|The modern step well incorporated into the design of Umaid Heritage in Jodhpur|
Our sojourn into the Thar Desert behind us, we travelled south to Jodhpur to see what we had come to India for .... gardens!! There are two great gardens of note here - the Chokelao Bagh, at Merangarh Fort and the beautifully maintained Bal Samand gardens. Yet nothing could have prepared us for the surprise we found near the palace - a modern interpretation of an ancient water management system - and an art form in itself!
|Chand Baori in Abhaneri, near Jaipur - one of the finest surviving step wells in Rajasthan|
Our first stop in Jodhpur was the Umaid Heritage gardens, which are worthy of their own post, so visionary is the design of this new gated housing development laid out below the famed Umaid Bhawan Palace (below) - which serves as both home to the Maharaja of Jodhpur and as one of the world's great luxury hotels.
Step wells (known locally as bawdi or baoli) are unique to the Western Indian states - a form of water management dating back to the 6th century - conceived to overcome extreme weather conditions in Rajasthan and Gujarat, where there is monsoon for three months of the year, followed by nine months of drought. Construction involved the digging of huge trenches, lined with stone blocks and steps, allowing access to the falling water table throughout the dry months.
|Umaid Bhawan, Jodpur - the Umaid Heritage gardens are beyond the palace|
|The 3,500 Escher style steps at Abhaneri step well descend 13 stories to access water in the dry season|
There are step wells throughout India's Western states and one of the finest is found at Abhaneri (above) near Jaipur, where 3500 Escher-style steps descend 13 stories to access the water below. This baori incorporates a temple, and would have served not just as a functional building, but also a meeting place and somewhere to worship, given the scarcity of water in the long, dry months.
|Escher-style steps (left) and Indian family (right) show scale of the steps|
The Umaid Heritage site in Jodhpur is a joint venture between the Maharaja of Jodhpur and a well established property developer - Essgee - who commissioned architect, Hitash Patel, to design this new residential enclave. And while the houses are spectacular, it is the step well that will surely classify this development as history in the making. Considerable effort has gone into the garden planning here, but it is the ancient water management techniques that will keep this plot green throughout the dry season. This is certainly a plot to watch because I feel sure it will not only win prizes for innovative design, but also for rekindling ancient Indian traditions.
|Ancient techniques incorporated into modern design make the Umaid Heritage step well unique|