City Monument – Summertime Baolis, Hazrat Nizamuddin Dargah & Elsewhere
That old AC.
[Text and photo by Mayank Austen Soofi]
Some of us are dodging the summertime heat waves by self-exiling within AC rooms. AC existed in the very old days too. That medieval-era air-conditioner was of stone, a secretive monument linking light to shade, earth to water.
It was the baoli. Stone stairs descending to a well or water tank; the staircase punctuated with pavilions, chambers, jaalis and corridors. In hostile summer months, heat-oppressed citizens would retreat into it, lounging in the lower reaches, closer to the receding water and its coldness.
Delhi’s centuries-old baolis are no longer compatible with the summer of our times. But here are a few you might explore.
The 13th century Gandhak ki Baoli is the capital’s oldest. Because of its sulphur-rich water, said to soothe skin ailments, it was exploited as a spa. Close to Qutub Minar, it is always locked. Until some years back, homeless people in the vicinity would wash themselves in it. You can see some of it through the bars of the gate.
Agrasen ki Baoli is too instagrammable. The pairing of the baoli with the Connaught Place high-rises behind is dramatic—21st century ramming straight into 14th century. The echoing gutar-gutar of hundreds of pigeons, a perfectly poetic soundtrack.
The Rajon ki Baoli in the Mehrauli Archaeological Park is the city’s most artistic, architecturally. The top landing is adorned with arched niches. This late morning, the stairs are littered with leaves. The only sound is of aeroplanes flying low.
The little-known Ghaus Ali Shah baoli in Gurgaon is spacious, circled with chambers and arched portals. It has the look of an amphitheater.
The city’s biggest baoli is within the Firoz Shah Kotla ruins. You can’t access it, though. Other ruins, other baolis. Tughlaqabad Fort has five. Purana Qila has one, so does Lal Qila.
A pre-Mughal baoli stands hidden within a cramped alley in Mughal-era Old Delhi. It lies behind a metal flap in Matia Mahal, as if it were a closet.
A baoli each also exists in the sufi shrines of Hazrat Khwaja Qutubbudin Kaki in Mehrauli, and Hazrat Nizamuddin Auliya near Humayun’s Tomb. The former is dry, and the latter is totally filled with water. This white-hot afternoon, the shaded corridor running along its eastern side is astonishingly cool and breezy, lulling a citizen to deep sleep—see photo.