Subterranean Architecture of Rajasthan
In March 2018 I went to India in search of more stepwells in Rajathan. These amazing subterranean architectures have fascinated me for many years and are my current photographic project. I was also buying for the Silk Road Gallery, more on that later.
We drove from Delhi, the first leg was to Bundi with a couple of overnights, first at Jaipur, then in the middle of nowhere. But first, Neemrana, one of the most spectacular wells, 400 years old and nine storeys deep.
As you descend the ledges get more crumbly, the air danker and and the sense of being underground and somewhere slightly edgy increases. And there are flying things, delightful green parrots higher up and mosquitos lower down. It's my third visit and I've never seen water at the bottom, the water table has dropped even below the bottom of this very deep well. There has been no serious rain for 20 years.
Today it's also Holi, the festival of colour, and local men have come to the well to throw coloured powder at people and get drunk. They've succeeded and although they're friendly they're still drunk and my travelling companion is a young woman. Tsering can look after herself but we're pretty isolated here and we don't stay too long but decide to come back in a couple of weeks on a quieter day.
We took a motorbike ride to this unusual well outside the Nahagarh fort on the edge of Jaipur. Climbing over a fence to get better photos was a mistake and only Tsering's fluent Hindi and 'don't mess with me' attitude got us away from the police who obviously wanted a fine/bribe.
Chand Baori at Abhaneri is the most famous stepwell in Rajasthan. Near the Jaipur to Agra highway, it gets plenty of visitors. This was a return visit and I wanted to take finer images using a tripod but - no tripods allowed. A Korean man had obtained a licence to use his tripod to take time lapse photos for an educational program about water resources to be broadcast back in Korea.
The village of Bandarej has two wells a kilometre apart, both charming and completely different. One is neglected, overgrown and crumbling, the other is well maintained and painted in a rich red sandstone colour. Overgrown and crumbing wins for atmosphere. We talk with a man who swam in it when he was young but, the same story we keep hearing - no water for 20 years.
Out in the sticks we find this lovely well and our interest brings out the villagers to watch and talk. The people here migrated from another part of India a couple of hundred years ago and the well is named after them. Tsering, on the left of the second photo, has had the idea that these dried wells which were once the focus of village life, could be that focus again - for theatre, film screenings and gatherings. She berates the village headman for allowing the well to fall to neglect.
After our overnight stay in a modest old palace wrongly located on google maps, we drive south again. This well at Toonga has been repainted but then left to get dirty. A man who can't seem to talk without shouting invites us to a wedding in Jaipur. Maybe we'd be the novelty act, an Englishman and a young woman no-one believes is Indian, until she talks in Hindi. Tsering is from Ladakh and has the high cheekbones of the Tibetan Himalaya.
We search for a spectacular stepwell which we can't find, apparently it's lost in the 'jungle' but we find two small wells on opposite sides of the road near Indagarh. They're delightful and being restored.
Further on we find a deep well of no great architectural significance but we have delightful encounter with Babaji, a village elder with lively eyes and magnificent beard. He proudly shows us the well and has a lively conversation with Tsering. In the photo he's saying 'I'll smile if you will'. In fact he seemed to be smiling all the time.
The last section of rough was rough, time was getting on and we drove too fast got a puncture and arrived at Bundi very late.
Some photos of Neemrana are for sale on the Photographs page. I'll shortly be adding the ones in the blog and more.