Friday 31 October 2008

Adalaj Wav Stepwell

India 5: Is it a temple? Is it a tomb? No, it's a stepwell

Just outside of Ahmedabad on our way to the Nature Park we visited a small plain looking temple, at the driver's suggestion. It was a square building made of white bricks, nicely decorated inside with bright coloured garlands and mirrored. As we were about to leave I noticed some steps down through an iron gate. What I saw then was absolutely breathtaking and I realised this is what we had come to see.

Descending five storeys down into the ground, but open to the sky, was a series of pillars and arches on a huge scale. It felt like something you might see in ancient Egypt or in an Indiana Jones film. I certainly had some slight nervousness as I descended down the steps and it got darker and darker. Carved figures and shrines decorated with candles and flower garlands marked the walls either side of me. Eventually I reached the bottom and saw a large square pool with railings over it. Presumably this is the level of the water table and worshippers wash their feet there. I looked back up the sky and five floors of stonework towered above. I felt very small.

It turns out this is a Stepwell, a form of holy site unique to this part of the world. As far as I could understand they exist because of some restrictions about building upwards.. so they went down instead.

I'd never seen anything like this and it was at least as impressive as any temple or tomb I've seen before.