OORU-NEERU: The Water Walk

Sunday July 6, 2008

Bangalore City Project is happy to announce the fourth in its series of Urban Space Events. We have explored Gavipuram, Whitefield and the Old City areas and now invite you to venture a little further afield with us to Hessarghatta, 24 km away from Bangalore. Discover and learn about the water reservoir, volute siphon and brick aqueduct.

Built around 1532 on the Arkavathy River, the Hessarghatta Reservoir was reconstructed in 1894 to become the major water supplier to the city of Bangalore. For the first time the city had reached out for water beyond its tanks (Dharmambudhi, Sampangi, Ulsoor, Sankey) and wells, to a river. A brick aqueduct brought water to a distance and then steam pumps were used to pump it up to Chimney Hills from where the water flowed by gravity to the Jewel Filters at Hebbal. Dewan Sheshadri Iyer played a key role in the development of the Hessarghatta water supply scheme.

Prof. D.K. Subramanian in his seminal essay ‘Bangalore City’s Water Supply – A Study and Analysis’ (1984) mentions that the Chamarajendra Water Works (as the Hesarghatta water [project was known) was meant to deliver 55 litres of water per person per day to a population of 250,000. The filtered water supply started on August 7, 1896.

Till the commissioning of the Thippagondanahalli reservoir in 1932-33, Hessarghatta remained the largest supplier of filtered water to the city. The Hessarghatta reservoir was last filled in 1994 and has gradually been given up as a reliable source of water for the city. A deterioration in catchment characteristics is probably the cause for the reservoir drying up.

The OORU-NEERU Water Walk will look at the reservoir and its current state. A siphon provided as an overflow mechanism, another unique structure worth a closer look, remnants of a brick aqueduct and a small temple on the bund are some of the other facets that will be looked upon during this walk.

The Hessarghatta Urban Space Event is being organised for the Bangalore City Project by S. Vishwanath, (www.rainwaterclub.org and www.arghyam.org) who writes extensively on water issues.

To participate in OORU-NEERU, please call Sandhya at 080-2364 4690 or send an e-mail to rainwaterclub[at]gmail.com. A bus will be organised to take participants to Hessarghatta from Queen’s Statue, Cubbon Park. There are only 35 seats which will be filled on a first-come, first-served basis. Please bring drinking water and some snacks, if required. The walk will be about 3 km in distance and will take about 2.5 hours. Participants who wish to come in their own private transport should reach Hessarghatta reservoir by 10.30 a.m. and wait for the group near the temple on the bund of the reservoir.


09:00 am Bus Pick-up Point: Queen's Statue, M G Road
10:30 am Walk Starting Point: Durgamba Temple, Hesarghatta Lake
03:00 pm Drop-off Point: Queen's Statue, M G Road
NOTE: We are punctual, so please be on time if you don't want to be left behind!


Click here to go to our Photo Gallery and see more photos of this event

Chamaraja Wodeyar by Kalpa Gopal Sump Water Levels Gauge by A V Gopal Water Tower by Mahesh Shantaram
Bards Singing by Diana Strangfeld Aquaduct by Diana Strangfeld Pump House Windows by Diana Strangefeld
Walk Organisers by Sean Blagsvedt Board at the Reservoir by Sean Blagsvedt Inside the Pump House by Sean Blagsvedt
Water Siphon by Vijay Water Funnel by Vijay Water Level Tank at Pump House


Blog entry by Anush Shetty >>
Citizen Matters on The Water Walk
India Today Reports on the Water Walk

Thanks a million …….. - thoroughly enjoyed Sunday!
Debbie Rodgers

Hello Viswanathan/Avinash/Sandya, First, I would like to Thank you for the initiative in arranging this Water walk. The initiative to bring the singers in concern to bring Environmental awareness is highly appreciated. Wholeheartedly I wish all the future programs a great success and I'm wish to be a part it. Thanks once again.

Thoroughly enjoyed the walk on Sunday.


Hessarghatta – once upon a water lifeline for Bangalore


“Those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it” - George Santayana

The Hessarghatta walk is part of the Bangalore City Projects initiative. This is the fourth walk being organized as part of the
Urban Space Events >>

The first event took a look at the Gavi Gangadhareshwara temple, and the Kempegowda tower and other interesting spaces around that area. The second event explored Whitefield from a planning and architectural perspective but also from a peoples perspective. The third walk was title Kote-Pete (Fort – market) and looked at the old part of Bangalore market, the fort and Tippu’s palace amongst other.

