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7 Ancient Indian Stepwells – Visit Them Before They Disappear

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access_time March 24, 2017 chat_bubble_outline 12 comments 1926 views

The more you explore, the more intrigued you become; such is the nation of India! With everything from time-worn forts and castles to scenic mountains, the country is adorned with splendid attractions. If that was not enough, India boasts of ancient stepwells, which by the way are unique to the country! You won’t find these stepwells anywhere else in the world. This makes it a favourite amongst many Bollywood and Hollywood directors, who visit these sites to capture unique shots for their films. Before we go any further, let’s first find out what exactly stepwells are.

Stepwells are man-made ponds where rainwater is stored to recharge the underground water level of many villages and towns nearby. Though most of these Indian stepwells are now out of order, some of them have still survived as they are living examples of Indian art and architecture. Here is a list of 7 stepwells, which are simply stunning and should be explored!

1.  Rani Ki Vav

This stepwell was built in the memory of Bhimdev I by his widowed Queen Udayamati. And hence, it is known as Rani ki Vav, which means 'Queen's Stepwell'.

This stepwell was built in the memory of Bhimdev I by his widowed Queen Udayamati. And hence, it is known as Rani ki Vav, which means ‘Queen’s Stepwell’.

Located in Patan, Gujarat, Rani Ki Vav is a 900 year old stepwell, dating back to the 11th century. It is the only stepwell, which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and was recognised as the ‘Cleanest Iconic Place’ in India by the Indian Sanitation Conference (INDOSAN), which was inaugurated by PM Modi. A walk down the stairs will make you feel like you are walking around an art gallery, as there are many sculptures based on Hindu and Jain mythology that have been engraved on the walls.

2. Modhera Sun Temple Kund

Interestingly, it has 108 shrines carved below each step!

Interestingly, it has 108 shrines carved below each step!

Modhera Sun Temple is an 11th century temple complex dedicated to the Vedic Sun God. It was built by King Bhima I of the Chalukyas of Gujarat. The whole temple’s complex is an open gallery that has several statues crafted on its walls, pillars, and ceiling. The temple is designed in such a way, that the first rays of the sun light up the image of Surya on the days of the equinox. During the summer solstice, the sun is directly over the temple at noon, so there is no shadow that is cast.

3. Adalaj Vav

There are nine planets carved out on the wall edge in order to protect the site from evil spirits.

There are nine planets carved out on the wall edge in order to protect the site from evil spirits.

Adalaj Vav is an excellent example of Hindu, Jain and Islamic architecture, but also has a tragic legend behind its construction. Adalaj is near Gujarat’s capital Gandhinagar, which was once commanded by Veersinh. He wanted to construct a Vav (stepwell) for his people who were suffering from water shortage, but his work stopped as he died in a battle against the Sultan of Gujarat, Mahmud Begada. Mahmud Begada had his eyes on Veersinh’s widow Rudabai, who put a condition that she will only marry Begada if he finishes the work on the Vav that was started by her late husband. He agreed, and the construction of the Vav was completed. After which, Rudabai committed suicide by jumping in the Vav as she didn’t want to marry the sultan. And that is why Adalaj Vav is also known as Rudabai Vav.

If you are in Ahmedabad, or planning to visit the city, then you can visit all the above three stepwell sites, which are within a radius of 125 kilometres from Ahmedabad.

4. Chand Baori

Chand Baori is the deepest stepwell in the world!

Chand Baori is the deepest stepwell in the world!

Chand Baori is the most popular stepwell site, as it has been featured in two famous Hollywood movies – The Fall (2006) and The Dark Knight Rises (2012). This stepwell is 1,200 years old, and was created by a Chauhan ruler (Chanda). It has 3,500 steps, and it’s almost impossible to enter and exit the stepwell from the same stairs! Chand Baori is just 100 kilometres from Jaipur, and for all travellers planning to visit Jaipur and Agra by road, this is a must-see attraction, which is just 2 kilometres from the Jaipur-Agra Highway.

5. Agrasen Ki Baoli

Agrasen ki baoli, believed to be haunted, is yet visited by a number of tourists each day.

Agrasen ki baoli, believed to be haunted, is yet visited by a number of tourists each day.

Nestled in Connaught Place, Delhi, Agrasen ki Baoli is believed to be the oldest stepwell site in India. It is assumed that Agrasen ki Baoli was built in the Mahabharata era, though the written facts suggest that it was redeveloped by the Agrawal kings or community in the early 14th century.
This stepwell has more than 108 steps, moving three stories down. The view of the skyscrapers of Connaught Place from here adds a fusion of history and the modern era, offering a unique experience to its visitors.

6. Hadi Rani Ka Kund

After the movie 'Paheli', starring Rani Mukherjee and Sharukh Khan, this historic site rose to fame.

