Water under lock and key

There are long rows of water bodies along the highway in the Bamsan area of Himachal. Constructed by digging rocks, they have become a permanent source of water, which is fit for human consumption and also has medicinal value, reports Rajendra Rajan

Have you ever seen the traditional water sources preserved under lock and key? If not, a drive to the Bamsan area of Hamirpur in Himachal will lead you to a site of long rows of such water bodies alongside the highway. Popularly known as khatris in local parlance, these water sources are an integral part of the social milieu. Khatris are the unique and rare examples of rainwater harvesting. Since time immemorial, each generation has passed on these water sources to posterity by ensuring their conservation.

Popularly known as khatris, these water sources are unique and rare examples of rainwater harvesting
Popularly known as khatris, these water sources are unique and rare examples of rainwater harvesting

Bamsan occupies a prominent place because of its distinct topography and landscape. The entire area of Bamsan adjoining Mandi and Kangra districts is replete with hard rock strata. In local dialect these rocks are known as kangar. Kangar is a quaint mix of sand and round stones, which makes the rock strata hard. One can only break the rocks manually with chisel and hammer. Indeed, the local people of Bamsan have to undergo a great ordeal to undertake the construction work in such a hard rock strata. Patience is the only way out. 

Centuries ago, these rocks must have posed a stiff challenge to the inhabitants of Bamsan to carve out water sources.`A0People had to face drudgery in fetching drinking water from far-off places, especially wells and bauries, by covering miles together on foot. Most of their time was consumed`A0in carrying the water in pitchers.`A0The constant travail ultimately left the people to think of alternative water resources near their dwellings.

If`A0nature had given a difficult topography to the people of Bamsan, the rain gods solved their problem of drinking water. The incessant`A0rains lead to the percolation`A0of water from ridges to the layers of such rocks.`A0The water remains stored within the formations of rocks.

Khatris are hand-hewn caves created inside these rocks. These were constructed by the people by breaking the hard rocks manually over a long period of time. Soon khatris turned out to be the lifeline of the people of the Bamsan area, who had been craving for permanent water sources nearer to their homes. People had no alternative but to wait for the arrival of the rains for water requirements.

Khatris were constructed by digging rocks, which later became permanent sources of water. Once these`A0khatris are dug, they are provided with iron`A0gates and put under lock and key. 

It is a bit difficult to trace out the invention of khatris.`A0 Some old people of the area trace the origin of khatris to pre-historic age. However, it is believed that rainwater so collected in khatris through seepage was found to be better in quality then the water available`A0in wells and bauries. Reason being, there was hardly any chance of the water being polluted since the entrance to the khatris was covered with pucca iron doors. 

There are two types of khatris one for animals and washing purposes in which rainwater is collected from the roof through pipes. The other is used for human consumption in which rainwater is collected by seepage through rocks. As water is stored after filtration, there is no danger of impurity.`A0 Interestingly, the khatris are owned by individuals as well as by a community. Earlier,`A0khatris`A0were carved out and maintained by the gram panchayats. However, today these are being neglected by the people since their life has been made comfortable by the piped water reaching to their homes.

One wonders what would have been the fate of the`A0people had these khatris been not built by their forefathers without any technical knowhow. Water of these sources`A0is cool and fit for human consumption as per local people. The water of khatris has also medicinal value since it is enriched by minerals like calcium and lime, apart from the herbs through which the rainwater seeps deep into the hand-hewn caves.

Khatris are symbols of our civilisation. They need to be protected for posterity.