As a Ranger in the Field Team, a lot of what we talk to guests about is the beautiful Jawai landscape that hosts both temples and wildlife, but the happenings on the ground in between these granite hills has as much of a role to play in this unique region.
Rajasthan is predominantly an arid state, but around Jawai we see a varied yield of crops throughout the year. This is partly thanks to the dam that holds water to irrigate the surrounding land but also because this area has extraordinarily fertile soil, allowing plants to get ample nutrition even in the most testing weathers.
For a farmer, his work revolves around three harvests: Kharif (monsoon harvest), Rabi (winter harvest) and Zaid (spring/summer harvest). In each of the three harvests, these farmers will produce different yields. In Kharif, the farmer will plough his field and sow seeds of cotton, maize, lentils or sesame in June or July anticipating the oncoming monsoon. Monsoons in Rajasthan are never the same, nor can it be predicted and it is always a worry to any farmer on how each year’s monsoon will fare. Some years their fields will be gifted with just the right amount of rainfall, while other years there can be such a heavy downpour that fields flood and drown crops and there are even years where there is not enough rainfall and the scorching sun dries the soil and withers any sapling that pokes out. Given that the seasonal rains had been kind to them, they will harvest their crop around August and September. After reaping their fields they will immediately prepare for the Rabi where they grow wheat, barley, chickpea or mustard. These are harvested in April. Only the brave farmers who live close to a water supply that hasn’t dried up will dare to sow the Zaid harvest, as the soil, cooked in the summer sun, will reach temperatures of 30-35 degrees. In all three harvests these plants require constant care and attention.
This attention to the fields cannot be attended to by one man alone and so every day each member of the family will have some role in ensuring a flourishing harvest. They will all wake up before sunrise and fall straight into their routine. For everyone in India, every day starts with a cup of masala chai and with an early morning milking of the cow, water buffalo or goat they will all sit together and have their morning ‘cuppa’. After tea and a wash, they will all go about their responsibilities. The wife will have milked their cattle and escort them to through grazing grounds where they will spend most of the day, only after they have prepared their husbands with a small tiffin of daal bati for lunch. Their children will help their mother before they head off to school. Meanwhile the farmer will head out, tiffin in hand, to his land and as the sun rises over the Aravallis he will make a tour of all their fields and inspect their condition of their crop. He can then make an informed decision which field needs the most immediate attention.
As you walk in between these fields, you may notice that they are not ploughed in the same manner as what you might see in most of the other countries in the world. You will not see long ridges that stretch continuously from one end of the field to the other; they plough their field in a much more conservative way. A field here at Jawai looks like a completed jigsaw puzzle as it’s sectioned into neat squares. With this method, the whole field does not have to be watered, but the farmer can pick and choose which areas need watering. These sectioned squares of which its bordered with a high ridge will then hold the water much more efficiently. It’s a brilliant way of farming in an area that does not have an ample or easily available supply of water.
Once decided which areas need his care soonest, he will take his water pump to the shore of the lake and connect the metres and metres of hose that will transfer the life giving fluid from the lake all the way to his field (this can be a good kilometer in most cases). You can hear in the early mornings soon after sunrise, as you sit with your coffee on the terrace outside your tent, the distant chug-chug of the engine as it pumps water from the lake further inland.
The children, when they return from school, will guide the family’s cattle back to their pens while their mothers will join their husbands with a coot (a sharp tool for cutting the stems of bushes), a wozal (a long wooden pole with a small sickle attached to the end to reach the higher leaves) and to help them lug this massive pile of fodder back home, they carry a bawela (a wooden pronged tool) that allows them to balance and keep the load in one place on their head.
When it comes close to harvest, attention focus on the fields and there will be a rota consisting of male members of family and close friends of who will do the night shift in guarding their fields. These bandits that come in the night can destroy a whole harvest overnight, making them a sworn enemy to any agriculturalist. But no, these bandits are not human, they are antelope (nilgai) and pigs and wild boar that will eat and trample over these beautifully manicured fields. Scarecrows wrapped in the iconic red turban of the Rabari may work during the day however at night their only option is to have somebody as the night watchman. Armed with a stick and a torch, they will sit on their charpai (campbed) and look out for these famished intruders. It then becomes a family activity of all ages and gender to scythe the crop to then sell in the market towns.
As the sun sets, these farmers will go to sleep knowing that they will have to do the same all over again for the next day.