Before the colonial powers, electricity, dams and other technology came along, it seemed like our ancestors were pretty clever when it came to using whatever little knowledge they had to make use of the most important scarce resource of them all – water.
One story that is missing in that book is the story of Hamirsar. The artificial lake that forms the heart of Bhuj and reason for its existence.
The return of Common Sense
Hamirsar must be the only clean lake found in the heart of an Indian city at the moment. The water is actually clean. You cannot smell it and that can be shocking for any city bred Indian who sees the lake. These Kachchis must be a different breed from the rest of us, except for this. ‘Pooja Items’.
However, a decade back, this lake was just like any other lake in an Indian city. A relative of Hussainsagar or Ulsoor lake. The poor Hamirsar was dead until the earthquake shook the people of Bhuj. The lake was cleaned up and revitalised after that.
How Hamirsar was built
To feed rain water into the Hamirsar lake must have involved an army of people following the instruction of some brilliant mind or minds. It is named after the founder of Bhuj, Rao Hamir. It is his son and his successors who actually built the lake and extended its catchment area. This is a rough map [D1] of the system that brings in the water from the surrounding hills. It’s a system of small reservoirs, channels, and tunnels. Care is taken to avoid saline rocks that can contaminate the water. This worked for nearly 450 years.
The system fell into disuse in the second half of the last century. Wells, water pumps and other modern methods reduced the water inflow into the lake. This coupled with our legendary love for cleanliness ensured that the lake was almost killed when the earthquake struck Bhuj 10 years back.
What followed was one of the most interesting rebuilding exercises any region of India has seen. Kutchis stopped and listened to the ground beneath their feet. They realised that there was common sense and sustainability in the system that helped create the city of Bhuj in the first place. They revived the Hamirsar Lake System.
The author is a photographer, photojournalist and writer based in Mumbai. You can see his Street Photography on Mumbai Paused (http://mumbaipaused.blogspot.com) and Indian Road Romeo (http://eyeforindia.blogspot.com).
Image Source Courtesy: [MS Gopal]