Travel date 16 March 2008
Click on any picture to see a larger version.
When I was planning the Indian section of my trip I did a lot of research into the various methods of travel. There is an excellent train service in India and I spent some time poring over timetables and asking questions on http://www.indiamike.com/ about that option, but eventually it was advice from the knowledgeable people on that site that convinced me to use a car with driver.
I am so glad I did. I eventually booked with Gajraj Travel, (or http://www.gajrajtravels.com/). Not only did I see the country at the pace and route that I chose, there were so many other benefits. Raj, my driver, was not just a nice guy who could survive on Indian roads but he was also an invaluable interpreter and advisor. His presence made the awkward things that could have been hassles into simple things – finding an ATM, knowing the restaurants, shops and markets, interpreting when needed, and answers to all the small questions that occurred to me as we travelled along. The sort of questions that aren’t important enough to appear in guide books but provide insights into the real India.
No matter how much research you do for a trip you always miss something. I had never heard of India’s stepped wells. On the way from Fatehpur Sikri to Jaipur, Raj asked if I would like to see something unusual. Of course I said yes. He turned off the main road onto a bumpy, narrow, rutted dirt road winding through arid farmland sparsely dotted with occasional dwellings. Eventually we came to a small village next to a low, very old, stone building. Raj introduced me to a guide and after paying a small fee the guide took me inside.
Later I saw the pyramids of Egypt. Imagine a giant picking up a pyramid, inverting it, and thrusting it into the ground, then pulling it out again to leave a pyramid-shaped hole in the ground. That is what a stepped well, or baoli, is like.
This particular one, the Chand Baori, is one of the deepest. There are 13 flights of steps and it is over 100 feet or 30 meters deep. It apparently dates back to the 9th century and was only re-discovered recently. I’m sure the locals knew about it, but no-one else seemed to be aware of it until the late 20th century.
In this hot, arid region there were significant benefits to controlling the local water supply; the baoli was also a cooler place to be in summer. Consequently the local ruler used the buildings on one side as his summer palace, with rooms for wives and concubines. Inside the palace there are many rooms cut deep into the rock.
I saw no-one else there apart from my guide and a couple of beggars. This is not a place that most tour buses would reach. However, there were signs that archeologists are working on the many carved stone sections that have been salvaged from the site.
The lower levels were used in drier times but became submerged as water levels rose in the monsoon. Within the buildings there were aqueducts and pipes cut in the stone for a water supply system. It’s not clear how the palace servants raised the water from the well to the upper areas, possibly there were pumps of some sort. The local peasant ladies used pitchers balanced on their heads as they descended the steps, filled the pitchers at the bottom then climbed again. I must admit I wouldn’t drink the green stuff sitting in the bottom now, but it would have looked very different 11 centuries ago.