I was one very happy lady last week. Sitting in the car, enroute to my morning walk around Nehru Park, I came across a photo on Instagram of a step well, something that was high on my list to see whilst here in India. I was very pleased to see there was one here in Delhi. I've since found out there's another... Another day! The other is even older, built in the 10th Century and found in Mehrauli, not too far from home. Mehrauli and its numerous tombs were already on my list and now I have even more reason to do so. This Baoli or step well though is found hidden not far from the iconic buildings of Connaught Place, Jantar Mantar and amongst the modern buildings. It is central Delhis oldest monument.
Baoli means step well, although there are many other names for them too. This Baoli is named after Maharajah Agrasen, who ruled over 5,000 years ago, however although legend has it that was Agrasens well (also known as Ugrasen) what you see today was definitely built or rebuilt in the 14th century. A step well was the main source of water for the local inhabitants, as well as being a cool place to congregate and escape the savage heat of an Indian summer.
Agrasen Ki Baoli is 60 metres long and 15 metres wide, made up of 3 levels each with arched alcoves lining the sides where people could sit and escape the sun. There are 108 steps down to the bottom and I can say they are very uneven and of different depths, but I walked both up and down them and refused to let the group of teenagers see how puffed I was on the way back up!! At the base are rooms and passageways leading off which I didn't investigate due to the depth of the pigeon droppings and the strong odour! At the far end of the steps lies a 8 metre round well which in the past would fill with water and overflow, gradually filling the baoli up to the top level.
At the top of the steps, to one side, sits a mosque with the remains of a domed roof which has long since partially collapsed. The mosque now seems to be used for storage. Holding up the remains of the roof are red sandstone columns which are covered in Buddhist designs.
The baoli has been dry for many years now. The water levels receded in the 1970s revealing deep levels of silt. The Archaelogical Survey of India (ASI) desilted and restored Agrasen ki Baoli and its is now a protected monument.
I've read that there was water in it until 2002 but also read the last drowning was in 2007? what can said for sure is it is no long full of water these days. There were many drownings and suicides and it is reported that the place is very haunted. I know a group of guys in Singapore that would be keen to see if this was true!
There was a famous photo taken in 1971 by Raghu Rai (shown below) apparently from what I've read the boy jumping into the water was and maybe still is the guard that watches over the place.