Heritage Water Walks: Narratives Of Sustainable Sacred Spaces

Jaipur-based Neeraj Doshi, who has spent a decade and a half working in the sustainability space, started Heritage Water Walks to showcase a cultural phenomenon of the desert state of Rajasthan.

Amer fort and Maota lake in Jaipur, Rajasthan

Let the British wallow in their tubs…and the Americans revel in their power showers…but give a true-blue ‘Registani’ his balti bath any day. A graduate from the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Boston’s Tufts University and a 17th generation Registani, Neeraj Doshi, founder of Heritage Water Walks, digs deep into his roots of the village ways to reveal their deeply embedded water conservationist practises that are as relevant to the desert state today as they were centuries back.

Jaipur-based Doshi, who has spent a decade and a half working in the sustainability space, started Heritage Water Walks to showcase this lesser-known cultural phenomenon of Rajasthan.

Heritage Water Walks is a very unique concept as a tourism product in the Jaipur region. What was the inspiration behind this initiative?

ND: The inspiration has always been my own past. I grew up wondering how did this barren dead place evolve into a thriving and beautiful culture? It is omnipresent and yet stays hidden in plain sight. For me, this was the cultural phenomenon that had to be discovered.

Tell us something about the importance of the ‘water culture’ of Rajasthan and how it plays out as a community effort.

ND: Water is critical for survival for every living being. However, when a group of people chooses or is forced to survive in a water desperate zone, water concern consumes their every living activity. This gives rise to a societal structure with water at its core. This precious elixir of life has also evolved into a sacred space in water-deprived societies.

Could you shed some light on the water architecture of Rajasthan and its historical roots? 

ND: Water architecture in Rajasthan is very rich and varied. Different regions have developed different mechanisms and technology to conserve water. Topography plays a very important role in this technological evolution. Some of these technologies or systems are paar, kuin, johad, nadi, jhalara, kuan, talaab, beri, khadin, baodi/bawadi, sagar ke ‘kuen’, etc.

What is the cultural impact of water on Rajasthan?

ND: We celebrate water in every aspect of our lives, be it our beliefs and traditions, food, language, art, and architecture, music, or dance. In essence, water is our collective cultural repository.

You offer three different heritage water walks – Nahargarh, Amer Fort and Palace, and Ramgarh Lake. What is the reason behind choosing these three places?

ND: Yes. All three are cultural and historical sites of importance and tell a different story of water. Amer Fort and Palace is a defence structure as well as a royal residence. It is the oldest of the three. Nahargarh Fort is a defence structure designed to house thousands of people, both military and civilians. Ramgarh Dam and Lake are the youngest structures dating back to late 19th century.

Did you have faith in it as a sellable programme for visitors from both home and abroad?

ND: Yes. When I started, it was mostly for my personal experience and fun. Conducting these tours commercially was not even a thought. It is only after positive feedback and encouragement from friends and acquaintances, that I realised the potential of this as something to be shared more widely, and started Heritage Water Walks.

I must confesst though that over the last few years, my faith has been shaken a little bit. While experiential travel is a big part of an international traveller’s itinerary, in India, it is still at a nascent stage. On top of that, introducing a new concept in a mature tourism market like Rajasthan has its own challenges. My passion and great reviews from the people who experienced our tours has kept me going thus far.

You launched this during the onset of the pandemic. What was the experience like for you for this maiden effort as an entrepreneur?

ND: Technically, I launched it in November 2017, two years before the pandemic. That said, such ventures carry a very long gestation period. So when the pandemic hit us, we were still very new. But, it has been a fun and challenging journey so far. One happy guest sends us to the moon and one month without any guests brings us back to earth quickly. 

What is the modus operandi as it were for this walk to hold the interest of the visitor? What has been the response to the walks?

ND: The purpose of the tours is to deliver a unique experience and fun. To this end, all our tours have a strong storytelling component with a logical beginning, middle and end. All the information and facts are shared within this loose structure. The format is conversational which makes it all very enjoyable. The response has been good. But the venture is far from being self-sustainable. On top of that, the pandemic has sent us a few years back. We are forced to start afresh.

Photos courtesy Heritage Water Walks