There is no dearth of historical monuments and structures in Delhi. Ranging from the earliest relics of the Maurya dynasty to the recent British rule. Every emperor left a lasting legacy. One such architectural wonder is the concept of baoli or stepwell.
What is a baoli?
A baoli is a man-made reservoir that is dug deep — all by hand — in the earth to store water. A flight of steps cascade to the bottom of the tank so water could be accessed throughout the year to beat the seasonal fluctuations, especially during the harsh summer months.
As per statistics, India has over 2,000 baolis across the country and most of them are found in the western region. While many have been obliterated into history, some have been restored by the government. These cisterns that once also served as a meeting point and community space have now become tourist attractions, giving us a glimpse of the glory and grandeur of the yesteryears.
Most famous stepwells in India
The most famous ones are Chand Baori near Jaipur, Rajasthan, the largest in the world and Rani Ki Vav in Patan, Gujarat which is a World UNESCO Heritage Site.
Stepwells in Delhi
Unknown to many, it is said that there are more than 30 stepwells in Delhi alone, some protected, some vanished and some only a fleeting mention in historical narratives.
One such place is the Agrasen ki Baoli situated in the heart of Delhi, near the bustling Connaught Place.
Very few are aware of its existence although its popularity skyrocketed after it was featured in a Bollywood movie named PK. The ruins were the home of the protagonist of the same name.
Also known as Ugrasen ki Baoli (that is what is mentioned on the plaque), it is believed that King Agrasen, the forefather of the Agrawal community, built this stepwell during the Mahabharata period over 5,000 years ago. The current structure was rebuilt much later during the rule of the Tuglaqs or Lodis. However, there is no historical evidence of these facts.
Unlike most stepwells which are accessible from multiple sides, Agrasen Ki Baoli is distinctive as it has only one entry point and a single flight of steps. It is approximately 60 metres long and runs north to south. At the ground level, it is 15 metres wide.
Entering the gated structure, one is instantly mesmerised by the beautifully arched corridors that flank the staircase on either side. They were probably used as a shelter by weary travellers, but we’ll never know. They do, however, make for a pretty picture, brimming with stories old and new.
There are 108 steps that lead to the bottom of the well that goes down three levels. The well is completely dry and non-functional currently. Descending can be a bit tricky and disorienting as there are no railings to grab onto.
Is Agrasen ki Baoli haunted?
Legends say the water of the well turned black and the place was haunted by demons and ghosts. In the recent past, people have also reported experiencing paranormal activities and being followed by spirits.
The historic structure presently has bats and owls crammed into every nook and cranny in abundance and entry is prohibited post-sunset.
Haunted or not, the enormous trees lines at the entrance provide welcome relief in the blistering Delhi sun for visitors. One can spend hours admiring the magnificence and soaking up history in the tranquil surroundings. The monument is now swamped with tourists and college students who have turned it into a hangout area.
The heritage structure is a protected monument and is currently under the aegis of the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI).