There were once more than 3000 stepwells in Northern India. The silty soil doesn't hold water, so they provided a way to store the water from the annual monsoons. People gathered to get drinking water, to bathe, and also to find some refuge from the heat of the summer -- in the largest stepwells, like this one, Chand Baori, east of Jaipur, the temperature down by the water would be much cooler than up at ground level.
Of course, once you'd carried a few pails of water up all those steps, you weren't likely to feel all that refreshed.
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