Bijapur Water Heritage – An Oasis in Parched Deccan

A little west of Navrashpur, the third city of Bijapur, now in ruins…I chanced upon a freshly painted mural, quite uncommon, depicting a Muslim King as a yogi meditating to invoke Goddess Ganga to descend down to his capital from the Himalayas to quench the thrust of million plus people in the mid 16th century.


He is Ibrahim Adil Shah II, celebrated as the Akbar of Deccan for his religious tolerance and literary ingenuity.

When Ibrahim built Navrashpur as a city of par excellence for performances of dance and music, he needed water. The legend goes: ‘Goddess Ganga was pleased with his prayer and agreed to flow down to the heart of Bijapur but under one condition. Ibrahim would walk in the front and she would follow him behind. The condition was – he would never look back till he reaches Navrashpur. Ibrahim agreed to the condition and was in high spirit. He marched down to Bijapur from the Himalayas and a few kilometres before his destination, he stopped, as he could not hear the cascading sound of water anymore. He was puzzled and looked back. Now the water stopped flowing. Upon asking the reason, Ganga replied: ‘You did not follow my advice. Now it is you to channelize water from here’.



The Ruins of Navrashpur

This place was Torvi, a dry undulating place, but catchment for all the run-off water from the plateau.



Torvi – The Source of all Water for Bijapur

The water heritage of Bijapur, however, begins with Ibrahim’s predecessor Ali Adil Shah, who had pioneered establishing Bijapur as a commercial hub after the battle of Talikota that led to the fall of Vijayanagar Empire.

Ali Adil Shah, the visionary Sultan of Deccan, had initiated grand projects for his capital including the construction of Jami Masjid. He also had established a city called Shahpur for traders and merchants to the east of Bijapur Fort. For all these people and their domestic animals, it was essential to manage water with high sophistication as the region was a harsh semi-arid plateau.

Ramalinga Tank, an existing water facility from the time of Yadavas, was upgraded by constructing a long masonry bund to meet the water requirement of Shahpur. Ramalinga Tank received water from Torvi catchment and was meant for Sahahpur residents. Water was also supplied from here to the main city of Bijapur.











Ramalinga Tank – Now Under Intensive Agriculture

Initially, it was an earthen dam built by the Yadavas. The Adil Shahi engineers brought in a new technology of hydraulic engineering making it one of the most advanced dams in Medieval Deccan.



In the film below, Dr Viswanath Siddhanti, a heritage activist from Bijapur explains the water heritage of Ramalinga which had a series of jack wells across the bund. The dam covered an area of 40 sq km supplying water to more than one million populations that thrived in Bijapur and its suburbs in the 16th century. At present, sadly, the tank is under intense cultivation by the locals.

The bund constitutes a series of jack wells which are intake structures for collecting water from the surface sources like rivers, lakes, and reservoirs and conveying it further to the water treatment plant. These structures are masonry or concrete structures and provide relatively clean water, free from pollution, sand and objectionable floating material.

Travel Tips:

Bijapur is a medium-sized city located in North Karnataka near Maharashtra border in the heart of Deccan. The city is well connected both by road and railway. However, the nearest airport is either in Pune or Hyderabad (both 8 hours away). Hubbali is yet another nearby airport which is well connected by both rail and road service. The city has plenty of stay options starting from budget to luxury. Famous for Medieval architecture, especially Indo-Islamic including the second highest dome and a triumph of Deccani architecture, Bijapur is an art lover’s paradise. While at Bijapur also visit Kumtagi waterworks (25 km from the city). One should keep a minimum of three days for a true appreciation of Bijapur’s water heritage.

The Ramalinga Tank, which formed the core of water management in Bijapur, did not survive for a long time. During the rule of Ibram Adil Shah II, it was breached by Ahmednagar Sultan. Ameenduin Hullur, the heritage activist of Bijapur explains the reason in the film below.

The next stage of development was at Torvi which is situated beyond Navrashpur in the west. It is also the catchment for all run-off water from the plateau. As mentioned earlier, during the rule of Ibrahim Adil Shah II, water was brought from here through earthen pipes till Surang Bavadi near the tombs of Afzal Khan’s wives and then through subterranean channels (qanat system) to Ibrahim Rouza enclosure through Moti Dargarh.


Annicut and Terracotta Pipes Laid by Adil Shahi Engineers from Torvi Source, Photo Credit – Hamza Mehboob

Water Layout at Bijapur

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Burhanpur – A Medieval Water Oasis

During my travel to Bijapur, I was fortunate to be accompanied by Hamza Mehboob, a local heritage activist. We spotted a number of air-shafts, however, except few sadly, most of them are encroached upon.  They are placed at regular intervals along its course, but beyond Ibrahim Rouza it is lost.














The Qanat System in Bijapur

Ameenudhin Hulur explains here about the qanat system in Bijapur.

At the time of Muhammad Adil Shah, the Ramalinga Talav and Torvi waterworks had lost their capacities as these had been destroyed by the Sultan of Ahmednagar during his raid of Bijapur. It was necessary to create a large water facility to meet the growing demand of the city.   In 1651 CE in memory of his wife Jehan Begum, Muhammad Adil Shah constructed Jehan Began Talav to the south of his capital. The talav today is popularly known as Begam Talav. It is located about 5 km to the south of Gol Gumbaz and covers an area of 234 acres. Even today this talav fed southern and eastern side of Bijapur.


Begam Talav

To the right side of the tank is an underground room from where water was supplied to the city through terracotta pipes. The pipes were laid to the death of 15 to 20 feet and were joined and encased in masonry. Many water towers of height 25 to 40 feet called Gunj had been built to release the pressure of water and prevent pipes from bursting. These towers also allowed dirt in pipes to remain at the bottom and the water to flow.



Gunj or Water Towers




Terracotta Pipes

Apart from Begam Talav, several other tanks were created in and around Bijapur to meet the water need of its population. Some of these are Rangrez Talav, Qasim Talav, Fatehpur Talav and Allahapur Talav. There were also a large number of bavadis or step wells constructed at different locations by both sultans and nobles for water management. Among these, the most significant is the Taj Bavadi.

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Prior to Taj Bavadi, it was Chand Bavadi that had formed the most iconic among all water monuments of Bijapur. Chand Bavadi was built by Ali Adil Shah in memory of his queen Chand Bibi in 1549 CE. The square-shaped bavadi is located closed to Shahpur Gate.


Chand Bavadi

Most of Bijapur’s tombs and mosques had also attached water structures which show the engineering achievement of Adil Shahis. These were actually the quarries used for building the structures and later converted into small bavadis. For example, the Gol Gumbaz the largest of all among Adil Shahi monuments had an excellent hydraulic arrangement as suggested by the presence of water tanks, fountains, tank cum lifts, tank cum distributor and wells. At present, there are 28 features within the complex. The main sources are Khandak on the west, Masa Bavadi on the north and Begam Talav on the south.  One of the major water structures is Khandak, a small reservoir along with two tanks on the eastern and western rim. It is actually the quarry used for building the Gol Gumbaz that was eventually converted to a water structure. The two tanks lifted the water from Khandak and supplied to an array of fountains in the complex.



Water Works at Gol Gumbaz Complex

In Bijapur, water was managed not only for sustenance but also for the luxury of Adil Shahi sultans and nobles. You visit any palace or grand public buildings, there are traces of water fountains and Jacuzzi. Ameenudin explains in this film how water was integrated with luxury and amusement of Adil Shahi Sultans.









Today sadly, that entire water heritage for which Bijapur had achieved height benchmark is in shattered ruins. Lately, however, thanks to dedicated efforts of activists like Ameendhin and Dr Sidhanti there is hope for their partial revival for posterity.

Author – Jitu Mishra

He can be contacted at


Dholavira – India’s First Water Tech Park

From Kashi to Maheshwar and Ekamra to Adalaj, one sight that is common to all is ghats on rivers, tanks or step-wells – all pointing to one idea, India’s spiritual journey through life-giving force, water.

Ghat refers to a series of steps leading to a water body, either a holy river or a small pond and in western India even step-wells. From the beginning of Indian civilization Indians have understood how water was critical, not just for biological survival, but also to meet our spiritual quest.

In Indian tradition ghats in step-wells are like bridges linking with the tropical Indian sun to a clear pool of water. Through these ghats, people travel from one realm to another. The weakening light descending the ghats conveys a sense of passage deep into the womb of earth, moving further into darkness. The experience is spellbinding. With no ripples, bubbles or sound, the pool has an eerie comforting silence. Here time stands still and you forget that anything is urgent.

Gujarat, Rajasthan and Western Madhya Pradesh are a large semi-arid plateau with limited perennial water sources. Here the idea of water harvesting has found deep meaning and its origin can be traced to the mysterious Harappan time, 4,500 years ago at Dholavira in Khadir Island of Rann of Kutch.