This is the fourth walk and is called ‘Ooru-Neeru’ and looks at the relationship of a city to its waters:
Starting from the Victoria statue near Cubbon Park our first stop will be at Soldevanahalli. Here filtered water from Hessarghatta was pumped into the city of Bangalore using steam pumps initially and later electric pumps. The reservoir and old pumps remain. The building dated 1896 has maps showing where the water was received and to where it was pumped. A chart showing the water level of the Hessarghatta reservoir till 2000 is also displayed. A rain gauge has been setup here to measure the rainfall at this place.

Our next stop will be Turubanahalli where we will see the remnants of the brick aqueduct. Built of stone, brick and lime the ‘channel’ as it is called by locals is a marvelous structure and displays a technology dating back to the Romans. The aqueduct was the most well known form of transporting water and remnants of Roman aqueducts are still found in France and Spain.
Our final stop will be in the Hessarghatta reservoir itself here we will see a volute siphon designed to take away the waters when the reservoir was full. The sound it made was like a man screaming according to the locals and it could be heard 10 kilometres away according to others. We will walk across the bund and those adventurous can drop down to the Adike Thota – a betel farm to see dry wells just below the Hessarghatta reservoir. The walk will end with a glimpse of certain strange birds alien to the terrain kept in captivity and reared for their eggs and flesh. The world is globalized.

Detailed Map of Hessarghatta M.G Road to Hesarghatta Lake
hassMap.jpg HessMap2

Time schedules in India displaying a sense of optimism of the organizers go like this:

9 a.m. Departure from Queens Statue
10.15 a.m. – 10.45 a.m. Soldevanahalli
10.50 a.m. – 11.05 a.m. Turbanahalli
11.30 a.m. – 01.00. p.m Hessarghatta reservoir
2.30 p.m Back at Queens statue

Hopefully you are carrying some water to drink and something to eat. The drinking and eating can be done anywhere but preferably at Hesserghatta reservoir.

We are not charging for the walk but it costs us Rs 125/- per person for the transportation. If you would like to pitch in and contribute we would welcome your gesture.

We have 100 people registered and these are very, very interesting individuals from all walks of life. Enjoy their company. It is free.

Some of the places are a bit dangerous and great care is needed while observing. Please be careful when you walk and do leave the risk taking for another time.

Located to the west of the city at a distance of about 24 kilometres the picturesque location of Hessarghatta is home to one of the first water supply schemes for cities in India located outside of itself. It is more correct to refer to the Hesserghatta reservoir as a ‘once upon a time’ water lifeline for Bangalore rather than a current lifeline. The Bangalore Water Supply and Sewerage Board (BWSSB) have given it up as a reliable source since it no longer reliably fills up. Looking at the history of the reservoir and the water supply scheme for the city will provide some insights as to how urban water requirements are catered to, how city growth renders projects irrelevant and how a city chases water. With the impacts of global warming and climate change looming, the Hessarghatta story has some lessons for Bangalore and perhaps for urban India.

History: A bund was probably built in 1532 on the Arkavathy River (originating in the Nandi Hills and visible from the reservoir bund) creating the Hessarghatta tank. This served as an irrigation tank for centuries. It was comprehensively redone- deepened and extended- in 1894 to become a store for the water needed by the city of Bangalore. For the first time the city had reached out for water beyond itself and its tanks- Dharmambudhi, Sampangi, Ulsoor, Sankey- and local wells to what was seen as a more reliable source - a river. A brick aqueduct brought water to a distance to Turabanahalli – where the water was filtered and chlorinated- it then flowed to Soladevanahalli reservoir from where steam pumps were used to pump it up to Chimney Hills. From here the water flowed by gravity to the Jewel Filters at Malleswaram and was then distributed to the entire city.
The then Dewan K. Sheshadri Iyer and the then Chief Engineer of Mysore M.C.Hutchins played a key role, in the development of the Hessarghatta water supply scheme which came to be called the Chamarajendra water works. It is difficult to believe while seeing the dry reservoir- that Hessarghatta on the Arkavathy was chosen as a source for reasons of long-term availability and purity.

