History underground: The forgotten Baolis or step-wells of Delhi!

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A short film on the forgotten Baolis or step-wells of Old and New Delhi, India.

Nizamuddin Baoli:
Built in the 14th century by Hazrat Nizamuddin Auliya, this step well served as a water reservoir in olden days. Recently, after its 1st renovation in over 700 years it has become a popular hangout for the locals. Delhi houses numerous ancient structures including baolis or step-wells that are now a forgotten part of the city's urban sprawl. While Nizamuddin baoli still has some water in it the others have dried up or even vanished altogether. Those, which have survived the tides of time, are now waiting helplessly for restoration.

The popularity of the Nizamuddin baoli is also because of its proximity to the dargah bearing the same name. Although it is illegal and unsafe, many residents have built their houses sticking to the walls of the baoli. With air conditioners jutting out of worn-out walls it becomes more dangerous for the boys to jump in the pool.

Rajaon ki baoli:
Another magnificent baoli in the capital is the Rajaon ki baoli situated near Adam Khan's tomb in Mehrauli. Daulat Khan built this three-storied marvel in 1516 during the Lodhi reign; which showcases the brilliance of the ancient Indian architecture and engineering. With 12 pillars standing at its borders the baoli is a spectacular structure. The masons earlier used it for some time, which gave it, its name -- Rajaon ki Baoli!

What makes this baoli distinct is that its entire structure is subterranean. The outer structure is concealed and on approaching the entrance, only the top floor of the baoli is visible. Gradually, as one moves further, the lower levels come into view.

Gandhak ki baoli:
About one hundred meters south of the Adam Khan tomb lies another baoli in Mehrauli. It is Gandhak ki baoli, which owes its origin to Iltumish of the slave dynasty. The well gets its name from the sulphur: known as gandhak, in the water; which was known for its medicinal properties. Ranking as the largest in Delhi, the five-tiered Gandhak ki baoli is spread across expansively and has supplied water to the nearby areas for centuries. Also known as the diving well, it was earlier used by the locals for diving.

What was the pride of ancient rulers is now in immediate need of revival and restoration. Indian archeologists have tried to restore the water through other means but it has not been a success till now. With its fading charm it is in danger of being forgotten completely like so many other monuments.

Red fort Baoli:
Further away, the baoli of the famous Red Fort or the Laal Qilla of Delhi is lesser known. The distinct structure of the baoli has steps going down from two sides, which converge at a pit attached to the well. Unlike other step wells this one is fenced-in and locked. In comparison to the others this baoli does not have many visitors, as not many people know of its existence. Perhaps it is because this baoli is locked throughout the year but the one day when it is open to all is the 15th of August - the independence day of India.

Many say that it was built in the 14th century whereas the fort is a 17th century construction. The lonesome step well lies silently, witness to countless events of the past. Also, not many people know that the baoli was used as a prison. This is only evident when you visit the baoli as etched on stone are the names of the officers of the Indian National Army who were confined here in 1945 and 46 during the freedom movement.

Agrasen ki baoli:
In deep contrast to the silence of other baolis, Agrasen ki baoli lies amid business towers and a residential area. Although it is not certain but the credit for building this step-well goes to King Agrasen, which also gives the baoli its name. A 14th century construction, this baoli is lined on both sides with chambers and niches. The 104 steps of the well descend into the well's dried bottom, which has three levels.

Being in the middle of a residential area, this baoli has more visitors in comparison to others. 60 meters wide and 15 meters long, this baoli is also in desperate need of renovation like the others.

The ancient structures that are an integral part of our heritage need restoration and attention from us today.

This footage is part of the professionally-shot broadcast stock footage archive of Wilderness Films India Ltd., the largest collection of imagery from South Asia. The Wilderness Films India collection comprises of thousands of hours of high quality broadcast imagery, mostly shot on HDCAM 1080i High Definition, HDV and XDCAM. Write to us for licensing this footage on a broadcast format, for use in your production! We are happy to be commissioned to film for you or else provide you with broadcast crewing and production solutions across South Asia. We pride ourselves in bringing the best of India and South Asia to the world... Reach us at wfi @ vsnl.com and admin@wildfilmsindia.com