India's stepwells - baoli, baori, baudi, bavari or vav, the names vary from one place to another - are huge water reservoirs, dug into the ground in ledges. They have a series of steps in one or more of its walls, that access the stored water. Some even have a ramp for cattle. This brilliant concept, born out of exclusively practical reasons, allows, not only a more efficiant use with any level of water, but also an easier maintenance of the well itself.
It is thought that the stepwells appeared around 800 years ago, in west India and in Pakistan, although some argue that they are even older. They slowly took the place of ordinary water storage systems and became pretty common, especially in dry climates. With time, their role began to change and they became richer, extending beyond purely functional purposes. During the hot Indian summer, for instance, they became gathering places, where people could peacefully enjoy the shade and freshness.
In some cases, the well had relatively complex architectural structures around them, that could go from a simple cover to sets of buildings. Villages and other communities branched out around them. It is also usual to find temples built next to wells, turning them into mystical places and pilgrimage destinations people sought, for holy baths and rituals.
Although the need for storing water still remains in India, the stepwells have fallen out of use, in favour of new systems. Curiously enough, those still working, have leisure purposes attached to them, in most cases. The Adalaj Vav, in Ahmedabad, the Rani ki vav, in Gujarat, or the Chand Baori (pictured above), in Rajasthan are among the most spectacular of them.
Adalaj Vav stepwell
Rani ki vav stepwell
Agrasen ki baoli stepwell