happy travels :)

  14. How intricate Vyjay. The architecture amazes me. Especially how the place remains cool, despite hot temps outside. I appreciate this here in Oman. Feels like AC on inside with a blistering sun beating down on the building.

    • The architecture amazes me too … they were truly quite advanced for the time! I hope you’re having a fabulous time in Oman despite the heat :)

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