Ghat at Maheshwar

The Indus Valley Civilization (3300 – 1300 BCE) is the earliest civilization of South Asia. It is one among the few old world civilizations that had developed through intense agricultural activity based on wheat and barley and domestication of animals, such as sheep, goats and cattle. In its matured phase (2500 – 1700 BCE) the civilization had spread from Afghanistan in the west to Western Uttar Pradesh in the east and South Gujarat – North Maharashtra region in the south. It was spread over an area 680,000, an area twice the size of Egypt and Mesopotamia Civilizations.

Gujarat was the southern province of the civilization. Around 2500 BCE, the inhabitants of Indus Valley Civilization had moved to Kutch region from the core area of Indus Valley. So far 60 Indus Valley settlements have been found in Kutch. Dholavira is located in Khadir Beyt, an island in the Great Rann of Kutch. It is the largest among all the Indus Valley settlements in Gujarat.

Kutch is an undulating terrain consisting of rocks, hills and Arabian Sea with no perennial source of surface water. The region is marked by inadequate rainfall. However, the main attraction is the pasture lands and the long coastline. Against this harsh climatic condition water exploitation and management was one of the key challenges for the Indus Valley people.







Landscape and People of Kutch around Dholavira

Today Kutch is separated from Indian mainland my marshy rann, but during the 3rd millennium BCE, rann was probably an open sea. Agriculture, fishing and pastoralism were the main activities of the inhabitants of the region during the period of Indus Valley Civilization.

Dholavira was one of the last among the major cities discovered so far from the Indus Valley Civilization. The site was excavated by archaeologist Dr R S Bisht between 1989 and 1998. The city had both striking similarities to Mohenjo Daro and Harappa and significant differences. It was over 100 hectors in size and consisted of 3 tiers of settlements, such as a citadel, the middle town and the lower town. In contrast, both Mohenjo Daro and Harappa though bigger in sizes had two tiers, a citadel and the lower town. Dholavira, unlike its counterparts, was located on an island of a shallow sea. Stone was used for its construction whereas bricks dominated as construction material in other Indus Valley cities.

Travel Tips:

Dholavira is located in Gujarat’s Kutch District at a distance of 400 km from Ahmedabad and 220 km from Bhuj (both have airports and railway stations). The nearest town to Dholavira is Rapar, 100 km away. Rann Resort ( is a latest addition for comfortable stay at Dholavira, located 3 km before the archaeological ruins. While at Dholavira also visit the Jurassic Wood Fossil Park and go for long hiking in the remote countryside. Both Sunrise and Sunset in White Rann of Kutch are spectacular. You can see migratory birds, such as flamingos during winter, which is also the best season to visit. Keep 3 days for village visit and Rann safaris at Dholavira.  

The earliest settlement at Dholavira is traced around 3000 BCE. Around that time a small town developed, surrounded by a wall of stones and clay mortar. At the beginning of the Harappan phase, i.e., around 2500 BCE a citadel was erected over the earliest settlement. It grew in size in subsequent periods.

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Beyond the citadel’s walls was a walled residential area (the middle town), with cardinally oriented streets and with jars and sumps instead of drains. Houses in the middle town had verandas, interconnected rooms and bathrooms with sloping slabs for water to flow into a covered drain that extended into the streets.

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The Central Thoroughfare in the Middle Town

Dholavira is located in a seismic zone. It had suffered badly by an earthquake around 2200 BCE. Then after the city was rebuilt and extended to the east (lower town). After 2000 BCE, the city saw a decline and was eventually abandoned.

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Dholavira is located in-between two seasonal streams Manher and Mansar. Both these were seasonal bringing water from the hill slopes during monsoon. The early settlers must have felt necessary to dam them, which they did. Here we find South Asia’s oldest check dams over the streams built by the Harappans.




A Check Dam Built Over Manher During Harappan Period – One of the earliest in South Asia

Once dammed, the early settlers facilitated a rock-cut well, the earliest South Asia. Excavated during the 1990s, the rock-cut well is found at the bottom of the earthen reservoir, the most elaborate and largest among 13 reservoirs that surrounded the Indus Valley city through interconnected sluices and channels. The rock-cut well has few rock-cut steps and stone made an enclosure of later date.




The Earliest Rock-Cut Well in India

The eastern reservoir and five of the series to the south of it are considerably exposed through excavations. The remaining ones are confirmed through trial digs. The eastern reservoir is of the rectangular shape measuring 75 m N-S and 30 m E-W and 10 m deep. At three corners the reservoir was provided with a flight of 30 steps. This reservoir was constructed however in the matured phase and it was accessible to all the city dwellers living in the citadel, middle town and lower town. It was fed with water from Manher largely.



The Eastern Reservoir

The other five on the southern side are of varying sizes and depth, partly cut through the alluvium and partly through the bedrock, displaying South Asia’s eeriest evidence of rock-cut architecture. Two masonry flights of steps led to their interiors. All the tanks were interconnected with drain carrying water into each other.  The surplus water finally flowed out through a masonry drain into another series of reservoirs excavated further west.

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The Citadel has revealed an intricate network of stormwater drains, all connected to an arterial one and furnished with slopes, steps, cascades, manholes (air ducts/water relief ducts), paved flooring and capstones. The main drains were high enough for a tall man to walk through easily. The rainwater collected through these drains was stored in yet another reservoir that was carved out in the western half of the bailey.

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Besides rainwater harvesting, Dholavira has yielded toilets, sullage jars or sanitary pits. Drains even included cut stone ones and pottery pipes.




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Dholavira declined around 1500 BCE and was never revived as an urban centre. There are multiple causes attributed to its decline. But its concern for water harvesting did continue throughout Indian history. The step-wells in Gujarat and Rajasthan and Puskarinis in South India are examples of attempts of future civilization to harvest water, a legacy from the Indus Valley Civilization and Dholavira perhaps.




Author – Jitu Mishra with inputs from Shailaja Shah

He can be contacted at


Water Heritage of Jodhpur – Then and Now

Ranisar, Padamsar Ote, Vyapari Gaya Tote

If Ranisar and Padamsar overflow, the market rates will fall as there will be good rainfall and bumper crop and the hoarders and money-lenders will be put to loss 

An old saying in Jodhpur

Jodhpur, Rajasthan’s second largest city and the cultural capital of Marwar is a jewel in the crown of the desert state. In spite of its hostile terrain and harsh climate, Jodhpur has produced some of the finest artistic expressions and music in the entire Indian Subcontinent. The erstwhile Maharajas were not just great patrons of art and architecture but also skillfully managed the water resources of the region.



So durable was its water management system that it could quench the thirst of its inhabitants till 1950s through a complex network of lakes, step-wells, wells and jhalaras. Jodhpur has hills surrounding Mehrangarh Fort and is a catchment area for monsoon waters that flow down into small and large depressions. Its medieval inhabitants converted them into lakes from where water was drawn to over hundreds of step-wells and jhalaras built in different periods of time in the walled city area and beyond.

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Every neighbourhood in the old city had its own baori and the maximum concentration of baoris is in the Chand Pol area. These baories not only provided water to its inhabitants but also refuge to birds and a variety of aquatic life. Teeming with the life they were a cool refuge from the heat of the desert to spend some time in.

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But with the construction of Indira Gandhi canal, the Himalayan water started flowing into every household of the desert town through pipes and taps. People started detaching themselves from their roots of harvesting and respecting the water. Slowly the places and related customs became obsolete and turned into a refuge for tons of trash. The most vulnerable were the underground baoris; hidden from plain sight these have become a safe haven for anti-social elements.

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Rao Jodha decided to build his capital on the summit of Pachetia Hill in the 15th century CE because the area had immense potential for harvesting rainwater and perennial springs that were visibly flowing in-between the rocks.

Travel Tips:

Jodhpur is the second largest city and is located in the heart of the Marwar region in west-central Rajasthan. Founded by Roa Jodha in 1459 CE Jodhpur is a major tourist place for its palaces, temples, desert biodiversity and ethnic life. It is also a shoppers paradise. The main thoroughfare for tourists is around the iconic Ghantaghar, the lanes and by-lanes of the Blue City and the majestic Mehrangarh Fort. 

From Jodhpur, a tourist can also plan to nearby Mandore Fort, Gurjar Pratihar Temples of Osian and Khichan for demoiselle cranes. 

For a local delicacy try out rabdi and kulfi at street corners around Ghantaghar.  

