Indian Train Journey to the Chand Baori at Abhaneri
Michael Portillo's Great Indian Train Journey on BBC 2 took him from Jodhpur to Delhi and stopped en route to visit to the magnificent Chand Baori stepwell at Abhaneri. The highlight was the aerial footage of the stepwell taken from a drone. The Stepwells of India been my photographic passion for the last few years and some time ago I enquired about using a drone to film them - but not surprisingly it proved too difficult.
I've taken my camera to Abhaneri a couple of times and the two photographs above have been in the Photos collection on this website for a couple of years but this blog adds further images to give a more detailed look around - and a recommendation that if you're taking the classic tourist route from Jaipur to Agra you divert just a few miles off the main highway at the village of Abhaneri and take a look for yourself.
There are over 3000 steps and the first impression is the Escher-like geometric patterns made by the brilliant sun and deep shadows.
With 13 levels, Chand Baori is one of the deepest stepwells in India. Recognised as a significant monument, it's protected by the Archeological Survey of India which means it's kept clean and tidy but has no signs of the everyday devotional offerings you may find at other stepwells. It also gets a lot of visitors and railings have been installed to prevent you descending into the lower space of the well, except on festival days or if you're from the BBC - frustrating!
The descending pyramidal steps that run around three sides of Chand Baori - baori is one of many Indian words for well - were constructed in the 9th century although it's alleged there was a spring on the site for several hundred years before that. At the lower levels you can see Hindu carvings dating from the 10th century.
The fourth side, the vertical face with pavilions, jharoka windows and balconies, is a 18th Century addition in the Moghul style - so this stepwell is unusual in having both Hindu and Muslim architecture. The elegant Muslim arches are in clear contrast with the older pillar and lintel building style of the earlier Hindu architectural period - but the whole fascinating contrivance manages to retain an integrated balance and beauty.
I'd be intrigued to know what existed on the fourth side before the 18 Century development.
Moghul architecture is characteristic of Rajasthan and the arches and carvings, corridors and balconies are a delightful feature of the stepwells of this part of India.
Any images in this blog can be ordered as prints in sizes from A3 - £25 - to 50x70cm - £70 - or larger.
Scattered round the colonnades that run round the well are discarded stone carvings, some of which come from the adjacent 8th Century Harshat Mata Hindu temple site, also worth a visit.
A visitor with a spectacular turban wanted his photo taken and on the way out we passed the site guardian facing the entrance. His assistant may let you climb over the railings for a hundred rupees but then the guardian will appear and you'll have to jump back out. The assistant will have vanished, no refund. A local racket, beware! Of course, you may be more lucky.
The challenge is to capture all of Chand Baori in one photo without too much wide angle distortion. Frustratingly, you're not allowed to use a tripod but you may be able to balance your camera on the railings and take several images to Photoshop together. The tall thin image and the image at the top of the page were produced that way.
To see the beauty of Chand Baori from above I'd recommend a superb video taken from a drone: google Aerial Journey of Chand Baori by Wild Films India.