“A vast sheet of water, covered with lotuses in flower, amid which thousands of aquatic birds are sporting, at the shores of which bathers washed, surrounded by jungle greenery”. That is how, in 1864, the famous French traveler Louis Rousselet described Abhaneri Stepwell in Rajasthan India. A few decades later, this very monument got famous in an Incredible India tourism advert and soon Hollywood joined the bandwagon. From Batman, Dark Knight Rises to the Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, many movies have been filmed at the Abhaneri Stepwell and its perfectly symmetrical geometric beauty became famous the world over. Located in the Dausa district of Rajasthan, somewhere between Delhi and Jaipur, the step well makes a great day trip from both the cities. Best accessed by a car, the step well comes with a semi ruined elaborately carved temple and rural hinterland spread all around it. There is no restaurant, cafe or a hotel nearby, though a few dhabas can take care of your basic hunger pangs. Though exquisitely beautiful, a half day trip is enough for this step well and there is no entrance fee. One can feel absolutely at peace and mostly alone there since only a handful of travelers bother to take the detour for Abhaneri.
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Abhaneri Stepwell, a gorgeous watering hole
An architectural jewel, Abhaneri Stepwell is one of India‘s most overlooked heritage sites. It is also among the largest and the most magnificent step wells in India. An immense four sided structure, 3,500 Escher-esque terraced steps plunge down to a cool 100 feet depth on the three sides of the well and a beautiful temple looms on the fourth side. It is stacked with gorgeously decorated pavilions on that side and the steps make up to thirteen stories height. A murky green pool lies at the bottom of the step well and the water is neither potable nor usable anymore. It used to be not like this before and once upon a time, this step well was used to store clean usable water for hot dry months. The north western states of India, especially Rajasthan and Gujarat have always faced a paucity of water and this is due to their semi desert location. The whole region enjoys seasonal rains after which acute water shortage happens almost immediately. With hot summer temperatures routinely rising above 100 degrees, the soil dries up very fast and water bodies wither away into almost nothing.
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Double that up as a cool summer resort
In such an environment, a practical solution for usable water storage was urgently needed for survival and thus, step wells started springing up throughout the region. Constructed around a dependable ground water source, the step wells were accessible by a flight of steps and in the olden days, a pair of bullock used to turn a wheel to increase their water level. This helped in people using deep ground water even during dry summer months and in later years, the step wells became the place for social gatherings for the elite. Since the temperatures are way cooler at the lower levels of the step wells, many of these structures were heavily embellished to be made suitable for creating recreational spots for the rich. Many of the wells also had temples built into them and in my eyes, they used to be the center of existence for the surrounding areas. The temples too came with exquisite carvings, which are quintessential of classical Indian architecture and the wells were known by many different names like baoli, bavadi, baudi and so on.
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The temple and the stepped well of Abha Nagri
In Rajasthan, they were called baori, while in Gujarat, the step wells were commonly termed vav. During their heydays, step wells were extremely important and breathtakingly beautiful. However, during the years of the British Raj their conditions declined and the colonial rulers started installing pumps and pipes for more hygienic water supply. This ended the era of the use of step wells and nowadays, they are archaeological wonders, with some water filled ones providing diving fun to the local children. The Abhaneri Stepwell too is now under the care of Archaeological Survey of India and they have done a great job in preserving its exquisite beauty. Also, know as the Chand Baori, the Abhaneri Stepwell was built by King Chanda of the Chauhan dynasty somewhere between 800 to 900 AD. It was constructed around the active town of Abha Nagri, which later came to be mispronounced as Abhaneri and was dedicated to goddess Hashat Mata. The richly carved temple on the complex is dedicated to her as well and there are several beautifully decorated royal pavilions which were used by the King and Queen for resting. Until recently, it was possible to step into the shoes of the royalty and climb down to the pool to enjoy the step well‘s micro climate. Unfortunately, an accident in which a tourist fell in several years ago, it is no longer permissible to walk down to the bottom.
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Travel Tip for visiting Abhaneri Stepwell
The Abhaneri Stepwell is still a great place to visit in case you are in the area and it makes exceptionally beautiful photos. There is a moderate photography and/ or videography fee and you could also visit it on Agra-Jaipur or reverse road trip. Abhaneri is around 95 kilometers from Jaipur but there is no direct connectivity. With public transport, you need to get on a bus to Bamanpura on Jaipur-Agra highway and then take another bus to Alwar which will drop you at the cross road 5 kilometers before Abhaneri. Shared jeeps to Abhaneri are frequently available from that point. If you are coming from Delhi then take a bus to Alwar, followed by a bus to Dausa which is going via Bamanpura. The bus will drop you at the cross road 5 kilometers before Abhaneri, from where you can take the shared jeep.
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