A captivating slideshow about India’s stepwells landed on my computer screen some time ago – architectural masterpieces, with flights of stairs going down to a pool of water deep below the ground, and then up again, in Escher-like - configurations. Built hundreds of years ago, mostly in the arid Western regions of India in the loose, sandy soil, they enabled the local population to reach the water table that is very low in severe drought, but also fluctuates heavily with the summer monsoons.

I was hooked. These images struck my imagination, though I did not yet understand why. Beyond my recognition of the stepwells as visually stunning in terms of their architecture, I sensed that these stairways down into the earth evoke something much, much deeper.

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Stairway to Water - Part I - March 2016

PART I: 2016 - February 2016


The first stepwell we visit in 2016 is in Jodhpur, Rajasthan. I ask around for “Toor Ji ki Baori“, but the name seems unfamiliar to the locals, who, it turns out, know it as “Jahlara”. It is only a short walk from our hotel, but few tourists seem to wander away from Jodhpur’s famous fort and other major attractions. In contrast to the clock tower in the market square nearby, the stepwell is not visible from afar. You walk in the winding alleys of Jodhpur’s Blue City and suddenly, the ground opens up, confronting you with an upside-down ziggurat, dug into the earth - instead of reaching up to the heavens. 

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Stairway to Water - Part II - November 2018

Part II: November 2018


Chand Baori is certainly the largest stepwell of all those we have visited, and one of the largest, if not the largest, in all of India. It is 90km outside of Jaipur, in the village of Abhaneri, but given India’s transportation practices – where cows and herds of sheep wander freely across the narrow roads, even those between cities, it takes us more than two hours to get there by car. Ali, Doreen’s longtime rickshaw driver, has finally been able to fulfill his dream and buy a car. He is taking his wife and youngest son along with us, turning our trip into a family outing, complete with picnic on the lawn outside the stepwell.

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