Aimless, unprepared wanderings have one lucky spin-off. There come times when the sights one stumbles upon in course of a detour make the experience really worthwhile. In fact, the joy that accrues is directly proportional to the remoteness and prior ignorance.
We were pleasantly reminded of this during our trip to Abhaneri.
We were driving to Bharatpur for a bird “shooting” holiday when this name appeared in the google-d list of places en route. A little bit of asking around and we learnt that it involves a ten-km diversion from the highway at Sikandara.
The other option was the supposedly cursed fort-town of Bhangarh. But we had overshot the place. So Abhaneri it was. We lost no time in changing our direction by a few degrees and heading forward.
The road winded through green farmlands, with an occasional school of peacocks gracing the landscape. Quite pleasant it was.
All this changes as one reaches the village. The entry into garbage-stuffed, sewage-spewing Abhaneri village would cause abject dismay to a visitor. But we are used to the state of affairs that prevails without exception in all villages around heritage sites.
The step well or “Chand Bawdi” as it is known, is easy to spot. ASI staff guards the gate but there is no entry ticket.
The step well is sheer joy to watch. The scale, aesthetic and sense of proportion holds one spellbound.
The chaos of the crowded roads and village wards around the walls mercifully does not spill inside. It is quite serene. The ASI guys seemed to be well-behaved and helpful. They were also firm in dealing with unruly visitors.
The entire well is not of a single vintage. A kind of viewing gallery-cum-residential quarter was added to it by one of the recent kings. The alteration is distinctly visible.
The place was a favourite summer retreat of the royals and one can see why. In those ages, the well was fed by a natural spring. Its water was lifted and poured continuously over the roof of the royal residence that ens-cons itself into the side.
Now of course, due to reckless pumping of groundwater through tubewells, the water table in the area has dropped by 200 ft and the well only collects meagre amounts of rain water.
A colony of bats is a permanent resident. A cute-ish baby bat had somehow landed on the floor and we had the pleasure of observing it closely, even touching it. It wasn’t injured contrary to what we believed and flew away once its curiocity about humans had abated.
The precincts of the step well are full of wonderfully sculpted statues with obvious Hindu mythological origins. However, as I dreaded, it turned out that these belonged to the temple next door and had been vandalised by the “secular” Mughals during their pillaging raids.
A visit to the said temple was in order. It is located right next door.
The temple remains consecrated and has a priest.
But the depressing signs of hate-motivated destruction continue to survive. The holidaying royals seem to have done little to restore the community honour.
The “information” board put up by ASI is expectedly silent about all that.
One is forced to painfully pull one’s eyes away and find some solace in the green farms in the immediate vicinity. Perhaps the entire village was serene like this when the temple flourished and the Chand Bawdi was full of water. Small consolation, that.