‘Maut ka Kuaa’, which translates to the ‘Well of Death’ in English, also sometimes called the ‘Wall of Death’, is a death defying and gravity defying stunt that one often gets to see in various carnivals or ‘melas’ across India. The stunt features an wooden cylinder shaped like a barrel or an inverted cone about 30 feet to 50 feet in diameter. Inside this cone daredevils on motorcycles or occasionally on cars drive at break neck speeds along the vertical wall – the car or the motorcycle held in place by sheer centrifugal force.
The audience views from a platform built around the circumference of the structure at the top and gaze down into the well where the motorcyclists or cars drive. The riders start at the bottom of the drum, usually in a counter-clockwise direction, and ascend an initial ramped section until they gain enough speed to drive horizontally to the floor. While in the act, the riders would perform other crazy stunts like no-hands as seen in the picture below. Sometimes the riders would collect a little cash along the way like a Las Vegas showgirl.
Incidentally, the show was originally conceived in the United States with motorcycle boardtrack racing in the early 1900s. The very first carnival motordrome appeared at Coney Island amusement park (New York) in 1911. The following year portable tracks began to appear on travelling carnivals, and in 1915 the first “silodromes” with vertical walls appeared and were soon dubbed the “Wall of Death.” The carnival attraction became a staple in the United States outdoor entertainment industry with the phenomenon reaching its zenith in the 1930s, with more than 100 motordromes on travelling shows and in amusement parks.
This act is also famous throughout the United Kingdom, and often is seen at fairs featuring original American Indian motorcycles which have been in use since the 1920s. In the United States the premier Show is the American Motordrome Company, which uses several Vintage Indian Scout Motorcycles from the 20’s to give the audience a view of how these Shows were done in their Heyday. The Demon Drome uses the oldest wall of death still travelling and were the first to put an Austin 7 car on the wall of death since the 1950s.
What makes this act particularly dangerous in India is the blatant disregard for safety. The riders drive with no helmet and no harness and the vehicles are always badly in need of repairs. Often planks in the wooden well would be missing.
Despite the dangerous nature of their work, there is no lack of willing performers. Sometimes even women are seen riding around the Well of Death just like this one at a carnival in New Delhi, in 2011.