Mussoorie Water History

by Surbhi Agarwal


Water is the most basic necessity of us humans. Many Civilizations have risen and vanished due to the changes in the water geography.  The present Landour and Mussoorie, the twin towns which later merged, saw their inception in circa 1825.

Primarily a British town where most of the Houses were built near a Spring. Water was in abundance, but the terrains were tough for agriculture. Hence prior to the British occupancy, the region was used by the adjoining Villages for livestock grazing in the hot Summer months.

The early residents obtained their water manually from the various springs that were to be found usually at a level somewhat below that on which the houses were built. The water was carried to the houses on Mule back or by servants. Many travelers to the region have described the Water situation in the town. But one of the earliest traveler’s Lieutenant George Francis White, leaves the following description: The extract below from ‘Views in India, Chiefly Among the Himalaya Mountains, Taken During Tours in the Direction of Mussooree, Simla, the Sources of the Jumna and Ganges, &c. &c., in 1821-1831-1832 (1837) by Lieutenant George Francis White (From the collection of Mussoorie Heritage Centre)

  ‘Mussoorie assumes a very interesting appearance at night, with the lights from its numerous houses, and the fires which native servants always kindle on the ground wherever they can find space, marking the site of each homestead. Many of the builders of these mansions have been influenced in the choice of a site almost wholly by the prospects it commands, but there are other considerations which the prudential have kept in view. Amid these is the accessibility of water, for though it may be heard and even seen meandering through the bottom of the ravine which the house overlooks, yet it is not always easily attainable, and becomes very costly on account of the expense of the carriage. The neighbourhood of the bazaar is also advantageous, but a spring of water is always the great desideratum.’    

There were approximately 10 springs between Landour chowk and Library chowk. Most of them were lost in the growing townscape, and some were tapped by the private house owners. A spring in Landour Bazar which was enclosed by the Jain community almost 100 years ago, is still guarded in an enclosure which is not a stepwell technically, but is called a Bawari, the local name for a stepwell. In its further course this is now a waste water and garbage nala.

Many Springs overflowed on the roads and there was abundance even during the peak months. Today due to urbanization these have been reduced to mere droplets.

Another traveler and writer who spent many months in Landour and Mussoorie, Fanny Parkes leaves the following account in her memoir. The memoirs were published as Wanderings of a Pilgrim in search of the Pictureseque During four and twenty years in the East with revelations of Life in the Zenana (Pelham Richardson, 1850)

‘Landowr, Bhadraj, Ben Oge, are covered with oak and rhododendron trees; the valleys between them, by the Hill people called khuds, are extremely deep: at the bottom of these khuds water is found in little rills, but it is very scarce. About two thousand feet below Landowr water is abundant.’

She mentions about the abundant water two thousand feet below Landowr, this is the Aglar river, and current water to Landour Cantonment is pumped from this source. Another extract from Fanny Parkes.

‘On my arrival I found one of the ponies at the estate had been killed by a fall over the precipice when bringing up water from the khud.’

From the above extract we learn that each estate owner owned a few ponies/ghunts/mules, for exclusively carrying water from the springs. During this transport many a times the mules fell over and were either injured or died.

Being a narrative of two years’ residence in the Eastern Himlaya and two months’ tour in the Interior. By a Lady Pioneer, Nina Mazuchell Later Bhisties or Water carriers were also deployed. As the roads were beaten tracks, the Bhisties maintained them by regular water sprinkling. They were employed by the Town Municipality and Landour Cantonment respectively. They were spread through out  the Mall road to provide drinking water. The following extract from the book Kim describes the Bhisties ‘Lama,who opened his eyes at the contents of the bowl, “eat now and—- I will eat with thee. Ohe Bhistie!’ he called to the water carrier,’Give water here. We men are thirsty.’ ‘We men! ‘said the Bhistie, laughing……………. He loosed a thin stream into Kim’s hands, who drank native fashion;’


Article by Surbhi Agarwal of Mussoorie Heritage Centre

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