The first water project undertaken was Ranisar for supplying water to the fort above. The southern embankment of Ranisar has masonry walls of red stone with symmetrical steps descending up to its depth, exhibiting the great architectural skill of Jodhpur’s formative period. Water was collected from by both the common people as well as the royal family. Women would come to fill water in their pots for their household needs. For the royal family, labourers would carry water in large vessels up to the palace. From the turret (burz) water was also drawn up to the fort by Persian wheels.

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Ranisar and Persian Wheel Structures 

The construction of Ranisar was patronized by Jasmade Haddi  Ji, the Maharani of Rao Joddha in 1460 CE, which was later expanded during the rule of Rao Maldeo.

Beside Ranisar is the Padamsar tank, yet another marvel constructed by Rani Uttamade Seesdini  Ji, who was the daughter of Rana Sangha of Mewar. Rani Uttamade’s other name was Padmavati. The project was also financed by Seth Padamsar Shah of Mewar at the behest of his mother to assist Rani Padmavati. Hence it came to be known as Padamasar after its patron.



Both these water bodies were periodically expanded and maintained by the royal families.

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A little away in the walled city near the Ghanta Ghar is Gulab Sagar along with two temples – Neni Bai ka Mandir and Ranchor Ji ka Mandir. All of these were constructed by queens. According to Late Komal Kothari, Rajasthan’s foremost folk historian, most of the water bodies of Jodhpur were commissioned when these queens became widows.

The following is an extract from his conversation with Rustom Bharucha that appeared in the book Rajasthan – An Oral History.

‘Here we have to understand the laws relating to primogeniture (pātvi) inheritance, where the property of father goes exclusively to the eldest son and does not divide among the brothers as in the bhai-bant inheritance system.

In the pātvi system, we find that as soon as the king dies, his widowed queens are removed from the royal premises along with their servants. It is assumed that they pose a potential threat to the new king with their manipulations and conspiracies.  Only the new king can sanction whether these ex-queens can hold on to their property; they may however, be denied access to it. Now so far as movable property (chal-sampati) is concerned, including ornaments and money, this could remain with the queens unless the king orders that it should be returned to the royal treasury. What we find is that when the queens became widows, they would often give their property to a Brahman – this form of donation is known as udakena. It works on the premise that anything given as dān (gift) to a Brahman cannot be reclaimed by the king. Till the queen lived she had rights over the property, but on her death, it became the Brahmin’s property. We find that the patronage of many water bodies has come from such sources.

The other prominent donors were female dancers and singers who were patronised by the king and given the status of pardayatpaswan and bhogtan. There were also prostitutes from musician groups like the patar. We find that these women financed the construction of quite a few temples and drinking water sources after the death of their respective masters.’

Unfortunately, the construction and development of water bodies came to an end around 1897-98, when a public water supply system was introduced for the first time. But Jodhpur’s inhabitants continued to value and maintain the sanctity of old water bodies till the 1950s, after which a collapse began.

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On a fine morning when I started walking around the old city admiring its water bodies, what drew my attention were the clean waters of the Toor Ji Ka Jhalra built in the 1740s by Rani Toor Ji. This step well, however, had become a dump yard until recently when it was taken for restoration by local hotels. Water was drawn from this stepwell using Persian wheels once. I was very impressed with the sight, but this happiness disappeared as soon as I arrived at Gulab Sagar, a critically polluted talav with residents having opened their sewage lines into it and also dumping the garbage. Here I met Caron Rawnsley, an Irish environmentalist who has made Jodhpur his home for the last many years.











Toor Ji ki Jhalra and Gulab Sagar

We spent almost an hour at the spot to understand his ideas and concerns regarding Gulab Sagar and other water bodies of the city. Do watch the video below.

From Gulab Sagar, I next went to Mahila Bagh Jhalra, another restored stepwell, thanks to Caron who cleaned it single-handedly recently.

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From Mahila Bagh, I strolled through the interiors of the Blue city and came across a number of small baories in different neighbourhoods. The most important being the Chand Baori but a great surprise was awaiting me on the following day when I and Caron walked through the Chand Pol area outside the walled city.


Chand Baori

Our first stop was at Sukhdev Ji Trivedi ka Jhalra, a clean undisturbed water body teeming with aquatic life. There is no information available virtually on its construction or patron. As Caron said it was also not spared until recently by the neighbours and had become a dump yard like many other baories of Jodhpur. He put in a lot of effort in cleaning but vandalism of the structure and its sculptures have not ceased. Do watch the video below on Sukhdev Ji ka Jhalra.







One interesting feature you see near every step-well in Marwar is a stone post with sculptures of Hindu Gods and Goddesses engraved on it. You also see the inscription of the donor and sometimes his/her image.








Panchmadi Baori

Our next stop was a hidden gem among all step-wells of Jodhpur – Panchmadi Baori. It is virtually unknown to the outside world and thanks to its almost secret location, it has escaped vandalism. You see pristine water as you descend the steps.

From Panchmadi Baori we moved on to yet another hidden gem, the Ram Baori. Though it is located in the heart of the city it offers unmatched peace and tranquillity.










Ram Baori

Next, we went to the fairly well-known Suraj Kund, a large square tank with steps and pavilions spread over two floors. The structure is now under renovation by the Mehrangarh Fort authority. Built by Rao Suraj Singh in 1672 CE, the well is built in Mughal architectural style. It is located in the premises of the Rameshwar Siddha Peeth and was built to meet the water demand of the shrine.

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Step – Wells of Gujarat – a Timeless Journey




Suraj Kund

In close proximity to Suraj Kund is the Raghunath Ji ki Baori, the most well maintained of all the baories I saw. The kids there told me they use the place to learn and practice swimming.



The last baori visited by us was the Panch Kua Baori located in an open space but close to being encroached from all sides.



Jodhpur is truly a magical city. Its art, architecture, settlement pattern and more importantly water structures are unique in the Subcontinent but one feels disappointed to see this wonderful water heritage on the verge of extinction. We need a little bit of Caron Rawnsley in each of us to fulfill what Gandhiji meant by Swaraj. That said, the government too needs to wake up from their deep slumber and take urgent steps.

Author – Jitu Mishra

He can be contacted at

Water and Thar Desert – Stories from Indo-Pak Border

Sau sāndiya, saukarahalā, pūt, nipūti hoe

Mehadlā to buthān hi bahlā, honi ho so hoe

A hundred she camels, a hundred camels, all left childless,

What is destined to be will be, even so a few drops of rain would be a blessing.

Depiction of drought in one of the folk songs sung in the Thar Desert of Rajasthan

As a child, way back in the 1980s, like all the other children of India I was introduced to Rajasthan’s the Thar Desert as a sea of sand dunes, life on the edge and camel, the ship of the desert. Being from Odisha, a lush green coastal state, it was difficult to visualize about the desert and its environs merely through the printed word. I satisfied my curiosity by watching movies and flipping tourist brochures. Decades later, when I got involved in designing modules on the desert for teachers and students, I again used videos and pictures extensively but somewhere in my heart,, I was not satisfied with what I was offering to schools as I had never experienced life in Thar desert.




But as luck would have it, I recently ended up at a village called Tamlor in Barmer District situated at a distance of just 1500 meters from the Indo-Pak border, in the Thar Desert of Rajasthan.

Travel Tips 

Tamlor is located on Barmer – Munabao Road in Barmer District of Rajasthan at a distance of 2 km from Indo – Pak International Border. Barmer is about 100 km from Tamlor. Surrounded by sand dunes Tamlor together with other desert villages in the region are perfect destinations for off-beat travellers. On your way to these remote villages, you can also visit the Solanki Period architectural jewels – the Kiradu group of temples.  There are no stay options at these villages, but at Barmer, you have the upmarket Sanchal Fort ( as a luxury option. Mr Banarjee, the manager of the hotel will arrange your travel plan to Tamlor. While at Barmer also look for Ajrakh Block Printing craft and wood carvings.



Barmer, India’s fifth and Rajasthan’s third-largest district in terms of area shares its border with Umerkot District of Sindh Province in Pakistan. Umerkot even today is a stronghold of Hindu Rajputs and is better known as the birthplace of Emperor Akbar.

Barmer was known as Malani before, in the name of Rawal Malinath, a folk hero and saint, who is worshipped as a deity by local people. An environmentally extreme region, Barmer experiences temperatures that soar up to 50-55C in summer months. The district receives a mere 200 mm of average rainfall in a year. While talking to elderly folks of the district, one hears stories of Akaal (droughts that occur every year) and conflicts for water. For the desert people, water is as precious as gold and they hide it from the public eye to avoid its theft.

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In Barmer, people have learnt how to survive in drought-like conditions. The following is an extract from Komal Kothari’s (Rajasthan’s well-known folk historian) conversation with Rustom Bharucha, in the book Rajasthan – An Oral History.

