On a freezing cold December morning in Delhi some years ago, two men sought a patch of sunlight along a narrow walkway that runs along each of the five tiers of an old step well dating back from early 1200s, most likely 1230 AD.
Gandhak ki Baoli, as the stepwell located in Mehrauli is known, comprises of a shaft well to provide drinking water, and a main tank the residents once used to clean and wash. Both lay dry when I visited the historic remnant of Delhi’s past, dried largely from neglect and indifference.
While I envied the two men their comforting blanket of warmth, I steered clear of the walkways that got narrower with successive tiers descending to the well. As you descend deeper, down each tier, the approach narrows as if preparing to gather you into an all consuming embrace.
From the uppermost tier the same level as the adjacent street, the steps gradually disappeared from sight before they were swallowed up by an opening at the bottom, dark and mysterious.
In a fanciful moment, the kind frozen feet give wings to, I wondered if stepping into the opening would somehow magically transfer wandering feet back in time by eight centuries and deposit them at the very moment the first digger poised to strike the earth to the plan engineers had laid out for constructing this stepwell.
Leaves from an overhanging tree swept the stones with their shadows as a faint breeze stirred life in the vicinity while the sun warmed them.
We were a couple of hours shy of noon though I couldn’t be sure if sunlight would pierce the drop all the way down at noon. Surely it must be wary of what awaited it at the bottom.
Leaving the two men behind to bask in the sun we climbed the steps back up and reentered the humdrum of the Delhi street. And the winter sprung its embrace once again.
It was the last day of that year, not of the winter though.