Vanishing Baolis – The Unique Stepwells Of India

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. 

Agrasen ki Baoli - Stepwell in New Delhi
Agrasen ki Baoi, astepwell in New Delhi

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.

Rajon ki Baoli - Mehrauli Archaeological Park, Delhi
Rajon ki Baoli adjoining Adham Khan’s tomb in Mehrauli Archaeological Park, Delhi
Rajon ki Baoli - Mehrauli Archaeological Park, Delhi
Rajon ki Baoli – Mehrauli Archaeological Park, Delhi

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.

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Hi, I'm Madhu. Wanderer. Travel blogger. Story teller. Bitten late and hard by the travel bug, I am on a mission to make up for lost time.

72 thoughts on “Vanishing Baolis – The Unique Stepwells Of India

  1. I learn something new every time I visit your world – never heard about those wells neither. I your part of the world … far away you have been so advance in every thing – we here in Europe are very slow starters. *smile
    Somebody told me that China had ice cream before Christs was born.
    Is this not your own photos – because – you are indenting to go there.

    1. These are the ones I visited in Delhi Viveka. I intend to go to all the remote and ornate ones mentioned in that article 🙂 Ice cream before Christ??? Shall have to look that up 😆

      1. Yes, please do … I thought that it didn’t add up with the photos – they had your magic touch all over them. So silly I thought is was all about the same wells.

        1. You will understand if you check out that link Viveka. Some of those wells are like ornate temples!!!

        2. That was me … not doing what I should have done. I saw the links – but I never used them. Going back and become a lot wiser. *smiel

        3. Victoria’s article is massive – when and I can now see the difference in them – some is just massive – the first two links I couldn’t see so much difference between the wells.

    1. I think each generation feels the need to re-acquire lost skills, while giving up some of their own!! Thank you Judy.

  2. Holy wow! Very nice find. To think that majestic look are stepwells makes it all really fascinating to see. I really hope they don’t “trash” the place. ‘Cause maybe travel gods might send me there. If that happens, I’m sure they’re going to clear out everything for me. Ahihihi 😀 You continue to impress. You really are the epitome of a topnotch travel blogger.

  3. The scope and detail are phenomenal, what fascinating structures but how tragic to see the ruin of others. I am not too sure I could cope with the steepness of some of those stairs . . .. A most fascinating stream of information thank you Madhu!

  4. It looks quite sophisticated and elaborate! Such an astonishing creation and amazing talent and skill that we don’t see much of anymore, unfortunately.

  5. It never ceases to amaze me that ancient structures that were engineered for practical urban use eventually become stunning architectural treasures. I can’t imagine that the design of our modern public water systems will enthrall future generations, as do the beautiful stonewall structures of India. Thank you for sharing this bit of history and wonder!

  6. Madhu, these step wells are fascinating – and I knew nothing about them! What an ingenious design. Not only are they practical – they’re gorgeous. Once again, thanks for broadening my horizons. ~Terri

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