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Stepwells aka Baoli : 7 Subterranean Architectural Wonders in India You Can’t Afford to Miss

Chand Baori

Hundreds of years ago, magnificent stepwells were built in the parched zones of the country to collect rain water during monsoon and keep it accessible all year round. These stepwells are known by different names like ‘baori’, ‘baoli’, ‘bawdi’ or ‘vav’. Constructed in multi-storeys with symmetrically aligned steps leading to the water level, these stepwells have elaborately ornamented columns, platforms, niches, sculptures and intricate carvings, which reflect their exceptional engineering and architectural excellence. Due to the cooler ambience inside, they served as delightful retreats during peak summer season and also as places for social gatherings and sacred rituals. Most stepwells are found in the states of Gujarat and Rajasthan, because of sparse rain and intense water scarcity. It is estimated that there were more than 3000 stepwells in India, mostly built between the 5th and 18th centuries, but many of them declined to a forgotten world in the subsequent years of British rule by the installation of pumps and piping system. Among the hundreds of surviving stepwells, we are presenting a list of 7 exotic stepwells you cannot afford to miss.

1.  Chand Baori, Rajasthan – Quintessence of Beauty and Architecture


Situated in Abhaneri village near Jaipur in Rajasthan, Chand Baori is one of the oldest stepwells in India and is considered to be among the largest in the world. This gigantic square structure having 13 storeys and 100 feet depth was constructed by King Chanda of the Nikumbha dynasty of Rajputs between 8th and 9th Century. There are 3500 narrow steps arranged in zig zag pattern in perfect symmetry along the walls on three sides that descend to the bottom of the well to a green puddle of water. The fourth side has a set of royal pavilions built atop each other and has beautiful sculptures and carvings. There is a stage for performing arts and royal seats for the King and the Queen. You can also see a partially destroyed huge temple adjacent to the stepwell, with amazing architecture of the medieval India, which is dedicated to Harshat Mata (the goddess of Happiness). Featured in a number of movies including The Dark Knight Rises, The Fall, etc., this architectural marvel is one of the most visited tourist attractions in Rajasthan.

Located at 95 km in Jaipur-Agra road, Chand Baori can be reached from Jaipur by bus or taxi. Dausa is the nearest railway station which has excellent connectivity.

2.  Rani ki Vav, Gujarat – Queen Among the Stepwells in India


Rani ki Vav or “Queen’s Stepwell” is a UNESCO World Heritage site located near Patan in Gujarat. It was constructed during 11th century in memory of Bhimdev I of Solanki Dynasty by his widowed queen Udayamati. It was later flooded by Saraswati River for hundreds of years until it was excavated and recovered by the Archaeological Survey of India in the late 1980’s. This 64 m long, 20 m wide and 27 m deep stepwell is designed like an inverted temple with seven storeys and having more than 800 main sculptures mostly related to Lord Vishnu and his ten incarnations. At the water level there is a sculpture of Vishnu reclining on thousand headed snake Naga Sesha. Every pillar and wall is beautifully sculpted in Maru-Gurjara architectural style, making it one of the most amazing stepwells in India. A gate at the bottom level opens into a 30 km tunnel leading to nearby town of Siddpur, which was supposed to be the escape route of the royal family.

Ahmedabad is the nearest airport at 135 km from Patan. Several trains and buses run from Ahmedabad to Patan.

3.  Rajon ki Baoli, New Delhi – the Stepwell of the Masons


Rajon ki Baoli is one of the incredible stepwells in Delhi, located in the Mehrauli Archaeological Park, near the world famous Qutab Minar. It is a four level stepwell built by Daulat Khan in 16th century during the reign of Sikander Lodhi. It was named after Rajon (masons or raj mistris) who worked and occupied there. There is a 12-pillared beautiful mosque adjoining the stepwell. Three sides of the rectangular shaped baoli have symmetrical arched niches with inscriptions of Quran and have halls that provide a cool atmosphere to accommodate masons, locals and traders.

Mehrauli Archaeological Park is a home to more than 100 historical monuments and architectural relics. Along with Rajon ki Baoli, you can visit the other renowned stepwell Gandhak ki Baoli and famous monuments like Quli Khan’s tomb, Jamali Kamali mosque and tomb, and many more.

Mehrauli Archaeological Park is easily accessible by bus, private vehicle or Delhi Metro. It is walking distance from the Mehrauli bus terminus and the Mehrauli Metro station.

