For those who have never heard of the term “Baoli”, it refers to a man-made water tank. Even before rain water harvesting became the catch word & the modern world woke up to the perils of depleting fresh water, our ancestors realized the importance of conservation. Our forefathers chose the perfect spots after careful deliberations where the depression or slope of the land was the deciding factor and rain water falling in the area naturally flowed towards the baoli. Delhi had 100's of baolis which have now dried up or been covered, here we take a look at the most prominent ones in existence today.
You won’t believe your eyes when you come across this beautiful baoli in the midst of downtown Delhi, surrounded by office towers and shopping malls. Agarsen ki Baoli or Ugrasen ki Baoli on Hailey Road, off Connaught place is a gem of a discovery for the traveler looking for lost histories and forgotten monuments. Nobody knows when it was first built, some claim it goes back to the Mahabharat period. It was rebuilt by the Agarwal or merchant castes in the 14th century. Three levels deep, with 104 steps leading down the stepwell, this baoli has wonderful arches and niches. Except during the monsoon, it largely remains dry. All water channels falling into the baoli in the olden times have been choked or destroyed, killing the baoli.
Dedicated to the legendary Sufi saint who made generous use of this water tank, it lay in ruins and was all but forgotten till the year 2009. The Delhi administration in consultation with the Dargah officials undertook a massive clean up exercise and repaired the crumbling edifices of the Baoli. This drive exposed the blocked passage and underground springs which had been choked with garbage and filth. Today this is one of the few remaining baolis which despite its 800+ years of history, has an active underground spring. You can find it next to the Hazrat Nizamuddin Dargah. It is a protected monument under the Archaeological Survey of India and is also referred to as the Baoli at Ghiaspur.
Hazrat Nizamuddin ki Baoli | Nizamuddin West, New Delhi-13
The Rajon ki Baoli, deriving its name from the word masons is a 3 storey stepwell that has made its own niche among various monuments, as a relic of the last pre-Mughal dynasty, the Lodhis. It is believed to have been built by Daulat Khan during the time of Sikander Lodhi. The first impression you get of this baoli is of a medieval courtyard surrounded by many-pillared verandahs, arches done in a stylised fashion peculiar to North India at the time. To watch the mysterious structure unravel its secrets with each step is an experience that is not to be missed.
As the name suggests, Gandhak ki baoli in its heydays was full of water bearing the healing powers of sulphur. Today it doesn’t even have a drop of water & lies in ruins, surrounded by roadside eateries and shanties. Built by the slave turned Sultan Iltutmish, it is located at one edge of the vast Mehrauli Archaeological Park and remains a trailer to the ruins of a settlement that had developed in the 16th & 17th Century. Do take out time to explore it.
Located in Mehrauli, on record it is the oldest existing baoli in Delhi, dating back to the 10th century. It was built by the Rajput King Anang Pal II of the Tomar Dynasty and also goes by the name of Yoginipura. Apparently, the queens would hold an annual event for alms-giving next to the baoli, at the behest of the king. This is all that is known about the baoli that has escaped the notice of several planes for renovation and preservation, and lies beyond the purview of the Mehrauli Archaeological Park.
The fort believed to be the capital of the Pandavas has three arched gateways and the Bada Darwaza (Big Gate) facing the west leads directly to the Baoli. A narrow flight of 89 steps, separated by 8 landings and going down to a depth of 22 meters makes up this step-well. Built in sandstone, the position of each landing is marked by recessed niches on side walls. A series of gradually receding arches of various sizes form the roof. It is fenced from all sides and is kept locked 24x7, keeping in mind the safety of people as well as the structure. However, the depth and the proportion of the structure, doesn’t fail to fascinate the passers-by.
Purana Qila Baoli | Mathura Road, Near Delhi Zoo, New Delhi-03
Out of the 13 Baolis which were constructed in the 14th century on the order of Ghazi Malik, only 2 survive till date in the fort. The remaining baolis have died in the human made smoke; some ruins still lie in the background of the rural villages but it is strictly prohibited for the locals. In the current scenario, the existing two baolis are situated on either side of the fort - at the east and west side.
This opulent baoli dating back to the Mughal period witnessed a lot of havoc until it was restored by the ASI. It is quite a unique structure made of Delhi Quartzite with perpendicular staircases from two sides, lined with chambers at the intersection of which lies a pit, attached to the well. Entry is usually prohibited.
The Kotla Baoli stands out due to its distinctive circular structure. The original stone structure still looks formidable and it is now surrounded from all sides by iron grills for protection. The lawns surrounding it are well manicured and seasonal flowers provide an exotic look to the entire setting. There must have been higher walls and gates which have somewhat collapsed now but still the Baoli looks pretty compact compared to some other dilapidated ones in the city. Unfortunately, the entrance remains locked nowadays but nevertheless, you can peep though the railings and the holes on the wall to get a closer view of the inaccessible interiors. The best view of this magnificent structure is the top view because that is the only way you can catch the complete circular structure. All you have to do is to climb up the Pyramidal structure nearby.
Feroz Shah Kotla | Bahadur Shah Zafar Marg, New Delhi-02
There are also many other smaller existing & covered up baolis located all over the city in places such as:- Qutub ki Baoli, Shrine of Qutubuddin Bakhtiyar Kaki, Mehrauli
- Pir Ghaib Baoli, behind Hindu Rao Hospital, North Delhi
- Loharheri Baoli, Sector 12 Dwarka
- Ghaus Ali Shah's Baoli, Farrukhnagar, Gurgaon
- Banjaaron ki Baoli, Matia Mahal
- A Baoli in the park across the Outer Ring Road, RK Puram Sector-5, Munirka
The history of Delhi, its rise & fall, victories and defeat would remain incomplete without the presence of these baolis.