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13 stepwells in Rajasthan where you could try cliff diving
Inspired by Rhiannan Iffland and Orlando Duque’s dives into Toorji Ka Jhalra, Michael Henry went on his own adventures around Rajasthan’s stepwells.
Cliff diving might be the greatest rush you can get without equipment. No engine, bungee cord, or even shoes needed. Just you, the water, and a whole lot of air in between.
On my recent adventures, I discovered that India has the world’s greatest potential for cliff diving through its ancient stepwells. Built long ago, they still exist as afterthoughts in India’s cities and villages. Most are dry and dirty, but a few still have massive drop-offs to clean, cool water.
Over the course of a year, I travelled Rajasthan’s backstreets to explore this uniquely Indian opportunity for some world-class cliff diving.
My cliff diving background
I grew up jumping off cliffs in Ontario, Canada. On summer days, local cliffs were full of kids competing to jump in from the highest point. As my friends and I grew up, we kept our passion for the cliffs but also branched out to bridges and other structures. The goal was to keep finding bigger and cooler jumps.
After university, I took a job in Zambia and realized that cliff diving opportunities were few to none. When I moved to live in Delhi in 2019, I expected I wouldn’t be able to cliff diving in India either. But soon after I arrived, I took a trip to Jodhpur, and everything changed.
How I discovered cliff diving in stepwells
While in Jodhpur, I saw a video of athletes diving into a massive underground structure as a showcase for the Red Bull Cliff Diving World Series. The dives and the location fascinated me. I immediately knew that I needed to find out more about the structure called a stepwell or baoli, and whether there were more like it.
Cliff diving in Jodhpur
I quickly learnt that stepwells are tricky to find. Luckily, I discovered the website Stepwell Atlas which had records of exact coordinates. But another challenge was that a lot of stepwells can still be impossible to jump. Over time, I set five key rules for myself before jumping in a stepwell. The well must be:
- Deep enough. The first step is to swim in the well and check its depth.
- Clean enough. Purely a judgment call, but avoid water with pigeon carcasses in it.
- Steep enough. The well must have at least one vertical or very steep side.
- High enough. The jumping point should be far enough above the water for a satisfying jump.
- Allowed and accessible. Many communities actively use stepwells for washing and swimming, but some have rules or local sensibilities that forbid such uses. I would never jump into a stepwell until I had cleared with locals that it was okay for me to jump.
On weekends, I would travel to Rajasthan, rent a scooter and hunt for stepwells. On my best day, I found 18 wells around Jaipur and jumped into six. In Bundi, I found 20 stepwells but could only dive into two. I stuck to my five rules so I wouldn’t hurt local sentiments and didn’t break any laws.
Altogether, stepwells have been the most rewarding cliff diving experiences of my life. Battling through jam-packed, maze-like alleyways to suddenly find the ground drop away so I can dive into a stepwell is a feeling like no other. And the technical difficulty of jumping into these small pools of water injects extra excitement. Below are some of the stepwells I’ve dived into and my experiences.
This stepwell is hidden in downtown Jodhpur’s narrow lanes of orange stone. Its multiple levels and deep water allow dives from different heights. I skipped the terrifying prospect of the highest possible jump: a drop of at least 15m with a tiny target. This was one of my favourites.
Van Talab Baoli
Forgotten and overgrown near a fancy hotel north of Jaipur, it is a 10-metre drop with a big, deep pool. It is the epitome of a secret but an ideal cliff diving spot. Another one of my favourites.
This fort in Bundi has three stepwells. The first is dry and the second is dirty, but the third is a massive open well with a four-metre drop to the water.
Sarai Bawari Baoli
This is a resting point of an ancient trade route near Jaipur. The massive and deep well, once used for caravan animals, is now a perfect target for dives.
Jadechi Ka Jhalra
Located near Jodhpur’s fort, this stepwell is small, deep and very clean due to recent community efforts. This is a good place to start a Jodhpur cliff diving trip.
Panna Meena Ka Kund
A beautifully symmetric square well near Jaipur in an area surrounded by temples. My jump was four metres, but I imagine the water level would be much lower in summer and it could be a truly massive dive.
Unnamed fort near Talab Gaon
In the fields near Talab Gaon, outside of Bundi, there is a mysterious ancient fort with no clear entrance. One wall can be climbed, revealing a deep but very thin stepwell. The jump took careful aim and the water was so low that I had trouble climbing out.
Raghunath Ji Ki Baoli
It is almost hidden in a dense Jodhpur neighbourhood. There is a grate covering the clean water. Luckily, one piece of grate had been removed so I was able to dive into the water three metres below.
This might be the most unknown and inaccessible fort in the hills around Jaipur. The two-kilometre hike up from the city was worth it for the abandoned well inside.
Udaipur’s Gulab Bagh has three stepwells, but only one has water. It is near a public path, but no one I asked knew if the well had a name. Despite pumps sucking out the water, there’s still enough for a good plunge.
Amar Sagar Jain Temple
Jaisalmer is a true desert town, but a few of its wells have managed to hang onto water. An abandoned field near the Amar Sagar Jain Temple has five or six scattered wells, but it took the help of local kids to find one to jump in.
Two jumpable wells are located right in the middle of Amber town, near Jaipur. Naku Baori is one of them. Some school kids saw me jump and decided to join in the fun.
Chhilla Baoli is the second jumpable well in Amber. Two farmers saw me jump, stopped their tractors, and asked me to jump again so they could record a video.
I plan on exploring more of India’s stepwells to dive. But the real magic in the sport will be when more people get involved. If more people dive, it will also encourage people to take care of the stepwells, clean the water and maintain these heritage structures.