Yesterday it rained. If it had not rained for another ten days then you would have seen long faces. So now people are happy, this was the first rain of the season, even though it is already August. Now the sowing can begin. But the farmers also need a second rainfall. And after that, they need no rain at all for the crops to grow well. Now that they have got the rain, they will need only one more rainfall within 15-20 days or a month, and that will be sufficient for the seed.

Due to water scarcity, people of Barmer have adopted dry farming. Rotis made of millet (jawar) and various milk products are the only sources of protein in the region. The geology of Barmer District comprises of calcrete, silcrete, gypsiferous bed clay stones which do not make for potential groundwater aquifers. The desert underground stratum is poor in groundwater storage and transmission and the deep groundwater is saline.

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Water Heritage of Jodhpur – Then and Now




With this understanding about the Thar Desert, we travelled from Barmer through the sandy dunes to Pakistan border near Munabao, the last railway station on the Indian side in the Jodhpur – Karachi Thar Express.  You need permission to visit the area as it is a highly sensitive military zone. Fortunately, we had the permission, thanks to Mr Chatterjee, our host at Hotel Sanchal Fort, Barmer, who managed it. On the way, we stopped at Tamlor, a few miles before Munabao to pick up our local resource Mr Mahendra Singh Sodha who knew the Sarpanch of the village and is a great resource to understand the various facets of life, especially water harvesting and its management in the desert region.

As we entered the village of Tamlor, we were warmly greeted by Mr Hindu Singh Sodha, the young and dynamic Sarpanch of the village. He took us around the village and got us acquainted with its cultural and social life. The village has become a refuge for a large number of migrants from the surrounding dunes, in recent years, due to better infrastructure. One can see the hustle and bustle of village life, a woman milking a cow and yet another arranging fodder for the cattle and camels. There were children in the school celebrating the festival of Vasant Panchami.   As we walked through the interiors of the village, what drew our attention was the struggle for water. Women had gathered near a government built-tank to fetch water, however, it meets only a fraction of the local demand. On our way to the border, we stopped by near an open field scattered with a large number of beries and a deserted talav, locally called nādi.








Nādis are small community made ponds with embankments wherein rainwater from the adjoining catchment area is stored. Traditional nādis have survived for hundreds of years but after independence whenever government or any other external agency built them they have invariably dried up. As per the traditional knowledge system, people in the past knew where a nādi should be located and how deep into the earth one must dig, how to deal with the slope of a particular ground and how certain layers of the earth need to be strengthened in order to prevent water seepage.


The nādi we saw, according to Hindu Singh Ji, was built in 1971 by the Indian Army during the Indo-Pak war. Perhaps its builders had no idea where and how a nādi should be built and therefore it has ended up as dry and desolate.

Beri is a pitcher shaped structure that collects rainwater. It is about half a meter wide at the top and 3 to 4 meters wide at the bottom. The spot is strategically selected so that the percolated rainwater is channelised towards the well.








For hundreds of years, people in this hostile region had successfully lived with its harsh climate. They had mastered the art of harvesting rainwater and groundwater conservation. But it was disappointing to see most of the beris have become defunct now containing mostly brackish water. The traditional knowledge system suddenly has no takers thanks to the erratic supply of tanker water, which the villagers find expensive but have adapted to because it is an easier solution.

To know more watch this video below.

After spending about 30 minutes, we headed towards the border, a stone’s throw distance from the beris. Here, for the first time, I saw the barbed fence that separates two young nations, India and Pakistan, but one people and culture who once upon a time lived harmoniously for centuries.

We spent almost two hours in the village talking with the elders on issues such as water, food, and stories of partition from their near and dear after India split into two nations more than 70 years ago.


We left the village both happy and sad. Happy because of the warm hospitality by the villagers and sad due to the loss of traditional knowledge system of water management, which had been practised for thousands of years through community participation.



Author – Jitu Mishra

He can be contacted at


Reviving Ballari’s Water Heritage – Hope for the Best

On the border of Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh, at a distance of 306 km from Bangalore is situated the historic city of Bellary, now Ballari.

There is a story behind the name Ballari. Once upon a time, a caravan of devout merchants had camped here. In the absence of a Shivling to offer prayers, they installed a balla (a measuring cup or seru used to measure grain) upside down. Later, a temple was built at the spot dedicated to Balleshwara or Shiva.

Except for a Nayaka Fort on the top of a granite hill, Ballari has no other visually spectacular monuments and so does not feature prominently on a tourist’s itinerary. Quite unlike the UNESCO world heritage site of Hampi that lies a mere 50 km away. And unlike Hampi where intensive agriculture is practised due to abundant waters of Tungabhadra, Ballari sandwiched between two large granite hills; Ballarigudda and Kumbharagudda, is dry. Water is scarce and summer temperature can rise up to 45 degrees centigrade. During my recent visit, I was told by residents of how acute the water crisis was until a few years back. Women would stand in long queues with their plastic buckets to collect water. Seemed like nothing had changed as this was the scenario I had witnessed in Hospet and Ballari during the 90s when I was working in Hampi for a month.

Travel Tips

Ballari is a major city located on Andhra – Karnataka Border in the Rayalaseema Region. Surrounded by granite hills and agriculture fields, Ballari is also the gateway to the UNESCO World Heritage Site, Hampi (50 km away). The city apart from its water harvesting structures has been known for its Nayaka Period fort on the hilltop. The city has a large number of staying options but for travellers, it is recommended to make Hampi as the base and visit Ballari on a day trip. Also include Sangankallur in your travel plan, the well-known Neolithic Rock art site near Ballari.

I was sure that Ballari’s medieval inhabitants must have built appropriate water harvesting structures for their sustenance that may have gone out of use with time. With this question in mind, I explored Ballari for a day to discover baolis or tanks, talavs or keres and speak to its inhabitants.

Ballari has seven historic baolis (tanks or step-wells) spread over different parts of the city. I was guided by Shri Tarun Kumar, a contractor with the local civic body and resource person for the revival of historic water bodies in the city. Tarun has taken up the job work of cleaning and restoring the step-wells, a project initiated by Ballari Municipal Corporation.



Akka Tangire Well after Cleaning

Once, Ballari city had two major historic talavs (keres) – Basavanakutta and Nallacheruvu, built during the Vijayanagar Period. Rainwater would cascade down the granite hill and fill these talavs in monsoon. However, thanks to unplanned urban growth, both these waterbodies are now dry as modern constructions have obstructed the flow of water into these talavs.

Also, Read Here:

Dhar – History in Layers

I was glad to hear that out of seven tanks, four have been cleaned and restored so far. I was fortunate to visit three of them.




Akka Tangire Well before Restoration

The first and the largest is Akka Tangire well also known as Soldiers’ Well. Located in Medhar Street (Opposite BCC Ground) in a crowded colony, it was originally built in the Vijayanagar Era by a woman called Akama Devi. Further additions were made during Tipu’s rule and it supplied water to a nearby Soldiers’ camp. The T shaped tank is built of granite blocks in the typical Vijayanagar style. On its walls are found an array of sculptures including a Nandi and a Shiva Linga, fish, yalis and so on. At the entrance is a pillared mantapa that further leads to steps into the water body. A triple-arched arcade was probably added later in the back corridor near the water lifting pulley system.

Also, Read Here:

Travel Shot: Community Revival of Taj Baodi – A Success Story













The next tank located in Parvati Nagar locality within a spacious compound is relatively new. It is a rectangular tank built of proportionate granite rocks. It is unnamed but some people call it Sakama Tank. There are no sculptures or other dating materials found in this tank.

Also, Read Here:

Water Heritage of Jodhpur – Then and Now




The third in the series is the most well-preserved tank located in Sirigupa Main Road. Locals call it Havam Baavi. It was built in the 16th century in the Vijayanagar style. Stylistically it is similar to Akka Tangire well but here there are no sculptures.






The rest of the 4 step wells are difficult to access and yet to be cleaned. Sincere thanks to Tarun for his humble support in documenting these wells and we wish him all the best in his efforts to restore forgotten stepwells and make Ballari a sprawling city of lakes and wells.

Author – Jitu Mishra

He can be contacted at

Travel Shot : Community Revival of Taj Baodi – A Success Story

It is a pity that the work of local community members in heritage restoration and management has been overlooked by heritage experts. I firmly believe that it is the local community which needs to be motivated, involved and educated because without them no initiative is meaningful. Afterall, it is the local community which takes maximum pride when their heritage is restored and this pride is what makes them feel responsible towards their local heritage and its upkeep.I have been fortunate enough to meet several such individuals and groups during my travels to historic cities across India, who have felt that their local heritage is beyond a mere appreciation of a grand past but deeply rooted in their daily life and their spiritual consciousness.




