There are over a hundred stepwells in Gujarat, and there’s always the chance that you’ll stumble upon a little-known vav, as they are called in Gujarati. A traditional, subterranean water-harvesting system, stepwells also doubled up as cool resting places for villagers and travellers. These architectural marvels have evolved in design since they were first built in the third millennium B.C.; perhaps the most famous is Rani Ki Vav, which made it to UNESCO’s World Heritage list in June 2014.
Conveniently enough, most of the popular stepwells in Gujarat radiate in three directions from Ahmedabad. These itineraries include the most popular ones with tips on where to eat, shop, and take a break. For those looking for shorter trips or a weekend escape, you can do the half-day Central Gujarat itinerary below. The North Gujarat and South Gujarat trips will take a day each, and the Saurashtra itinerary will take about three days. It is also possible to do a circular trip covering all these stepwells over a span of 15-20 days. Leave early in the morning, as afternoons can get unbearably hot.
Duration: Half a day.
Distance: 60km round trip from Ahmedabad.
Despite being intricately carved, with particularly ornate stone columns, there are no signboards around Dada Hari ni Vav and it remains largely neglected. Power through the eeriness you might feel upon entering, and you’ll be greeted by magnificent architecture and planning. It may be situated five stories beneath the ground, but even the bottommost floor is cool and well-lit on a hot day. It was built in 1499 A.D. by Sultan Mahmud Begada’s harem supervisor. The mausoleum of a royal midwife lies in the 16th-century Dai Halima Mosque behind the stepwell. The Dada Hari Ni Vav is located near Relief Road, which connects to the local railway station.
Explore: Since you’re already in the old city, make the most of it by taking a walk through the pols (housing clusters) here. Bear in mind that cruising through the traffic in the slender lanes of the old city can be cumbersome. The market roads tend be extremely crowded so make sure your vehicles are safely parked in the parking zones at Bhadra.
The best way to travel to the old city is by a rickshaw. For shopping, take a 10-minute rickshaw ride to the Tankshal – a wholesale market for everything from hair accessories to embroidered fabrics and imitation jewellery. Take a trip to the Juma Masjid, a tranquil spot amidst the maddening hustle and bustle, and stop by the nearby Manek Chowk and Rani No Hajiro markets for spices, trinkets, fabric, vessels and fresh fruits and veggies. If you’re willing to take a short (albeit tiresome) detour, the Bera Samosa Center is another 10-20 minutes away by foot. Bite into the tiny triangular treats filled with spicy mutton keema and savour delicious meat kebabs with soft, spongy pavs.
Distance: 20km from Ahmedabad.
To leave the maddening hustle and bustle of the old city for Gujarat’s lush green and serene capital, head towards Lal Darwaja and exit at Shahibaug. Stop at the Sardar Patel National Museum, housed in the Moti Shahi Mahal at Shahibaug, for its collection of old coins and historic letters. Also on display is the room where Rabindranath Tagore once stayed on a visit. A short detour to will take you to the Gandhi Ashram where you can visit the room that Mahatma Gandhi had stayed in or even have a go on the charkha here. Stop by the Calico Museum nearby, to view a mind boggling range of fabrics. You will also cross the Motera Stadium, where all the major cricket matches are held on your way. If you’re hungry don’t forget to gorge on the “jail na bhajiya” near the RTO, which are bhajiyas made by the inmates of the Sabarmati Central Jail. Do pack some to go for the road.
The stepwell at Adalaj is by far the most popular in Gujarat, packed with locals, tourists and photographers on a fashion or wedding shoot. Built by Queen Rudabai, wife of the Vaghela chief Veersinh in 1499, this stepwell is five stories deep, its walls embellished with beautiful floral carvings as well as sculptures of deities. It is comparatively well-maintained, and is home to annual heritage festivals.
Click through for itineraries for North Gujarat, South Gujarat and Saurashtra