For what is referred to as a desert, Rajasthan is amazingly populated: its landscape scattered with a number of villages and hamlets, telltale signs of tree groves and populations of cattle being the only indication that there is such a settlement in close proximity.
The typical village has always been difficult to spot till one is actually upon it. Its simplest hamlets, the most basic form of civilisation with a way of life that has probably remained unchanged since centuries, consists of a collection of huts that are circular, and have thatched roofs.The walls are covered with a plaster of clay, cow dung, and hay, making a termite-free (antiseptic) facade that blends in with the sand of the countryside around it. Boundaries for houses and land holdings, called baras, are made of the dry branches of a nettle-like shrub, the long, sharp thorns a deterrent for straying cattle.
❖ Eco - Friendly Houses
If a hamlet looks bleak, it is hardly surprising: the resources for building these homes, which are the most eco-friendly living unit, are made with what is available at hand, and in Rajasthan, and particularly so in its western desert regions. This can mean precious little. A village that is even a little larger may have pucca houses, or larger living units, usually belonging to the village Zamindar family. Consisting of courtyards, and a large Nora or cattle enclosure, attached to one side or at the entrance, these are made of a mixture of sun-baked clay bricks covered with a plaster of lime.
❖ Decorative Facades
Decorative facades in such units are limited to creating a texture in the plaster in the facade, or using simple lime colours to create vibrant patterns at the entrance, and outside the kitchen. These homes capture, for many of its residents, the only cosmos they know. For the women, but for visits within the village community, the only social occasions were in the nature of pilgrimages which were usually combined with fairs. But it is when they step out that the stark desert and the village break into a feast of colour: turbans bob past in saffron and red; skirts billow beneath mantles that veil the faces of their women- if they didn't, the jewels that glint on their foreheads and faces would add to the shocking surprise of their magentas and their blues, greens and pinks.
❖ A Multi-community Settlement
Each village is a multi-community settlement, the various castes creating a structure of dependence based on the nature of their work. While changes are being wrought in this structure, with ceilings on land holdings, and with young seeking employment opportunities in towns distant from their villages, the social fabric has still not been rent.