During my recent travel, I came across such a person and an entire team of heritage enthusiasts at Bijapur in Karnataka. Mr Ameenuddin Hullur, the leader of the team is not a historian or an archaeologist by profession, but his deep interest in local heritage and history has transformed him into an activist, something that many of our universities and civic authorities have failed to achieve.

Travel Tips

Bijapur is a medium-sized city located in North Karnataka near Maharashtra border in the heart of Deccan. The city is well connected both by road and railway. However, the nearest airport is either in Pune or Hyderabad (both 8 hours away). Hubbali is yet another nearby airport which is well connected by both rail and road service. The city has plenty of stay options starting from budget to luxury. Famous for Medieval architecture, especially Indo-Islamic including the second highest dome and a triumph of Deccani architecture, Bijapur is an art lover’s paradise. While at Bijapur also visit Kumtagi waterworks (25 km from the city). One should keep a minimum of three days for a true appreciation of Bijapur’s water heritage. 

Also, Read Here:

Bijapur Water Heritage – An Oasis in Parched Deccan


Taj Baodi, a medieval tank, is Bijapur’s pride, a city which was established by the Adil Shahis in the 16th century after the fall of Bahamani Empire at Bidar. The baodi is located in a crowded area of the city and its walls are encroached upon by houses of local residents. It is the largest tank of Bijapur and is named after Taj Sultana, the favourite queen of Adil Shah II. Built square in shape with each side measuring 71 m, the baodi can be entered through a wide arch flanked by two majestic minarets in signature Adil Shahi style.

Also, Read Here:

Reviving Ballari’s Water Heritage – Hope for the Best



According to an inscription engraved on a plaque against a wall near the entrance gate, it was built by Malik Sandal, a Siddi official in the service of Adil Shahi court. It translates to: ‘The humble slave  Malik Sandal constructed at his own expense the building of Taj Baodi for the service of religious mendicants as a Hammam for bathing and as a resting place for the people of Allah, and bequeathed it to the service of Allah. Whoever seeks possession of it or damages it, may his wife and mother ride a donkey and be overtaken by an eternal curse.’


I first visited Taj Baodi in 2013 and was highly disappointed seeing its pathetic state. It was filled with garbage and the water was filthy. But during my recent visit, I was pleasantly surprised to see clean waters. This revival which was initiated by Ameenuddin Hullur was later funded and joined in by the government.

Also, Read Here:

Water Heritage of Jodhpur – Then and Now





Fresh water flows down to the tank now from a number of natural springs that are located at several points along the walls. The entrance to the baodi is now guarded by government officials. Ameen’s initiatives eventually drew attention of the State Government. Mr. M.B Patil, who is the water resource minister in Karnataka State government, has taken keen interest in its revival. In an interview with Frontline magazine he has been quoted as saying – ‘This is a dream fulfilled. The plan is to meet a part of Vijayapura’s water needs through these baodis. The city requires 65 million liters a day (mld) of water, and I expect that 5 mld can be met through these wells. All these wells have potable water, and moreover, it is the heritage of our elders. We should preserve these monuments for the future’.











Hear the story of the revival of Taj Baodi in the words of Mr Ameenuddin Hullur himself! Watch the video.

Author – Jitu Mishra

He can be contacted at

Gol Gumbaz – The Triumph of Deccani Architecture

If Taj Mahal is India’s most admired artistic tomb, then the Gol Gumbaz in Bijapur that houses the grave of Muhammad Adil Shah is technologically the most advanced tomb of Medieval India. I have been to Gol Gumbaz twice before and each time there was something to be surprised about.


The View of Gol Gumbaz in the Early Morning

Gol Gumbaz, often considered as the triumph of Deccani architecture is actually an unfinished monument. I was told about this fact by Mr. Klaus Rotzer, an expert on Bijapur heritage during my recent visit. Designed by architect Yaqut of Dabul, Gol Gumbaz is a massive cube and its dome (44 m in diameter) is the second largest in the world. However, its plain surface was supposed to have been covered with a range of Persian tiles.



An Unfinished Graffiti

Muhammad Adil Shah started building his tomb immediately after his ascent to throne in 1626 CE. His intention was to build the grandest tomb in India. The construction of the tomb began and ended with his regime in 1656 CE. At Gol Gumbaz, beside the Sultan are buried two of his wives Taj Jahan Begum and Aroos Bibi, his mistress Rambha, his daughter and his grandson.


The tomb is one of the largest single structures in the world. At each of the four corners of the cube is a dome shaped octagonal tower seven stories high with a staircase inside. The top floor of each tower opens into a round gallery which surrounds the dome.



The dome’s exterior walls display examples of fine Adil Shahi stucco work ranging from simple geometric patterns to lotus medallions, branches of trees, leafs, crown of wing, chained motifs, petalled fringes, scroll work and creeper motifs.




Details of Plaster Work

The gallery on the 8th floor is an acoustic marvel. Also known as the whispering gallery, it is the highest achievement of medieval sound engineering wherein an echo reflects for seven times.


Another highlight of this monument is a meteorite that hangs over the main entrance. The meteorite had hit the monument while it was under construction. There is a beautiful story behind it, which is explained by Mr. Ameenuddin Hullur in the video attached here. It is believed to protect the structure from lightning.



A Nakkar Khana (also unfinished) lies to the south of Gol Gumbaz, which now houses a museum of ASI.


The Gol Gumbaz had an excellent water supply system as suggested by the presence of a number of water tanks, fountains, lifts and wells. There are 20 features documented by the ASI related to water supply system at Gol Gumbaz. The main sources are Khandak on the west, Masa Baodi on the north and Jahan Begum Talav on the south. One of the major water structures is Khandak, a small reservoir along with two tanks on the eastern and western rim. It is actually the quarry used for building the Gol Gumbaz that was eventually converted to a water structure. The two tanks lifted the water from Khandak and supplied to an array of fountains in the complex.

Bijapur- old sketch - Sultan Mahomed Shah's Tomb [colour]

A 19th Century Lithograph by Montgomery


My recent trip to Bijapur was hosted by my dear friend Ameenuddin Hullur, a local heritage enthusiast working on the revival of water structures and Hamza Mehmood, another local heritage enthusiast. I was accompanied by Hullur at Gol Gumbaz and as a humble gesture he narrated two interesting stories on Gol Gumbaz. Here is the narration.

Author – Jitu Mishra

He can be contacted at

Mandu’s Water Heritage – An Epicurean Delight

Between the years 1469 and 1500 CE, Mandu was being ruled by Ghiyat Shah aka Ghiyasuddin Shah, son of Mohmmed Khalji, the founder of Khalji dynasty at Malwa. Ghiyat had spent his early years in fighting battles to augment his father’s struggle against rulers of Delhi Sultanate and Rana Kumbha of Mewar.


According to Adil Shahi historian Ferishta, shortly after his accession, Ghiyat ‘gave a grand party, on which occasion, addressing his officers, he stated that he had during the last thirty-four years been employed constantly in the field, fighting under the banner of his illustrious father, he now has yielded the sword to his son, in order that he might himself enjoy easing the rest of his days.’ He accordingly established within his seraglio all the separate offices of a court and had at one time fifteen thousand women within his palace.’

These included teachers, musicians, dancers, embroiderers, women to read prayers, and persons of all professions and trade. 500 females Turks, dressed in men’s attire stood guard on his right, armed with bows and arrows, and on his left, similarly, 500 Abyssinian women, also in uniform, stood guard armed with firearms. The book of pleasures, Nimat Nama, is attributed to Ghiyat and the recipes are still used as a standard for making samosas. The illustrated manuscript is a wonderful specimen of Pre-Mughal miniature paintings in the country.

Jahaz Mahal, where Ghiyat indulged himself in hedonistic pleasures, is an icon of Mandu today. An elongated building measuring 110 m in length and 15 m in breadth, Jahaz Mahal is located in the royal enclosure on a narrow stretch of land between two water bodies, the Kapur Talav and Munj Talav. Appearing like a floating ship or a love boat, with pavilions on the top and three projecting balconies over the talav, Jahaz Mahal is a double storied structure rising to a height of 9.7 m. The Munj Talav, believed to have been built by Raja Munj of Parmar Dynasty is on the west and the Kapur Talav is on the east.











The interior of Jahaz Mahal can be approached through a recessed arched marble gateway at the middle of the eastern wall. Inside the building, there are three large halls connected by corridors. At the northern end of the ground floor, a couple of steps descend to a large tortoise-shaped swimming pool. The pool is surrounded by a colonnade on three sides, leaving the eastern side open. The total capacity of this pool is approximately 30,000 litres of water.

