Not on the map, part IV, Abhaneri – 8th century stepwell
On our Delhi-Jaipur road trip, we had spent the night before at Sariska and started the day’s adventures with Bhangarh, the 17th century ghost town. Now we were on our way to Abhaneri, the site of 8th century stepwell.
It was afternoon and we were quite thirsty. At Bhangarh, couple of village women were serving water the old fashioned way – using a long handled copper pitcher out of a bucket, presumably the water was drawn from a nearby well. We had dared not drink it. We had run out of water and hadn’t found bottled water on these off-the-map roads. We stopped for tea at a local temple. I don’t recall much except a large cauldron of bubbling milky tea and a hyperactive group of adorable little baby monkeys. After nearly twenty five years, I had tea out of an earthen cup.
We repeated our ritual for route finding – asking villagers we met on the road. When we finally arrived at Abhaneri, it was already late afternoon. In the last mile, it had seemed like we would be immersed in a sea of goats who were on their way to Abhaneri as well. Unlike Bhangarh, a small town surrounds the baori and the temple. I sensed more tourists at Abhaneri – little children were begging, something I hadn’t noticed during the rest of this trip.
Chand Baori, the 8th century stepwell, is exceptionally well preserved. Not well restored, just well preserved. It is a square shaped well, fairly deep possibly the deepest stepwell in Indo-Pakistan region, with thousands of steep steps on three sides and a deep green pool at the bottom. People in the those days must have had youthful knees, mine hurt going up and down these foot high steps.
Have you seen the movie Paheli? Rani Mukherjee’s stepwell scenes were shot at a stepwell a hundred miles of so, north of Abhaneri. Chand Baori is far more dramatic architecturally but probably harder to shoot at because of the depth of the well. Iron banisters, a few tens of feet above the level of the pool, blocked the way to the pool. Those banisters were a terrible eyesore.
I liked the adjacent temple better. While as old as the baori, it is, unfortunately, badly shattered. On the plus side, it manages to preserve its dignity amidst the ruins. I couldn’t see ASI’s hand in restoration. Sorry ASI, I am not at all impressed with how you are handling our ruins. I am sure you have your financial woes as well, who doesn’t. But that doesn’t justify shoddy restoration.
Anyway, getting back to the temple – while it was clear that the temple is regularly used, we saw only a couple of goats walking about with a go-as-you-please attitude. I have since read that the sculptures at this temple are precursor to Khajuraho – precursor by 200 years!
The day had ended. When we finally headed towards Jaipur, we realized that we were only 80 kms or so away. It would take us a few hours to get to Jaipur.
On our way to Abhaneri, we had seen a small town called Bandikui where we had noticed several relics from the British Raj – an old railway station, railway quarters, market place, church etc. Like the other two places, it wasn’t on the map and it wasn’t mentioned in the guidebooks either. We didn’t stop because we had wanted to reach Chand baori before evening. I regret that now.
Travel Note: Please click on the Delhi-Jaipur travel album for more photos from the trip. It would be an excellent idea to have plenty food and plenty of water on this route. We had bought a bottle of carbonated drink at Bandikui. It had tasted of soap. The bottle itself, a fairly well known brand, had appeared a little bruised but so were our butts after the ride through the back country roads.
I also suggest taking a jeep – it will likely move faster on unpaved roads. I say likely, not surely because you will be sharing the road with camel carts, bullock carts, pedestrians, tractors, and goat herds. Don’t panic or get frustrated. Now, several months later and several thousands of miles away, it seems that I enjoyed my road to these historical sites far more than the sites themselves.
Suggested entries on locomotoring: