People and pigeons

A short auto ride from the Janpath Metro station in Delhi is a lovely old step well called Agrasen ki Boali. Ever since someone pointed out that these step wells are a water management system known since the third millennium BCE, I’ve tried to take the time to look at examples whenever I heard of one. After all, a system which has been in use for five millennia is a part of the human technological heritage as old as cities, and certainly older than history. So The Family and I entered the gate to this old step well.

How old? No one has a clue. An information panel put up by the Archaeological Survey says this quite explicitly. Wikipedia pointed to the architecture, which resembles that of 14th century buildings in Delhi. The structure is the simplest possible: a single flight of stairs led down to the reservoir. The step wells are no longer being maintained, but an open reservoir of this kind is wonderful for harvesting rainwater and recharging ground water. In these days, as we begin to run out of usable water, it is good to look at, and adapt, a technology which had been useful throughout our history. In that spirit, one can also figure that the well could be easily older than the current walls that we see around it.

I walked down to the level of the dark water. Although pieces of plastic were floating on it, there was no sign of eutrophication. Does this mean that the baoli can be made usable again with some cleaning? In these days of municipal water piped into your house, there is little use for this expense, but it would be worth finding out. Unfortunately, I could not find any articles on the hydrology of this well.

I looked at the surrounding walls. They are made of dressed sandstone with the surkhi mortar which was common across northern India. The highest level of the wall looks different. The stone is badly dressed and the mortar is barely visible. At some time the outer wall was clearly raised. Why? And by whom? There seem to be two kinds of niches on the walls: one level seems to be deep niches, and another looks today like architectural fancy. Both sets are topped by well constructed load-bearing arches. Why would you go to the trouble of building them? The lower set is at the same level as the main entrance doorway. Could they be ghost doors, ie, doors which served a proper doorly purpose before they were filled in? There are more questions in this quiet place than answers.


By I. J. Khanewala

I travel on work. When that gets too tiring then I relax by travelling for holidays. The holidays are pretty hectic, so I need to unwind by getting back home. But that means work.


    1. A common place for drawing water has always (since the Indus valley civilization) been a place for the community to gather. That there is an elaborate construction is not surprising, but who made the last structure, whether there were older structures, who made the visible alterations, all these are completely unknown.

      Liked by 1 person

Leave a comment

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: