This article is part of a regional reporting project in partnership with GoUNESCO, a UNESCO New Delhi initiative.
India, unfortunately, has a bad reputation with the quality of its water supply. While this may be true when you compare it with Singapore (the country with the highest standard in the world, outperforming even the World Health Organization’s recommendation), it is not ‘that’ bad as you imagine it to be—in Jaipur, at least.
Rajasthan, with Jaipur as its capital, is located along the fringes of the Thar (Great Indian) Desert. With this challenging environment, generations after generations had to innovate methods to successfully collect, store, and distribute water all throughout the state. People had to consider methods that will keep up not only with the vulnerable geography but also with the increasing population. In Jaipur alone, population density is at 6,300/sq. km, the 10th in India.
Walking along bazaars in Jaipur, it is not uncommon to see rainwater collection tanks secured on top of havelis and rental buildings. This centuries-old tank system is just one of the many indigenous water collection methods being employed in the city. Other methods include putting up of artificial lakes, baories (step-wells), kunds (stepped ponds), reservoirs, and wells. Most of these were constructed at the time of Jai Singh II, founder of Jaipur and the city’s master planner.
These indigenous facilities are continuously preserved and renovated, still enjoyed by Jaipur’s citizens even after almost three centuries since they were built. Badi Chaupar and Choti Chaupar, 19th-century public squares, still provide water to the public up until today. The only difference is that from an open reservoir, supply from these fountains is now delivered in pipes. It is not difficult to miss these fountains as you will often see people gather around the pipes bringing bottles and buckets.
Water storage was once a mark of social status, with those from princely and noble families having their own water collection system in their homes. Water distribution was also controlled by these affluent families. Palaces (which are now converted into hotels or museums) and havelis still have these storage systems in place and are still being used.
Today, thanks to everyone’s effort to preserve and improve on centuries-old water collection, storage, and distribution systems, the public now has free access to clean water all around Jaipur. The concept of ‘clean’ is always relative, but so far, I had no problems with bathing and washing with tap water, and enjoying my coffee and tea with boiled tap water.
- Why you should not be so trusting of tap water here just yet: If you’re not used to drinking from the tap, it is best to stick to bottled water even for brushing your teeth. You don’t want to ruin your trip for trying out something ‘local.’ Before this trip, I exposed myself to drinking a fair bit from different taps and eating street food in the Philippines to get that ‘more resilient stomach’ for digestive issues that may arise. So far, the trick works.
- As with any country in the world: Do not quickly assume. Make sense of the why behind the what first and while you’re at it, get lost and find yourself. Happy travels! 🙂
P.S. The keys to sustainable travels are universal: take public transportation | stay in accommodations where cooking is allowed (private or shared, it doesn’t matter) | walk as much as you can | wake up early | stay away from guidebooks | immerse yourself in the local language, culture and history | visit local cafés | know that the possibilities are endless | listen to your gut❤