Ten days with Sambhaav

Arghyam’s India Water Portal (IWP) team, which is distributed all over India, recently went on a 10-day trip to Jaisalmer and Jodhpur in Rajasthan. We were hosted by Farhad Contractor, who heads an NGO called Sambhaav that works on issues of rainwater harvesting and community empowerment in the Thar Desert. Tehelka has covered some of their work. The trip was a fantastic, eye-opening way to contextualize the desk-based work we do at IWP and brought into stark relief the question of our relevance to the grassroots communities struggling with water security every day. Also of note is the incredible resource of traditional knowledge that exists in these communities and enables them to survive in harsh desert conditions. Here is the trip in pictures:

To get to Jaisalmer from Bangalore, we had to take a flight to Delhi, then an overnight train to Jaisalmer – lots of time to bond with my coworkers. We reached our hotel around noon on November 1.

Our hotel had a fantastic terrace from which you could see the city. At night, we would sit up there and talk late into the night.

On our first day visiting the rural areas outside Jaisalmer, we went to an farmer’s field, where they were growing bajra (pearl millet).

Here, the harvested bajra is wrapped in an old sari.

In the middle of the field was a beri, a shallow percolation pit, from which people draw clean drinking water.

Though women come to fetch water from the beri, the water is also available to passersby.

Rainwater harvesting is, rather obviously, closely tied to the desert’s flora and fauna, including livestock. For example, goats are able to eat this plant, known in Hindi as phog, and sleep under it.

On our third night in Jaisalmer, we climbed a sand dune and watched the sun set and the stars rise – completely gorgeous.

We could see for miles from the top of the dune.

We were able to visit the Jaisalmer Fort, the only living fort – meaning that people still live in it – in India today. The fort is actually crumbling and sinking because of the sewage mismanagement over the years.

Inside the fort there is a thriving market.

This market mostly caters to tourists.

When we visited, the light was perfect. Apparently, because the walls are made of yellow sandstone, the photographer’s traditional golden hour stretches to two hours.

Laundry can be seen drying on the interior walls of the fort – quite a stark reminder that people still live here.

We also visited Jodhpur’s Mehrangarh Fort, which was used to film scenes for The Dark Knight Rises.

Ridiculously, Naomi Campbell was throwing a party in Jodhpur for her boyfriend’s birthday while we were there, for which the fort was totally decked out.

From the top of the fort, we could see most of the city. Traditionally, Brahmins painted their houses blue, although it’s now no longer an exclusively Brahmin action.

That’s all for now. Until next time!

During her time at Pomona College, Ragini created a computer literacy program in a rural Indian village to provide educational and economic opportunities to under-served students at a resource-poor government high school. After graduation, her interest in rural development issues led to ten months of work at the Foundation for Rural Recovery and Development (FORRAD), a Delhi-based non-profit focusing on natural resource management. While there, she documented the state of clean drinking water and comprehensive water conservation projects in rural areas of Rajasthan, Bundelkhand, and Tamil Nadu, with a focus on sustainable development work that created participatory, accountable systems of community involvement. Ragini speaks English, Hindi, and some Spanish.

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