Neemrana to Bundi: In search of Indian step wells – Part 1

When we talk about Indian historical architecture, then sites of Harappa-Mohenjodaro, caves of Ajanta and Ellora or for some Taj Mahal comes to mind. But the fact is that India is a 5000 year old civilisation and in these 5000 years we have built some amazing architecture which cannot be confined to limited sites and structure.

Back in June 2016, I came to know about the ancient Stepwells of India, which is also referred as Baoli, Baori, etc. These stepwells are not just some water reservoirs but back in the days (almost 1000 years), they use to be motels for travelers who use to stay here as they Baoli’s offer protection from hot weather. There is a mind-blowing science about it, which I have mentioned below.

Chand Baori Abhaneri

Chand Baori Abhaneri

So, after doing some google searches and contacting my friend in Jaipur, I came to know about Chand Baori in Abhaneri. Chand Baori is the biggest stepwell of India, and if you are a fan of Batman movies, the 2008 Batman: The Dark Night Rises, then you might feel that you have seen Chand Baori somewhere.

In a week I planned a trip which will start from my home in New Delhi and will finish in Kota with five pit stops. These are Neemrana, Abhaneri, Amer, Tonk and Bundi. By the end of this trip, I would takes taken some great pics of six amazing stepwells and beautiful sites of Bundi.

Day 1: I hired a cab from Delhi for 4 days as it was impossible to visit all the above destinations in a train and from Delhi, I first reached Neemrana which is almost 150 km and took 3 hours. The reason I am at Neemrana was not to visit the Neemrana fort, which many believe that is the only tourist site here, but I was here to explore the Neemrana Baoli.

Neemrana Baoli

Neemrana Baoli

Now this is a 250 year old structure built by the royal family of Neemrana, not as a religious site, but as an 18th century hotel or as I said to my mate, An 18th century multi-storey hotel. Yep multi-storey, a total of nine but these stories are under the ground, not above.

I would have never believed it if someone had told me that Neemrana Baoli is 9 stories down if I haven’t seen it with my own eyes.

After having a chat with some locals, I came to know that this stepwell was built as a water resource, and there were (and still are) many rooms were travelers who visits Neemrana for business use to stay here.

And it makes sense too as on almost every storey, there are rooms type structure and if this baoli was just built for water resource then why would someone invest time & resource for building rooms.

The location of the Neemrana baoli is also fantastic as it’s surrounded by Aravalli mountain ranges and the Neemrana village is also a delight which makes this site more beautiful. I stayed here for like 90 mins, look some pics and from here drove towards Abhaneri.

Neemrana Baoli

Neemrana Baoli

Chand Baori

Chand Baori

Took a long route from Neemrana to Abhaneri NH 48 as I don’t trust the roads which don’t come under NHAI (National Highways Authority of India). It took me 4 hours to reach Abhaneri as I took the NH 48 route from Neemrana – Shahpura – Manoharpur and then took a left turn towards Dausa, a 200 km ride from Neemrana. There is also a 50 km shorter route which is taking a right turn from Behror (NH 48) towards Alwar city and then from the back side of Sariska National Park (150 km).

Chand Baori  – But leaving the roads apart, when I entered Chand Baori, a WOW just came out from my mouth. I mean Neemrana Stepwell was massive, but this one is like some aliens came to build it. This stepwell is enormous and mind-blowing & now I understand that why a scene of Batman 2008 was filmed here. There is no parallel of such structure in India.

Neemrana Baoli

Neemrana Baoli

Chand baori is like a big pyramid structure but again built reverse in ground. There are total 18 stories, which I could count as there was some water in the bottom and also some rooms (well designed) on one end. It’s said that in the 8th century, Nikumbha Rajputs build this baori for as a social gathering spot and it was also damaged during Mahmud Ghazni invasion of India.

But still this is one of the most well maintained Stepwell in India, and that might be the reason why three Hollywood films have chosen this site to show something awesome. Checkout a few images from Chand Baori.

Chand Baori

Chand Baori

Chand Baori

Chand Baori

Just outside the Chand Baori, there is a beautiful temple by the name Harshat Mata Temple. This temple was built the same rulers who worked on Chand Baori, and the attraction here is some amazing south India style handicraft work done on the walls and many statues of Hindu mythology. Here are some images of Harshat Mata Temple.

Harshat Mata Temple

Harshat Mata Temple

Harshat Mata Temple

Harshat Mata Temple

So by lunch time I have seen two amazing stepwells and 3rd on my list was the city of Amer, next to Jaipur.

I took the Jaipur Agra route, which was pretty smooth and 110 km to Jaipur. But I had a place in mind which is considered as the only sand dunes area near Jaipur. I even didn’t know the name, so I only relied on GPS & Google maps.

