This post is therefore about something that is unfamiliar to most Indians except those who have visited and toured Gujarat since it is unique to that part of the country. Temples, mosques, mausoleums, forts are a dime a dozen in India, of every possible variety and ethnicity. However Step Wells or Vav (Baoli in Hindi) are almost unique to Gujarat (very few exist elsewhere) and are an interesting concept.
Step wells are deep tanks that reach down upto the level of the water in the ground, with stairwells to allow people to descend to the bottom of the well. Unlike an ordinary tank, step wells can be of great architectural significance with very complex architectural structures and carvings in the walls leading down to the water table below. It's common is Western India (mainly in Gujarat) but apparently also exist in Pakistan and is typical of dry and arid environments. It allowed the local populace to come down to the level of the water table and complete their washing and bathing rather than exert themselves to lift the water all the way to the top from such great depths.
One of the grandest of the step wells (and which we saw this time) is Rani ki Vav in Patan in Gujarat. This was constructed by Udaymati, queen of Raja Bhimdeva (of the Solanki dynasty) in the 11th century C. E. This is a massive structure 64m by 20m and is 27m deep constructed in a pillared multi storeyed form. The walls are adorned with beautiful sculptures depicting figures from Indian mythology -- the various avatars of Vishnu and other gods, like Ganesha, Surya and Kuber and numerou females figurines in the pose of apsaras and yoginis. It's one of the largest step wells of its kind in India and preserved remarkably well for all its 1000 year history, with not a little help I suppose from the Archaeological Survey of India.
The Adalaj ni Vav at Adalaj near Ahmedabad is another beautiful step well we visited. While much smaller in size that the grand Rani ni Vav it is nonetheless noted for its structure and carvings which are very intricate.