How Rajasthan town keeps cool in 51 degrees

Water tenders are being used to cool down roads as temperature rises in Jodhpur, Rajasthan on Friday. (Source: PTI Photo)

At the local meteorological observatory in Churu, multi-task serviceman (MTS) Bhagirath Mal snores away on a cot in the office till he is woken up by assistant meteorologist Jile Singh to record weather details at 2.30 pm, a process that is repeated every three hours. Each time, Singh, one of two people at the office, is supposed to take into account clouds, rain, air direction and speed, dew point, relative humidity and temperature.

Armed with a notebook and a pen, Singh heads to the roof of the small, single-floor building. He observes the cloud cover — “clear skies” — and notes the direction and speed of the air on an installed anemometer.

His oiled hair shining in the sun, Singh then hurries downstairs to his room to check pressure on the barometer before heading to a smaller, gated area on the campus.

Once there, he opens a wooden box to find four thermometers to measure maximum, minimum, dry bulb and weight bulb temperatures. He squints through a magnifying glass to first read the minimum temperature, 30.7 degrees Celsius. Then the maximum. “It says 47.6 degrees Celsius,” he says. He looks a little closer “just to be sure”. It is still the same.

In the next hour, the temperature peaks at 48.1 degrees Celsius at the station. But Singh heaves a sigh of relief. For, the temperature here had peaked at 50.2 degrees Celsius a day earlier on Wednesday — the highest temperature officially recorded in the district so far.

About 350 km southwest of Churu, a part-time observatory in Phalodi city, Jodhpur, recorded 51 degrees Celsius on Thursday, which would make it the highest ever recorded in the country. However, Jaipur meteorological department director A K Srivastava says, “We would not emphasise the Phalodi figures since it is not maintained by us.” Calling it “unreliable”, officials say it only throws up “round figures”.

But the same day, in border districts of Barmer and Bikaner, the temperature was 49.5 degreess, in Jaisalmer it was 49 and in Jodhpur it was 48.8. “The weather is expected to improve in the next 48-72 hours,” Srivastava says.

Despite the record temperature, the streets of Churu aren’t deserted. Neither are bus stands, the railway station or hospitals. While people can’t stop complaining about the weather in Jaipur, barely anyone complains about the heat in this city, about 200 km from the state capital.

With a few precautions, and a lot of water and juice, life goes on as usual. Of course, most people tend to stay off the streets between noon and evening.

Outside the collectorate office, 25-year-old Puran Singh, who sells sugarcane juice, says he would bring more sugarcane if his cart had enough space. He brings about 60-70 kg of sugarcane on his cart daily, which is sold by 3-4 pm. “In February, I sell about half of this. Now I make a profit of Rs 2,000 per day,” he says.

One of his customers is Rakesh Sharma, 41, who runs a school for special children, and who is in the city for a video conference with officials of the Social Justice Department. “I travelled 30 km by train. The heat is bad, but then, the temperature keeps rising each year,” he says.

Bhanwarlal, 30, who runs a tea stall nearby, says, “More people come here to drink water from three pitchers than the tea.” By 3 pm, each pitcher has been emptied more than 10 times over. Bhanwarlal keeps refilling them using a pipe. Next to him, Amit Sharma, 23, who sells shikanji, says he sells over 100 glasses now, compared to 40-50 during “off season”.

The only thing shops near the collectorate circle sell are juice, soft drinks and shikanji.

Outside the railway station, Pawan Sharma, 62, who runs a tea shop, is doing a brisk business selling ice slabs. “I sell 30-35 slabs every day, mainly to juice and shikanji vendors, and sometimes to regular people.” Loading half a slab for Rs 200 in their car, brothers Yogesh, 27, and Lokesh Bagoria, 16, say there is a birthday celebration at their home, but there has been no electricity since morning.

Santosh Devi, waiting for a train with his three children, says she has desert coolers at home and that she “usually stays indoors”. Subhash Chandra, 36, another traveller, says one must be especially careful with children as “they usually fall ill in summers and we have to keep scolding them to stay inside the house”.

Doctors at Dr D B General Hospital suggest people here have learnt to live with the heat rather well. Deputy controller Dr D B Bhati says he has come across only one case of heatstroke in the last six years at the hospital.

Dr Iqram Hussain, a paediatrician, says each season, there is only a “marginal rise” in cases of diarrhoea and vomiting due to the heat. “People have become more aware,” he says.

Pradeep Singh, 28, a nursing staff at the hospital, points out that the temperature in the region may drop below zero degrees Celsius in winters. “It is said that people from Rajasthan can adjust anywhere, be it a glacier or a desert. Our bodies, too, have adjusted over the decades,” he says.

Assistant meteorologist Jile Singh points out that the lowest temperature recorded in Churu has been minus 3.8 degrees Celsius.