Narlai Stepwell – Narlai, India - Atlas Obscura

Narlai, India

Narlai Stepwell

Designed to serve primarily the Maharaja, this is an interesting variation on the traditional stepped well. 

The rural village of Narlai in Rajasthan is a cluster of both modern and traditional buildings, including a colonial compound turned into a hotel and several Hindu and Jain temples. At the outskirts of Narlai, on the private property of a local Maharaja, sits a 16th-century stepped well.

The Narlai Stepwell may not be as large as Chand Baori in Abhaneri, but it is extraordinarily charming. Instead of a set of continuous steps designed to provide access to water to as many people as possible, this stepwell favors fewer steps, but strategically placed to create the biggest impact on onlookers.  This preference may reflect the purpose of the stepwell, which was to be used by the Maharaja and the few people living on and around the property, rather than serving a whole village. 

The stepwell is equipped with a water wheel activated by a bullock that serves to control the water level in the well. Adjacent to the well is the sumptuous Maharaja’s residence, beyond which is farmland and forest. The wildlife in the area includes leopards, but a good guide and a good dose of luck are required to spot them. Peacocks, on the other hand, are ubiquitous.

Know Before You Go

Narlai is 22 miles (36 km) north of Ranakpur in Pali District, Rajasthan. As Narlai Stepwell is on private property, a visit must be pre-arranged. Narlai Rawla, the biggest hotel in Narlai, can provide a guide and transport to the stepwell. A glamorous banquet fit for kings and queens can be arranged in this stepwell, which is lit up using more than 500 oil lamps for these occasions. Should you opt for an atmospheric dinner on site, transport comes in the form of an ox-drawn cart.

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