Sunday, May 6
Explorations 1 - Agrasen ki Baoli
Route Plan : Get off the Metro Station at Barakhamba Road and walk towards Modern School. Turn right at Tolstoy Marg and then left at Hailey Lane. Turn right where the road joins Hailey Road. Agrasen ki Baoli is 100 metres away.
In the middle of the “urban jungle” one can find a step well - Agrasen ki Baoli
A cool breeze hits you as you enter the complex. As you walk down the series of steps to the water, the heat evaporates and the summer sun disappears. You look back to the sky. It is hot and dry. It is May. And this is Connaught Place. Skyscrapers and all.
You can sit here for hours - read or reflect. Well preserved and recently cleaned by the ASI, tourists rarely come here. A footnote to a trivia quiz. Everyone knows about a step well in the centre of Delhi but no one has been there.
A step well is a semi-enclosed complex that was a resting place for travelers. These buildings were planned around a perennial water source that had caretakers who kept the water body clean. Like Gujarat, Delhi has a strong tradition of man-made water bodies. The Haus Khas is well known. But step wells are often forgotten.
Very often we think that most of the older buildings in Delhi are built by the Mughals. However this is a common mistake. Lal Kuan, in the heart of Old Delhi has a pre Mughal history. The Tuglaqs (14th century) started constructing step-wells for drinking water and also for the several gardens they laid.
Step wells are spread all over the city - Tughlakabad, Nizammuddin, Mehrauli and there is also one near Saket. Some of them have been built by communities. In the case of the Agrasen ki Baoli, it is supposed to have been built by the Aggarwal community.
For me step wells are places of mystery. I remember going to Rajaon Ki Baoli in Mehrauli near Qutub Minar when I was in school. What fun we had playing hide and seek. Our laughter echoing. Teachers shouting out for us. The darkened corners where we hid. The bats that surprised us. A series of tunnels with the sound of water never far away. We wanted the place to go on for ever.
So many of these step wells are in a state of neglect with hardly any water in them. The irony is that they were made to hold water even in the hottest months. Today with depleting groundwater levels, baolis provide open places for recharging water levels.
Thankfully the ASI has cleaned up Agrasen ki Baoli clearing up the garbage and desilting the place although much work needs to be done to restore the water levels.
The next time you come to CP or even work there, surprise yourself…