Adalaj Ki Vav: Stepwell of Gujarat

The Stepwell

The Stepwell

The state of Gujarat is usually known for it’s venerable skill of entrepreneurship. The ‘White Revolution’ emanating from the Verghese Kurien led efforts at Anand, is known throughout the world. That made India the largest producer of Milk in world. The Fortune 500 listed, Reliance Group led by another Gujarati also highlights the scale to which a Gujarati entrepreneur can go. This spirit of profit making grand ventures at a huge scale is matched equally by the the spirit of charity and general welfare, exemplified inter-alia in various step wells built over Gujarat and called locally as Vav or Vavadi. These were built in whole of western India including present day Pakistan for providing and maintaining scarce water resources of the time. These step well built on the important roads of the time and near habitations were primarily for providing water for drinking and allied activities in this most western and semi arid state of India. The wells present a window to the traditional water storage systems prevalent in those days. They also underline the utilitarian concept of the architecture prevalent at that time in western India, compared to subsequent magnificent eye-popping grand structures of then contemporary India. It surely reflects the value added and people friendly architectural-cultural heritage of India.The vavs at some places were used as a part of irrigation system by adding sluice gate on the rim of the well and by lifting water from the well through rahat type structures and then pushing the lifted water to the field nearby for irrigation.

The Stepwell

The Stepwell

I happened to visit one of these most beautiful five storied step well of India, situated in village Adalaj, at 18 km from Ahmedabad. It was built in Solanki style by Rani Ruda, wife of Vaghela chief Veer Singh in 1498( year of Vasco De Gama’s discovery of India). This is one of the most prominent step well of the region and is known by its utility blended with some marvelous architectural work Some stories associate it with Muslim King, Mohmood Begda and his support to the project and subsequent impact of Islamic structure. The stepwell is five storyed and made of sand stone. Its shape is octagonal and entrance is from south. The entrance leads down to three floors which have rooms at each floor and and had space for congregations. These floors are supported by intricately carved pillars. The various patterns and carvings carved on various floors and pillars are one of the finest examples of 15th century architecture.

A carved Panel at Vav

A carved Panel at Vav

The three pair of staircases finally lead to the square shaped stepwell at water level. In between there are adequate provisions of air and sunshine at each level. The motifs of flowers and Jain and Hindu Gods gel well with the Islamic architecture too. A panel showing 9 Navgrahas is shown at the door on eastern side of second storey. The walls are adorned with carvings of woman attending daily chores of life, like churning milk and decorating themselves. These wells seem to have been the congregation places for women performing various religious and social functions. Interestingly, the wells are still the sacred and integral part of marriages in India. Few mandatory rituals are still performed at wells, in all most all parts of India. Though with depleting wells, these are now performed at different water sources including ubiquitous hand pump now a days!.

The Well View from the Top

The Well View from the Top

Going down to the well and coming back up, you can feel a difference in temperatures inside the well and outside. In the third week afternon of November I could very clearly notice the temperature difference of 4 to 5 degrees between in and out. It would have been a really soothing place in this semi arid land of Gujarat and with the clean water to quench the thirst for travelers, traders and habitats nearby. Being there, one can not but feel even after 516 years, the contribution of Rani Ruda and his people oriented architects, to the society in right earnest.

Adalaj Ki Vav

Adalaj Ki Vav

Agashiye, the food paradise of Gujarat

Agashiye, House Of M G

Agashiye, House Of M G

The quest for food is the fundamental one and as a frequent traveler, I have been exposed to huge range of foods from many parts of India. Only a few of them have been as memorable as one I had at Agashiye. It is one of the restaurants of the heritage hotel House of M G, situated just opposite to world famous Sidi Saiyyad Mosque in the walled city of Ahmedabad. The restaurant is housed in 1924 built haveli of Seth Mangal Das Giridhar Das who was one of the wealthy supporter of Gandhi during freedom struggle. It has now been converted into an heritage hotel. The restaurant Agashiye on the terrace of this building serves authentic vegetarian Gujarati food, and it does that in style.

Last week while visiting Ahmedabad, I went there along with my sister’s family to have dinner. After paying at the counter on ground floor we were ushered by a topi clad boy in a lift to the terrace of the heritage hotel. As you step outside the lift you feel a charming fragrance of incense sticks (which are manufactured in house by them in two fragrances, Pakeezah and Tulasi). You then move to the left to reach at the welcome area where a statue of a lying Ganesh is placed besides a water body. To the left of this you notice few wooden park  benches where we were seated first.

