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Bringing baoli back to life 2019-08-20

Tuesday, 2019, August 20
A baoli at Arab Ki Sarai is being revived where heritage and water conservation are being given equal weightage
Madhur Tankha

At a time when many areas in Delhi and multiple cities across the country are facing acute water shortage, Mughal Emperor Jahangir-built baoli at Arab Ki Sarai can become a harbinger of hope for water conservation. It is being revived with the twin purpose of heritage and water conservation.

The baoli has historical significance as Emperor Jahangir would have drank water from the well, near the baoli and perhaps interacted with traders, coming from far and wide, as they sold their wares near this 16th century walled enclosure that stands within the Humayun’s Tomb, a UNESCO world heritage site.

Taking a lesson from baolis that highlight traditional wisdom and are a sort of guidebook for water conservation, policy makers and environmentalists need to work on these lines in the current scenario when water is required for irrigation, fountain or watering the gardens. In olden days, it was also used for washing domestic animals.

Crossing the hurdle

So far, the biggest challenge has been to ensure structural stability and that the ongoing work is carried out in a systematic manner to prevent further collapse.

Comprising a circular well, this baoli can be accessed by a steep flight of steps. What made the work — part of ASI-AKTC project with support of the German Embassy — challenging for the team was that a roof that covered the well had collapsed. This made conservation work risky and slow. “Many structural elements in the baoli have collapsed or are in an advanced state of collapse. The main walls of baoli were beyond repair and required urgent measures to prevent further deterioration,” said a heritage conservationist, working with the ongoing project.

Throwing light on the project, which started in April, Aga Khan Trust for Culture head Ratish Nanda, who is credited with restoring baolis in Hyderabad where the collected water is used for irrigation, said: “Indeed, water conservation is critical.

This baoli will also recharge groundwater aquifers. To enable this, grounds around baolis are being regraded. Currently, we have piped water for irrigation,”

To revive the original function of baoli, AKTC also plans to re-grade the earth within the Arab Ki Sarai bazaar to collect rainwater within the baoli, a catchment area of 1.5 lakh litres.

Noting that water conservation is the need of the hour, Mohammad Imran, who works with ASI and looks after conservation work at Humayun’s Tomb, evinced hope that water once treated properly would have multiple usage.

Giving his take on the conservation work carried out by experts, noted chronicler of history, R.V. Smith says: “Most baolis are neglected. They should be utilised as Delhi and surrounding areas are facing water shortage. Heritage conservationists need to think on those lines. They need to visualise how they were used during the Mughal era and how they can be used in the present times.”

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