The unique stepwells of India, called Baoli’s (or Vavs in Gujurat), are ornate, complex structures that are legacies of the subcontinent’s ancient hydraulic engineering systems.
Along the way those vital water harvesting and storing skills were abandoned, and the wells dried up and silted over, and ended up as giant garbage dumps. It is astonishing how much wisdom a society culls over centuries, and then gives it all up in the name of progress!
With modern methods of water management not standing us in much good stead, there is a resurgence of interest in these traditional skills. But like all things Indian, reviving them is a painfully slow process, and only a few, closest to tourist attractions, have been restored to some degree of their original splendour.
Delhi has several stepwells – one right inside the Red Fort – that are beautiful, even if less splendid than their Gujurati and Rajasthani counterparts. I have featured two, the Agrasen ki Baoli that was practically next to our hotel in Janpath, and the Rajon ki Baoli in the Mehrauli archaeological park.
Victoria S Lautman’s insightful article, “India’s Forgotten Stepwells“, features several more stunningly beautiful wells, and explores their architecture and function in fascinating detail. She concludes with: “…gather your friends, get on a plane, and go see them for yourself before they disappear for all time.“
I intend to do just that.