DAY 2 (2/4): MEDIEVAL STEPWELLS, Mahila Bagh Ka Jhalra, Gulab Sagar, & Toorji Ka Jhalra, Jodhpur, Rajasthan, India, 2018.11.25
While Jodhpur is famous for its magnificent architecture and folk music, the second largest city of the desert state is also well known for its historical water management network of reservoirs, stepwells and wells. Medieval Jodhpur inhabitants made well use of the catchment area of the Pachetia Hill where Mehrangarh Fort stood, and collected rainwater at various depressions and water bodies within the walled city. Every community in Jodhpur had its their own baori or stepwell. In fact, one of the main reasons for Rao Jodha selecting the summit of Pachetia Hill to build his capital city in the 15th century was Jodhpur’s potentials to collect rainwater.
Saving two months’ monsoon rainwater for the rest of the year, the stepwells represented the wisdom and engineering marvel of the Medieval Rajasthani inhabitants. Many stepwells survive to present day, despite being superseded by modern water systems. Although representing a unique cultural heritage of Rajasthan, many stepwells have become nothing more than a garbage dump or outlet of sewage effluent. Caron Rawnsley, an Irish environmentalist and traveler, has been staying in Jodhpur for several years. Passionate in conserving India’s historical water management network, Rawnsley has been cleaning a number of water bodies in and around Jodhpur, including stepwell Mahila Bagh Ka Jhalra and reservoir Gulab Sagar.
The first water body we visited in Jodhpur was Mahila Bagh Ka Jhalra. Some said the stepwell was named for Mayla, a wealthy concubine who commissioned the construction.
A few years ago, Mahila Bagh Ka Jhalra was filled with trash and dirt. In 2015 Irish traveler Caron Rawnsley took up the challenge of cleaning the well almost single-handedly. His effort inspired other locals to join him in maintaining the stepwells and other water bodies around Jodhpur.
Constructed with local pink sandstones, the Mahila Bagh Ka Jhalra is a beautiful community stepwell just a stone throw away from the Ghanta Ghar Market.
At Mahila Bagh Ka Jhalra, we met a local cleaning staff who opened the gate and let us into the stepwell.
Across the street from Mahila Bagh Ka Jhalra, Gulab Sagar is a manmade reservoir measured 150m x 90m. It took 8 years to construct the reservoir, in which water from Balsamand Lake was transported to the reservoir via canals. For tourists, Gulab Sagar is one of the best places to photograph the reflection of the Mehrangarh Fort.
In modern times, domestic and industrial effluents have been dumped into Gulab Sagar, raising the risk of water pollution.
From the north side of Gulab Sagar, we found our way through lanes of blue houses towards our next stepwell Toorji Ka Jhalra.
Blue paint on red sandstone houses gives Jodhpur its unique visual identity.
We also passed by beautiful haveli mansions erected in the bygone era.
Out of the 100+ stepwells in Jodhpur, Toorji Ka Jhalra is probably the most well known and frequently visited for tourists.
Built by Rani Toor Ji in the 1740s by a queen of Maharaja Abhay Singh, Toorji Ka Jhalra is another prominent historical stepwell near Gulab Sagar.
A few years ago, local hotels organized efforts to restore and clean up Toorji Ka Jhalra.
Today, Toorji Ka Jhalra is widely seen as a success story of restoring a historical stepwell and maintaining acceptable water quality.
Water level at Toorji Ka Jhalra varies from season to season. The stepwell is over 200 feet deep.
After restoration and cleaning, Toorji Ka Jhalra has become a magnet for locals and tourists. Many locals would take a dip into the water during the hottest hours of the day.
The immediate area around Toorji Ka Jhalra is gradually revitalized with shops, cafes, restaurants, and hotels taking over restored heritage buildings.
“JDH is an urban regeneration project that aims to restore the walled city of Jodhpur to its former glory, breathing new life into its invaluable landmarks and livelihoods.”
After checking out the water bodies, we returned to Pal Haveli to have a quick bite at the rooftop restaurant.
From the hotel rooftop, Gulab Sagar appeared to be calm and beautiful. Our hired car arrived at 13:00 for our ongoing journey over to Jaisalmer.