“Where is the bawri?” I ask a group of men playing cards on the road. I am at Fatehpur, a large town in the Shekhawati region of Rajasthan and searching for a nearly 400-year-old stepwell, locally known as bawri.
“You’re standing at the entrance to the bawri,” drawls one of the men.
I look at where I am standing and then behind me. All I can see is an arched entrance and garbage beyond that. Heaps and heaps of garbage.
“This is the bawri?” I ask in disbelief.
Loud, raucous laughter erupts from the group. “This used to be a bawri. It used to contain water, now it only has garbage. Therefore, it is kachre ka bawri (or a well of garbage). Why have you come to see this kachre ka bawri?” says another man in the group.
More laughter, this time mocking and derisive, as I look on in horror and recall all that I had read about the bawri or stepwell in Ilay Cooper’s book.
[The stepwell] was constructed in 1614 by Sheikh Mohammad of Nagaur… [and] local people used to refer to this as… [a] wonder of the world. They still tell stories of a robber, who dwelled undetected for many years amongst its underground passages… Fifty years ago one could still walk down to the water’s edge, now the whole place is a filthy dump. (page 121)
Yes, I knew from the book that the stepwell was in a bad shape, but I had not expected it to be one big garbage dump. Literally. 😦
There are recent constructions on three sides of the bawri and the only thing that remains from the original structure is the entrance arch. Perhaps that survived because an opening was required to dump the garbage ! The stepwell is supposed to be deep, descending down various levels, so seeing the amount of accumulated garbage was a shocker and an indication of just how much was there.
But the most shocking of it all was the apathy. I know, I should not have been surprised considering what the general attitude towards heritage is in India. And my travels in Shekhawati and the state of the various havelis only underscored that. But still… Let’s not even look at the heritage aspect. A well in a water-deficient region like Fatehpur should be all the more cared for shouldn’t it, rather than used as a garbage dump?
As I walked away, I reminded myself that travel is not always about the perfect, picture postcard moments; it is also about the uglier and apathetic side. Much like life itself.
To read more posts from the Travel Shot series, click here.