Lying Ganesh at the Agashiye Courtyard

Lying Ganesh at the Agashiye Courtyard

My group of four included my niece, sister and Jijaji (my sister’s husband). We sat on the benches and were served with a refreshing sharbat first. It was made from cucumber, pudina and some salt and sugar. It is a traditional Gujarati welcome appetiser drink. The sharbat tasted good and rejuvenated us. Next we were served batata vada(stuffed potato filled in the gram flour coating) and some Dhokala type dish, with sweet and green chutneys. Feeling hungry we polished off some good portion of them quickly. After some time we were escorted to our next slot of food paradise. Here the food is prepared in all visible arena and you find a large number of boys and men in neat white kurtas and a Gandhi topi to serve you. We were seated at a wooden sofas with a table for four. The cloth napkins at the table were topped with a red rose each, which being desi (indigenous variety), were smelling sweetly.

Our hands were washed with lukewarm water being poured on them and chilamchi just below, gathered the used-water to be thrown away. The big plates were laid on the table and were silver coated. There were many small bowls and betel or paan leaf too. On being asked they told that the thalis are silver coated and since they served a many chutneys and pickles as part of Gujarati cuisine, the betel leaves were used to place chutneys and pickles on them to avoid spotting of thalis. This also enhanced the taste and presentation of food. It was really a nice thali view!.

gujarati-thali-agashiye-restaurant-ahmedabad

The Agashiye Thali

 

The serving boys soon came to our table and poured in many types of cooked vegetables in our big thalis. The katoris(bowls) were still empty. The next boy came up with his hand held multi-service bowls to fill all katoris with pulses and kadhi and sweet milk preparations. Our thali was full now but there was no respite and the boys kept on pouring papad, chutneys, pickles, halwa and what not. The last one came with ghee laden chapatis and bhakhari( the smallish chapatti made with coarse grain flour). These bhakhari were to be eaten with Lahsun(garlic) ki chutney and the fresh butter. After pondering for a while about wherefrom to start, I started with bhakharis first. It really tasted well and with spiced support of garlic ki chutney and with fresh butter, I felt the tinge and the flavour both. Then we moved on to polish of various vegetables and kadhi etc. The kadhi in Gujarati tradition was sweetened. As a person of North Indian food habits, I did not like sweetened Kadhi and moved on to relish halwa and other specialties of the day. The service boys were unrelenting in serving us all of the dishes in big proportions. In between we also tasted some great chutneys and papad etc. We were really in a food paradise.

The tables around us were too filled up with people and everybody was virtually engrossed in their respective food tasks. The variety was too huge to handle and there fore I reclined backward on my sofa cum chair to get some fresh air into my lungs, which were feeling a little out of breath. The service boy came again to help with with chhaachh or buttermilk and said that would take care of even over eating. But it was not just over eating, it was over stuffing actually like the passengers squeezed in Vaishali Express to Bihar. I gulped in one whole glass of buttermilk and decided to clear my thali. I did that in few minutes and then realized service boy was back to my table gain with Kichadi(preapred by mixing rice with pulses) to be eaten with dollops of Ghee! In nort India Khichadi in itself is a light meal and now here we were supposed to eat that after the meal. I took some portion of it after constant persuasion from the waiter and by the time it was finished, my tummy was almost bursting at its seam, wherever these seams are. However, there was no respite still as now a sweet dish in form of traditional Kesar-Pista ice cream, churned in an earthen pot for hours, was served to us. I finished it too so as to douse at least some stomach fire stoked by spicy Gujarati food.

The next to follow were many little glass bottles having digestives of various types like tamarind, zeera pills, ginger etc. I tasted few. The next in line was paan (betel leaves). These were locked with cloves and were served with amla (gooseberry). I was told that amla was digestive and coupled with paan leaves, it really benefited us a lot. I had it too. The taste of paan with many condiments in it was really good. The amla was half boiled in salted water and eaten just before paan (betel), helped to be a palate cleanser actually.

Paan with Gooseberry

Paan with Gooseberry

 

Still next in the menu was coffee, which I decided to give a miss, as so much had gone into stomach and in so many tastes and colours that I found it little too much un-justice to my poor stomach. I decided to leave before I was threatened by any more recipes. All of us left the place heavier by at least 2 kg each. There is little wonder that Gandhi ji in his eleven vratas for a meaningful and soulful life prescribed, aswad as one of important discipline, literally meaning only eating irrespective of taste as much as was required for the body. We broke the rule that day to enjoy the gastronomical delights of Agashiye and enjoyed every bit of it. It’s really worth it.

At Agashiye with my group

At Agashiye with my group