4.  Adalaj Vav, Ahmedabad – In Memory of a Tragic Story


Adalaj Vav located in Adalaj village near Ahmedabad in Gujarat is one of the most popular tourist attractions of Ahmedabad. It is a five-storey octagonal stepwell with Solanki architectural style and having intricate carvings. A Sanskrit inscription on a marble slab in the well reveals the tragic story behind the construction of the stepwell. Construction was started by Rana Veer Singh of Vaghela Dynasty in 1498, but he was killed by the Muslim invader Mohammed Begada. In 1499 Begada completed the construction of the stepwell to please the widow Queen Roopba, hoping that he could marry her. But on completion of the well, the queen threw herself into the well, making it a tragic history. This 75 feet deep baoli with Indo-Islamic architecture has a large number of intricately carved pillars with carvings of legendary scenes, elephants, musicians, dancers and women involved in daily activities. There is a blend of Islamic floral patterns and symbolism of Hindu gods carved at different floors.

Situated at 18 km from Ahmedabad and 5 km from Gandhi Nagar, Adalaj Vav is well connected by all modes of transportation.

5.  Raniji ki Baori, Rajasthan – a Magnificent Masterpiece of Bundi


Bundi is a small town in Rajasthan, which is called ‘the city of stepwells” because it has more than 50 stepwells. Raniji ki Baori, located in Bundi, is one of the wonderful stepwells in India famous for its beauty and architecture. This most popular attraction of Bundi town was built in 1699 by Rani Nathavati Ji, the younger queen of the Bundi ruler Rao Raja Anirudh Singh, who was a committed woman devoted to the welfare of her subjects. The baori is 40 m wide, 46 m deep and has 200 steps leading to the water. It has a high arched gate and a narrow entrance having four pillars with intricate carvings and a stone elephant statue on each of its corner. The multi-floored structure with beautiful sculptures has worship places on every storey. All archways are decorated with beautifully carved Ogee type brackets.

Bundi is 36 km from Kota and 200 km from Jaipur, and is well connected from different cities. Kota is the nearest railway station and Jaipur is the nearest airport.

6.  Pushkarni Stepwell, Hampi – Tribute to the Lost City of Vijayanagara


Pushkarni, the 15th century stepwell of the Vijayanagara Kingdom, was discovered near the King’s pavilion, amidst the ruins of Hampi, in an archaeological excavation held in 1980. The square shaped baoli has five stages with diminishing dimensions towards the bottom and precise cuts of steps that add beauty to this marvelous structure. Inscriptions indicate that prefabricated construction techniques were employed to finish the work faster. Water was supplied from inland through a masonry canal system which is still in perfect condition. The influence of Chalukya architecture is clearly reflected in the design and construction of the stepwell. Between the stepwell and the Kings Pavilion, there is an underground chamber which was a venue for the royal meeting of the King.

Hampi is well connected to neighboring cities. Nearest railway station is Hospet at 13 km and the nearest airport is Hubli at about 74 km from Hampi.

7.  Agrasen ki Baoli, New Delhi – the Haunted Stepwell of the Capital City


Located on Hailey Road near Jantar Mantar in the capital city of New Delhi, Agrasen ki Baoli is a protected document by the Archaeological Survey of India. This 60 m long, 15 m wide stepwell was believed to be built by King Agrasen during Mahabharata era and was later rebuilt in the 14th century by Agrawal community during the period of Tuglaq dynasty. This rectangular baoli has 103 steps made of red stones and has a series of super imposed arches of impressive design, supported on columns. The three levels of the visible area have several arched niches and rooms which are now securely protected with gates. If you move towards the bottom, the silence deepens, light of the day starts fading, and along with the echoing sounds of pigeons and the shrill cry of bats who have dwelled the place, you may have a feeling it is a haunted place. Being appeared in the Bollywood film PK, it has now acquired fame recently.

To reach the place, you have to take KG Marg from outer Connaught Circus and then turn left towards the Hailey road.

Baolis belong to a unique category of water architecture that reveals much about the ecology and traditional essence of the region. Many of them have been abandoned or destroyed. Some of them may be difficult to locate, and others you may come across by chance. But whenever you get an opportunity, step into the mysterious subterranean empire……….The forgotten architecture of history is preserved in every step of these stepwells!!

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