Our happiest moments as tourists always seem to come when we stumble upon one thing while in pursuit of something else. ~ Lawrence Block
I first saw the step-well on my way to the hotel from Lonar bus stand from the auto rickshaw.
A sunken structure in black basalt, I think I was lucky to notice it in the first place as the step-well is not on the road itself, but a little inside. I also think I noticed it because of the sudden break between the rather drab looking houses on the road and because it was so different from everything around it. From the quick look that I had in a passing rickshaw, I guessed it to be a water body of some sort. Maybe a step-well or at least an old water tank?
I immediately asked the driver of the auto rickshaw I was travelling in. “What’s that place we passed just now?”
“The place with the black coloured stone and the one that looks really old.” (Yeah, I know, a very clever and lucid description indeed :-P).
“That thing? It’s a water tank. Nobody uses it or goes there.” These words were uttered with such a tone of finality that I didn’t dare ask him anything more.
Later that evening, after a day spent exploring Lonar, I told the guide about the step-well / water tank that I had seen earlier that day. The guide was equally dismissive saying that it was a broken down structure, and not really interesting and why should I want to see something as boring as that?
That did it. The word “boring”. I decided that I wouldn’t leave Lonar till I had paid a visit to the step-well / water tank. So next morning, before I left for Aurangabad (my next destination), that’s what I did.
And the first thing I realised when I saw it is that it was not a water tank, but a step-well. Not an elaborate one, but a step-well nevertheless.
The step-well had a wire fencing all around and it had been cut in a couple of places allowing me access. Beyond the fence, the step-well was surrounded by single-storeyed houses. The step-well was not very large and had steps leading down to the water from three sides. The fourth side had a rather ornate balcony / viewing gallery with a large, but empty niche making me wonder if there was an idol placed for worship sometime in the past. All around the walls of the step-well were niches at regular intervals, once again empty.
The water was a dark mossy green and I couldn’t t make out how deep the well was or how many steps there were below the 10 exposed ones. In the absence of any information board at the step-well, I could only guess.
There was no one else at the step-well and the few locals who passed by looked at me curiously. When I called out to them asking if they knew what the step-well was called, they said nothing and walked away. I left after some time happy to have visited the step-well, but none the wiser for having visited it.
When I got into the hired cab that would take me to Aurangabad, the driver had a lot to say about the step-well. Which was surprising considering he had nothing to say when I made the request to stop at the step-well when he picked me up from the hotel. In fact, he didn’t even know where the step-well was; I had to tell him the location !
The step-well’s “story” that the driver, a native of Lonar, told me was quite fascinating, though typical and clichéd: How the step-well had gold and other treasures buried in it and how it was haunted by the spirits of those who had kept it in the step-well. How anybody who attempted to remove the treasure brought bad luck on themselves. How even visiting it brought bad luck.
At this point I saw the driver looking rather slyly at me. I ignored the look and instead asked, “How old is this step-well?”
“Very old, Madam. Verrry old,” he drawled.
“How old?” I asked again.
“Must be 50-60 years. Maximum 70 years old. It can’t be older than that,” he said confidently.
No, I’ve not missed a zero or two here. The driver really thought that the step-well was only a few decades old ! While I’m no expert, I can say that the step-well was easily a few centuries old.
Everything about it seemed to be a mystery — its name, its origins, its age, its purpose…That’s one of the reason’s I decided to title this post the “mysterious” step-well of Lonar. 🙂
- Location: If you’re travelling from Lonar Bus Stand towards the MTDC Resort on the State Highway 171, also known as Loni Road look out right after the 1 km mark. When you see a sunken structure built from the local black basalt, stop and explore the step-well. It appears rather suddenly, so keep a look out for it.
- Identification: Bugdane Sir (about whom I’ve talked about in my previous post) has mentioned in his booklet on Lonar that this step-well is the Limbi Barav, which belongs to the Yadava period and was used for community baths. The accompanying picture is too grainy and fuzzy for me to be able to confirm this.