Rajasthan, the land of kings and forts, has some of the most captivating tourist spots, esp. for a history lover like me. So when my friends suggested a tour to Shekhawati in Rajasthan, I just jumped in.
We started the journey from Delhi to Shekhawati in a car. It is a pleasant 4-5 hours journey from the national capital, which makes Shekhawati an ideal weekend getaway for Delhiites.
My first interest in reaching Shekhawati was to see the famous mural painted hawalies of the ancient Marwari merchants. We went to see the Shahpura House, Roop Niwas Kothi and so on and so forth, spellbound by the extraordinarily colourful yet subtle artwork covering the walls. Our guide informed us that Shekhawati is one of driest areas of Rajasthan. I could not help but wonder why such affluent people would choose to invest so much of money and resources in one of the driest lands.
My bewilderment was intensified by the fact that the major employment for the local the population was agriculture, in a desert area!
What will grow without water?
I asked the guide about a clarification to this oddity. He smiled and replied, "Madam, barish kam hoti hai, panni kam nai hai" (Madam, rain is scarce, water is not). But where would the water come from if it is not raining enough? I know that in Delhi we face problems of water even when it is not a desert.
The guide suggested that we should see Sethani ka johara, a pond like structure made around the 17th century. In Rajasthan, Johara is a traditional water conservation system that provides water to the local area throughout the year.
While visiting Sethani ka johara, I googled up the average rainfall in the area. Hardly 4-5 inches of rainfall had resulted in 2.5 gallons of water collection per sq ft. It looked almost magical.
The Top Spot
But a simple logic works in favour of johara - the selection of the lowest lying land in the area, with well-connected drains. A significant amount of rain water would be collected even with such meagre rainfall. Approach to a problem makes all the difference. Rajasthan learnt to value each drop of waterway back in time.
Why does the water not evaporate in summer?
Inspired by simplicity of such effective water conservation system, we went to see another johara in Kolu village. Johara in Kalu supports not only the local agriculture and public water usage but also has dense vegetation around it. Water does evaporate but due to the expense of johara, the amount of water stored during rains is sufficient to cater to the local population throughout the year
While walking back to the car, our last water bottle suddenly dropped and all the water soon disappeared in the sand. Suddenly, one peculiarity struck me. Why would the water not percolate through the bottom of johara and be gone in the sandy soil? Shekhawati soil is completely porous without any water holding property.
Our guide informed us that the base of each johara is made of solid stonework. This investment prevented any water to seep through the base of johara. A johara is almost alike a giant stone tank placed on the land.
The Criminal Neglect
Our last johara was in Bikaner, near Rajasthan Tourism Development Corporation Hotel and was filled with green slime. I suddenly realised the reason of water scarcity in our country. It is not so much about climate change or fluctuating rainfall, but because we have forgotten what we once knew. The myth of Tap water supply has killed The micro level management of water resources and marvellous water architecture that once existed everywhere in the form of wells, johara, bawlis and talabs.
After the fall of “bottle”, we went to drink water in the guide’s house. His wife came with a single glass and a jug. We all drank from the same glass. We were told that this is the culture of Rajasthan - to drink water without lip contact. In fact, at home, more water is wasted in washing the glasses than the amount actually drank through them.
After the enlightening trip to Rajasthan, I wonder if the people in medieval times were more educated in terms of sustainable existence. Probably the answer to today’s problem of the so-called developed world lies in the past!