India is home to a variety of unique structures. Be it the iconic Taj Mahal or its traditional forts, the country has ancient structures that date back decades. These architectural marvels include step wells, which were used especially in arid, dry regions, to store water. Here are some of the most iconic step wells in India that you must visit for a trip to the country’s royal past. By Anushka Goel and Tanvi Jain
Step wells in India you must explore at least once
Chand Baori, Rajasthan
Located in Abhaneri village near Jaipur, Rajasthan, Chand Baori was built over a thousand years ago and is one of the largest step-wells of the world. It was built by King Chand Raja from the Gurjara-Pratihara clan during the eighth and the ninth centuries for water harvesting. It has 3,500 narrow steps descending 20 meters to the bottom of the well and 13 floors. Its geometrical pattern is one of a kind and hard to find in today’s time. The stairs are surrounded by water on the three sides and on the fourth side by a three-storey-pavilion carved by beautiful jharokhas and galleries on two pillars and sculptures on the balcony. Abhaneri can be best reached from Jaipur.
Agrasen Ki Baoli, Delhi
Also known as Ugrasen ki Baoli, this step well was once a water reservoir. It is one of the oldest and best-preserved stepwells in Delhi. It is designated as a protected monument by the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) under the Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Sites and Remains Act of 1958. It is 60-metre long and 15-metre wide and is located on Hailey Road near Connaught Place, Jantar Mantar. It has 108 steps that lead to the well and is divided into three levels all lined with arched niches. You can either take a DTC bus or a metro to Rajiv Chowk, Barakhamba, Janpath. There is, of course, a wide network of autos, cabs and taxis available in Delhi.
This step-well was commissioned by Rani (Queen) Udayamati in 1063 in the memory of her husband King Bhimdev I of the Solanki dynasty. It was later flooded by Saraswati river and silted until the late 80s, and was excavated by the ASI with carvings. It has over 800 sculptures among seven galleries and is based on the theme of Dasavataras, or 10 incarnations of Vishnu, including Buddha. Other avatars include that of sadhus, brahmins, and apsaras, painting their lips and adorning themselves. At water level, there is a carving of Sheshashayi-Vishnu, in which Vishnu reclines on the thousand-hooded serpent Shesha, where it is said that he rests in the infinity between ages. There are intercity buses from Ahmedabad to Patan or you can also take a train to Mehsana first and then a bus to Patan. The nearest airport is Ahmedabad.
Imambara step-well, Lucknow
The Imambara was built by Nawab Asaf-Ud-Daulah. Its central and main halls are unique as they don’t have any conventional pillars to support the 50-feet high arched roof — one of the largest of its kind in the world. It houses a mosque known as Asafi Masjid and a large step-well. To the left of the central hall are enticing narrow passageways called Bhul Bhulaiyya that wind its ways inside the upper floors of the tomb’s structure, eventually leading out to rooftop balconies. The view of Lucknow city from the top of the monument is breathtaking. It is advised to take a guide along as the Bhul Bhulaiyya could be really confusing.
Hampi step-well, Karnataka
The Pushkaranis in Hampi are the sacred water tanks that are attached to the temples. The tanks were considered to be sacred by the people of Hampi in ancient times. The Pushkaranis were built during the Vijayanagara Empire, and the water tanks were used during rituals in the temples. They also used to serve as a venue for annual boat festivals. They have large stone steps that help people get into the water, and are connected to an extensive network of stone aqueducts and canals. Bellary is the nearest airport to Hampi. The nearest station is the Hospet Junction railway station. There are many private and government buses as well that connect Hampi to some of the major towns in Karnataka.
Adalaj Ni Vav, Gujarat
Adalaj step well is definitely no competition with Rani Ki Vav, but it’s an architectural marvel nonetheless. The step well is a combination of stunning stone-carved walls and pillars surrounding a central, octagonal well shaft. The intricate carvings are complete with a filigree of cared flowers, elephants, and ornamental motifs, along with various other designs. The step well is about 30 minutes from Ahmedabad.
Toorji ka Jhalra, Rajasthan
Toorji ka Jhalra is located in the popular travel destination of Jodhpur in Rajasthan. The step well, among the many structures used in the olden days to store water (especially by royalty), is built using red sandstone, The walls feature some of the most beautiful carvings that you will see. These range from sculptures of deities to animals, birds and nature-inspired elements. The step well is a popular tourist site among locals as well as travellers, and is a must-visit if you are in the city.
Dada Harir Step Well, Gujarat
Built in 1499 AD by a woman in Sultan Begara’s harem, Dada Harir step well is one of the finest step wells in India. A cool respite from the harsh summer sun, the step well would be filled with rainwater, and served as a major source of the cool elixir. That’s not all – the step well was always cooler than its surroundings, making it a great spot to visit and take shelter from the summer heat. Now, its structure and intricate carvings are among the many things that attract visitors.
Panna Meena Kund, Rajasthan
The Pink City is filled with stunning, Instagram-worthy spots that make it a mesmerising place to visit. Among them is the Panna Meena ka Kund. Smaller than the Chand Baori in Abhaneri, Panna Meena served water to the locals, especially during dry, arid summers. This is not all – the step well, with its square structure, was also a place of community gatherings. People would sit on the multiple levels of stairwell, and exchange conversation.
Surya Kund, Gujarat
Located in Modhera, Surya Kund is situated right outside the Sun Temple. The stone complex, among the many step wells in India, is complete with intricate carvings. It was the ideation of King Bhimdev I, whose wife got the Rani ki Vav constructed.