17 February 2016

Loharheri Baoli, Dwarka Sector-12, Delhi


“Hogi is dher imaarat ki kahani kuch to,
Dhund alfaz ke malbe me ma’ine kuch to”

(“Surely a story hides behind these ruins somewhere,
Search the debris of words, the meaning is there somewhere”)
– Shahpar Rusool, Urdu Professor,
Jamia Milia Islamia University, Delhi

Bubbling with fantastically-conceived hyperbolic tales and mythology, oral folklore always conceals within its spellbinding florid exaggerations thoroughly disguised minute kernels of truth which resiliently resist, and often irreversibly shatter, even the most endeavoring communal forgetfulness and/or malicious attempts to whitewash history.

Comprised of huge staircases leading down to deep vertical shafts of associated wells, “baolis” (step-wells) are massive medieval water-management and congregational monuments majestically scattered throughout northern and western-central India. Considering their limited numbers and unparalleled ornamental adornments, they are unquestionably and quite conspicuously the most cherished monuments vis-à-vis the multitudes of contemporaneous religious and funerary edifices, extravagantly opulent palaces and formidable fortress-strongholds littering the immense landscape.

Substantially smaller than most of its magnificent counterparts intermittently peppering the city, the recently-discovered Lodi-era (AD 1451-1526) baoli in Dwarka’s Sector-12 is historically believed to have been  christened “Loharheri Baoli”, deriving from the contiguous presence of a small settlement of ironsmiths (“lohar”) whose hydrological and congregational requirements the tiny edifice was to fulfill. Perplexingly though, this satellite suburb would have been considerably distant from the extensive settlements of medieval Delhi whom the ironsmiths would have professionally catered. Fortunately for the enthralling step-well, this historical anomaly renders it one of the few medieval monuments in this part of the city (the only other, that too several kilometers away, is the desolately forgotten and grievously brutalized Hastsal Minar delineating the ruinous remains of Mughal Emperor Shahjahan’s hunting estate (refer Pixelated Memories - Kaushal Minar, Uttam Nagar)).


Lost and found


Walking the unclogged, strangely sanitized streets of Dwarka – almost reminiscent of post-apocalyptic, post-humanity scenes from science fiction movies – feels singularly bizarre and a tad bit bewildering. Unlike the rest of terribly overpopulated, thoroughly urbanized and ubiquitously commercialized west Delhi, minutes pass here before one spots another pedestrian walking purposelessly or expectantly sniffing around buildings, vehicles seldom blare horns, and the colossal multi-storied soaring residential buildings too are unbelievably distantly spaced and uniquely designed.

Accessed via a narrow wicket-gate puncturing the high walls enveloping the towering Gangotri Apartments whose peripheries it discreetly, in fact almost invisibly, adjoins, presently the extensively restored and impeccably maintained three-tiered baoli is existential within a vast garbage-carpeted barren tract of land sporadically shrouded here and there by sorry-looking miserable tufts of weeds and grass irrepressibly rising from amidst the collected assortment of foul-smelling plant and vegetable waste, an overabundance of cow dung and dog droppings, innumerable polythene bags filled with domestic non-biodegradable rubbish, discarded construction material, and worthless shards of glass and plastic glinting in the sunlight.

Although the Gangotri complex and Dwarka International School prominently located barely a stone’s throw away are not insignificant landmarks, the bewildered locals, it seemed, faced insurmountable difficulties either comprehending my modest intentions or offering directions, consequentially sending me on a to-and-fro walk in search of the elusive baoli which being an unadorned, rubble masonry-built underground monument is easy to miss even from the immediate vicinity.

“In India it is not a good idea to ask just one person’s opinion, especially as far as directions are concerned. Not wishing to appear discourteous or unhelpful, they will say the first thing that comes into their head rather than honestly and far more usefully admitting that they do not know. It is best to ask as many people as possible and opt for the majority view. This does not necessarily mean that you will then be going in the right direction – it just gives you a slightly better chance of doing so. We therefore asked as many people as possible but we still ended up lost.”
– Josie Dew, “The Wind in My Wheels” (1992)


First impressions


Moderately proportioned and truly parched owing to the disastrous lowering of water-table over the centuries, the mesmerizing edifice was conveniently forgotten and interred underneath layers of earth and thick undergrowth, which culminated in its unsurprising obscurity and disappearance from contemporary literary records and monument censuses. Like its almost similarly designed cousin associated with the Wazirpur group of monuments in R.K. Puram (refer Pixelated Memories - Wazirpur Monument complex), this beautiful rectangular edifice too possesses immaculate rows of ornamental alcoves lining the longer sides along its two levels. There isn’t however any other functional feature or artistic adornment perceptible, except the presence of the likewise-dry circular well-shaft hugging its rear. Unexpectedly though, especially considering the perennial paucity of heritage enthusiasts and touristic visitors and the wretched uncleanliness of its surroundings, not the slightest trace of garbage can be noticed anywhere within the baoli's earmarked area – certainly a most commendable achievement on the part of Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) and Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage (INTACH) which restored the edifice and Delhi Development Association (DDA) to whom this tract of land belongs.


Isolated case?


Location: Pocket-1, Sector-12 Dwarka
How to reach: Walk/avail an auto/rickshaw to Gangotri Apartments/Dwarka International School from Dwarka Sector-12 Metro station which is about a kilometer and a half away. If walking, head towards Hotel Radisson Blu and take a left turn from there. The small baoli is located about a kilometer from this point on the right side of the arterial road in a vast barren expanse in the very shadow of Gangotri Apartments.
Entrance fees: Nil
Photography/Video charges: Nil
Time required for sightseeing: 20 min
Relevant Links -
Another monument located in the neighborhood - Pixelated Memories - Kaushal Minar, Uttam Nagar
Other baolis in the city -
Suggested reading -

3 comments:

  1. It was wonderful to meet the enthusiast in person. Keep up the good work, my young friend!! :) :)

    -DR PC SARKAR

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. The pleasure was entirely mine, Dr. Sarkar. Hope to have your delightful company soon in Lucknow as well!

      Regards

      Delete
  2. How wonderfully you have documented a structure which was nondescript till a few years back.

    Congratulations

    ReplyDelete