Prof D.K.Subramanian in his seminal essay ‘Bangalore City’s water supply – A study’ and analysis mentions that the Chamarajendra water works was meant to deliver 55 litres of water per person per day to a population of 250,000 and the filtered water supply started on 7th August 1896.

Till the commissioning of the Thippagondanahalli reservoir in 1932-33 Hessarghatta remained the largest supplier of filtered water to the city. The reservoir last filled up in 1994 and year on year collects less and less water and therefore has gradually been given up as a reliable source of water for the city.

Ecological services: The monsoon too failed in 1924 and 1925 and the 1926 monsoon arrived late leaving the Hessarghatta reservoir almost dry and causing a shortage of water in the city. Prof D.K.Subramanian reports that by October 1925 tanks upstream were started to be breached and drained to fill up Hessarghatta and provide relief to Bangalore city. Starting with Dodda Tumkur tank followed by Kolathur and Madure tanks were breached to bring some water to Hessarghatta. Perhaps for the first time in a sort of payment for Ecological Services the city compensated the farmers of the 3 breached tanks for the loss of water and irrigation due to the breaching to fill Hessarghatta reservoir.

Lessons from the past: A reservoir with a catchment area of 474 square Kilometers and with 184 tanks in its upper catchment and supplying 36 million litres per day of water becoming virtually redundant indicates the necessity for managing the catchment appropriately and ensuring good practices for free flow of water. Bangalore simply moved from Hessarghatta to Thippagondanahalli and from there to Torekadinahalli for Cauvery water.
The head to which water was to be pumped was 131 metres for Hessarghatta from the Cauvery the head is the equivalent of 500 metres.
The brick aqueduct and volute siphon are amazing water heritage structures fit to be preserved and displayed. It reveals the skills of our water engineers in being able to design and build beautiful water. They now lie derelict. We need to revive and proudly display them as learning for our future generations.

We need to understand the changes in the catchment of the Arkavathy and look at reviving the river and regenerating flows. The Hessarghatta reservoir has the capacity to supplement Bangalore water requirements at a far cheaper cost than any other. It makes ecological and economic sense to look at its revival.

“We must welcome the future, remembering that soon it will be the past; and we must respect the past, remembering that it was once all that was humanly possible”
- George Santayana

Written by: S. Vishwanath
www.rainwterclub.org | www.arghyam.org

Hessarghatta reservoir on the river Arkavathy at a distance of about 24 kilometres was the main source of water for Bangalore from 1896 to 1935. Providing 35 million litres of water per day at its maximum potential it had certain remarkable engineering initiatives such as a volute/saddle siphon to drain away excess water when full, a brick aqueduct to draw water to an intermediate pumping station, steam pumps to pump the water to the city. It also is a cultural and historical water legacy for the city representing the skills of our water systems designers in their effort to meet the water requirement of an ever expanding and ever thirsty city.

Over time the reservoir rarely fills up, the river Arkavathy is mostly dry and Hessarghatta is abandoned as a reliable source of water to the city. Parts of the infrastructure have been handed over to the military establishment, the aqueduct is in ruins and only parts of it remain and a legacy is forgotten.

Some learning’s that have emerged from the walk as it came from the participants included
- the need to preserve and possibly convert some of the structures like the volute siphon, aqueduct and the pump house as a water museum to spread water literacy especially amongst students and also to showcase the works of the designers of the system as a vibrant cultural past

- the need to bring to the discussion table of urbanites their impact on ecological resources surrounding the city

- the need to look at ecological restoration of water bodies including rivers both from a functional environmental perspective but also from a historical, cultural and spiritual perspective. Rivers being much more than simply flowing water or a drainage channel

- the need to look for sustainability and catchment management in an institutional framework given that currently there is no institution responsible for managing rivers or for being responsible and accountable for it.

On the logistics side managing 3 buses was a bit difficult and obviously a key lesson is to let the locl Police Station know well in advance about the trip. The no shows were a problem and a way has to be found around this.

There are ongoing discussions with the BWSSB for the museum and this may fructify. Press coverage was reasonably good and a lot of blogs featured Ooru-Neeru. India Today did a very good story in its Simply Bangalore edition.


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