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These historic sites were once used to store water — particularly in the arid states of Gujarat and Rajasthan, where they number in the thousands.
Typically, there would be a set of steps leading to a pond at the bottom.
But a stepwell was so much more than a mere reservoir. It was used as a place for social gatherings, where communities would congregate.
Though Covid-19 is now impacting international tourism, thankfully many of these stepwells are still intact and waiting to be appreciated when India reopens to the world.
Visitors can find them both in both big cities and distant villages. They differ in sizes and forms, some completely abandoned, others occupied by groups of awe-inspired tourists.
Ready for a tour? Here are some of the most fascinating examples of Indian stepwell architecture.
The 13-story Chand Baori is one of India’s grandest architectural structures.
Located in India’s Abhaneri village — about 60 kilometers from Jaipur, in the state of Rajasthan — it was built over 1,000 years ago,
Visitors pass through an unpretentious entrance, where goats and dogs mingle, a stark contrast to the stunning scene that awaits. Made up of 3,500 steps covering 13 stories that descend 30 meters, this stepwell is a mind-blowing sight to behold, dizzying visitors with its grandeur.
It’s also mysteriously eerie, featuring greenish water at the bottom, a carved temple at the center and dark, inaccessible arcaded pavilions inside.
DC film fans might recognize it — the stepwell was immortalized by Christopher Nolan in his movie “The Dark Knight Rises.” It appears in the scene in which Bruce Wayne escapes from a subterranean prison.
Agrasen Ki Baoli
It’s easy to miss the grandiose Agrasen Ki Baoli. Located in the heart of New Delhi just a few blocks away from busy Connaught Place, this spectacular stepwell features 108 wide steps, which descend to the blackness of a now-empty covered water reservoir.
Considered haunted by some locals, its mystery is enhanced by the fact there are no records of who exactly commissioned the stepwell and when, with many speculating that the present-day structure was constructed around the 14th century by the Tughlagh dynasty.
A colony of bats adds to the spooky vibe.
Another remarkable stepwell in Delhi is Rajon Ki Baoli, in the city’s ancient Mehrauli neighborhood.
Toorji Ka Jhalra Bavdi
Red Bull Cliff Diving World Series champion Rhiannan Iffland of Australia dives at the Toorji Ka Jhalra stepwell in 2019.
Handout/Getty Images AsiaPac/Red Bull via Getty Images
The Toorji Ka Jhalra stepwell is one of India’s most stunning water structures.
Commissioned by Jodhpur Maharani (the equivalent of a queen) Gulab Rai in the 18th century as part of a rich local tradition of women overseeing the construction of stepwells, Toorji Ka Jhalra impresses with multiple pyramidal steps and elegant ornate elements representing the best in Rajput architecture.
This stepwell’s fate is among the brightest in India as it’s regularly cleaned and is a part of a revitalized area filled with restaurants, cafes and shops.
Also, it doubles as a swimming pool for locals and even hosted a Red Bull Cliff Diving competition in 2019.
Just a few blocks away from Toorji ka Jhalra lies another marvelous stepwell — Mahila Bag Ka Jhalra.
Rani Ki Vav
Situated outside the city of Patan in Gujarat state, Rani Ki Vav (translated as “queen’s well”) is more than just a stepwell. It’s a whole subterranean world consisting of masterful sculptures, elaborate carvings, endless passages and centuries of history.
The fact that we can marvel at its beauty today is remarkable in itself. For centuries this mighty stepwell was left buried due to a massive flood. The present incarnation of Rani Ki Vav is the result of more than 50 years of excavations and restorations.
India’s Adalaj Stepwell is a monument to the love between King Rana Veer Singh and his wife Queen Rudadevi.
A magnificent blend of Muslim and Hindu architecture, the Adalaj Stepwell is located in a small village of the same name near Ahmedabad in the Indian state of Gujarat.
It’s among the most enticing stepwells in the country, bearing five floors and a labyrinth of intricately carved rooms, passages and halls.
It’s believed to be a monument to eternal love as well. According to local legend, Queen Rudavevi built it in the late 1400s as a memorial to her husband, who was killed by Muslim conquerors.
It is speculated that she made Muslim King Mohammed Begda finish it, and once it was completed, jumped into the well, ending her life.
Tragic love story aside, the Adalaj Stepwell is a fantastic piece of medieval architecture and one of Gujarat’s most interesting attractions.
Dada Harir Stepwell
The stunning Dada Harir Stepwell
is filled with photo opportunities.
Tucked between a McDonald’s and the railway tracks on the outskirts of Ahmedabad, the Dada Harir Stepwell is a photographer’s dream destination.
it stands in a stark juxtaposition with its unremarkable surroundings, featuring underground columned passages, fascinating sculpture work and mesmerizing carvings built in the 15th century.
Be prepared to lose yourself in its alluring lines and shapes.
Panna Meena Ka Kund
While most Jaipur visitors opt to explore the epic Amer Fort, about eight kilometers from the Pink City lies another fascinating attraction that usually goes unnoticed.
The 16th century Panna Meena Ka Kund stepwell in the village of Amer is a picture-perfect water structure that’s graciously woven into this ancient temple-filled area.
Bonus: There’s a strong chance you’ll be the only person taking in its geometrically ideal beauty, allowing for countless photo opportunities.