Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Baoli at Red Fort - the lesser known baoli of Delhi

The Baoli inside the Red Fort is another interesting one. One has to enter the Fort and walk beyond the Museum. It is at a slight distance secluded and usually kept closed – to keep away mischief mongers and avoid nefarious activities. A special permission is required and one is usually accompanied by an official and the watchman then opens the gate to the baoli. This baoli is a complete contrast to the Agrsen one. It is like chalk and cheese. For one, it is built of yellow Ashley stone in contrast to the hard stone of the earlier one. This yellow is also a contrast to the red sandstone of the Fort. It is the design and the stone which historians and Archaeologist put the baoli as a Tughlaq period one (14th century).

Unlike the rectangular shape, this is an unusual octagonal one. Yes, it is a perfect shaped one! The octagonal double storeyed shaft is 6.5m in diameter and 14.27 m deep. There is also a tank next to it to which water flowed from the baoli. The number of steps just 30, on either sides are the passages and chambers. It is possible that this baoli fed the hamam inside the fort. Since the Red Fort is located on the banks of the River Yamuna, the source to the water is not very deep, hence the lesser number of steps. The baoli was handed over to the ASI in 2003 before which it was in the possession of the Indian Army. Considerable restoration work was required and this is one of the few baolis which is still functional. The water from it is used for the watering the gardens around the area. It has still not been considered as a source of supply to homes or the buildings around. The walls of the baoli have seen history written, from being used for leisure activities during the Mughal rule to being used as a prison (yes, freedom fighters were interned here) during the British rule (1757 - 1947).


Very different from the harsh bare Agrsen ki baoli, this one is soft and beautiful It is a lovely yellow structure set amidst a garden. The undulating water of the baoli, the beautiful River Yamuna flowing beyond, gentle breeze and laid back gardens, it must have been an era of gracious charm and laid back attitude.

Insider Tip – The Baoli is kept locked to avoid anti-social elements from making it their den and also to prevent any mishaps. Special request has to be made at the ASI’s office for someone to accompany with the keys. It is a nice place at a distance from the main Fort area. 

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Maharaja Agrsen ki Baoli or Ugrsen ki Baoli

Amidst the busy bylanes of Connaught Place, the Building of Tolstoy Marg visible in the far end, is the quiet Hailey Road. This is the Central part of Delhi, the busy commercial centre housing numerous establishments. It is surrounded by high rise building and multi storeys. There is just a wall on the outside, and most Delhites do not have a clue as to the significance of the baoli or even that it exists. Delhi is dotted with monuments all over and on the outside, it simply looks like another monument from the 14th century. Yes, we all just take it for granted! It is only on entering that one is dazed by the site. Endless steps which simply lead inside, reminds one of turrets except this goes down. The steps are broad, plenty of walking space on the sides and domes or tiers to count the levels inside. It is quite scary climbing down the steps as the sun dazzles and the steps seem to lead to a dead end down below. The Baoli has a breadth of 24 meters, length of 70 meters and a total of 109 steps. This is the official figure, though students and those running up and down put it at 153!!

As per the ASI records, at the level of the ground, the baoli measures 58.2 m X 13.71 m and at water level 39.6m x 7.5m. There are arched niches on both sides, home to pigeons now. The baoli has 5 tiers and one can see beautiful arches leading towards the centre where there is a platform and well.  At the end of the baoli (northern end) is a deep circular well with a 7.62 m diameter. There are traces of water here, probably because of the rains. There is also a roofed portion to sit upon. A mosque built of red stone at the top adds to the quiet charm.

There have been efforts on to revive the baoli but with borewells and tube wells being dug in the vicinity which are deeper than the baoli has resulted in the water being drawn to those wells. The slopes have been reversed so restoring it to its original glory is close to impossible.


Insider Tip – The Baoli is a gorgeous place to spend catching or basking in the afternoon sun in winters. It is frequented by students. It is quiet and peaceful far away from the hustle and bustle of the area. Climbing up and down the steps is also fun, I though didn’t relish the experience much. There is an occasional guard. Since it is isolated and lonely, it is better to go with a group and not be adventuorous and go alone.

Monday, January 13, 2014

Baolis of Delhi - Step Wells of Delhi


Delhi, with its modern malls and fast forward attitude now is steeped in History. So much is history that the Dilliwallahs take it for granted. Together with its host of Gummads, forts, tombs, makbaras are a chain of step wells which once fed Delhi’s growing population. The wells were so beautifully designed that they formed a network for carrying water from the Aravalli Hills to the plains of the Delhi. It was a catchment for tapping the running off of water from the Hills to the River Yamuna. Given the intensity of the heat in the plains of the Delhi, the wells formed the ideal cooling point. There are several Baolis as these step wells are called in Delhi.  Baolis have been a part of Delhi’s landscape since the 10th century or perhaps earlier. Delhi today has about 30 baolis, the oldest spanning a good 1000 years. Nothing is known about the origins of the various baolis, the ancientness deciphered on the basis of the structure standing around it now. It was built and re-built by successive rulers. It is possible that the origins may have even been several centuries earlier and the structure like we see today may have come up 500 years ago. The first or the oldest Baoli in Delhi is located in the Mehrauli area and attributed to the Tomar dynasty and is said to be built in the 10th century AD.

The baolis are grand structure built with a lot of thought and sound architecture. The baoli can be described as having two parts – a vertical shaft through which the water can be drawn akin to the concept of the well and the surrounding areas which is a composition of passageways, chambers and of course steps to go down.  The history of each of the baoli is unique and stands out. Today an effort has been made to specially revive them and the effort has been successful in a few of them. It is possible to see water in a couple of baolis. Khari Baoli meant the water in the well was khari or saltish. Panchkuian came to be named after the five wells. Ferozshah Kotla, yes the famous cricket stadium also has a well which has been revived. The unique concept of using water for heating and cooling using such systems is yet to be understood fully in all its glory.

The understanding of the working of the baolis is a revelation on water conservation and the focus on free availability of water. It brings to light the manner in which the resting places, watering bodies were available freely for a traveler to rest and quench his thirst. These water wells were community bodies for people to come together. More importantly it was a way of conserving water in the terrible terrible of heat of Delhi’s summer. The baolis provided shelter and relief against the scorching sun. Several of them were made with resting chambers on the side, where man and his tired beast – cattle or horse could rest before starting off on a journey again. It speaks volumes about the understanding of the principle of water conservation, water harvesting, harnessing and channelizing of precious rain water. These concepts, which we seem to be rediscovering now was the done thing then. Today, several of these wells cannot be re-charged or used as it was once done due to construction activities around the area. The rampant digging, building of high rise and basement has simply cut off all channels of water harvesting. Even as late as the 70s, several of the baolis were brimming with water as photos available with the ASI (Archaeological Survey of India) show. Several of them have been successfully restored by the ASI. Work on several others is still in progress, documentation of several of them has been done, while that of many still remains. My quest will be to document some of these baolis here. I am not sure, how many I can successfully visit as most are out of the way places where safety is a concern and quite depressing unlike the markets and other such livelier places. But History needs to survive, so here goes my adventure on it.