Upper Jhelum Canal, No Small Wonder
01 May 2015
“The River Jhelum emerges from the Himalaya mountains through an S curve. Just before emerging, it strikes against a cliff on its right bank, which deflects it to the left, where it strikes against the cliff which is surmounted by the old fort of Mangla; which once more deflects it to the right, where it debouches on more open country.” So reads a document written fully 110 years ago by a most ingenious mind.
The issue at hand was the take off point for a new irrigation canal dubbed the Upper Jhelum Canal, the last of the three canals built under the remarkable project known as the Triple Canal System (TCS), Punjab. The year was 1908 and the TCS was already turning large bandit-infested tracts of primeval forest in the doabs of Bari and Rachna into farmland and new villages. Similarly, the Lower Jhelum Canal, not part of the system, taking off at Rasul was already irrigating country where new farming villages and towns were fast emerging in present-day Sargodha and Khushab districts.
|A fantasy of arches inside the headworks|
Mangla was favoured because the deeper pond as well as greater velocity of water would force the flow into a gated regulator without the need of a barrage or weir on the Jhelum to raise the water level for the off-take. Mangla won the debate as an “ideal site, which appeals with an almost irresistible fascination to the engineer.”
The only factor that went against Mangla was that being part of Kashmir it fell outside British territory. There were those who did not trust Maharaja Pratab Singh and feared the likelihood of mischief befalling an establishment sitting beyond their control. Moreover, while both sites presented formidable engineering difficulties, estimates showed that works at Mangla would cost Rs 3.24 million while those at the Changar site were estimated at an additional Rs. 12 million.
In May 1909, Benton, later Sir John, Inspector General of Irrigation, Government of Punjab approved the Mangla option. Available documents do not show what negotiations took place between officers of the Raj and the maharaja. However, it is clear that a project of such proportions could not have been sited outside British influence without some sort of settlement.
|Upper Jhelum Canal crest on Mangla Rest House|
Both were eventually rejected for the more logical alignment a few kilometres east parallel to the Jhelum River. This alignment was opposed on the grounds that taking a canal across another water body was a formidable challenge, especially as the route was here cut across by four major hill torrents with variable flow. Though aqueducts and siphons were built elsewhere in the Punjab and North West Frontier Province, renamed Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, the team on the Upper Jhelum Canal achieved the needful by marvels of hydraulic engineering called level crossings.
Actual work on the canal regulator began early in 1913 and proceeded at a reasonable pace until April 1914, when an unseen natural dam broke somewhere in the upper reach of the Jhelum, sending a large wall of water crashing down the river. The flood burst through the embankment raised to protect the masonry from the river, potentially causing severe damage. It was just as well that it resulted only in delaying construction.
In the spring of 1916, the first waters flowed into the Upper Jhelum Canal to completely change the face of district Gujrat. From a land of small pockets of cultivation strung along narrow inundation canals abutting the Jhelum and Chenab rivers, the district became a prosperous cereal growing region by the mid-1920s.
Benton’s remarkable canal head that worked without a barrage on the Jhelum continued to flow for 50 years, accruing immense agricultural wealth to the country it slaked. Then came the damming of the river at Mangla in the mid-1960s with a rubble-filled wall, cutting off flow to the headworks and, in turn, killing the canal.
That was, fortunately, not the demise of the Upper Jhelum Canal. It only meant that the magnificent stone and masonry headworks and its massive gates were no longer needed. A canal taking off from the newly formed lake was excavated to join the old one at the village of Bong some ways downstream. And consequently, the headworks and 13 kilometres of the old canal fell into disuse.
One would have expected the handsome architecture of the headworks to have been pulled down and its steel fixtures put to other use. Thankfully, it has not. And so it remains: a priceless architectural showpiece to educate future generations of civil engineers.
|Early morning mist shrouds prize farmland in district Mandi Bahauddin. Before excavation of the Upper Jhelum Canal, this area was primeval forest|
Meanwhile, the Upper Jhelum Canal continues to flow across acre after acre of wheat and paddy fields, thickets of acacia and shisham and lush vegetable patches in Mandi Bahauddin and Gujrat districts that owe their fertility to this waterway. To gauge the measure of the man behind the feat, Sir John Benton did not so much as leave a plaque with his name and remains unknown to those who continue to benefit from his commitment to turn his vision into reality.
Previous: Begari Wah, Salam, Jekum Sahib Bahadur, Jamrao Canal, The Dragon’s Tail, Khanki Headworks, From Primeval Forest to Breadbasket, Lower Bari Doab Canal, Boundless Magnanimity
Odysseus Lahori one year ago: Compass Converse - Book of Days 2014, Discoveries of Empire
posted by Salman Rashid @ 12:00 AM,
- At May 2, 2015 at 1:58 AM, said...
- At May 4, 2015 at 4:23 PM, said...
Sir this is an other master piece article giving the details of Irrigation canal net work in Pakistan
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