A Dhunge Dhara (Nepali:ढुङ्गे धारा Listen (help·info)) or Hiti (Newari) is a traditional stone water tap found extensively in Nepal. Dhunge dharas are part of a comprehensive drinking water supply system, commissioned by various rulers of Ancient and Medieval Nepal. They consisted of intricately carved stone water ways through which water flows uninterrupted from underground water sources. Despite numerous efforts to replace this ingenious old drinking water supply system with something more modern, many people of Nepal still rely on the old hitis on a daily basis.
The history of dhunge dharas began during the Licchavi Kingdom (c400-750 AD). The first known hiti was built in Kathmandu at Hadi Gaun by a grandson of Lichhavi King Mandev I in 550 AD, but there is evidence that a similar structure was built earlier than that. The famous Manga Hiti at Mangal Bazar in Patan was built in 570 AD. In both cases the dates were engraved on a stone within the hiti. Gradually more hitis started to appear elsewhere in Kathmandu Valley.
During the Malla period (c1201-1779 AD) many more hiti systems were built. Jitamitra Malla of Bhaktapur, Pratap Malla of Kathmandu and Siddhinarshinha Malla of Patan are famous for the water systems in these cities. The hiti built in 1829 by Bhimsen Thapa at Sundhara village is likely the last one built.
Of the 389 stone spouts constructed in Kathmandu Valley, 233 were still in use by 2010, serving about 10% of Kathmandu’s population. 68 had gone dry and 43 were connected to the municipal water supply instead of their original source. 45 dhunge dharas were lost entirely.
Most of the spouts have the shape of the mythical makara (also called hitimanga). This is a creature with the snout of a crocodile, the trunk of an elephant, tusks and ears of a wild boar and the tail of a peacock. Hitimangas are ubiquitous in Nepal, not only on hitis, but also on vajras (ritual weapons) and on toranas (traditional door ornaments).
Basic architecture of a hiti
Although the names dhunge dhara and hiti refer to the actual spouts, they are also used for the stone structures immediately surrounding the spouts.
In the Nepalese countryside a hiti may be no more than an stone or brick wall with a spout protruding from it; in the cities, due to the natural flow of water (see below), the spouts are located in a basin below street level (hitigah), with the depth depending on need. This basin is built with a combination of stone and brick, where the floor is usually covered with stone slabs. The basin can be entered via one or more stone stairs (depending on the depth). There is typically just one spout in the basin, but there are hitis with tree, five, nine or more spouts, even up to a hundred and eight (the Muktidhara in Mustang District).
The spouts of one hiti can have different sources for their water. In one case, Alko Hiti in Patan, three sources were confirmed during restoration, but in others the users have merely noticed a difference in taste or colour of the water between the spouts.
Before the water enters the spout, it passes a filter system, using gravel, sand, charcoal and even lapsi (Nepali hog plum). In front of the spouts there is a small pool to catch the water flowing from it. The surplus of water eventually disappears into a drain, and is guided towards another hiti, agricultural land or a pond (to be used for irrigation and other purposes).
Sources of the water
The early hitis use water from their own springs or from nearby aquifers, which they sometimes share with other hitis. For many hitis de precise location of the source is still unknown. Later hitis were connected to a system of canals and ponds, which brought fresh water from the foothills of Kathmandu Valley to the cities.
During the Kirata Kingdom (circa 900 BC - 300 AD) ponds were constructed as a source of water in the old cities of the Kathmandu Valley. The ponds got their water from rainfall.
During the Lichhavi regime these ponds were linked to stone spouts and dug wells to supply water to the cities. The ponds were built higher in the settlements to feed the shallow aquifers; water seeps away from the ponds into the ground and eventually emerges from the spouts. Siddha Pokhari of Changunarayan and Bhajya Pukhu, Siddha Pokhari and Nag Pokhari of Bhaktapur are examples of such ponds. Some of the ponds are interconnected; when one is filled completely, the overflow is directed towards another pond and so forth. In this way an elaborate network of water bodies is created as a water resource during the dry season and to help alleviate the water pressure caused by the monsoon rains.
The smaller ponds in the centre of the cities were (and still are) used for several purposes, like washing and duck farming.
At one point in time there was a total of 90 ponds in the large cities of Kathmandu Valley: 30 in Bhaltapur, 39 in Patan and 21 in Kathmandu.
The Royal Canals
The aquifers of the stone spouts are recharged not only by rainfall but also by state canals (also called royal canals or raj kulo). State canals were built to bring water from a stream (like Lele River) or pond from the foothills to artificial ponds close to stone spouts to augment the aquifers. King Jitamitra Malla constructed a state canal in 1678 to feed stone spouts located in Bhaktapur and Patan.
