Stepwells in India were developed mainly to cope with the seasonal fluctuations of water availability. Dispersed mostly through Western India in states like Rajasthan, Gujarat, and Delhi, stepwells are ponds which can be reached by descending a set of steps. Serving just as much for leisure as providing a constant source of water, these locations were used to provide relief from the scorching heat of the summer. In some places, stepwells even became places of worship, often built next to a temple.
If you've never seen one before, we have you covered. Start your trail in the capital, Delhi, before heading to Rajasthan, Gujarat and finally, Karnataka.
This age-old stepwell is said to have existed since the 14th century. Originally believed to have been built by King Agrasen, there are no historical records that prove who actually played a part in its construction. The location is also recognised as one of the most haunted places in India with visitors not allowed to stay after 5:30 pm. Detailed narratives of those who have visited here speak of how they have been followed by something invisible. Furthermore, first-hand accounts give insight into how as you stop down the 108 steps forming this structure, there is a sudden increase in unnatural vibrations.
Abhaneri, about 90km from the state capital of Rajasthan, Jaipur, is home to one of the largest stepwells in the country. The Chand Baori, made up of over 3,500 steps and 13 stories, is an alluring sight for many tourists. Built by King Chanda of Nikhumba Dynasty over a thousand years ago, the temperature at the bottom of the well is 5-6 degrees cooler than at the surface. Although much of the village is in ruins, at its peak, the stepwell was a popular place for social gatherings.
Constructed in the memory of King Bhimdev by his widow, Queen Udayamati, the Rani Ki Vav uses a complex Maru-Gurjara architectural style. Encompassing an inverted temple and seven levels of stairs, the destination holds more than 500 unique sculptures. The carvings are a reminder of the ten forms of Lord Vishnu and mythical creatures like Vishkanyas (women possessing snake-like venom) and Apsaras (celestial women). At the final level, the carving of Sheshashayi-Vishnu, in which the God is reclining over a thousand-hooded serpent Shesha, is sure to wow you.
A fine example of Islamic architecture and Hindu carvings coming together to form an immaculate structure, the Adalaj Ki Vav is another significant stepwell in the country. The walls tell a tragic story which led to its existence. Built in the 15th century, the region was ravaged by a Muslim ruler who also murdered the king in the process. The Muslim invader, as destiny would have it, fell in love with the dead king's wife who promised to marry him if he completed the construction of the stepwell. Once the structure was complete, the queen jumped to her fate.
Moving away from the Western states to the Southern ones, Lakkundi is a small village on the way to Hampi. It is a historical city, yet has been blanketed away from tourist eyes. Home to ruined sites such as the temples spread over periods of the Chalukyas, Kalachuris, and Suena, the destroyed city is also known for its stepwells. Over a 100 stepwells are spread across the rural area, with each having its own special architectural beauty. The walls of the stepwells' ancient structure are enshrined with lingas, while many also have small Shiva shrines in tribute to the God of Destruction.