The capital is home to numerous architectural marvels. Currently in its seventh avatar, Delhi is scattered with historic tombs and monuments and as one looks up, one often fails to realise one can look down to discover something beautiful too.
You don't have to go to Gujarat to explore intricate stepwells (they are known as vav in Gujarati), there are plenty of baolis in Delhi you can explore this winter.
What is a baoli?
Built essentially to store water, stepwells served other purposes as well. It was a place where women gathered during summers and served as a community site where there was also a place of worship nearby.
What does a baoli look like?
Stepwells are structures that have been built below the ground level. A maze of stairs generally leads to the bottom level where the water reservoir resides. According to Vikramjit Singh Rooprai’s Delhi Heritage: Top 10 Baolis, “A typical baoli consists of a well which is attached to a separate water tank or basin.”
Which is the most popular baoli in Delhi?
Hands down, we would have to say Agrasen ki Baoli near Hailey Road. Its proximity to Connaught Place makes it very popular with locals and tourists and is often used for photoshoots and gatherings. However, Delhi at one time had 32 baolis, some of which have been lost, buried and a few which still functional. So why don't you go exploring the 10 baolis which are off the beaten path in Delhi this winter?
HAZRAT NIZAMMUDIN BAOLI
The baoli, a result of a dispute between Ghiyas-ud-din Tughlaq and Khwaja Nizam-ud-din Auliya, is situated at current day Hazrat Nizam-ud-din basti. Legend explains that the baoli was built at night with the help of lamps that were lit up with water instead of oil. The water here is also believed to have healing powers. We suggest that you do not miss this marvel hidden in plain sight.
Built in: 1321-22 | Public Access: Allowed | Nearest Metro Station: JLN Stadium on Violet Line
There are two baolis in the complex and it is interesting to note that they came up after Ghiyas-ud-din Tughlaq realised the issue of water scarcity which resulted from the curse of Nizammudin Chishti, or so legend says. Keeping in mind the water scarcity in Tuglaqabad Fort, Ghiyas-ud-din Tuglaq planned 13 well-dug baolis. However, only two baolis can be identified in the fort premises today: the one on the east and other on the west.
Built in: 1321 | Public Access: Allowed | Nearest Metro Station: Govindpuri on Violet Line
RED FORT BAOLI
View this post on Instagram
A rare L-shaped baoli at a central location, the mention of this structure is scanty. This baoli has staircases originating from two places and is among the better-kept ones. The baoli is believed to be older than Red Fort itself and has been constructed with uniform sized stones. We suggest you visit this the next time you are at Red Fort.
Built in: Unclear | Public Access: Allowed with permission from ASI | Nearest Metro Station: Lal Quila on the Voilet Line and Chandni Chowk on the Yellow Line
FEROZ SHAH KOTLA BAOLI
Apart from saving the collapsing economy, Feroz Shah also ensured construction of structures that helped the public. One of those was a baoli, which today is the only circular one in Delhi. It is also the largest in terms of area. The baoli, now dilapidated, is within Feroz Shah Kotla where people can be seen praying frequently to the djinns.
Built in: 1354 | Public Access: Allowed with permission from ASI | Nearest Metro Station: ITO on the Violet Line
Discovered very recently, this baoli in Dwarka was covered with dense vegetation. According to Rooprai, this baoli could have belonged to ironsmiths going by its name. It is the smallest baoli in Delhi with just 20 steps to the tank.
Built in: Unclear | Public Access: Allowed | Nearest Metro Station: Dwarka Sector 12 on the Blue Line
RAJON KI BAOLI
View this post on Instagram
This well-kept baoli in Mehrauli reflects the time when it was built, i.e. during the reign of the Lodis. It is four storeys deep and attached to a mosque. The walls have calligraphic inscriptions from the Quran. It is the largest and the most ornate of the three baolis in the complex. Its courtyard-like appearance looks stunning.
Built in: 1516 | Public Access: Allowed | Nearest Metro Station: Qutub Minar on the Yellow Line
As the name suggests, Munirka baoli is housed in Sector 5 of RK Puram and stands between a gurudwara and a temple. Known for its design, it is surrounded by well-manicured lawns. Interestingly, the baoli also has another well within the complex. It makes for an interesting visit as it is exemplifies Lodi-style architecture.
Built in: 1526 | Public Access: Allowed | Nearest Metro Station: Munirka on the Yellow Line
OLD RIDGE BAOLI
View this post on Instagram
The Ridge Road in Delhi is well-known for its picturesque location but it houses another secret. Now situated within the Hindu Rao Hospital complex and close to the main hospital building lies this baoli. It was the only source of water during the 1857 war of independence and is it said that British soldiers feared that their Indian counterparts would poison it.
Built in: 1354 | Public Access: Allowed | Nearest Metro Station: Pulbangash on the Red Line and Civil Lines on the Yellow Line
PURANA QILA BAOLI
Situated in the Old Fort complex, this baoli had 89 steps to reach the water level. It might look mystical but the design was simple. The interesting bit: it is fully functional!
Built in: 1538 | Public Access: Allowed with permission from ASI | Nearest Metro Station: Pragati Maidan on the Blue Line and Khan Market on the Violet Line
ARAB SARAI KI BAOLI
The second smallest baoli in Delhi, it is part of a Unesco World Heritage Complex, i.e. the Humayun's Tomb. The architecture is unique and we urge you to go see it for yourself.
Built in: 16th century | Public Access: Allowed with permission from ASI | Nearest Metro Station: Jor Bagh on the Yellow Line and JLN Stadium on the Violet Line