-jay singh rawat
Water, as a precious natural resource, is and had been most invaluable to human beings, both economically and spiritually. Uniqueness, rarity, replace ability, usefulness and abundance are all related to it. Water use is as old as human civilization itself. India is a country with very deep historical roots and strong cultural traditions. These are reflected in our social fabric and community life. Most important among these is the tradition of collecting, storing and preserving water for various uses. Rural communities in the Kumaun and Garhwal Himalaya have evolved their own traditional systems of water management based on local knowledge. The activities related to the utilization of water and its management, construction, maintenance, distribution, and repair were community-based. Local communities had full access and rights over forest resources. It may be assumed that watermills (gharats) technology has shared the same genesis and providence. The investment in their construction and their management has been entirely in the hands of communities.
In Kumaon as well as in Garhwal traditionally, the use of water resources for household purposes, human consumption, animals, irrigation, and washing purposes gives rise to different management systems. The traditional system was developed within the prevailing social context. Caste played a major role in the access to water. Usually, separate resources were allocated to the lower caste. Water was revered and regarded as sacred. The traditional systems of water harvesting in Kumaon include the naula, dhara, khal, pond, chuptaula, simar, stored rainwater that flowed down hillsides or percolated through rocks and emerged as springs, and were used for bathing, washing, drinking, worshipping, bathing livestock, irrigating, and else.
Naulas are a surface water harvesting system, commonly found in the hill areas of Kumaun than in Garhwal. These are covered reservoirs and exhibit masterpieces in architectural designs. They are not only well known for their water capacity but for the beautiful stone carving on the pillars and walls of the structure as well. Naulas are baoli (step wells) like structures, the small well or reservoir is constructed in the form of an inverted pyramid. It is enclosed from two or three sides and covered with a roof of stone slabs. The entire structure is made of stones in such a manner that the percolating water could easily seep in and get collected. The drainage is usually designed so that the source is not contaminated by any of the well’s users and animals are prevented from entering tank areas. The naula construction requires specific knowledge and experience. The historic naulas in the Kumaun Himalaya region are found near old towns and settlements like Champawat, Gangolihat, Almora, Dwarahat and Pithoragarh and the Katyur valley. Badrinath Ji-ka-naula (7th century A.D) in Bageshwar is the oldest functioning naulas in Kumaun.
They are evenly distributed from mountain crests to the valleys. Water from springs or subterranean sources is channelled out through carved outlets. They are often in the shape of a simple pipe, with figures of women with water pitchers or animals face masks like cow, elephant, lion, snakes and crocodile, even Ganesha in vogue.
In the entire region of Kumaun, guhls is a standard as well as traditional harvesting technique for terraced agriculture practiced, since ancient times. Guhls are small gravity flow irrigation channels and gently traverse the contours of the slope. Also, guhls were used for domestic uses and providing hydropower for gharats or watermills. In some areas, water from the stream is first dammed and then the irrigation channel is made. In Kumauni dialect, the small dam constructed is known as baan and to irrigate the field with guhls/kuhls known as kulayana.
Simar is waterlogged flat land (a wetland) in an agricultural field and is created by the groundwater. It is also known as Gajar. Gajar is suitable for paddy cultivation in Kumaun Himalaya region. High quality crops like basmati rice, medicinal plants and herbs are occasionally grown in it.
Lying above the villages, and usually on ridge-tops, or in the saddle between the two crests, are impoundments to harvest the rain water; are usually referred to as Khals. Sometimes small ponds are also dug for collecting rainwater.
the autonomy of local communities to manage their resources was the critical condition for the sustenance of the traditional water resource management. This is all the more vital in the current scenario, when deforestation, landslides, earthquakes, changing land-use patterns, increased population pressure, road construction, as well as the climate change has led to drying-up or declining yield of the traditional water resources. This reality can be brought forth by the simple fact that in Almora, there were 360 naulas in the 1900s , but only 36 remain now. Similarly, in Nainital, almost 46% of the springs have dried up, while the rest have mostly turned seasonal.