Searching for Stepwells at Bhandarej.
March 3 2018. We leave the crowds at the Chand Baori, the great stepwell at Abhaneri, and go in search of quieter, smaller stepwells. It's an hour's drive to the small town of Bhandarej, just south of the main Jaipur - Agra highway. It doesn't look promising but Google maps takes us straight to the Nanag Ram ji ki Baoli. It's at the side of the road, next to some small shops and is overgrown with trees that obscure the steps.
This once was a lovely well with elegant arches but we hear a story that will become all too familiar - no decent rain and the well's been dry for 30 years - but the older men can remember swimming in the water when they were young.
The only way to experience a stepwell is to climb down the steps and along the ledges, to explore as far as possible, see the reality of its construction and feel the cooler air and the dankness at the bottom.
I push through the trees and shrubs that block the entrance and am treated to a unique collection of arched shapes and perspectives as well as a close detail of the building materials.
Square hollows in the pillars could indicate timber supports for lifting gear to pull up the water. Behind a delicate arched jaroka balcony you can see through a gap in the wall to the well shaft beyond. We don't get access to the well shaft but there seems to be some remains of stone hoist supports.
Small trees now grow out of the stone walls, a plastic bag is caught in a branch. Seeing the raw construction reminds you of the scale of the labour involved in digging the well.
The lower levels have been hewn out of the bedrock, higher up the sides have been lined with irregular rough hewn stone. There's no evidence of a finer finish having been applied. At the bottom of the steps the facing wall has an arched tunnel that leads through to the well shaft to allow the water to rise up the steps.
It's a short drive to another stepwell on the other side of Bandarej. The Bara Baoli is built in a completely different style and has been freshly painted in salmon pink. The wide entrance is slightly raised above a open dusty square.
This stepwell is well maintained with wide steps that lead down over several levels through arches to a vertical face with pavilions and corridors. There is a small green painted Muslim shrine in one corner and flocks of pigeons.
It's an unusual design in having similar elaborate pavilions at each and chhatris, stone umbrella like towers, in the corners. Shaded corridors run down both sides to the far pavilion which has corridors and views with latticed walls looking back out over the steps. Arched openings reveal the smooth well shaft behind the back wall. A solitary devotional white flag is trimmed with tinsel.
The bottom of the well is dry but relatively free of litter. Graffiti declares love for Ravina. Two wells in one town, one neglected, the other well cared for. This well, the Bara Baoli, is a splendid building with some intriguing details but lacks the atmosphere of the first well we saw, maybe there is something to be said for neglect and the incursion of nature back into our efforts to construct monuments.
Read what happened next: Bani das ki Bawari stepwell at Dausa