HERITAGE: Rejuvenated step-wells crucial to control urban flooding, says Kalpana Ramesh

The 17th-century Bansilal stepwell, which has been completely restored and illuminated, is all set to become a popular tourist attraction in the city


HYDERABAD: It took 500 days, over a thousand workers, and over a hundred professionals to renovate this Nizam-era stepwell in Hyderabad's Bansilalpet area. The 17th-century stepwell, which has been completely restored and illuminated, is all set to become a popular tourist attraction in the city.

The six-level stepwell, which can hold 35 lakh litres of rainwater annually, can significantly reduce urban flooding, according to Kalpana Ramesh, founder of the Rainwater Project, which was involved in the stepwell's restoration.

It was a thrilling experience for Kalpana Ramesh of The Rainwater Project, who signed an MoU with the Telangana government for this significant renovation, to sequence and envision the work one step at a time.

The Bansilalpet step-well, often referred to as "Nagannakunta," is a prominent example of the Telangana region's history of water-centric human settlement development. This spectacular structure was in terrible shape —dilapidated, damaged, and covered in trash and litter.

The excavation of this step-well in Secunderabad necessitated the removal of almost 2,000 tonnes of trash that had accumulated over the previous 40 years. Cleaning, dewatering, and desilting the stepwell; structurally strengthening the retaining walls; rebuilding and finishing works, etc. were all part of the restoration process.

Kalpana, an interior architect and designer for over two decades, believes that conserving and protecting our subterranean heritage structures is extremely important to the sustainable development of cities.

Since they help recharge the groundwater, step wells are not merely historical artefacts but can also be incredibly significant in the contemporary environment, according to Kalpana.

"We took a holistic approach in restoring the step-well, which included cleaning of plastics and other waste in and around the step-well, dewatering and desilting the well, stone cleaning and removal of plant material and vegetation growth from the structure, structural strengthening of retaining walls, rebuilding the damaged or collapsed portion of the well, lime plaster finishing work, and qualitative upliftment of the area around the well through paving," Kalpana explained.

Bansilalpet has been transformed into a valuable blueprint of water sustainability, history, and community upliftment, thanks to the Rainwater Project, which has restored eight step-wells throughout the city.

The Rainwater Project's Kalpana Ramesh, who is extremely proud of having completed this monumental project, says, "Every day, we had more than 50–60 people working on the project, with a majority of them being women." The best part was that some of the crane operators were female. "It makes me very proud that a large group of women worked together to make a significant difference in this project. They were just as excited to work on this project as they were to sit and talk about the day's experiences. They used to come in with excitement, saying, "We found these many steps today!"

"It was a pleasure to work with such an enthusiastic group."

The most significant, she said, is that we held awareness seminars for the community members who live next to the well to ensure that they had a thorough understanding of the historic structure's cultural and environmental importance.

Business opportunities

The newly-renovated Bansilalpet step-well, which is set to open this month's end, will also be open to locals for the establishment of shops selling handicrafts and handlooms, among other things, in front of their homes.

Kalpana believes that once people see the economic value and benefit of the overall effort, they will better preserve such historic monuments rather than neglecting and dumping waste as they have for the past 40 years.

The 17th-century architectural marvel is one of the 44 step-wells being renovated by the Telangana government. The state government intends to restore many of these heritage structures to their former glory and transform them into popular tourist attractions.

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