The Subedar or Governor of Burhanpur Abdul Rahim Khankhana commissioned a Persian geologist Tabukul Arj to devise a system that would be able to harvest the rain water falling on the Satpura ranges and bring them by gravity to the town in 1615. A very ingenious plan was drawn up wherein a few large tanks named Mool Bhandara or main water store and Chintaharan Bhandara or tension free water store and Sookha Bhandara or dry water store were constructed to harvest the rain water and recharge it into the ground. Finally a 3.5 km long tunnel about thirty feet below the ground level, lined with marble, was constructed just uphill of the town into which the water from the three other Bhandaras seeped in through the ground as shown below.
As the needs of Burhanpur grew in the twentieth century alternative mechanised water supply was implemented from the Utavali river leading to neglect of this gravity based system and it finally became defunct in 1977 due to clogging with sediment.
Then in 2001 the Burhanpur municipal corporation sought to revive the Khooni Bhandara and with funds collected from the local citizens and grant support from the Government the tunnel was cleaned and some of the wells that had collapsed were repaired. Water began seeping in again and currently about 0.15 million litres of water per day flows out of the tunnel. The lower flow of water is also due to the higher withdrawal of groundwater in the catchment through pumps. A lift has been installed in the third well which allows visitors to go down and see the tunnel which is how the photo above was taken.
What struck me most was the ingenuity of the Mughals in devising a system that first tapped the rain water by harvesting it and then used an underground tunnel to extract it and take it by gravity to the town. This was a necessity at the time because there were no mechanised pumps to do lift water from the underground aquifer at that time. This tunnel was dug by human labour obviously as there were no machines then and this adds to the uniqueness of the system. Even though the Burhanpur municipality finally had the sense to revive this historic system it has not had the further sense to replicate it in other areas around Burhanpur to make it completely independent of mechanised systems. Water harvesting is the most sustainable means of water supply. The municipality has beautified the area around the third well where visitors can pay a fee and descend into the well in the lift and also applied for world heritage status for the Khooni Bhandara. However, instead of just reviving it as a heritage which is no doubt laudable, the municipality would have set an even better example by replicating this fantastic sustainable water system devised by the Mughals for the whole water supply.