The capital’s best preserved stepwell is also its most accessible. Set behind Hailey Road, just outside Connaught Place, this four level deep baoli bears the name of Maharaja Agrasen, mythical founder of the Agrawal merchant community. Archaeologists, though, date its construction to the mid-15th century. While some kind of a well-and-hospice arrangement may have existed at the site since ancient times, the extensive use of ‘true’ arches (first implemented in India in Ad 1280) clearly proves that the extant building couldn’t have been built before them. Agresen ki Baoli, at its heart, has a deep well approached by a steep flight of 103 steps. With a modest width of 15m at the top, the baoli stuns the viewer with an impression of length and depth. Though bereft of ornamental flourishes, the rows of arched niches lining its walls provide some visual relief. The baoli’s best feature, however, is its lower steps on a baking-hot June day. The Colonial architect James Fergusson describes the feeling in his History of Indian & Eastern Architecture as “the grateful coolness of all subterranean apartments, especially when accompanied by water, and the quiet gloom of these recesses.”
The last important Tughlaq sultan, Feroz Shah, was perhaps the most visionary ruler in Delhi’s long history. He not only founded a new ‘city’ of Delhi and built its citadel ut also raised numerous yanks, wells, buildings, (and foresightedly) even his mausoleum. As a builder extraordinaire, he unsurprisingly also built a stepwall that does not have an equal in terms of deign locally. This baoli lies at the heart of the citadel Feroz Shah Kotla (now famous by the adjoining and eponymous cricket stadium). Feroz Shah’s baoli is circular, a mini coliseum in design. It has steps leading up to the roof from the outside and down to the wall shaft from within. Like the red Fort, the baoli stood on the Yamuna’s right bank when it was built and its aquifer remains charged even though the river’s channel shifted away over the last 650 years.
Were it better preserved, Rajon ki Bain, a stepwell in the woods behind Qutub Minar, would wear the crown of Delhi’s most resplendent baoli. Despite its apparent neglect, this 500-year-old reservoir does not fail to charm visitors thanks to its elaborate construction and picturesque setting. Wrapped on three sided by the shrubs and trees of the Mehrauli Archaeological park, the stepwall has elegant arcades on its first and second tiers. In the baoli’s prime, water is aid to have lapped the floor of the second tier, but now the water table has dipped so far that there’s only ankle-deep water at the bottom. As a result, the 60-odd stone steps leading to the base are all visible –an abiding testimnony to the craft of the masons who put it together.