A land of many cultures, several factors over the centuries have influenced the architecture of India. From the artisans who came to the country and built monuments of grandeur to the distinct seasons of its regions, inspiration from diverse sources resulted in unique and spectacular buildings that have stood the test of time. These structures continue till this day to amaze us with knowledge and visual beauty, a stark reminder of our glorious past.
Stepwells are ancient reservoirs, built to conserve water. These subterranean structures served many purposes. They were resting places for the Royals, a place to congregate for the commoners after a hard day’s work, and above all a retreat from the scorching heat of the harsh and dry Indian summer.
Found primarily along the western front of the country, there are exquisite examples of stepwells in Rajasthan, Delhi, Gujrat and Karnataka. The stepwells, known locally as “baori”, “baoli” or “bawri”, range from the very basic to extravagant architectures brimming with intricate engravings, unbelievable symmetry, and a nostalgic character that is difficult to replicate.
Delhi has two famous stepwells in Agarsen ki Baoli and Rajon ki Baori which are open to the public. But for something novel and a little more exotic, take a day trip to Neemrana or Abhaneri in Rajasthan to admire stepwells in all their underground brilliance.
Neemrana Deep Stepwell (Distance from Delhi – 120 km)
A little over an hour from Delhi is the bustling industrial town of Neemrana. What was initially a quaint Rajasthani destination till a few years ago, is now the site of large factories and multiple commercial activities. However, there still is a sense of history that lingers in the air as the town is also home to Neemrana Fort Palace, one of India’s premier luxury heritage resorts.
Among Neemrana’s recent claim to fame is the “discovery” of Neemrana Bawri. A deep stepwell that consists of nine levels, one must drive through the main town to reach the desolate spot where a single signboard greets visitors to this attractive piece of construction.
At first sight, Neemrana Bawri is simple, and with an almost flat surface area on the top, it’s easy to miss. The beauty of the creation comes to light once visitors go down the 200 odd steps to witness the stepwell from below. During the winter months, the stepwell is dry, and seven of its floors are easily visible. With each level measuring roughly 20 feet, the bawri is a majestic sight when seen in its entirety. The last two levels are either buried in sand or water depending on the month of the year that you visit.
Planning a trip to Neemrana Bawri in Alwar? Click here for more information.
Neemrana Bawri creates a subtle, yet impacting atmosphere. The construction is simple, consisting of arches and doorways without any work done on them. There are hidden pathways that lead in and out of the bawri, some of which have been closed off for security.
There isn’t much known about the stepwell, except that its construction happened in the 16th century. Its plain exteriors suggest that the stepwell was not for the royalty. Instead, it was made to conserve water in case of a draught and also served as a guest house for passing travellers.
Locals refer to the stepwell as Rani ki Bawri (Queen’s Stepwell), but there seems to be no real reason behind this. They also believe it to be haunted, and while during the day it looks rather ordinary, at night an eerie aura descends upon it that is difficult to shake off.
Neemrana Bawri lies in a deteriorating state at present. While the countless pigeons and parakeets are a lovely site upon arrival, there is no proper care given to the structure that somehow still manages to stand tall. Sadly, over time the walls have been inked with graffiti of all sorts, and plastic bags lie indifferently in every corner. Moreover, with no proper boundaries, it is dangerous, and one must be careful of every step they take. The central well at the far end remains uncovered adding to the spookiness as well as the hazard of the stepwell.
While the region is safe, because of the bawri’s isolated location, social miscreants often use it in the night, and thus it is advisable to visit during day time and in a group if possible.
Chand Bawri (Distance from Delhi – 220 Km)
Chand Bawri is among the most popular stepwells in the country along with Rani ki Vav in Gujarat. It has been the backdrop of many Bollywood films and continues to fascinate all those who visit the site.
Among the oldest stepwells in India, Chand Bawri was built by King Chanda of Nikumbha Dynasty in 800-900 CE. The structure pays tribute to Harshat Mata, the goddess of joy and happiness. A small room inside the complex holds daily puja for the divinity, but a much larger and equally ancient temple stands a few meters away on a small hill right next to Chand Bawri.
The bawri, constructed in a fashion where the covered front, meant for royals and nobles, has elegantly carved pillars and jharokhas, leaves a stunning impression on the minds of the visitor. The remaining area with 3,500 steps goes down in sections that form the most astonishing symmetry, a real feast for the eyes.
The main well where water was at one time stored goes down 100 feet beyond the lowest reachable level. Moreover, the temperature at the bottom is often 5-6 degrees lower and was an escape for the locals from the dry Rajasthani summers.
The Chand Bawri complex is cordoned off, and tourists must appreciate its beauty from the top. But the area is wonderfully preserved, clean, and lacks any prominent graffiti. Moreover, the boundary of the complex has a line of sculptures and stones found in the area, an excellent initiative to display and celebrate the historical legacy of the country.
For more information on Chand Bawri and how to access it, please click here.
Entry and photography inside the Chand Bawri are free, however, a fee of Rs. 25 is payable for the use of video equipment. The complex opens up at 9:00 am and closes at 6:00 pm every day. There is a little bazaar outside selling traditional Rajasthani souvenirs, ideal for some retail therapy after witnessing such a phenomenal marvel.
The striking contrast in the upkeep of Neemrana and Abhaneri stepwells is proof that with a little care it is possible to save our cultural treasures and showcase the appeal of a country packed with fantastic locations and sights of wonder.
Image courtesy: All images have been contributed by the author of this travel blog Raghav Modi.
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