Eventually water was brought down into the valleys cities through three canals: Budhikanta Canal for Kathmandu, Bageswori Canal for Bhaktapur and Tikabhairav Canal for Patan. They fed 31 of the ponds in these cities.
Many spouts in the Bhaktapur municipality are believed to receive water through Tantric power.
According to the report "A Comparative Evaluation of Stone Spout Management Systems in Heritage and non-Heritage Areas of Kathmandu Valley, Nepal" by Mira Tripathi (2016), some of the people interviewed told her that: "When they dug out the water network they found flaming small earthen pots covered by another earthen pot as a lid... with nuts and coins above the spout. When the lid of the pot was removed the flames subsided and the water flow in the spout also stopped. ... when the lid was put back the water started to flow again. Because there were no other apparent sources for the water to enter the spouts, the Tantric or divine theories took root". In the same report an expert from Bhaktapur is quoted as saying: "Personally, I believe tantric practice because I have seen many evidence of it..." 
Uses for the water
The water from the hitis is used for ordinary household purposes, for work as well as for religious activities.
People of Nepal can be seen drinking and washing themselves or their laundry in a hiti, or taking the water home for washing, drinking and cooking. A number of hitis are believed to possess healing properties. Water from Sundhara in Kathmandu, for example, is believed to be good against arthritis.
The water is also used for the purification of images of deities.
Some hitis have a role in festivals, like Bhimdhyo Hiti in Bhaktapur, Manga Hiti in Patan and Sundhara in Kathmandu. Every twelve years the Godawari Mela is celebrated for one month at the sacred pond of Godawari Kunda in Lalitpur District. The 22 stone spouts in Balaju Water Garden in Kathmandu are the focal point during the yearly Balaju Baise Dhara festival. Hundreds of visitors take a ritual shower on this day to enjoy the purifying and healing effects of the water.
Water from Bhimdhyo Hiti is being used for religious worship in the Bhimsen temple and the nearby Dattatreya temple in Bhaktapur. Devotees take a bath or make ablutions before entering the temples. Water of Nag Pokhari (also known as Thanthu Darbar Hiti) in Bhaktapur is used to worship the Goddess Taleju. Water from Manga Hiti in Patan is used daily as holy water for Krishna Mandir and it is used to perform puja in Kartik month. Other hitis are also used for worship at nearby temples.
Hitis with a large enough flow (liters per minute) can also be vital in case of a fire, especially in densely built parts of the city where a firetruck would not be able to go.
Along important routes for traders of pilgrims, sometimes a succession of hitis was built to alleviate the thirst of the travelers.
Dhunge Dharas in popular culture
In 2016 Manga Hiti in Patan featured prominently in a romantic music video.
Eros Ink Tattoo studio in Kathmandu showcases a tattoo of Nag Pokhari hiti in Bhaktapur on it's website.
Traditionally the daily maintenance of the hitis was in the hands of guthis (local community groups dedicated to certain tasks). Living near the hiti and maybe paying regular visits to it as users, theye were best placed to discover problems, like damage to the masonry, pollution with debris or clogging of the drain, and perform repairs. The guthis were receiving payment for their work. On a different level procedures were in place to maintain the royal canals.
Each year Sithi Nakha, a day dedicated to Kumar Kartikeya, one of the two sons of Hindu deity Shiva, is used to clean water sources like wells, ponds and hitis. People all over Kathmandu Valley converge to perform their cleaning activities before the beginning of the monsoon rains.
In late 1891, under Rana rule (1846-1951 AD), a piped water system was introduced in Kathmandu Valley. It was then only available to the elite. After the country had opened itself up to the world in 1951, the western water management system was expanded to Kathmandu, Patan and Bhaktapur and the rest of the country. Unfortunately this led to the neglect of the hiti infrastructure.
With the absence of any regulation, hitis and ponds were encroached upon: A municipal building was built on the site of Paleswan Pukhu in Patan, greatly reducing its size and one pond became a bus station. Schools were built in ponds in Patan and Kathmandu. Bhaktapur also saw ponds turned into a school and a bus station. The pond areas have become prime realestate in Katmandu Valley. Of the 39 ponds counted in Patan in 1993, 9 were reduced in size and 14 were completely gone in 2007.
Hitis underwent a similar fate. Either their source was damaged or their connection to it was interrupted by the construction of houses or underground pipes. Some were built over entirely with offices or roads. In other cases the water level in the aquifer has dropped due to the digging of private wells by individual houseowners or industries.
