Unlike the other baolis in Delhi, Red Fort Baoli remains unique for its design and architecture. However most visitors are unaware of its location or skip visiting it.
While Agrasen Ki Baoli remains the most popular stepwell in Delhi, Red Fort Baoli holds the distinction for being the most unique of the over 15 baolis of Delhi. Almost all visitors to Red Fort give it a skip, mostly because not many are aware that Red Fort has a baoli. Another reason is that one need to make a detour if the baoli is to be visited. The baoli’s visiting hours remain the same as Red Fort’s — from sunrise to sunset.
Whenever you visit Red Fort Baoli, chances are that it will be deserted except for a lone guard. It also means that the monument would be peaceful and quiet. You will only hear birds chirping and the occasional train passing by the Red Fort.
There are differing accounts of when the baoli was built. Some sources state that it existed before Mughal emperor Shah Jahan built the Red Fort in 1648 AD. Others say that it was actually built by the Mughals. But whatever the dates, it stands out for its design and architecture.
Red Fort Baoli is the only stepwell in Delhi with two sets of staircases that lead down to the well. The two sets mirror each other and meet at a right angle, giving the baoli and ‘L’ shape. At the deep end, where the stairs meet, is an octagonal tank measuring 6.50 m in diameter and 14.27 m deep. It is connected to the adjoining tank, at the southern end and covered, that measures 6.10 m x 6.10 m.
While the other baolis are made of rubble masonry, with unevenly placed stone units, Red Fort Baoli has neatly stacked rows of identical shaped stones as walls, adding to the symmetrical design of the monument. Also, unlike other baolis, the stairs are not very steep, making it easy to climb down to the source of water.
On both sides of the staircases are arched chambers, which can easily house a group of people. This is again something that is not found in other baolis in Delhi. After the suppression of the revolt of 1857, the British demolished buildings and settlements within the Red Fort. The baoli was covered up and its chambers were used as a prison.
During 1945-46, officers from the Indian National Army (INA) — Colonel Shah Nawaz, Colonel P.K. Sehgal and Colonel GS Dhillon — were imprisoned in the baoli’s chambers. The three were Indian Army officers who had joined the Indian National Army during the second World War. They were tried by the British for treason in the famous Indian National Army trials or the Red Fort trials.
One of the defence lawyers was Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru. The case was lost and the three INA officers were pronounced guilty. However, the whole country stood united with them. In a rare case of foresight by the British, the sentences were reduced and the three men were released. Shah Nawaz, Sehgal and Dhillon received a hero’s welcome when they were freed.
For a long time after India gained independence, the baoli was in a bad shape and with encroachments. The Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) renovated it and returned it to its original condition.