India and Water

The monsoon used to fill the streets of Bundi up to the high terraces in front of the elevated shops and temples. Buildings were built 1.5 m above the streets to evade the floods, close together, so that the edges of the interconnected buildings create a channel for storm water.

There are more than 86 baoris (tanks) in Bundi (Rajasthan, India), sprinkled across the hillsides and down the valley floor. (This number according to the guard at a baori maintained by the national archaeological service; a shopkeeper estimated the number at ‘more than 50’.) When the rain comes, the baoris fill up, first one, then the next one down. The streets channeled the overflow from one tank into the next.

5/29/11 Bundi, Rajasthan, India

The baoris, or stepwells, are huge. The deepest is 46 m deep. They are also temples.

When I visited in early June, a month before the monsoon, all of the baoris were dry. But according to Bundi lasso-sellers I talked to, the baoris held water through the dry season as recently as 20 years ago. Twenty years ago, the government installed deep wells to provide water for agriculture and municipal supply, and the water table dropped. This change suggests that baoris tapped into groundwater aquifers, recharging them with rain (and raising the water table) during the rainy season, then providing a way for water carriers to chase the receding water during the dry. Thus each baori held much more water than the tank alone–it was, indeed, a well.

The baoris are not merely tanks, but also groundwater recharge facilities. This makes me think that their dtheirs governed by the depth to an aquifer. In addition to the baories, several wide, shallow kunds, or reservoirs, catch and infiltrate rainwater. One lies just above the fortification wall of the 16th century city, at the bottom of an alluvial valley. The lake is now silted in, and during the dry season serves as a grazing commons and watering hole for livestock.

Borewells and a piped-water system bring water to Bundi today (in the past, water carriers filled skins at the baoris and brought water door to door by water buffalo). The baoris, though neglected as wells, still put rain back into the aquifer.

In recent years, the government of India and various NGOs have begun repairing old rainwater harvesting structures in Rajasthan and building new ones. But these projects have so far failed to recharge enough rainwater to keep water in the baoris through the dry season.

Photos to come soon, the internet is very slow here and I might need to wait for a wifi connection at the internet cafe.















One Response to “India and Water”

  1. Wow,
    I had no idea India had those beautiful step wells. I know wells and springs and tanks are considered numinous, but the step wells are like an inverted temple tower, reaching into the earth – not the heavens. Quite a sublime figure ground relationship.

    Thanks for sharing this treasure.


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