Travel Tips: 

Mandu is located in Dhar District at a distance of 100 km from Indore, the nearest metropolitan city and the airport. Best time to visit Mandu is however monsoon, when the hills of the Malwa Plateau turn green and its water bodies are full.  A true lover of heritage can spend 2/3 days and explore its water heritage at one’s own pace. Mandu being a popular tourist place there are plenty of stay and food options developed by MP Tourism. From Mandu tourists can also visit Maheswar on Narmada and Dhar, the district headquarter, 30 km away. At your leisure also visit the tribal villages around Mandu to explore their life. 

Also, Read Here: 

Dhar – History in Layers





A flight of steps lead to the upper level from here leading to a lotus shaped water pool. On the southeast corner of the 7 feet deep pool is a spiral aqueduct, which controlled the flow of water while supplying to the pool. This ensured luxurious bathing for the sultan and his harem women similar to a modern Jacuzzi.







The water was collected from a baoli on the southern end of Jahaz Mahal, called Suraj Talav using the traditional water lifting system. Water was first lifted to terrace of Jahaz Mahal and then supplied through a series of aqueducts to the various pleasure pools.

Also, Read Here:

Burhanpur – A Medieval Water Oasis


According to a report published in Down to Earth magazine, the Munj and Kapur Talavs were once interconnected through an arched underground channel that exists even today. As the rainfall was not equally distributed and the terrain was undulating, the water level in the two tanks was not always equal despite the underground balancing system. So a causeway was laid down between the tanks at the water level ensuring equal distribution of water between the two talavs.


Jahaz Mahal incorporates today’s concept of passive solar architecture (designing a building in conjunction with the earth processes around it so that heating and cooling occur naturally), besides the use of rain water harvesting and filtration system.  The complex, in fact was a big spa as it had all elements of luxurious water architecture – fountains, cisterns, baths, hammam, aqueducts, water channels and baolis.

Among the baolis, Champa Baoli draws immediate attention. It had been built as a pleasure pool for the women of zenana by Ghiyath’s architects. Located at the northeastern end of Munj Talav, as a part of a chain of subterranean aquifers, it was also used to supply water within the royal buildings, mainly to the hammam. It owes its name to the sweet water which smells like the fragrant champa flower. There are inner compartments in the lower storey of the well. A subterranean path goes down the well and connects itself with a labyrinth of vaulted rooms, known as Takhana, which are almost level with the water of Munj Talav. Even at the height of summer, the rooms of Takhana were cool and comfortable with gentle breeze flowing from the pavilion.



Beside the Champa Baoli is a large royal hammam built in line with the Turkish baths. There are two separate water channels, one for hot and the other for cold water, which merge into one after some distance and flow into the bath. Today, pair of halls with vaulted ceilings is all that remains of the hammam. Its main facade was built of marble and adorned with panels and medallions of blue and yellow tiles, some of which bear inscriptions in Kufic script. The most impressive feature of this bath is its starry ceiling in which beautiful star like shapes are hewned for light to pass through. The star shaped light would fall on the waters making the hammam look dreamy.

Also, Read Here:

Travel Shot : Community Revival of Taj Baodi – A Success Story


Source: India Water Portal


Source: Wikipedia

To the north of Munj Talav and at the furthest end of the royal enclave is the Jal Mahal. Though most of tourists skip this, it is no doubt one of the most impressive parts of the royal complex where the sultan and his women celebrated the monsoon rains. A narrow passage connects the royal palace to the Jal Mahal. When the monsoons are copious, the Munj Talav is brimming with water presenting a wondrous sight. There is a large water tank in the middle of the courtyard, in which steps are provided to descend to the water level. Jal Mahal was a big favorite of Emperor Jehangir. Tuzuk I Jahangiri mentions: “I know of no other place that is as pleasant in climate and with such attractive scenery as Mandu in the rainy season”. Legends say that both Nur Jahan and Roopmati stayed here.













Ujala Baoli, located on the main road to the northeast of Jahaz Mahal, is one of the finest baolis of the country. It is an open well and therefore called Ujala Baoli. It is a magnificent 3 tired structure, 265 feet deep and surrounded by arched niches. Inside the baoli, are a number of arcades and landing for the convenience of water carriers. At the northern tip is a water lift and opposite it on southern tip is a pavilion for royal guards to keep watch on the water.






Andheri Baoli is a closed well and just a few feet away from Ujala Baoli. It is surrounded by a corridor with a dome in the center of its roof, just above the well. The dome has an aperture at its apex to admit light and air inside. Below, the corridors along the edge of the well is a fine arched gallery approached by a stepped passage from above, which further goes down up to the water level.





The water heritage of Mandu is significant and beyond Ghiyath’s idea of fun and frolic. Mandu is perched upon a rocky spur of the Vindhyan range at an altitude of 634 m. It is separated from the main Malwa Plateau by a deep ravine KakraKoh, which runs on the eastern, northern and southern sides of the Mandu hills. The southern slope of Mandu has a 305 m incline and it merges into the Nimar Plain drained by the Narmada River.





In spite of its picturesque setting that drew medieval powers to establish their capitals, the plateau often faced water crisis. Monsoon was the only source of water in Mandu and it was necessary to store the rain water for the rest of the year. According to a report published by India water portal, Mandu has 120 baolis and 18 lakes but only a few are functional.

While driving from Dhar to Mandu, I came across a small tank/baoli near a ravine. Rectangular in shape with stone alignments, it is one of the many such structures lying decadent on this vast stretch.



Another water harvesting structure is at the Malcolm Kothi near Nalcha Village, an architectural delight that stands in the middle of a rich black soil field overlooking the Satpura Hills. Named after a British agent of Malwa who lived here in the 19th century, Malcolm Kothi,  was built much earlier in the 16th century by the Malwa Sultan, Nadirshah Khalji, outside the bustle of his capital Mandu as a pleasure retreat. It was later used as a rest house by Mughal Emperors Akbar and Jahangir during their Malwa campaigns.



Built in east-west direction, the building is a fine example of Malwa architecture, a fusion of Rajput and Afghan styles. It has an attached tank and a baoli. The outer domes were once lavishly decorated with Persian blue tiles, of which only patches remain.

Most of the Mandu’s monuments are built alongside kunds (ponds), some bearing Hindu names. For example, Somvati Kund located within Darya Khan’s Tomb Complex on the main road to Rani Roopmati Palace. The tank is of rectangular shape with steps closely resembling a Hindu temple tank. Darya Khan was a minister in the court of Mahmud Khalji II.




Near the Sagar Talav, the largest water body in Mandu, lies the massive domed structure of Adhar. It too faces a water body.

While walking from the Hoshang Shah Tomb to Jahaz Mahal, there is another baoli on the road side. It seems to be part of the Jama Masjid – Hoshang Shah Tomb Complex.

The last but not the least is the Rewa Kund at the southern end of Mandu plateau. The lake, which forms the main supply of water for Mandu revolves around the timeless romance between Rani Roopmati and Baz Bhadur. The Narmada flows in the valley below at a distance of 40 km. However, it is believed that the lake is connected to the river. The lake was built before the Sultanate rule and bears a Hindu name. Pilgrims on the Narmada Parikrama make a detour to this historic water body of Mandu.


Source: India Water Portal

Author – Jitu Mishra

He can be contacted at

Dhar – History in Layers

Chandragupta Vikramaditya, the king of Ujjain, was well-known for his bravery, intelligence and his keen sense of judgement. One day, Indra, the king of Gods arranged a dance competition between two of his favourite apsaras, Urvashi and Rambha and invited Vikramaditya to judge the event.

Vikramaditya gave a bunch of flowers each to both Urvashi and Rambha to hold with the condition – the flowers must remain erect while dancing. He quietly slipped a scorpion in each of the flower bunches. When the apsaras started dancing, the scorpions stung them viciously. Rambha threw away the flowers and stopped dancing. However, Urvashi danced so well that the scorpion did not harm her and instead went into a deep slumber in the bouquet. Urvashi thus emerged as a winner of the competition.

Indra was impressed with Vikramaditya’s judgement prowess and as a token of appreciation gifted him a golden throne with 32 talking statues. These statues were none other than the cursed apsaras who got redemption on serving Vikramaditya.

Centuries later, a group of children while playing got into a dispute. They decided to select a judge among them to solve the dispute. One of the boys sat on a small mound and solved the dispute in a jiffy. In due course of time, the boy from Ujjain became famous for resolving disputes between various parties and his reputation grew until it reached the ears of Raja Bhoja.

Raja Bhoja’s interest was suitably piqued when he was told that the boy would sit on a particular mound before pronouncing his judgement. He promptly sent his men to dig up the suspected mound and discovered a throne; the same golden throne that Indra gifted Vikramaditya.

