As much as I love my day-to-day life, sometimes escaping is the only thing on my mind. Sometimes daydreams of far off beaches, exotic foods, and foreign horizons take center stage in my brain.
And when summer vacation is just lurking around the corner, that feeling has only become exacerbated. Sometimes it’s just me feeling antsy. Sometimes it gets a bit more severe. (Case in point: for the past few months, I’ve flirted with the idea of dyeing my hair blue and just heading to South America for a solid year or so when I’ve finished my time on the JET Programme.) And despite the fact that I’ve been grounded in Japan for almost three years now, some people might think that even that venture was an escape from “real life.”
But aside from traveling, the other form of escape I so often utilize is far more accessible on a day-to-day basis: books and movies. I’m a bibliophile and cinephile in equal parts. In my college days, one of my favorite classes was one on film theory, a love that I later parlayed into writing frequent reviews for the campus newspaper. And my love of books? Well, that’s been running rampant through my veins for the better part of two decades now.
What I really get a kick out of, though, is when those two loves bleed into each other. It’s why I loved seeing Pont de Bir-Hakeim , featured in Inception, in Paris. It’s why I loved visiting the Hobbiton set outside of Auckland in New Zealand. And most recently, it’s why I loved seeing the Chand Baori stepwell in India this past winter.
By the name alone, “Chand Baori” probably won’t ring any bells, even if you’re the most savvy of filmgoers. But take a gander at a picture or two, and it’ll probably look familiar…especially if you’re a fan of a certain cowled and caped crusader.
Abhaneri, the town that’s home to the well, is a tiny dot on the road between Agra and Jaipur, and if you didn’t know that Chand Baori was a few minutes off the road, you’d drive right through the town without ever suspecting that it’s home to such a cool piece of architecture.
The well was constructed between 800 and 900 AD, and its design is aimed to conserve as much water as possible in the arid Rajasthani climate. With such a wide mouth, the well was designed as a funnel to collect as much water as possible. The stairs meant that residents only had to descend to the water level to fill their buckets, and even if they didn’t have a practical use, the symmetrical stairs make Chand Baori one of the most geometrically beautiful landmarks I’ve ever seen.
The well had a social importance as well: it served as a place for the community to gather and cool off during the hot days. In fact, though the well is only about twenty meters deep, the air temperature at the bottom is a full 5-6 degrees cooler than at the surface level.
If you’re thinking that Chand Baori looks a bit familiar, it’s probably because it made an appearance in Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight Rises in 2012. Repurposed as a purportedly inescapable prison for the film, Chand Baori was where Bane and Talia al Ghul (and later Bruce Wayne) were held captive. Movie geek that I am, I got a huge kick looking over the pit and knowing that Christopher Nolan, Tom Hardy, and Christian Bale have stood in the same spot. I have to admit, though…the cinematography of The Dark Knight Rises definitely plays up the dramatic design of Chand Baori. After all, the stepwell was designed in such a way to make it easily accessible, not prisonlike, as the film makes it seem. When I saw it in person and looked down into the pit, my first thought was, “…I could definitely climb out of this thing in about two minutes flat.”
Not that that realization made Chand Baori any less impressive. And I’m willing to be that Batman and Bane would agree.