Ancient Irrigation System around Jaisalmer

rajasthan jaisalmer Aagor Khadeens Dhora water
At a Khadeen

Paliwals are the Brahmin community of Rajasthan and for centuries have been the using their philosophy of being one with the land and working along with it to survive and thrive, despite the extreme living conditions there. Their rational approach helped them to become one of the most prosperous of al the communities in the Jaisalmer region.

rajasthan jaisalmer Aagor Khadeens Dhora water
Water is rare and precious in this dry land

They developed a highly refined and sophisticated irrigation system using the minimal rainfall every year, helping them to sustain the produce for an entire year and longer, even at the time of draughts. The technique they developed had three key elements - Aagor, Khadeens and Dhora.

These flatlands are the 'aagor' or catchment areas in the desert. Higher ground of hard iron ore gravel where the underlying gypsum layer sits high and allows no rainwater seepage, slopes gently down into fertile silt-deposited depressions.

Dating back 700-900 years, Khadeens be spotted from afar and are community farms and oasis where every caste in the village has a share of the wells and produce. Fields immediately behind the bund typically remain submerged during the rainy season while those at higher levels within the khadeen have assured moisture for a rainy season crop.

rajasthan jaisalmer Aagor Khadeens Dhora water
A khadeen as we drove towards Kuldhara village

rajasthan jaisalmer Aagor Khadeens Dhora water
Another khadeen in the desert

Another irrigation system followed by them was known as ‘Dhora’. In this method, the whole field is divided into basins according to the capacity of water. Basins are then connected through a ‘Dhora’, which is a small drain type flow way.

Within the towns there are wells which are used for daily water needs within the households. And finally there are also natural water bodies which are mostly seasonal in nature, like a seasonal river. The water from these was diverted to both the wells as well as the Khadeens as the need be.

We visited these and many more of these places as we drove around exploring the life of water in the area. We visited a few Khadeens, a few oasis and a season river as well.

In one of the villages, we also sampled some really sweet and cool water from an ancient village well on the river bed. I was extremely apprehensive to try it out initially, but then gave in! After all after sampling a quail and a rabbit (I am a vegetarian), water was really not a big deal :)

rajasthan jaisalmer Aagor Khadeens Dhora water
The village well on the river bed
rajasthan jaisalmer Aagor Khadeens Dhora water
A river with somewhat flowing water and great greenery around...a rare sight indeed!

The water also dictates the food of the region, but that's another story :)

And finally a picture of the lovely kids at the village where we sampled water from the ancient village! There were four cameras on them, and so there is just one who is actually looking into my camera :) Such are the vagaries of travelling with a set of talented photographers with very tempting cameras! 

rajasthan jaisalmer Aagor Khadeens Dhora water
And my favourite - 'confused village kids' :)

One of the best ways to explore these would be with the trained and experienced staff of Suryagarh who know the unmarked roads as well as the locals really well. For those who are complete explorers at heart, they can also talk to the villagers and explore these. You will certainly need a vehicle though (and occasionally a camel) to drive around to reach some of these places.