When King Bhoja sat on the throne, one of the apsaras came to life and told him that by simply sitting on the throne he will not become a great king. She then proceeded to tell him a story explaining about a quality that the king lacked and flew away. This continued, one after another, the apsaras told stories highlighting the importance of a particular quality that a king should possess and flew away. Bhoja at last realized that to be a great king he needs to practice certain qualities like selflessness, honesty and lack of favouritism among others.

Raja Bhoja ruled from Dhara Nagari, the present day Dhar in the Malwa Plateau of Madhya Pradesh. He was a Parmar King.  Parmars, also known as Ponwars or Puars were a Rajput clan who hailed from the Abu region on Rajasthan – Gujarat border. They entered Malwa in the 9th century CE and ruled till 1310 CE. Their former capital was Avanti, present day Ujjain.


The region around Dhar in the Malwa Plateau, Central India

Vairasinha (914 – 941 CE), the Parmar king, shifted his capital from Avanti to Dhar after its conquest by the sharp edge of a sword (dhara). The next prominent Parmar ruler was Munja Raja who ruled from 973 CE. He was not only a mighty warrior, but also a great poet. According to Merutuga, the court writer, when all accomplished Munja died, Saraswati, the patron goddess of learning was left destitute. His successor was the legendary King Bhoja I (1010 -1055 CE), Munja’s nephew.

Raja Bhoja was a great patron of art and literature along with being a celebrated warrior. Historical evidences suggest that his kingdom extended from Chittor in the north to Upper Konkan in the south and Sabarmati River in the west to Vidisha in the east. During Bhoja’s rule, Dhar became a prime centre of intellectual learning in India. He paid great attention to education of his people and established Bhojashala, a centre for Sanskrit studies and a temple of Saraswati.

During his reign of 40 years he cultivated an art of maintaining peace in spite of constant turmoil going around him. According to a temple inscription at Udepur, near Vidisha ‘He accomplished, ordered, gave and knew what was not in the power of anybody else; whatever praise can be given to the illustrious Bhoja, the poet king’. After Bhoja’s death, misfortune fell on Parmars and led to the decline of the dynasty.

In 1235 CE, Delhi Sultan Iltutmish seized Ujjain and sacked Bhilsa, two prominent Parmar strongholds. In 1300 CE, Ala – Ud – Din Khilji is said to have subdued Dhar, while his minister Malik Kafur halted here in the same year. Dhar was again captured by Muhammad Tughluk in 1344 CE. In 1398-99 CE, the whole of North India was swept by Timur thus weakening central control. Taking advantage of the situation, Dilawar Khan Ghori, the then Governor of Malwa declared independence starting the Malwa Sultanate. Dilawar Khan died in 1405 CE and was succeeded by his son Hoshang Shah, who shifted the capital from Dhar to Mandu.  Baz Bahadur was the last sultan of Mandu. In the beginning of the 17th century, Malwa was captured by Akbar under whom Dhar was the chief town of a mahal in Mandu Sarkar of the subah of Malwa. Akbar stayed at Dhar for seven days, while directing the invasion of Deccan. Dhar was established as a Maratha bastion in 1729 CE under Uday Rao I Puar. Multhan was first capital of Puars and it was transferred to Dhar in 1732 CE. It continued to be a Puar strong hold till independence.

Parmar Monuments in Dhar

Munj Sagar, the largest water body in Dhar is attributed to Raja Munj. According to Wikipedia entry, there are traces of earthen ramparts on the bank of the talav built during the Parmar reign. The city was circular in plan and surrounded by tanks and moats. Its layout was similar to the fort of Warangal in Deccan. However, during my visit I did not see any remains of earthen ramparts.


A Parmer Period Sculpture of Goddess Saraswati – Courtesy: British Museum


Munj Sagar, the largest waterbody in Dhar

Bhoja Shala, the iconic monument of Dhar, was built by Raja Bhoja, which was later converted into a mosque by Dilawar Khan in 1392 CE, the founder of Malwa Sultanate. The columns used in the mosque are made out of recycled temple columns. In 1903, an inscription in Sanskrit was discovered by K. K. Lele, then Superintendent of Education of Princely State of Dhar. The text included part of a drama called Vijayasrinatika composed by Madana, the king’s preceptor who also bore the title Balasaraswati.


Bhoj Shala – The Earliest Parmar Monument Picture Courtesy: Parag Bhonsle

Bhoja Shala was a great centre of learning and housed a temple of Goddess Saraswati. Beside Bhoja Shala is a spacious enclosure containing four tombs, the most notable being that of Shaikh Kamal Maulvi or Kamal – al – Din. He was a follower of Hazrat Nizamuddin Auliya.

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Tombs of Shaikh Kamal Maulvi or Kamal – al – Din

The pillar mosque or the Lat Masjid is yet another monument built by Dilawar Khan using the recycled pillars of Hindu temples. The mosque is named after three fragments of an iron pillar, called Lat in Hindi.


Lat or Pillar Mosque

A report published in the Journal of Asiatic Society in 1898 mentions: ‘close to the masjid is lying, in a sloping position against the terraces, a fragment of an iron column, or lat, a square of 10 inches on each side, and 24 feet long, with a Persian inscription of Akbar Shah, dated A.H. 1100, incised on its longer length; a second piece, similar and original belonging to it, is standing opposite the Jami Masjid at Mandugarh, being an octagon, 2 ft. 8 inch in circumference, with 10 inches of a circular end (showing another piece is missing), and 12 feet long. A third piece, a square 10 inches, with a bell capital, 6 feet high, is standing in the garden of the Maharaja’s guesthouse at Dhar. The total height of this remarkable column would be 42 ft. 8 inch less than the lat near the Qutub Masjid at Dhar… so far as can be judged from a description so deficient in details and unaccompanied by any illustration, the pillar at Dhar must, like the similar monument near Delhi, date from the Gupta Period’.


The Iron Pillar of Dhar

The iron pillars of Dhar displays the height of metallurgical skill in Ancient India. The mosque otherwise shows a fusion of local and Afghan architecture. While its colonnades have pillars showing Hindu and Jain carvings, its mihrabs and minbar reflect Afghan influence.

Dhar Fort

Dhar Fort, now in ruins, stands on a low hill to the north of the town of Dhar. It was constructed by Muhammad Bin Tughluq in 1344 CE over an earlier fort built by the Parmars. It is made of red sandstone and surrounded by ramparts with 26 bastions.

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Dhar Fort

A major draw of this fort is a large baoli, partly rock-cut, partly structural. The baoli, 30 feet deep was hewn in the 15th century. The fort also has significant remains of buildings of Malwa Sultanate, Mughal, Puars and British.


The Large Baoli inside Dhar Fort

Architecturally speaking, the most significant structure is the Kharbuja Mahal built in the Mughal Rajput style. It was here that Jahangir and Dara Shikoh, the eldest son of Shah Jahan took shelter. The palace got its name due to its musk melon shaped dome. Puars captured it in 1732 CE. During the Maratha struggle, Anandi Bai took shelter in this palace and gave birth to Peshwa Bajirao II. Later, Dhar Fort played a prominent role during the 1857 revolt.

Royal Chhatris 

A little known aspect of Dhar heritage is its chhatris, cenotaphs of the erstwhile Puar rulers. Located in Chhatri Bagh, a walled garden enclosure, these structures show excellent fusion of Mughal-Rajput and Maratha architectural styles. Most of the structures stand on plinths and are crowned with elaborate domes.


Royal Chhatris of Dhar

Water Structures

Dhar is a city of waterbodies. It has 12 and half talaos (reservoirs) and 35 baolis. Among the talaos, the largest and also the oldest is the Munj Talao. Covering an area of 50 acres, it was constructed by Raja Munja in the 10th century for the storage of drinking water. Devi Sagar is the second largest lake in Dhar. It was probably built during the time of Parmars. Kal Bhairav or Nat Nagara Lake is yet another large waterbody of Dhar.


The Munjsagar Talao of Dhar

Among the baolis, the most impressive is the recently discovered Munim Ji ki Baoli located near the fort. Based on its architectural style, it is believed to have been built in the 17th-18th centuries CE. The baoli is 3 stories deep and contains beautiful Mughal-Rajput arches.


Munimji ki Baoli – Dhar’s Most Impressive Stepwell

Jhirnia Baoli is located near the mandi. It is square in shape. One can reach almost up to the water table by descending a series of steps. The baoli was built in the late 19th century.


Jhirnia Baoli

Malusia Baoli is not exactly a step-well but a small tank attached to a temple. It is square in shape. Besides, these, there are a number of other small baolies scattered throughout the city.


Lesser Known Step-wells of Dhar

Though presently Dhar remains under the shadow of Mandu, where tourists throng throughout the year owing to its scenic location and larger number of monuments, Dhar is definitely more ancient and historically more diverse. For, in Dhar, one can witness the wonderful fusion of ideas from literature, music, art and architecture spanning at least a thousand years.  

