Plight of Shalimar Garden’s historic hydraulic tank system

LAHORE: World Heritge Site Shalimar Gardens’ historic hydraulic tank system that used to provide water to the garden’s 410 fountains is now in a dilapidated condition and needs urgent conservation effort. The historical building that houses the system also falls in the way of Orange Line Metro Train track.

There used to be two structures that housed the hydraulic tank system. One of the structures was demolished in an attempt to widen the Grand Trunk road in 1999. The remaining one is also on the list demolition sites for the Orange Line project. The matter is subjudice in the court of law.

Shalimar Gardens was built in 1642 with the combined efforts and craftsmanship of a group of architects, engineers, hydrologists, horticulturists during the reign of Emperor Shah Jahan.

The water supply for the Shalimar Garden was possible because of historic figure then engineer of the garden Ali Mardan Khan. He was the one who proposed to the Emperor that Ravi water should be brought from Rajpot (now Madhpur in India) for the gardens. After the day and nights hard work, within two years, a canal named Shah Nahar (Royal Canal) over 100 miles (161 Km) long was completed. The hydraulic tank system was completed in 1644.

The site was included on the World Heritage List, along with historic Lahore Fort in 1981, for the following outstanding universal values or criteria on the basis of represent a masterpiece of human creative genius.

Last time conservation work at Shalimar Garden occurred in 2006 under the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization UNESCO’s ‘Conservation and Preservation of Shalamar Gardens’ in collaboration with Getty Foundation of USA and cultural section of UNESCO Islamabad section. After that a November 2006 a project report supported by a grant from Getty Foundation was submitted. The report made some recommendations regarding conservation of the structures housing hydraulic tank system.

Kamil Khan Mumtaz, architect and activist told The Nation that these historic buildings were the sign posts of our culture and history and if we lose them than we lose our heritage. “These historical sites define our identity and It shows the guide map of our history.

“The conservation of hydraulic tanks would not materialize unless the provincial government change its priorities to preserve the history and architecture,” Kamil was of the view.   

Sources in the archaeology department on condition of anonymity said the department expressed its wish to preserve the historic hydraulic tank system. “A departmental study for the Shalimar Gardens is underway. Much of tile mosaic work and walkways in the Shalimar garden were restored in the past. The conservation of the hydraulic tanks should also be done,” sources said.

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