Chand Baori, Abhaneri
Quiet, dusty roads stretch into the distance, where only the only unit of measure one feels for distance is time, not kilometre. You can tell it’s hot, but inside the cool confines of a car the journey is almost pleasant. On the highway this far from Jaipur there aren’t any camels or elephants on the road any longer, and people are few and far in between.
We’re on our way to the Chand Baori stepwell, 95km from Jaipur in the village of Abhaneri. It’s a stepwell made famous in the Dark Knight movie which is the least exciting reason to be visiting this complex feature of Escher-like design. Like most historical Indian sites it has a romantic history, this one tragic.
As the story goes, it was constructed in AD800 by King Chanda of the Chauhan Dynasty who, after defeating the previous monarch, built it to win the love of the surviving Queen upon her request. Masons etched the nearly 3,500 narrow steps over 13 storeys into the ground, creating beautiful repeating patterns in the rectangular courtyard. When they were done, the King asked if they could repeat this magnificence anywhere else. They said yes, and he had them all killed so there would be none other like this. When he unveiled the Queen’s gift, she gave thanks and jumped into the murky depths to join her late husband. I'd read about this story somewhere and couldn't find the original source again, it could be an urban legend or actual truth. There are some guides peddling their services by the well if you're so inclined, though by that point our experiences with guides in India weren't always 100% stellar; some basically point out the sights and offer tidbits of information whereas others are truly immersed with knowledge.
The well isn't as deep and narrow as the movie suggests however it is a stepwell after all and its depths are only truly visible under water. It’s preserved by groundsmen who sit guard and watch the few visitors who make the journey here trickle in daily. There's been a few drownings here during the rainy season when the well actually fills up and water level rises, so the watchmen of the well don't tend to allow people to step beyond the railing. Of course, it's not a hard and fast rule so some people do climb the steps.The stairs form three sides of the courtyard and the fourth holds an incredible three-storey pavilion with carved pillars and balconies, where sculptures flourish and these days, pigeons nest.
It’s a beautiful stepwell and one that evokes quite a bit of awe despite its encompassing stature. You can take it all in in one glance, but your eye can’t help but be mesmerised by each geometric slice of a step that seems to give rise to another step.
The Harshat Mata temple next to the well is also great for pictures, though we didn't stick around to explore the Abhaneri area as it was our last day in India. Abhaneri is known for its baoris so there's plenty to explore. Amenities aren't too common other than a hut selling drinks or fruit so come prepared.
How to get to Abhaneri
Most value for money is to book a car to drive you out here. It's a common enough spot now that plenty of drivers will know how to get here easily. We booked a car for half a day from Jaipur which was a 2 hour journey each way, and costs less than ~USD20. The ride isn't a particularly scenic one as you'll be on the highway passing dry desert land. I thought it was interesting, though not necessarily entertaining.
You can also ride the rail to get here, from Jaipur to Bandikui Junction, and it's an hour journey for about ~USD8 a ticket. This is probably an interesting ride but you'll have to find your way to the well from the station, about 10km away.
Fairly common is also the bus from Jaipur to Sikandra which takes about 2 hours and costs less than ~USD1.20 each way. You'll have to hire a jeep ride for the remainder of the way as well.
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