After the movie ‘Paheli’, starring Rani Mukherjee and Sharukh Khan, this historic site rose to fame.

Driving 150 kilometres south from Jaipur, there is a stepwell named after Hadi Rani, wife of Ratan Chundawat of Todarraisingh. Ratan Chundawat was the commander of the Rajput Army, and if the stories are to be believed, he was hesitant to join the war against Mughal Emperor Aurangzeb, as he had just got married and didn’t want to leave his wife. But, such an action could result in him being declared a traitor, so his newly wedded wife gave him a souvenir to boost his morale – she gifted her head to him! This incident filled Ratan Chundawat with rage, and he fought fearlessly and won the battle against the Mughal forces. Later, he killed himself as he couldn’t bear the pain of his wife’s sacrifice. And thus, Hadi Rani Ka Kund was built to remember this sacrifice.

7. Raniji Ki Baori

There are around 50 baoris or tanks in Bundi. And Queen Nathwati, has built 21 of those!

There are around 50 baoris or tanks in Bundi. And Queen Nathwati, has built 21 of those!

Last on the list of ancient Indian stepwells is Raniji Ki Baori or Queen Stepwell. Settled in the beautiful city of Bundi, Rajasthan, Raniji Ki Baori is a 300-year old, three-storey stepwell, famous for its well-arched gates and statues of elephants on all its pillars. Queen Nathavati of Bundi commissioned this stepwell, and this is where the stepwell got its name – Queen Stepwell. For travellers who are driving from Jaipur to Kota or Chittorgarh, Bundi is a perfect stop as you can visit this phenomenal architectural site and other fantastic tourist attractions like Garh Palace and Sukh Mahal.

Apart from these, there are many other stepwells, which are now protected by the ASI (Archaeological Survey of India), and they are all worth visiting. Have you have visited any of the stepwell sites? If yes, then share your experience in the comments section below!

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About The Author

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Jatin Chhabra, a travel blogger from New Delhi exploring all directions in India to search mind-blowing attractions. From July’16 I have travelled more than 2000 km to capture pictures and stories of Ancient Indian Stepwells and further want to explore more of such sites.

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12 Comments

  1. Megan Indoe
    March 25, 20:22 Megan Indoe

    Wow, never knew these existed and look like incredible photo locations, no wonder bollywood films use the stepwells as shooting locations. Correct me if I missed something, but why are they disappearing?

    reply Reply this comment
    • Jatin Chhabra
      March 27, 06:25 Jatin Chhabra

      Hi Megan, not just Bollywood, but many Hollywood films have featured these stepwells and the best example is Batman – The dark knight where Batman was a prisoner in Chand Baori 🙂

      reply Reply this comment
  2. Sanne - Spend Life Traveling
    March 26, 00:58 Sanne – Spend Life Traveling

    I had never heard of stepwells to be honest but they look very impressive! I am definitely adding these to my list. Agrasen Ki Baoli sounds like my favorite.

    reply Reply this comment
  3. Tony (tonyandkimoutdooradventures)
    March 27, 02:04 Tony (tonyandkimoutdooradventures)

    A nice article. The term stepwell is new to me, but they have a roman look to them. Would love to see them full of fresh clean water.

    reply Reply this comment
  4. Cassidy's Adventures
    March 27, 06:12 Cassidy’s Adventures

    Woah these all look absolutely incredible. I especially liked the intricate designs of the columns of the third one. I have a friend from India, so maybe he can take me here!

    reply Reply this comment
    • Jatin Chhabra
      March 28, 20:32 Jatin Chhabra

      The 3rd one is Adalaj Vav in Gandhinagar, capital of Gujarat. Yep, Adalaj Vav has amazing stonework done on it;s walls. You should definitely visit this stepwell…

      reply Reply this comment
  5. Danijela WorldGlimpses
    March 27, 09:54 Danijela WorldGlimpses

    This sounds so interesting. Didn’t know that there are no more than seven left?! That’s such a shame. Love the Adalaj Vav, beautiful mixture of different architectures and styles. Nice post, thanks for sharing! 🙂

    reply Reply this comment
  6. Niko (Journal of Nomads)
    March 30, 04:54 Niko (Journal of Nomads)

    I had never heard about the term stepwells before but I’m so glad I read your article about it.My girlfriend and I will be visiting India next year and this is definitely on our bucket list now!!Sad that there are only seven left in perfect shape.But I can totally understand why these would have been featured in so many movies.They look so mysterious and ancient!

    reply Reply this comment
    • Jatin Chhabra
      April 01, 17:44 Jatin Chhabra

      Hi Niko, well these are 7 out of 25 I’ve seen. I’m 100% confident that there are more marvels like these in India, like the one I found in Hampi – Hampi Pushkarini

      reply Reply this comment

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