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Well worth a visit

Its name suggests a strong smell of sulphur. But as one approaches Gandhak ki baoli from Mehrauli bus depot and past Adham Khan’s tomb...

Written by Alokparna Das |
May 10, 2009 10:36:29 pm

Tourists almost always miss these two medieval stepwells,which once served as cool retreats in Delhi’s scorching summer but now lie dried up

Its name suggests a strong smell of sulphur. But as one approaches Gandhak ki baoli from Mehrauli bus depot and past Adham Khan’s tomb,the only strong smell one gets is that of freshly baked tandoori rotis from the adjacent Pehelwan Dhaba. The stepwell built by 13th-century Slave dynasty ruler Iltutmish is,in all probability,Delhi’s oldest surviving baoli. Simple in its design,with slim pillars and narrow walkways at each of its five tiers that lead to the well and back,it has no trace of water. Local residents,however,say that till some years ago,this was also known as the ‘diving well’.

Ironically,the baoli is hardly 250 metres away from South district’s water emergency service station. The structure,though not dilapidated,does need repair and conservation,and,most importantly,a prominent signage. Located at walking distance from the Qutab Minar and on the road that leads to the dargah of Qutbuddin Bakhtiar Kaki and Gurdwara Banda Bahadur,it’s definitely due to lack of awareness that tourists skip this medieval monument.

Behind Gandhak ki baoli is yet another stepwell—bigger and much more ornate. The 16th-century Rajon ki baoli is so named because it was meant to be used by the rajmistries or masons. Located at one end of the Archaeological Park,the greenery and solitude gives the stepwell and the adjoining 12-pillared mosque a perfect ambience. The inscription on the mosque says that these monuments were built by Daulat Khan in 1506 during the reign of Sikandar Lodhi. Obviously,Daulat Khan had built this stepwell keeping in mind the welfare of local people and the mosque for his own spiritual well-being.

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With four levels,each narrowing down as one descends towards the well,Rajon ki baoli boasts of a colonnaded arcade running along three sides of the stepwell. The internal rooms of the arcade once provided a cool retreat to passersby. The rectangular shape,symmetrical arches of the arcade,and incised plasterwork only add to the beauty of the stepwell. It is obvious that the baoli must have seen better days when the water-level was just a little below the third level. Today,the well is almost dry and whatever little water can been seen in the shaft below has garbage,dry leaves and plastic pouches floating in it. Despite this,the structure has managed to retain its dignity.

Baolis have been part of medieval architecture in Delhi,Lucknow,Rajasthan and Gujarat—a region where hot summers make water really precious. In Delhi alone,there were at one point of time more than 30 baolis,most of which have now disappeared. At least one of them,the Nizamuddin baoli,has been recharged recently. In popular legends,stepwells were also thought to be the favourite haunt of fairies—just like the story of King Arthur’s wizard Merlin who used to meet fairies in a stepwell. Standing on the steps of Rajon ki baoli,one can only wonder whether fairies still visit the place.

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First published on: 10-05-2009 at 10:36:29 pm

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