December 29, 2011

Winter Sun Steps Down A Well In Mehrauli



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.

19 comments:

Daisy said...

Very interesting photos. I liked reading your description too. You have a wonderful way with your words.

Grannymar said...

I sometimes wonder if the architecture of today, built with every technological aid and modern machinery, will last for 700 to 800 years? I somehow doubt it.

Anonymous said...

Anil,
Nice piece.
Did it still have water in it?
Why 'Gandhak ki baoli'?. Gandhak in several Indian languages including Hindi is Phosphurus. Any relationship?
Magan

Riot Kitty said...

Enchanting pics and prose as always. Happy New Year to you!

lgsquirrel said...

Thank you for taking us along to such interesting places. When I see things like this, I always imagine how it must have felt to be there in the beginning and seeing what must have been the cutting edge of technology then. Have a great 2012.

am said...

Both photographs are intriguing. Like a dream. Fascinating to learn about step wells, that they are centuries old.

Kind wishes for the New Year!

Anil P said...

Daisy: Thank you. Nice to learn about how you feel about the writing here. :-)

Grannymar: I doubt it would. Stone has a charm that glass and steel buildings cannot match.

Fabrication is just that, fabrication. It's not building in the sense that building is.

Moreover, modern buildings, most of them anyway, lack style and flourish.

Magan: That's right. Gandhak is a reference to Phosphurus here. Bauli is a well approached by steps.

There's another bigger step well near Gandhak Ki Baoli and it had some traces of water. Otherwise mostly dry.

Riot Kitty: Thank you. Happy New Year to you too.

Lgsquirrel: Exactly, I imagine the same too. The dress, mannerisms etc. must have been so distinct as to be intriguing and interesting. Thank you for the New Year wishes, wish you the same.

Am: Thank you. Wish a wonderful New Year too.

Lucy said...

Amazing structure, I've seen pictures of those step wells elsewhere.

Happy New Year, Anil.

karen said...

Hi Anil. Great post - I enjoyed this wintry visit to a stepwell!

I've enjoyed catching up on the past posts, too: the American Express Bakery, and the part four of commuters' book selections! Most amazed to find No 1 Ladies Detective Agency in there, too! Have you ever read any of the series? I also loved the photos of that old stone building in jodphur..

Wishing you a truly wonderful 2012!

An Iengar Chick .... said...

Never seen anything like this before. I have seen steps leading into a pond and a single stairway into a well but not a tierd one like this.

Anil P said...

Lucy: It's quite an amazing structure.

Wish you a very happy new year too.

Karen: Thank you. No, I haven't read any of the series. But I hear it makes for an entertaining read. I might pick up one sometime.

Thank you for the New Year wishes. Wish you a very happy new year too.

An Iengar Chick: There're many such tiered step wells in India, surely numbering in their hundreds if not more.

The step wells I saw in Gujarat are far more fascinating, and elaborately constructed that the one you see in this post. They're a treat to visit.

Meena Venkataraman said...

Beautiful Anil!..

Isn't it amazing..There are so many places that look old and decrepit..maybe even seemingly ordinary..
but if you can look beyond the dust and grime there are treasure toves to be found:)

Lovely read..havent been here in a while and am happy that I have loads of reading to catch up with :)
Happy new year to you.

Anil P said...

Meena Venkataraman: Thank you. Wish you a very happy new year too.

NRIGirl said...

That's beautiful! Unique piece. Thank you for sharing. Quite enjoyed the visualization of the first digger, the penetrating sun ray etc.

Anil P said...

NRI Girl: Thank you. Would've been quite a treat if there was some original representation of the imagery from those times by those people.

An Iengar Chick .... said...

Please call me Red !

Anil P said...

Red: I try to. Sometimes it's difficult to remember a name different from the one the reader signs off with.

Consider signing-off comments with Red instead.

Krunal said...

this looks very similar to Agrasen ki baoli...is it the same one or different from it.

nice post though

Anil P said...

Thanks. It looks similar to Agrasen ki Baoli that's near Connaught Place, but is different. This one is in Mehrauli.