Sunny Sebastian

Marwar villagers have shown extraordinary resilience

Inaugurates conference on sustainable water futureGoes round cluster of villagesAlso watches women making papads in their kitchen

JODHPUR: Prince Charles of Britain and his wife Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall, sweated it out under the desert sun in Rajasthan's rural Marwar on Wednesday exploring village life and learning the traditional methods of water conservation and sustainable living. The sun was harsh on them but after the two-hour visit to Artiya village in Pali district, some 55 km west of Jodhpur, both looked contented.

A beaming Prince, who was on his second visit to western Rajasthan in three years, told a village gathering: "I am impressed with the way you have tried to conserve water and survive under difficult situations."

The British royals were accompanied by the former royals of Jodhpur, Gaj Singh and his Queen, Hemlata Raje. The Prince and his wife are the guests of the Jal Bhagirathi Foundation, an NGO working in water conservation. Gaj Singh is the chairman of JBF.

Earlier, during the day, Prince Charles inaugurated a two-day regional conference, "Towards a sustainable water future: Strategies to address competing claims."

"I was determined to come," Prince Charles told the participants from Israel, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Dubai who included, Antonio Armellini, Ambassador of Italy, Carl Gustaf Svensson, Head Development Cooperation SIDA, and Maxine Olson, Resident Representative, UNDP, after returning from the village. "While you were in the comparative comfort of the air-conditioned room, I was out in the village. The villagers have shown extraordinary resilience in surviving under harsh conditions," he said.

The inhabitants of Artiya, situated five km from the Jodhpur-Ahmedabad National Highway No.45, sang, danced and showered flower petals on the royal entourage as it reached their area.

The Prince, who visited the water harvesting structure renovated by the local population with the support of JBF, was visibly impressed with water still remaining in the lake even as the summer is setting in.

The Prince proved it once again in Rajasthan that when it comes to rural life he does not mind a bit of strain. As he did in Alwar in 2003, visiting a water harvesting structure at Koylala-Bhavta, constructed by the efforts of Magsaysay award winner Rajendra Singh walking miles in the rough terrain of the Aravalli mountains, Prince Charles went round the cluster of villages, agog with excitement of the visit of the "Khas mehman"(very special guest).

He and his wife watched women making papads in their home kitchen, the Muslim artisans of Kankani doing the bloc printing on textiles, durri making and also checked with the "gadia luhars"(wandering blacksmiths), gold smiths, embroidery makers, darjis (tailors), cobblers and even those drying the cow dung.

"The Prince has become a practical person. He keeps an open mind on traditional wisdom of the simple village folk. He is also concerned about the future of the coming generations," said Rajendra Singh.