The government policy to centralise management of the guthi system under Nepal Guthi Corporation had a detrimental effect. Hitis were not looked after properly any more and were allowed to be polluted. Necessary repairs were not forthcoming. In one case a peepal tree, that had been kept in check by the guthi, was allowed to overgrow the hiti and destroy it. In their deteriorated state the hitis lose their users.
The water is also increasingly contaminated with chemicals and bacteria. This affects other sources of water as well, like the dug wells and rooftop water tanks. Part of the contamination is caused by the leakage of septic tanks.
The water shortage is further compounded by an industry that has developed to alleviate it. Deep wells are dug outside the municipal areas by entrepreneurs who recognise the business opportunity. This has further lowered the groundwater level, affecting the flow of the hitis. It has also been bad for farmers in the area who now have to compete for water that has traditionally always been theirs. Water tank trucs from government organisations and commercial water enterprises are a familiar occurrence in the cities these days.
Over the past decades there is an increasing interest in reviving the dhunge dharas of the country, not merely because they belong to the cultural heritage of Nepal.
In spite of efforts of the Nepalese gouvernment to supply safe drinking water to all citizens of Nepal, most recently through the much plagued Melamchi Water Supply Project, many people still have to turn to hitis for their daily water needs. Kathmandu Upatyaka Khanepani Limited (KUKL), the company dedicated to supplying drinking water in the Kathmandu Valley, managed to supply 110 million litres of water per day in 2016, while the daily demand for water in the valley was around 370 million liters.
This continued water shortage has led to several initiatives to investigate the possibilities of reviving the old systems in the Kathmandu Valley, some of them recommending that the Declaration of the National Convention on Stone Spouts of 2007 (DNCSS 2007) be implemented. The reports all stress the necessity of working hitis to supplement the drinking water supply, although they differ in their assessment of how difficult achieving this would be. 
In the meantime a number of individual hitis has been renovated. In Patan, for example, locals have revived Alko Hiti, Iku Hiti and Hiku Hiti. The Nag Bahal Hiti Rehabilitation project restored Nag Bahal Hiti in Patan, funded by the US Ambassadors Fund for Cultural Preservation and supported by the Nagbahal Hiti User Group. The works included repairing the inlet and outlet channels of the hiti, while at the same time mapping the channel for future maintenance.
New life for ponds
In the large cities three ponds are in the process of being restored: the famous Rani Pokhari in Kathmandu, the older Bhajya Pukhu in Bhaktapur and Nhu Pokhari in Patan.
The work on Rani Pokhari, which was damaged in the 2015 earthquake, began in Januari 2016 and has been fraught with controversy. The original plans used concrete for the restoration, in stead of the traditional brick and clay, and included fountains and a brand new lakeside café. After a series of local protests the city of Katmandu was ordered in Januari 2018 to restore the pond to the way it was in 1670.
The very similar Bhaju Pukhu, a pond that has recently been establised as being much older than Rani Pokhari, incurred serious damage in an 1681 earthquake and had since never been restored. In October 2017 a project was started that included restoration of Bhaju Pukhu, using the traditional methods and materials. The work is expected to be completed in 2019.
The work on Nhu Pokhari has started in 2019. The plan is to use traditional materials here as well. Pimbahal Pokhari in Patan has already been restored and the city of Lalitpur has plans for Purna Chandi and Saptapatal Pokhari too. The Supreme Court of Nepal had to intervene on behalf of Saptapatal Pokhari to stop the building that was planned there.
The state canals have received attention as well. Because the canal of Patan was found to be in the best condition, in 2005 a project was started to bring it back to life.
Tun and jahru
Construction of water conduits like hitis, dug wells and jahru are considered as pious acts in Nepal. It is estimated that more than 1000 dug wells (tun) can be found in Kathmandu Valley.. Many of them are still being used, although pollution of the water and lowering of the groundwater levels is a problem here as well.
Another structure is the jahru, an (often) covered drinking water reservoir built out of stone. These structures are either free standing or integrated into the wall of a hiti or other building. They depend on either a tun or a hiti to be filled. Many jahrus, especially the ones not part of a hiti, are no longer in use.
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|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Hitis.|
- Kathmandu Upatyaka Khanepani Limited (KUKL)
- Ministry of Culture, Tourism and Civil Aviation, Nepal
- Ministry of Culture, Tourism and Civil Aviation, Department of Archaeology
- Ministry of Water Supply, Nepal
- Melamchi Water Supply Project