How Nahargarh’s 300-year-old water harvesting system beat the desert’s water blues

Urvashi Dev Rawal
New Update
How Nahargarh’s 300-year-old water harvesting system beat the desert’s water blues

How Nahargarh’s 300-year-old water conservation system beat the desert’s water blues

Roman-style architecture, Indian ingenuity, folklore, mountain top citadel with panoramic views and round-the-year water supply in the desert – that’s Rajasthan’s Nahargarh Fort built by Maharaja Sawai Jai Singh in 1734.

At a time when almost all parts of the country struggle with water shortage during summers, the water collection, harvesting and storage system at Nahargarh Fort remains a technological marvel.

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The Fort’s main baoli (large step well), now also known as the "Rang de Basanti" baoli after it featured in the movie, holds over 12 crore cubic meters of water!

A cubic metre is a thousand litres and this 12,000 crore litres of water is enough to meet the daily requirements of crores of people given that the average daily water supply per head in India is 150 litres.

"Rang de Basanti" baoli at Nahargarh Fort can hold 12 crore cubic litre water.
"Rang de Basanti" baoli at Nahargarh Fort can hold 12 crore cubic litre water. Pic: Facebook/ @jaipurvirasatfoundation

Not surprisingly, the fort is a favourite with those interested in history and water conservation. And that’s precisely why the non-profit Jaipur Virasat Foundation organises water walks at the Nahargarh Fort - to acquaint people with the centuries-old sustainable water harvesting practices which work even today.

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Rajasthan’s water culture

Neeraj Doshi, a water expert who has conceptualised the water walk, says the water conservation system is dependent on rainfall and the structures can store water for about one year. So in case there was deficient rainfall there would be no shortage of water.

“The objective of the walk is to showcase the rich water culture of Rajasthan that is also reflected in our food, music and dance,” says Doshi.

Doshi narrates the chronicles of the incredible structures and ingenious design and management systems to the walk participants as they walk along the canals, roman aqueducts and drains within and outside the fort.

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Nahargarh water harvesting system’s catchment area extends to about 6km around the 286-year-old fort. The network of small canals and aqueducts is the backbone of this system.

While canals connect one water body with another, aqueducts are constructed to carry water from one location to another.

Participants at the Nahargarh Fort heritage walk learning about the complex water harvesting mechanism.
Participants at the Nahargarh Fort heritage walk learning about the complex water harvesting mechanism. Pic: Jaipur Virasat Foundation

The gradient of the hill is used to direct the flow of water and the canals and aqueducts carry rainwater to the two baolis in the fort. A smaller step well, called kund, is where the rainwater harvested from the fort is collected.   

A swirling mechanism has been put to ensure that the flow of water can be controlled and there is no damage to the structure if the flow is too much.

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“It is always fascinating to see how, in subtle ways, the planners controlled the collection and flow of water to provide natural filtration and sedimentation, as well as prevent system breakage and erosion,” says Doshi.

The Roman-style aqueducts that connect mini watersheds at different heights in the hilly terrain remain one of Jaipur's best kept secrets.

Communities specialising in water discovery

The walk also acquaints the participants with the communities in Rajasthan that have, over the years, specialised in water discovery (or divining) and management.

It is the skill and handiwork of these communities that has transformed the Thar into the most densely populated desert of the world over the centuries.

Some of these communities have also spread out across India and become the local water experts in different regions.

View from the Nahargarh Fort
View from the Nahargarh Fort, built by by Maharaja Sawai Jai Singh in 1734. Pic: Jaipur Heritage Foundation

Rakshat Hooja, advisor at the Jaipur Virasat Foundation, says the organisation is working with the traditional culture of Rajasthan with an objective to promote inclusive and sustainable development and support cultural diversity. And heritage walks are a means to achieve that objective.

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Doshi explains that the system ensured adequate water availability for the area for up to two years.  

The pressure management and overflow systems of the main tank are a work of art. It is one of those construction conundrums that seem impossible till executed, when they appear so simple and elegant. 

The walk at Nahargarh doesn’t end there. Eager to learn more, many enthusiasts often opt to walk around Jaigarh, the historical garrison fort towering above Amber. The groups also explore the various courts, gardens, galleries, cannon foundry and "the cannon" at Jaigarh.

(Urvashi Dev Rawal is a Jaipur-based journalist specialising in development, gender, and political reporting)

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