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Thursday, October 12, 2017

Jaipur, India | Man Sagar Lake’s 'Floating' Jal Mahal Palace


Sticking my neck out of our tuktuk I can already see the outline of the Jal Mahal Palace as it appear to float calmly over the glass-like waters of Man Sagar Lake. An impressive architectural wonder – seemingly fluctuating or plummeting deep into the stoic blue waters. As I stood out from a distance, I immediately recognize it as a thing of beauty stuck out of place. Nonetheless, I felt it eliciting a probing element calling to answer how it ended up in its current state; abandoned, fascinating yet left to the mercy of the tranquil lake. 


300 Year History of Jal Mahal

The Jal Mahal Palace was originally built upon the orders of Maharaja Sawai Jai Singh II of Amber, in 1734. It was designed with the Rajput style of architecture prevalent in the state of Rajasthan during those times. The outer layers of the palace were composed mostly of red sandstone, which expands to the exterior walls of the palace’s five levels. A Bengal-inspired rectangular Chhatri on the roof and four corner octagon-shaped chhatris forms the foundation of the other domes, arches and walls of this palatial structure.


Directly translated to “Water Palace”, Jal Mahal used to be a favorite ‘duckhunting soirees’, theatrical venue and al fresco grounds of the then reigning Maharajah. Today, no thanks to centuries of soil erosion, forest denudation and raising of the lake’s bed level – the palace has been submerged four floors deep with only the fifth floor and the rooftop gardens remaining aloft.


The intricate wall carvings symbolizing royalty and arching pillars remaining visible screams of an abstract reminder of its colorful history - which are now left with an air of mystery, as whatever now buried underwater – might carry an interesting set of stories from the bygone years of the intriguing Maharajah eras. 


An Object of Fascination from Afar

Finding myself being drawn by the equally visually arresting Amer Fort a few hours earlier, I thought I had enough architecture eye candy for the day. I stand corrected the moment I gaped with amazement at Jal Mahal Palace – as flock of birds glided over it and its reflection dances almost rhythmically to the slow tidal movements of the calm Man Sagar Lake.


At the lake bank beside the highway, I observed many locals huddled together under the shade of trees enjoying their respective family picnics. A few women adorned in colorful traditional Rajasthani clothing instantly captured my attention. The vibe somehow gave me a little peek into the kind of scene surrounding the water palace almost 300 years ago. 


A Masterful Renaissance Project

In year 2000, the 'Ecological Restoration of Man Sagar Lake' was spearheaded by the government of Rajasthan, aiming to preserve and bring back the palace to its olden glory in order to lure more tourists to this beautiful lakeside spot. 


“In 2004, the Rajasthan Tourism Development Corporation decided to try and restore the monument to its original glory. They signed an agreement with Jal Mahal Resorts, granting it a 99-year lease to develop 100 acres along the Mansagar Lake (in the middle of which Jal Mahal stands) and the palace.” [1]

Skilled craftsmen and architects were called upon to bring the palace – or what remains of it over water, into a semblance of how it looks like before. Today, the palace - notwithstanding the emphatic way it surrendered to time by sinking underneath the Man Sagar Lake, with its sole heavenward level and garden terrace, remains a picture of stunning floating structure, now radiating with a quixotic impression that fuses perfectly with its enigmatic history and undying eye-catching architectural form. 


Check out the rest of my India series here




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