So from Abhaneri, I first reached Banskho train station (the smallest one I have ever seen) from here I turned right towards Dopur. And finally arrived at this village, can’t remember the name, but I know I was at the right place as I saw a camp resort, which was the 2nd landmark suggested to me.

So parked our car in the village and just on the opposite side I saw this

Sand Dunes

Sand Dunes

Sand Dunes

Sand Dunes

Sand Dunes

Sand Dunes

Yep, this is a sand dune, not as big as Jaisalmer but still it is. I believe that the dune here is 50-60 meter tall, and I still can’t figure out that how this 1-2 km area near Jaipur remained a desert. There isn’t much of desert activity like camel ride, and the only action which I saw was a local kid trying to slide his bike in the desert.

But still it was an amazing experience and as if someone is coming from Agra towards Jaipur, they will be amaze to see this dune which don’t even have a name. So let’s just call the Chhabra Sand dunes J

So it was almost 6 PM and my plan to visit all three stepwells in Northern Rajasthan was taking a kick back and thus I decided to visit Panna Meena ka Kund on next day and reached my hotel by 7:30 PM.

The best site for me on Day 1 was Chand Baori, but the idea of naming an un-named wasn’t that bad too.

Day 2 – In Jaipur and here is the view from my room

View from my room

View from my room

So today first, had to see Pana Menna ka Kund in Amer and from there drive towards Tonk and reach Bundi – Kota by night time.

Now a fact Amer. Most travelers who visit Jaipur are in an illusion that tourist attractions like Amber Fort, Jal Mahal, etc are in Jaipur. They are actually in Amer, a neighbour city of Jaipur. And here, just next to Amber Fort, there is a stepwell by the name of Panna Meena ka Kund.

Panna Meena ka Kund

Panna Meena ka Kund

Panna Meena ka Kund

Panna Meena ka Kund

Panna Meena ka Kund

Panna Meena ka Kund

Now this is a 450 year old marvel, built for the social gathering in Amer (people here still love to gathe) and nowadays it’s a perfect place to catch pics of kids jumping in the kund, which is quite high and dangerous, so don’t try it.

The thing which I like about this stepwell is that it’s well maintained and comes under ASI (Archaeological Survey of India) which means that it’s a national monument and will be repaired & maintained by the central government.

Just 15 mins from Amer and on our way towards Tonk, we came to know about a temple between the Aravali mountains range which is famous for its monkeys. It’s called as Galtaji temple. After hearing the name (suggested by my driver) a documentary on National Geographic, by the name “Monkey Thieves” came to mind and thus I stopped here for half an hour.

Galtaji Temple

Galtaji Temple

To reach this temples, one has to take a left turn just after entering Jaipur-Agra highway. Now the temple is situated on the mountain ranges, which to me is an excellent trekking spot.

And finally after a 20 mins ride from Amer, I reached the temple which has no entry ticket, but if you flash your camera out at the entrance gate, then sadhu’s will run towards you & force you to buy a Rs 50 ticket for the camera. I was a bit surprised that this temple isn’t a tourist site and neither it had any entry ticket then why charge for photography? But as I was short on time, so I paid the 50 and even forced the guy to give me the slip.

Now apart from the bad experience at the entry gate, Galtaji temple is astonishing. It’s quite a big complex, and as soon as you enter the 2nd entrance, there are like 100’s on monkeys lying around you. As I am from Delhi, and everyone here has a bit sorrow experience with monkeys, so I was a bit afraid that I might get bitten by one. But my driver, who is actually from Jaipur told me that as these monkeys here don’t have any shortage of food so they don’t attach any one.

Galtaji temple is a four storey structure but on a hill slope.  On the first floor, there is an ashram where I believe some saints live. On the second floor, there is a small pond of rainwater which is also the primary water source for the monkeys. On the third floor, there is an anther pond but small in size and on the fourth floor, there is a small temple of Hanuman (Monkey God). The view from the fourth floor is fantastic and the after reaching the fourth floor and meeting like 200 monkeys you will feel comfortable around them.

Galtaji Temple

Galtaji Temple

Galtaji Temple

Galtaji Temple

Galtaji Temple

Galtaji Temple

So from here I pushed for 2 hours and reached Tonk to visit Hadi Rani ka Kund (a stepwell). But I soon realised that this kund isn’t in Tonk city, it’s in Todaraisingh (30 km from here). So drove anther hour through village roads and reach this spot which is not too bad. Hadi Rani ka Kund is also under ASI, and the good thing which local municipal authority has done is that they have developed a lovely park around the site and are keeping is quite clean.

Hadi Rani ka Kund

Hadi Rani ka Kund

Now this is a square shaped stepwell but not very deep, and I was only able to see two stories above the water. So I just stayed here for 15 mins, took some pictures and checked this spot from my list. I won’t suggest anyone to stop here if they are driving from Jaipur to Bundi, but if you are in Tonk city, then it’s worth visiting.