Author – Jitu Mishra

He can be contacted at

Burhanpur – A Medieval Water Oasis

How did India manage its water resources in the medieval times is a question that has haunted me for quite some time now.  The quest to answer this question began a couple of years ago when I went to Bidar, the Bahamani capital in northeast Karnataka where thanks to Mr. Valliyil Govindakutty, an expert on medieval water management, I got a chance to explore the Karez system, a subterranean water channel that works using the gravitational force. Karez system was first introduced to Bidar from Iran but was mastered in Burhanpur during the Mughal Era. So, obviously the next destination in my quest was Burhanpur.

Burhanpur, located in the heart of India in Madhya Pradesh was widely known as the cultural capital of the Mughals. Established by the Farouqis in 1388 CE, the city reached its zenith in the 16th and 17th centuries CE. Burhanpur’s strategic location in the pass of Satpura Hills and on the bank of Tapi River established it as the ‘Gateway to Deccan’ or ‘Baab E Dakkhan’ in the Mughal Era. The city was named by Malik Nasir Khan of Farouqi Dynasty as Burhanpur after the Sufi Saint Burhan – Ud – Din Gharib (a disciple of Hazrat Nizamuddin Aulia).

Also, Read Here:

Karez System of Bidar – A Persian Oasis in Deccan


Burhanpur City in-between Satpura Mountains and Tapi River


Ghats at The River Tapi built by Ahaliya Bai Holkar


River Tapi flowing beside the Burhanpur Fort

In 1601 CE, Akbar conquered Khandesh and made Burhanpur the capital of Khandesh Suba. After capturing Asirgarh Fort, the key to Burhanpur, he appointed his son Daniyal as the Governor of Khandesh. Later, during the time of Jahangir, Prince Khurram (known as Shah Jahan) took the charge of Burhanpur in 1617 CE. A stone inscription at the summit of Asirgarh Fort records the revolt of Khurram against his father Jahangir in 1622 CE. After a tough fight against the Mughal army, Shah Jahan had to surrender and sign a peace treaty with his father. After the death of Jahangir in 1627 CE, the political condition became favourable for Shah Jahan and he was crowned the next Mughal Emperor. But trouble was brewing in Deccan so Shah Jahan made Burhanpur his base for two years (1630 – 1632 CE), conducting operations against Bijapur, Ahmednagar, and Golkonda.

With the conquest of Burhanpur, the Baab – E – Dakkhan became an established garrison town with an approximate population of around 200,000 army personnel and 50,000 civilians. Though Burhanpur was situated on the banks of River Tapi and Utavali, there was a constant fear of poisoning by enemy forces. The constant supply of safe drinking water became a matter of serious concern for Abdul Rahim Khana – E – Khanan, the governor of Burhanpur. Add to this, Burhanpur is situated in a geological fault zone (Bajada Fault), parallel to River Tapi and adjoining the valley of Satpura Hills.

Khana – E – Khanan decided that developing the qanat system (a labyrinth of underground water tunnels) was the best solution to the problem he faced. For this, he invited Tubkutul Arj, a Persian geologist in 1615 CE. Arj tapped water flowing in streams from Satpura Hills to Tapi, through a network of 103 circular inter-connected wells, known as bhandaras with an underground brick and stone tunnel that was 3.9 kms long. He galvanized the unique geological opportunity presented by the fault that sloped towards east to River Tapi and developed the Qanat System.

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Khuni Bhandara














Thanks to the permission given by Mr Dipak Singh, Burhanpur District Collector with the coordination of Mr Malviya, my guide and local expert, I could get down the 25 m deep tunnel and walked inside for almost 50 m. The tunnel is however closed for tourists otherwise. Walking inside the Kundi Bhandara, or Khooni Bhandara (named so because of the reddish water) was a dream come true for me. The water was clean and cool. Its PH value is 7.2, much higher than that of water purified using modern technology. The walls had bricks, covered with calcium deposits.

Also, Read Here:

Bijapur Water Heritage – An Oasis in Parched Deccan

Kundi Bhandara works on the law of gravitational force. At the source, the water is at 30 m deep which gradually heightens to 2 m in the last bhandara. This means the water flows upwards following the laws of gravitation. The diameter of the kundis varies between 0.75 m to 1.75 m.

Kundi Bhandara is just one part of a broader network of water management, others being the Sook Bhandara, Trikuti Bhandara, Mool Bhandara, and Chinaharana Bhandara. The water channelized through these networks of bhandaras is collected in sump wells, known as Karanj. From Karanj, the water was distributed through earthen pipes to sarais, hamams, gardens, mosques and residential areas of the city.

Travel Tips:

Burhanpur is a medium-sized city located in Khandesh Region of Madhya Pradesh, close to Maharashtra border. The city is surrounded by Tapi River and its fertile valleys, besides the hills of Satpura Range. The city and its surroundings have been under human occupations from the time Prehistory.  However, it was during Rashrakutas (8th-10th centuries CE), Burhanpur became an established centre of trade and commerce. In 1388 CE, Malik Nasir Khan, the Faruqi Sultan of Khandesh, established it as his capital and renamed it after a well-known medieval Sufi saint, Burhan-ud-Din. In 1601 CE, Akbar annexed the Khandesh sultanate and Burhanpur became the capital of Khandesh subah of Mughal Empire.  While at Burhanpur, also visit Asirgarh Fort. This fort during its prime time was difficult to win because of being built at a great height, with strong outer walls which are still standing intact.

Burhanpur is well connected by road and rail services with all major cities of India. The nearest airport is Devi Ahayala Holkar International Airport at Indore, 3 hours drive. 

Jahangir Hamam, a public bath system located in the heart of the walled city of Burhanpur, built during the time of Jahangir received water from Kundi Bhandara. The hamam has three rooms and an octagonal platform in the center of the biggest room.  Special provision in the form of open roof tops was made for ventilation and light.







On the other side of Tapi lies Zainabad, the pleasure retreat of the Mughals. It is believed that the Farouqis first settled at Zainabad as remains of some of the earliest mosques testify. However, its affair with the Mughals began with Akbar’s son Daniyal who was the Subedar of the new province. Daniyal loved going for hunts often. He built the Ahukhana or deer park at Zainabad, where besides him Noor Jahan and other Mughal royalty practised their hunting skills. A palace was constructed here during the time of Jahangir, which is said to have been designed by Noor Jahan’s brother.

Also, Read Here:

Mandu’s Water Heritage – An Epicurean Delight


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Mumtaz, Shah Jahan’s beloved wife was so fascinated with this palace that she transformed it from hunting ground to a rose garden. Its design had no parallel in Central India and had the distinction of being the second most beautiful garden in the country after the Nishat Garden in Kashmir.











The water fountains and channels at Ahukhana were fed by the water received from the dam near the Gul Ara Mahal, another pleasure palace built by Shah Jahan on river Utavali. Gul Ara Mahal is deeply linked with the love story of Shah Jahan and Gul Ara. Gul was an extremely talented and divinely beautiful singer – danseuse. During his youth, Prince Khurram visited Burhanpur often with his father Jahangir. On one such trip, while on a leisurely long walk, he was drawn to a melodious voice. He spotted a young woman singing and dancing by the river Utavali.  It was love at first sight and both of them romanced on the banks of Utavali. Shah Jahan built a dam and two identical mahals opposite each other across the dam and named it Gul Aara Mahal in her honour.







The rooftop presents a panoramic view of the waterworks and the charming countryside around. Though now in ruins, one can imagine Shah Jahan and Gul Ara gazing at the waterfall and losing themselves in its melody. The untimely death of Gul Ara marked the ending of their love story. But the palace and the rhythmic sound of water still echo tales of their romance. The palace is about 21 km from Burhanpur.

Today, the Kundi Bhandara has been partly restored by the Burhanpur Municipal Corporation and the district administration  to supply clean and adequate drinking water to the city throughout the year. It has been made possible due to the vision of Mr. Praveen Garg, the former district collector of Khandwa District (Burhanpur was part of Khandwa District at that time) in early 2000. Today the medieval water wonder of Burhanpur quench thirst of nearly 50,000 people (one fourth of Burhanpur’s population).




However, it is a pity that the once opulent and richly decorated water pavilion at Ahukhana and Gul Ara Mahal are now sad crumbling ruins. These structures are in a state of utter neglect. But there is hope as I discovered during my hour long discussion with Mr. Hoshang Havaldar, an hotelier and local convener of INTACH, who is very keen and optimistic about the revival of Burhanpur’s water heritage. We, at Virasat E Hind Foundation, are eager to see it happening. Till then fingers crossed.



Author – Jitu Mishra

He can be contacted at