Hyderabad: Cricket commentator Harsha Bhogle, originally from Hyderabad, had once said, “Apne Gandipet ke paani me kuch hoonga. pehle Saina ab Gagan!” referring to successful sportspersons from Hyderabad. Many Hyderabadis echo that thought and feel that there are curative properties in the water of Gandipet, which brings them sukoon.
‘Gandipet ka paani’ and Hyderabadi biryani are the quintessential Hyderabadi’s building blocks.
There is a lot of development now and many tall buildings have taken over the rural, empty patches enroute to Gandipet. Just the drive used to be exciting enough and then the sight of the water was enough to cool the tourist on a hot summer afternoon.
For a Hyderabadi it was mandatory to take a boat ride after a bout of heavy rains to see whether enough water had been retained in the catchment area.
Things have changed hugely in this area. In the name of development, buildings are popping up everywhere. The present regime also had mentioned in the passing that they would shut Osmansagar and Himayatsagar, balancing reservoirs on the Musi, and provide safe drinking water through other sources. This vast expanse of land would then be open to loot with government permission and more buildings will come up, with nary a thought to history and fantastic engineering skills.
Osmansagar was a major source of water supply, built near Gandipet to serve one million people of Hyderabad and Secunderabad.
The devastating floods of 1908 got the then Nizam thinking about safeguarding the city from such floods in the future and he wanted to plan the city properly. The seventh Nizam, Mir Osman Ali Khan, did not want to use the services of the British and chose the renowned engineer-statesman and the Dewan of Mysore, Mokshagundam Visveswarayya for the job. Sir Visveswarayya had a proven track record in the field of flood control, water management and city planning, who was in turn ably helped by renowned engineer Nawab Zain Yar Jung.
The two lakes were planned in such a way that they would not only help control the flow of Musi but also provide an assured supply of potable water to the city.
The countryside survives on cheruvus or natural water tanks for its drinking requirements, cattle and irrigation. This was water harvesting at its best before it became a compulsion.
During the reign of the Kakatiya kings, several of the water tanks were strengthened and villages were encouraged to manage their own little water tanks.
The Qutb Shahi rulers continued this practice and added many more tanks of their own, in and around Golconda. A majority of those tanks were still full of water but pollution and greed have made them go dry, and their soft beds might become home to a concrete jungle if there is no fight against this continuous advance of builders.
Osmansagar with a storage capacity of 3.90 thousand million cubic feet has been a vital source of drinking water for Hyderabad ever since its creation in 1918, though the machinery had come in 1914.
The rocks where the dam was built have luckily been kept untouched, with a beautiful look-out point, built of stone. Reminiscent of the Titanica climb up here gives a bird’s eye view of the water and the ‘development’.
In a niche amongst these rocks is a small temple. Facing this and lost in dirt and oblivion is the foundation stone, laid in 1913, in the second year of rule of the Mir Osman Ali Khan. It is in Urdu and etched on white marble and pink granite.
The public is not allowed down these stone steps and so you do miss out on the foundation stone, which is tucked away in a niche, but the place is strewn with wafer packets and empty water bottles.
The temple celebrates its annual festival. Then the small gate is opened and people are allowed in. Wasps have built their hives in the inside of the railings.
It is said that 101 dynamite sticks were used to blast the rocky side of the gorge. A book on he subject goes on to say, “When the excitement had subsided, his Highness went down with the British Resident Colonel Pinhey to the bed of the river and made himself acquainted with what was being done on the spot.”
An aqueduct was built just outside of the dam walls and a pipeline was built using the natural gravity. With a wall 125 feet high, this was the biggest thing to be built in Hyderabad. It was a covered conduit 12 miles long and a pipe system which would supply water to one million people of the city. It cost `56 lakh to build the dam for flood protection and Rs 45 lakh to build Himayatsagar for irrigation.
There is an audible water level recorder, which is still in use. If one door is opened facing the water, you almost feel that you are the captain of a ship. This experience is not for the ordinary picknicker.
These two balancing tanks served several purposes, including supplying drinking water, taking care of irrigation for huge tracts of lands and controlling the Musi river. This dam has a spillway and so when it reaches a particular height the water flows down. With indiscriminate construction going on, it won’t be surprising if there is a lot of encroachment on the dry side of the lake.
It is said that 16 villages were submerged to create this lake which spread over 45 sq km. Hotels and weekend resorts were built on the sides of the lake, after the 1980s.
Apparently four crocodiles were brought by one such resort as an added attraction. After a terrorising incident, these creatures were released into the lake.
A warning board was put near the lawn telling people not to go too close to the water because of the crocodiles.
They have now gone away along with the waters but the board remains and certainly stops a few people from stepping near the lake.
When Gandipet started off as a picnic spot, just the sight of water and the greenery all around used to be enough. Food was always brought from home and that tradition continues. Two landscaped gardens still delight people who come here with families. Young couples walk the entire stretch of the dam to find a small little niche for some intimate moments.
There used to be a beautiful garden and a guest house near the aquaduct which is now overgrown by shrubbery, but still untouched by developers and is a soothing sight. Because the rate of construction is so swift and final in these areas, people must worry that their picnic spot will soon give way to ‘gated communities’ for the rich and the famous.
There is one little shop, with a lazy person behind the counter watching a film on his mobile, while two dogs get over-excited when they see visitors with packets in their hands.
In fact the tourism aspect of this place must be highlighted instead of giving way to “developers” who will bring only more cement and mortar to this place, which otherwise is home to birds, dragon flies and a cool breeze.
Surprisingly there are not too many eating joints en route to Gandipet. There are one or two dhabas and a few tea shops, but if you do not want to spend too much of money packing a snack or lunch would be the best idea. Any time of the day is a good time to come here, except during peak summer, when there is no shade. There are a couple of well known resorts close by but that is only if you want to splurge.
Gandipet is easily approachable, with the Outer Ring Road and Narsingi and then it is a straight drive. It could be a day time trip for a few hours and the use of toilets may not be needed then, but otherwise it would be a bit difficult if you want to stay longer with friends....