Deep inside the Humayun’s Tomb complex and hidden by lush foliage is a 17th Century baoli (stepwell) — neglected for centuries and ignored by visitors. Early this year, however, the Aga Khan Trust for Culture (AKTC) began restoring the baoli, which was built during Mughal emperor Jahangir’s reign.
Professor Shama Mitra Chenoy said that in the 17th Century, a mandi (market) was built by Mihir Bano Agha, a transgender in Jahangir’s court. “Opposite the mandi, Agha built the baoli, with a gate which opens into the Nizamuddin East area,” said Chenoy.
The baoli and the mandi were built inside the 16th Century Arab ki Serai.
Ratish Nanda, project director, AKTC, said, “The baoli was in a ruinous state with a lot of cracks. We began restoration work in March. We have removed the structural cracks and are rebuilding the collapsed vaulted roof.”
The AKTC has received funding for the project from the German government. The baoli is expected to be restored by early 2020.
In his book on baolis of Delhi, author Vikramjit Singh Rooprai wrote, “To the south of this serai, a fruit and vegetable market was built during Jahangir’s reign.”
The baoli has three entrances and two storeys, and is at least 20 feet deep.
At the site, debris pulled out of the baoli lay in a corner as craftsmen and labourers replaced cracked stone.
Nanda said, “The baoli has a unique L-shaped plan, enclosed by walls on the north, south and west, with descending steps on the east. There is a series of chambers on the upper levels.”
This is a part of the AKTC’s ongoing restoration project at the Humayun’s Tomb complex, as there are at least 70 heritage structures inside.
The remnants of the baoli and the mandi have always been accessible to visitors. As it is further away from the restored heritage structures, and due to lack of signages, the mandi and baoli rarely see visitors. Once restoration of the baoli is done, signages will be put up.
Nanda said, “To revive the original function of the baoli, we will re-grade the earth within the Arab ki Serai bazaar to collect rainwater within the baoli, which has a capacity of 1.5 lakh litres.”
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