Tuesday, August 28, 2007

The extraordinary wisdom of the tantrics

Water scarcity and water management become big issues as the globe warms up and we edge closer to the 11th hour. A while back, I had the good fortune to accompany a few friends to see the Raj Kulo, a mediaval water system that brought water to the Kathmandu Valley. Astonishingly, the Raj Kulo still works where people haven't dug it up or sunk concrete foundations into the water sources.

The "hiti" (Newari water spouts made of stone) of Patan and Bhaktapur are fed through this elaborate system in which the water is brought through canals all the way from Tika Bhairav. Knowing the meddlesome (and stupid) nature of modern people, the ancients devised a tantric secrecy around their water system. The tantric priests were the only ones who knew when the water sources were located, perhaps as a way to counteract acts of sabotage from warring neighbours. The water was piped in through an elaborate filtration system so good people still go to drink water from one particular spout in Patan, believing that the water promotes longetivity. The secrecy protected the water systems from being completely overhauled and destroyed when modern engineering and water system came into being. Interestingly, the Kathmandu municipality’s water system, run through rusty and damaged water pipes, is more unreliable than the hiti sources. At least in one location in Patan, we found out that the locals actively pumped water from their Hiti straight up into their tanks during the night.

The smartest thing people living in Kathmandu could do, in the face of increasing water scarcity, is to look into ways to revive their old stone spouts and hiti systems. The second smartest thing would be to build rainwater harvesting systems in their backyards, since Severns Trent is hardly likely to fulfill the Kathmandu Valley’s water demands.

India is considered the big bad brother when it comes to water and Nepal (it wants to grab all the water, it builds dams that overflow and cause floods on the Nepal border) so it is refreshing to see that at least in one respect its doing something right: The Indian Government is giving a respectable amount of money to repair the Raj Kulo. Stay tuned for more…