Agrasen ki Baoli, is it a place, a pudding or the latest scam?
Baolis are essentially step-wells that were used to store natural water accumulating due to rains or high underground water levels. Most people think of the name as a tongue twister and refuse to say it due to its very rural sound. Eeks, baa-o-lee, my image will take a beating if I said it to my friends. But tell them of the step-well in the movie ‘Paheli‘ where ShahRukh Khan romanced Rani Mukherjee and you get a ‘ahaa, that’s a baoli, is it’. Yes, and there is one right here in the middle of Delhi, literally. A stone’s throw away from Connaught Place down Kasturba Gandhi Marg. Don’t ask me how I found this place.
Dying to capture something of monumental importance and get my photography career started, I called up a fellow enthusiast one morning and we were soon on Hailey road. A quick search on google earlier in the morning had revealed it to be nestled between high rises and Lutyen’s bungalows. Sensing it was somewhere nearby, we approached an idle security guard and inquired about King Agrasen and his baoli. ‘Sir, woh raja the kya purane zamane mien?’ (Sir, was he a king in the ancient times). ‘Yes’ I said leaning forward. ‘Phir toe unke mare kaafi samay ho gay‘ (then he must be dead long ago). ‘Of-course’, I retorted at his intelligent observation, ‘but he left a step-well behind, where is it?’.
We eventually found the place and weren’t surprised that very few people are aware of it. A narrow lane off Hailey road leads you to a fenced, half stone-walled structure and if you blink too long you might almost miss it. There is no place to park, but to squeeze your vehicle next to its boundary wall. That there is not much happening in this lane helps your cause. The care-taker lives inside the compound and has instructions not to open the gate before 10am. We were lucky not to have to wait.
I am always in awe of history and what it has passed on to us, though it’s amply evident we are poor custodians of our rich heritage. Your first reaction when you climb the stone steps into the gate is to wonder how such an ancient structure has survived in the middle of all this development in central Delhi. Even the king who constructed it would have never anticipated landing up with the German embassy and British High Commission as neighbors. Talk about prime location.
Agrasen ki Baoli (variously referred to as Agar Sain ki Baoli or Ugrasen ki Baoli) is a protected monument by ASI under the relevant act of 1958. Sixteen meters long, fifteen meters wide and five levels deep, it can give your head a spin if you look down from its heighest point. Earlier, two levels would remain perennially submerged in water. Failing rains and falling ground water levels have taken their toll, such that despite heavy rains last September, the water drained itself in a few days.
My source of information, the care-taker, remains perched on a plastic chair under a huge neem tree as few visitors make their rounds.
Soon a young couple enters and finds a place under one of the arches. Absolute peace and no distraction here, for as long as you want. We start exploring the place, there are arched corridors on both sides of the well and a flight of stone steps leading right down to the mouth of the well. A ToI article dated 2nd Jan 2002 mentions how this place was once a garbage dump full of rubble. It’s fairly visit-able at the moment though, rather a must if you are a history buff.
There is a mystery over the actual construction of this step-well, who built it and when. One account says King Agrasen did the job, around the time of Mahabharata, which makes it several millennia old. Another story is about King Ugrasen from the Agrawal community in the 12th century. In either case, here is what I imagine must have happened. The queen complained to the king about the lack of a swimming pool for her to frolic with her friends and chill out in the scorching summers of Delhi. And the newly wed king must have obliged. If it were now, she’d have to make do with waking up to the rooster’s call and line up for water from MCD taps.
In all earnest, if you are in the CP area on a winter morning and have time to kill after your shopping, take a detour to this place, you’ll like it.
-Coming from CP on KG Marg, take a left on Hailey road and then the first left on the narrow lane
-Search for it on Google Earth using the string ‘Agrasen ki Baoli, Delhi’