Bansi Devi, who rears cattle for a living in Rajasthan, has already noticed a change. “We had to walk for hours searching for water,” she says. “Now I can use water from the revived baoli in my village for our domestic use and also for feeding and washing the cattle.”
In Jodhpur city, the Toorji stepwell was restored after a team spent several months pumping out stagnant water. Decades of toxic water had turned the red sandstone white, with half an inch of thick crust covering much of the surface. Sand-blasting was carried out to clean the thick white crust of deposits on the wall, at a cost of about 1.5 million Indian rupees (£14,784). About 28 million litres (6.2 million gallons) of water per day is supplied to the city by other recently cleaned stepwells for irrigation and domestic purposes.
Gram Bharati Samiti (Society for Rural Development), a non-profit in the Jaipur district of Rajasthan, has carried out restoration work of seven stepwells in the villages of Rajasthan, providing around 25,000 people with a more reliable water source.
“We have restored seven stepwells where ground water has been recharged and storage capacity has increased,” says Kusum Jain, secretary of Gram Bharati Samiti. “Most stepwells can provide ample water for the daily needs of the villagers. It saw a unique coming-in of volunteers from different communities, exemplifying India’s religious harmony.”
Rajkumar Sharma, a head teacher of the Government Primary School, in Shivpura, Rajasthan, is elated to see the revival. “Baolis are an integral part of our cultural life,” he says. “The stepwell in our village was the only source of water. With time, it had dried up and had converted into a heap of rubbish. We now have access to clean water for drinking, domestic use and for religious ceremonies. The baoli has become the grandeur of our village.”
Evidence of stepwells dates back to the Indus Valley Civilisation between 2500-1700 BC. Initially constructed as crude trenches, they slowly evolved into engineering marvels between 11th-15th Century. In 2016, Stepwell Atlas, mapped the coordinates of around 3,000 existing stepwells in India. Delhi, the capital, alone has 32 stepwells.