HARKING BACK: When heavens open up, Walled City remains dry

By Majid Sheikh

Dawn, Sep 2, 2014


As the heavens opened up like it seldom does, it is amazing how even the heaviest downpour does not affect the old Walled City like the rest of Lahore. In this lies a lesson.

There is a reason why this happens. Our bureaucrats, irrespective of their ‘grades’ and their masters, no matter what their hue, refuse to learn the simple fact that the city does not possess a water disposal system worth the name. We know that below London and Paris exists a massive complex web of a drainage system through which even a truck can pass. In the city of Paris, one portion of the 150-year old drain has become a tourist attraction. Why then Lahore, which in Mughal times had a system marvelled in many travellers’ accounts, is growing from bad to worse.

Let us peek at how the old Walled City of Lahore coped with the massive downpour that hit the city on Friday and Saturday. Imagine standing at “Paniwallah Talaab’ in Choona Mandi. This is the highest point of the six major mounds that make up the old Walled City. Bazaars and lanes flow from here. As the rain came down in waves, the water simply rolled off the curved roads and entered the ‘nullahs’ on both sides. The water begins a long journey through different ‘mohallahs’ and ‘chowks’ to end up outside the city walls. Let us follow one route.

The incline begins at Panniwallah Talaab, a British addition inaugurated by Lord Aitchison, and as you walk towards Chowk Surjan Singh, you notice water flowing in from side ‘galis’ at a ferocious pace. In the city, water never stands; it flows to a lower incline. At the crossing, the drain widens a wee bit as it curves towards Hatta bazaar and then the drains head towards Kinari Bazaar. Here the water is met from still more water flowing in from Suha Bazaar and Gumti Bazaar.

Here we can see a fast flow of a lot of water as it enters Rang Mahal at the head of Shahalam Bazaar. On both sides the water is now racing, the eastern one with water from the higher grounds of Mochi, where there is a two-way split, with the eastern split taking the water eastwards. This is an amazing hydraulic model at work, working entirely on the simple principle of gravity. At no point in the Walled City of Lahore does water gather or collect. It immediately ends up in the side drain, flows to a lower elevation and heads, through a very complex web of drains to larger drains, and ultimately ends up outside the city walls. With an hour of even the heaviest downpour, the old city is dry again.

The problems now start. In the old days, at least until the British arrived, the River Ravi curled around the city, entering from the north near Roshnai Gate heading eastwards and curling around all the way and leaving just opposite Bhati gate to the south. Here the river flowed and moved westwards near the Central Model School, past Rattigan Road, all along the veterinary hospital, and towards the river to the west. This was called ‘Outfall Road’, which went past ‘Purana Sanda Road’. Then the river changed course, leaving what is today known as the ‘Buddha Ravi’. The British made the Outfall watercourse to see the water end in a filtration plant, which meant that clean water ended up in the river with the assistance of a pumping station. Initially it was a steam-driven pump, much like the ones that pumped water from wells to the Paniwallah Talaab. That is the way we saw it in our youth.

Come modernisation and concrete structures came in. The Outfall Road was covered, the steam pumps replaced with electric pumps, and the filtration plant, they claim, was upgraded. On Saturday outside Bhati Gate a massive lake formed, and form it did because the water was not flowing onwards. The modern system is inadequate, let alone the horrible plastic bag factor. Inside the Walled City, the water flowed the way it has for centuries. That system works to utter perfection. Once outside the walls and the mess starts.

What has gone wrong? All it takes is for some scientist, preferably a non-official one, to walk from Roshnai Gate to Bhati Gate from the eastern side of the city. It is a long walk, but it is there for all to see how our traders have eaten up the ‘outer moat’ as the British called it. Shops abound by the thousands all around, in one massive illegality that seems almost impossible for any political government to correct.

At Bhati where the ‘badraon’ starts, the level of maintenance is almost zero. Choked gutters and junction points add to the misery. Surely, there is a need to learn the lessons that can be seen inside the old Walled City. It seems the lessons of gravity have been forgotten.

Published in Dawn, September 7th, 2014




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