Near to the town of Surendranagar in Gujarat is the beautiful Stepwell known as Ratba Vav.
New Year 2018-9 we were in Gujarat, searching for ancient stepwells. New Year's Eve we planned to stay in what looked like an interesting old country house in the small village of Vadod. Clearly we weren't expected. The house was neglected and we were offered dark dusty rooms that hadn't been occupied for years.
A few solemn Indian guests started to arrive and were puzzled to see us. It turned out the patriarch had just died; the guests were arriving for a funeral and the staff seemed to be trying to hide. Not auspicious for New Years' Eve.
Country roads after dark are best avoided, drivers don't care to use their headlights. People and camels loom suddenly out of the darkness but we drove a few miles and managed to get a room in a minor palace that I'd held in reserve.
In the morning we followed a straight road opposite the hotel to the village of Rampura and the delightful stepwell called Ratba Vav. We park short and walk along the side of the well with carved pyramidal shikaras over the internal pavilions located at each level of the well.
The well is still the centre of village life and we pass through a large new bamboo pavilion to the Hindu shrine at the entrance to the well.
The sign says it was built in 1482 CE but some of the intricate carving depicting village life is heavily weathered and may be older. It's built in the Gujarati style of pillars and lintels with carved stone brackets. Broken sunlight adds life to the wonderful gold and red colours of the stone. We ring the bell over our heads and descend.
I think I count six levels as we descend. Even so the water is at a still deeper level reached only by the circular well shaft at the far end. In the wet season the water level would be higher. Each level has it's own platform; the space gets narrower and darker as we descend. The internal views are dramatic.
At the well shaft itself a final series of steps lead down to the water. A stone Nandi sits there as offering. Nandi is a symbol of the Hindu god Shiva. Red flags by the entrance indicated this to be a Shiva shrine. The well shaft is a triumph of stonework and an aesthetic delight; some of the original lifting gear is still visible.
Spiral staircases thread through the walls; we ascend the main steps past garlanded shrines and statues of Ganesh before taking one last look at this superb piece of Indian architecture, delighted to see that it's well cared for and still in use.