Architecturally brilliant, Neemrana Bawadi is a stepwell steeped in Indian heritage. With many a story afloat about hidden tunnels leading in and out of the monument, there is a sense of secrecy that lingers in the thick and crisp air of the stepwell’s lower floors.
The Neemrana Bawadi (also written as Baori or Bawri) is still “unknown”, standing tall below the ground, in plain sight, overlooked by almost everyone.
Situated a little over an hour from Delhi, a relatively straight drive on the Delhi-Jaipur highway leads the occasional traveller to an unassuming spot in Neemrana. Known for its luxurious Neemrana Fort Palace, the town has become industrial over the last decade with many factories occupying the previously vacant land.
The location of the baori is quiet, a single signboard, in blue, mentioning its presence. It’s easy to miss the baori unless you are looking for it. Its appearance, from up top, is often misleading, for the splendour of this ancient marvel is only visible once you step down a few flights of stairs.
Because it is not frequented by “outsiders”, even a little bit of activity in the vicinity often invites locals, wondering what is going on. Why the sudden interest in a monument, constructed in the mid-1700s, that no one has taken note of for the last few decades? It’s mostly young boys on motorcycles, or children from nearby houses, who might stand and stare, but don’t interfere or interrupt.
The Bawadi remains a source of mystery, as very little is known about it. There is no information available on-site, so visitors get to explore the area on their own. Some of the passageways have been sealed, possibly for safety reasons. Then again, one needs to manoeuvre the site with caution on the whole. Ledges, steps, and even the main well remain unprotected. A wrong step here can prove to be deadly.
The locals refer to the monument as Rani ki Baoli (Queen’s stepwell). Even though the Bawadi is a lot grander than many other stepwells found in nearby Delhi, such as Rajon ki Baori in Mehrauli Archaeological Park, it does lack a royal atmosphere. Its location near the Neemrana Fort, visible from a hill behind the complex, might also lead us to believe that there is a royal connection.
However, there are no engravings or intricate designs, as seen in Rani ki Vav in Gujarat, that would present a definite royal link. There are many secret passages within the baori, and some are believed to be going out all the way to the fort.
A more acceptable thought is that the bawadi was constructed keeping in mind draught and was also a guest house for travellers. With room-like areas on top, and simple construction consisting of arches, this could very well be true.
The architecture of the Neemrana Bawadi is remarkable to view from down below. Its imposing size is magnificent, made even more spectacular with countless pigeons and parakeets taking flight above the open top. Close to 200 steps lead down the seven floors (2 more levels lie filled with mud and are often underwater) to an area that would have seen better days a few centuries ago.
The locals also believe that the bawadi is haunted. Then again, most ancient palaces, forts, monuments have some supernatural element to them. Personally, during the day time, I never got that haunting feeling, but who knows what goes on here at night. Would I venture out unaccompanied after dusk? No!
It’s best to visit the Neemrana Bawadi early in the morning. One good aspect about the stepwell still being under the radar is that you can explore it in its entirety, unlike the famous Chand Baori which has now been cordoned off.
But the step-well here faces the ever-present struggle most monuments in India must tolerate, that of immature individuals thinking these ancient walls are the best place to announce their love for each other. Graffiti is rampant and does take away from the beauty of the baori.
My fascination with step-wells seems to grow bigger with every new one that I visit. A discovery here, and a finding there, this interest in these subterranean water reservoirs is amplified whenever I come to know of one that is situated near to where I live.
As I stand in awe of my country’s cultural legacy, I can’t but feel sad about the state it lies in. As we move towards a future filled with technology, I can only hope that we cling to our past in any way possible, especially when it is as beautiful as the Neemrana Bawadi.
Neemrana Bawadi (aka Neemrana Deep Water Step Well) – Google Maps Location