Abhaneri has been one of the best kept secrets of Rajasthan. Situated off the main Jaipur-Agra highway, this unique step well gets a limited number of visitors. Tourists on a day trip to Agra don’t come here and for tourists coming to Jaipur, visiting Abhaneri would mean staying another extra day, as it is approximately 90km from the capital city of Rajasthan. Having heard about this beautiful step well and seen many others in Gujarat, I decided to visit the forgotten village earlier this year.
Abhaneri is best approached by road from Jaipur. It is approximately eight kilometers once you turn in from the Sikandra main junction. Sikandra, different from the one near Agra, is internationally renowned for intricate jaali (lattice) work made of brick coloured sandstone. This is one of the largest centers for this craft and it would not be a bad idea to commission a work while you are here.
Abhaneri is a very small village and almost uninhabited. I was expecting bus loads of tourists but was surprised that we were the only ones visiting this place. Though it may not be touristy place, there is small number of people , like a small dhaba, a couple of guides and a potter who survive on the these tourists. So it was apt that I hired a guide, even though he had limited knowledge of the region. On the way out, we paid a short visit to the potters home who proudly showed his creations- simple and beautiful!
The name Abhaneri comes from the word Abha Nagri, which translates as ‘the city of lights’. Over many decades, the mispronunciation of this name has given the village its current name. The ‘boari‘ (stepwell) at Abhaneri is called the Chand (moon) Baori. It is one of the largest and deepest step wells in India and belongs to the 8th century. More than a thousand steps that lead to the well create a mesmerizing pattern, that changes with the shift in the sun. It is a photographer’s paradise! Our guide Vijay Kumar tells us that the well is 19.5 meters deep and there are 13-stories in total. Unfortunately, the visitors cannot go down the well due to safety reasons.
The main purpose for these baori’s is to harvest rainwater. Rajasthan is the desert state of India, and has always had water is short supply and probably this is the reason for the creation of this well. The locals would use this place as a resort in hot weather as well as to wash their hands before visiting the local temple of Harshat Mata, situated next to the Baori. Whatever the reason for its creation, it is worth the visit!
The Harshat Mata Temple was built in the 10th century. The presiding deity is the goddess of joy and happiness, and thus it is believed that the Goddess is always cheerful. Though the temple complex is under various stages of restoration, one can imagine it’s beauty centuries ago. It must have intricately carved with various niches reserved for the pantheon of Gods and Goddesses, some of which can be seen sprawled around the complex, or in the step well complex, where they have placed for their safety.
It’s a long drive to see this monument, but it’s worth it. Having seen other step wells in Gujarat, the design of this one is very unique and should find itself in the prestigious company of other UNESCO Heritage Sites soon. I hope that the Government is talking all precautions to bring it back to its lost glory. A small initiative called the Abhaneri Festival takes place over 3 days in the winters. The festival includes various dance performances of the region as well as tours of the place. Do visit Abhaneri then!