Hadi Rani ka Kund

Hadi Rani ka Kund

Hadi Rani ka Kund

Hadi Rani ka Kund

Back in Delhi, when I was searching for Hadi Rani ka Kund on Google Maps, I noticed a Sikh Gurudwara by the name of Gurudwara Bhagat Dhanna Ji. I come from a Hindi-Sikh family, so I have heard about Dhanna Bhagat who is a familiar figure in Sikh history as his words are also mentioned in Guru Granth Sahib. So from home, I had decided to visit this gurudwara and from Todarai Singh.

Gurudwara Bhagat Dhanna Ji

Gurudwara Bhagat Dhanna Ji

Gurudwara Bhagat Dhanna Ji

Gurudwara Bhagat Dhanna Ji

This Sikh temple is in a village called Dhunwa Kalan, quite peaceful and from miles away one can notice the gurudwara as it’s the only multi-storey building in the whole village. Took some pictures as there isn’t quite on the web and I even plan to list the Gurudwara in TripAdvisor as one thing I know about Gurudwara followers that if they know that there is a historical Sikh site, then they will visit. I was also surprised to meet some champs from Kurukshetra & Chandigarh who also came to know about the temples from Google Map.

Later I had the opportunity to dine at the Langar Ghar (a kitchen by Sikh temples open for all) and believe me, the food here was the best I had eaten on my Bundi trip as it was all grown & made from the village nearby.

From here we drove for 2 hours and finally reached Bundi – The City of Stepwells, but by 7:00 PM and all the sites in the city are closed by 5:00 PM. So just went to my booked hotel in Kota (not far from Bundi) and waited for the next morning

11 Comments

  • Jatin Chhabra says:

    Thanks for publishing by story “Team Ghumakkar”

  • Pooja Kataria says:

    Dear Jatin, a big welcome to Ghumakkar!
    Indeed, a detailed and wonderful write up about one of the very rarely spoken or written tourist attraction.
    Chand Baori looked magnificent and, Sand dune was a surprise.. Didn’t know we had one near Jaipur. Well, we have a name to it now- Chhabra Sand Dunes. :)
    I assume that the experience at Galta Ji temple must have been thrilling for you being surrounded by 200 monkeys or so.
    All the pictures and details about the places are very informative. I am sure it would help the fellow travelers in planning their trip.
    Overall an impressive post!
    Waiting for your next post in this series!

    • Jatin Chhabra says:

      Thanks for the appreciation Pooja. Must say that Chand Baori is an amazing site which came to light after the 2008, Super hit Batman Movie movie. I plan to visit Jodhpur as I want to see some stepwells there, especially the one filmed in Batman : The Dark Night Rises

  • Bill McReynolds says:

    Beautifully done, Jatin Ji. Can’t wait for part two. I had no idea the bowli was used as a hotel. Great writing and photos.

  • Uday Baxi says:

    Dear Jatin
    Welcome to Ghumakkar. An outstanding beginning with an excellent post. The idea of travelling with a defined target was something we all aspire. Please share more of your explorations of Baoris and other places that you encounter during your various travels.

  • Sushant K Singhal says:

    Dear Jatin Chhabra,

    Thank you for the detailed blog well supported with attractive pictures. My interest in stepwells is a recent one and the credit goes to a local friend of mine who motivated me to visit Jaipur and Abhaneri in Feb 2016. Seeing Chand Baori and Harshad Mata Temple through your eyes has given me a new perspective. Thank you for the virtual tour of other stepwells also. Keep writing and keep sharing.

    Sushant Singhal

    • Jatin Chhabra says:

      Thanks Sushant. Indian stepwells is a unique concept which isn’t as promoted as other tourist attractions. Every tourist nation has a palace, fort or temple, but Step-wells, that thats Made in India :)

  • Nandan Jha says:

    Welcome aboard, Jatin.

    What a start, you have climbed many steps in your first log itself, at Ghumakkar.

    I would have went past Neemrana, may be 100 times, over last 20 years and I had no clue on this Baori. The last we were returning from Jodhpur and saw this Japanese restaurant (from the highway) and wanted to drop-by. Now I know better.

    There is a expressway-kind of road which connects Alwar from Dharuhera (its a NH but probably better), not sure you are mentioning of the same road. But it seems that you were well prepared, it was like discovering, well close to it. Those Chhabra Sand Dunes, sound authentic. :-)

    Bundi is a great city. And it has one of the fab Baolis. Hope you had a great time.

    • Jatin Chhabra says:

      Hi Nandan, doing lot to get the name of Chhabra Sand dunes, like reading Wikipedia rules :)

      The Alwar from Dharuhera is an highway road but the NH 48 (Gurgaon-Dharuhera-Benhor-Kotputli) is an expressway, and also the route for Jaipur to Neemrana or from Delhi.

      My suggestion will be to catch the H-14 which is Alwar-Behror road, then turn right on NH 48 towards Neemrana.

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