The earliest stepwell of the country dates back to 550 AD. Stepwells are engineering solution to water shortage and harsh climate. As the name indicates, they are stepped well, with crisscrossing steps on the inner sides of the well for the public to go deep into the well to fetch water. Over a period of time, the rulers built small resting areas or even large courtyards inside the well. Thus, during summer season, when the water level goes down, these resting areas will be available for the royals to have a cool retreat spot.
Here are some of the top stepwells to visit while you are in India.
1. Chand Baori
Located in Abhaneri, Rajasthan
This 9th century stepwell is the largest stepwell of India. This stepwell has more than 3,500 tiny steps with perfect symmetry to take the locals closer to the depths of the well. The best part of the well is the structures built on the inner sides of the well. This beauty has been a part of numerous movie scenes like Dark Knight Rises, Paheli and others. This stepwell is 13 stories deep with numerous structures and architectural elements.
2. Rani ki Vav
Located in Patan, Gujarat
This is a heritage site, built in 11th century by Queen Udayamati. This stepwell holds many pavilions, idols, ornately carved arches, and many others. This stepwell is located closer to River Saraswati. There are more than 500 main statues and more than 1000 small religious idols in this spectacular stepwell. This structure is now a part of the new INR 100 note. The structure of Rani ki Vav is best described as one inverted temple penetrating the earth's surface. There are seven floors and the fourth floor and the floors below it are the water tank. The rest of the floors are architectural beauties.
3. Hampi Pushkarini
Located in Hampi, Karnataka
This stepwell belonged to Chalukya reign of 15th century. This structure is famous for the traditional Chalukya styled architecture and has aqueducts with features similar to ancient Roman architecture. This structure and the other ruins of Hampi areheritage sites. This stepwell is quite different from other ruins of Hampi in terms of architecture and the black schist rocks used for construction. This stepwell has a geometric symmetry and does not have any carvings. This is one of the very few large stepwells in India with no carvings.
4. Surya Kund
Located in Modhera, Gujarat
Surya Kund is located inside the Modhera Sun Temple. This temple and the stepwell were built in 11th century by the then-king Bhimdev. This stepwell lies closer to River Pushpavati. This structure has religious purposes over and above water storage. The public used this stepwell for rituals. Thus, the stepwell was not deep, but wide to accommodate a large population to use the well, at the same time. The structure has 108 sculptures dedicated to numerous Hindu Gods, including Sun God. Another best part of this structure is the perfect reflection of the temple that is seen in the well, in mornings and evenings.
5. Rajon ki Baoli
Located in Mehrauli Archeological Park, New Delhi
The interesting part of this stepwell is, unlike other stepwells, it is not named after a royal ruler or a region. This stepwell is named after the masons (Rajons), who lived in the deserted mosque in 20th century. It was built in 16th century under the reign of Daulat Khan. This is a grand stepwell with a small mosque and a tomb closer to it. It is three storeys deep with 12 grand pillars, a large staircase, alcoves for burning lamps, and others. The alcoves indicate that the stepwell was used for social gathering, even after sunset.
6. Agrasen ki Baoli
Located near Connaught Place, New Delhi
This stepwell is just 15 m wide and 60 m deep. This narrow stepwell has 103 steps and is made entirely with red stone. It was built in 14th century by Agrawals under the reign of King Agrasen. This step is infamous for belief of paranormal activities. During the past, this stepwell is said to be always filled with dark colored water and was assumed to be possessed with evil spirits. Also called as Ugrasen ki Baodi, this historic structure is now a famous tourist destination.
7. Nagar Sagar Kund
Located in Bundi, Rajasthan
Nagar Sagar is a collection of twin stepwells; namely Janana Sagar and Ganga Sagar. Together, they are called as Nagar Sagar Kund. The two identical stepwells are built close to each other in 19th century under the rule of King Maharao Raja Ram Singh. The stepwells have cascading steps and impressive sculptures.
8. Lakkundi Stepwells
Located in Gadang district, Karnataka
This is a collective of more than 100 small and large stepwells located amidst the ruins of a historic city, Lakkundi in Karnataka. Each stepwell is unique in terms of architecture, sculptures, and others. These stepwells have Chalukyan architecture and has many sculptures and designs reflecting Hinduism.
9. Adalaj Stepwell
Located in Ahmedabad, Gujarat
This is one of the many famous stepwells of Gujarat. This stepwell was started by Dandai Desh, but he was killed in an attack by a Muslim ruler in the end of 15th century. The Muslim ruler fell in love with Queen Rudabai, the widow of Dandai Desh. She accepted to marry him if the ruler finishes the stepwell, in honor of her dead husband. The ruler accepted the challenge and completed the stepwell. Today, you can find this stepwell with a fusion of Islamic and Hindu architecture and carvings. However, when the five-storey deep stepwell was completed, the queen jumped to her death into the stepwell. The stepwell is built in such a manner that the lower part of the stepwell does not receive sunlight throughout the day, making it at least 6 degrees cooler than the surface area.
10. Raniji ki Baori
Located in Bundi, Rajasthan
The Raniji ki Baori is translated as Queen's stepwell. This stepwell was built in the end of 17th century by Queen Nathavati. There are more than 50 stepwells in Bundi and Queen Nathavati is responsible for building 21 of those. This stepwell is 46m deep and has a narrow entrance decorated with stone elephants, and many other sculptures. This stepwell was used as a social gather spot during the rule of Queen Nathavati. This stepwell is famous for carvings, high-arched gates, ogee brackets and others. This stepwell is the largest one in Bundi region.
Apart from these there are numerous other stepwells in India. These stepwells stand as an architectural reminder of the engineering skills of medieval Indians.