What comes to your mind when you talk about visiting historical destinations? Forts. Palaces. Temples. Tombs. Can we think beyond forts and palaces? What about glorious ancient stepwells? Never heard of them? Stepwells simply mean “wells with stairs.”
In ancient times (an era when water was worshipped as it gives life), step wells were uniquely built to harvest rainwater during rainy season, conserve it through successive dry and arid seasons to facilitate people during water shortage. See, we were ecologically more responsible in past times. Ancient baoris were greatest public monuments, accessible to everyone regardless of their gender, color, caste, and religion. Constructing a stepwell was a favoured philanthropic activity of royal families then. Stepwells weren’t just water storage tanks but were amazingly intricate coups of architecture, engineering and art.
Archaeological excavations of prehistoric sites provided evidence of existence of stepwells since Harappa and Mohenjodaro era. So, stepwells roughly have 5,000 years old history.
Odyssey to Incomparable Ancient Indian Stepwell in Abhaneri
It all began with a column in a newspaper. A picture of a striking stone structure with mathematically accurate steps winding deep into the ground ornamented in such an exquisite way on all sides caught my attention. I never knew that a water storage tank can be used for purposes like social interactions and stage performances. Awestricken, I instantly added Chand Baori to my bucket list.
I researched about it on the internet and decided to take some time out to visit this artsy wonder during my trip to Jaipur next month. Though, I was quite apprehensive whether we’ll be able to take some time to visit this strange little town of Abhaneri (Abha Nagri – City of brightness) or not. Luckily we made it! 🙂 It was time to unclothe the mystery behind Chand Baori.
Abhaneri is few miles (60 miles) away from Jaipur. We had to take a detour from NH-11 (Jaipur-Agra road) nevertheless driving is pleasant because the condition of roads is quite good. Rural roads in such a good shape took me by surprise.
Abhaneri, once part of a booming empire now lies relinquished by days of yore.
Chand Baori – Crafted with Perfection
Chand Baori aka Moon Well in Abhaneri village of Rajasthan is one of the most esoteric and odd places in Rajasthan. It certainly is a visual delight! It’s known to be the deepest step well (3500 steps moving down 20 meters down that’s 13 stories) in the world.
The ancient stepwell is utter poetry. It’s a finest example of human brilliance and endurance. The meticulousness of design is bound to leave you scatterbrained. As soon as you enter, ming-boggling brilliant maze welcomes you!!! Sparsely visited majestic Chand Baori looks glorious in all its forlornness.
King Chanda of the Nikumbha dynasty built this step-well between 8th and 9th centuries to answer the problem of water shortage in the parched land of Abhaneri. It also served as a place for devotees to wash their hands and feet before entering the Harshat Mata temple.
This square-shaped step well is surrounded by steps on three sides and a fort on the fourth side with successive rooms, corridors, stage for performances and balconies.
Looking deep into the well you would wonder how the artisans of that era dug 100 feet below the ground and created this mystic architectural marvel. It seems to be implausible and overwhelming even for architects and engineers of modern times. The accuracy in numbers and imbricate is a typical instance of the prowess of Indian artisans of those times. And the fact that it was built in an age when advanced equipments and electricity were a distant dream makes me bow down to the artisans and sculptors of those times.
No matter how and from which angle you look at it, it truly is an architectural marvel, and a place of great allure and wonder.
I wanted to step inside the baori but the person in charge informed that it’s not allowed to go down because of few deleterious incidents in the past and thus, fencing has been done to stop people from venturing inside. A shade of bright green color of water (because of algae growth) in Chand baori was bestowing intense hues to the ancient murky steps.
Harshat Mata Temple
Chand Baori is dedicated to ‘Harshat Mata Goddess’ who’s the goddess of joy, happiness and brightness. Harshat Mata Temple too has a perplexing and gloomy aura like Chand Baori but still looks divine in all its ruins. The exquisite carvings on pillars literally steal your heart.
One can see the broken statues and columns scattered across the temple courtyard. Muslim Invaders (Mahmud Ghazni) in 10th century damaged the structure.
Legends of Chand Baori
Locals claim that this architectural masterpiece is built by ghosts in just one night. ‘What!’ I proclaimed. I mean the kind of geometrical symmetry and architectural complexity the place displays certainly would have taken half a decade to build it. It is also believed to be haunted by djinn, which would never ever let you climb up the same stairs that you used to get down in the step well. Ghoulish!!!
There are different versions of a story but all of them prove the place to be haunted. Natives enjoy narrating stories to the travelers and tourists.
Stories; real or unreal or made-up, make our life worth living! Isn’t it?
I’m really not a believer in paranormal or supernatural phenomena but inexplicable bizarre sense chased me inside the Chand Baori. An unusual and strange atmosphere with hostile and echoing sound of pigeons, creepy air, hovering bats and honey bees buzzing all around the place makes one believe in its hauntedness. If you look closely, each stone tells a story.
This magnificent step well has also been featured in Hollywood movies viz. The Fall, The Dark Knight Rises,The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel and in Bollywood movies like Paheli and Bhool Bhulaiyaa. Sadly, the most disquieting scenes in these movies are shot here to encash its eidolic status.
UNESCO’s and Preservationists’ endeavour to make people and modern architects realise the value of ancient baoris is worth mentioning. Archaeological Survey of India manages Chand Baori.
Similar to Chand Baori – Rani-ki-vav, Patan, Gujrat. Stepwells mean vavs in Gujarati.
How to Reach Chand Baori:
Abhaneri village in Dausa district of Rajasthan snugly hides Chand Baori. Abhaneri is on NH11, on the Jaipur-Agra road.
If you are coming from Jaipur, take a bus to Sikandra village from Sindhi Camp Bus Stand in Jaipur and then Jeep to and from Abhaneri or take a train to Bandikui from Jaipur railway station and then bus or taxi to Abhaneri. Google Maps App comes handy if you plan to travel by car. Abhaneri is 95.8 km from Jaipur via NH-11 and NH-22 which takes around 2 hours to reach.
Nearest bus stand and railway station is at Dausa and Nearest airport is Sanganer Airport, Jaipur. Taxis or local buses are available for Abhaneri at railway station and airport. Regular bus service is available for all the nearby cities like Agra, Jaipur, Bikaner, Bharatpur and Ajmer from Dausa.
Best Time to visit Chand Baori:
The ideal time to visit Chand Baori or any place in Rajasthan for that matter is in winter (October to February) when the desert sun is not as harsh as in summers. Exploring becomes more of a fun when days are pleasant, you know.
There’s no entry fee.
9 a.m. to 5 p.m
Exquisitely appealing colossal step well is sure to lure you if you are a history buff like me. Add a touch of history to your travels!
P.S. Meanwhile, I have added many more historic stepwells to my bucket list 🙂