FAQ Mansagar Lake

How old is Jal Mahal?

Jal Mahal is dated around 1734. This date is sourced from old maps and a budget document of that period, which mentions the Jal Mahal.

Who built Jal Mahal? Why?

Jal Mahal or Water Palace was built as a retreat by Sawai Jai Singh II. Used as a pleasure resort for the Maharajas of Jaipur, it was then maintained by Sawai Pratap Singh in the 1750s.

It was most probably built at about the time of the transfer of the capital from the old city of Amber to the newly established Jaipur (i.e. 1727-34). Such island resorts were used by the rulers and members of their entourage for recreation. The Maota Lake below the palace at Amber has a series of pleasure gardens extending into the waters from its banks; but with the move to Jaipur a new island palace more accessible from the new city would have been required.

Who are the private party promoters?

The project has been financed by a consortium including the business house of KGK and the Kalapataru group, and is a prime example of good corporate responsibility towards the environment. The story of the restoration of Jal Mahal will hopefully inspire other business houses to adopt a more proactive role in the restoration and maintenance of the environment that generates their wealth.

What is the vision for the restoration work?

The work includes the restoration of the lake, repairing and preservation of the monument, and sustaining the restored environment. The building and the lake have been carefully and meticulously restored using traditional methods and processes. The luxurious garden, recreated by the best stone carvers of Jaipur, nestles between the majestic Baradaris and Chhatris, that are unique showcases of the arts of Jaipur. Jal Mahal is an important testimony to the surviving courtly traditions of Jaipur. The restored Jal Mahal offers an opportunity to enter into a world of pleasure and relaxation as enjoyed by the royal court of Jaipur.

The vision is also to make it a model project for what conservation of monuments means today. It is not enough to restore the building alone, but important also to revitalize its connectivity with the surrounding natural and built environment. The building has to reclaim its cultural importance in the minds of the residents of the city and its visitors.

What activities are planned in the monument?

The restored monument is at the heart of an exemplary effort of urban regeneration. The activities in the monument are designed to make the building culturally relevant for the residents of Jaipur. Theatre, craft expositions, thematic exhibitions, workshops and events will provide a platform for education, recreation and reflection for all its visitors.

What kind of experience will a visitor have at Jal Mahal?

The experience of Jal Mahal commences with a boat ride. The boats, recreated from eighteenth-century paintings, take the visitors on a lyrical journey towards the monument, leaving behind the bustling town. Surrounded by the stillness of the lake stands the majestic Jal Mahal in all its glory ready to enthrall. The first floor satiates the intellect with a thematic presentation, while the second floor is a visual feast combining handcrafted excellence and nature.

While efforts have been made to retain the old-world charm, how do you see these merging with the psyche of the new-age traveller?

Conserving old monuments is most effective when they are brought back to use without disturbing their fundamental fabric. It is not enough to restore monuments for the sole purpose of looking at them. Allowing old buildings to be used makes them more accessible and relevant to the visitors, and makes the upkeep more sustainable. Every astute and perceptive tourist will recognize at once the responsible interventionist techniques backed by the best research that have been used to bring the Jal Mahal alive.

What is known about Jal Mahal?

The earliest known written reference to the Jal Mahal is a comment by the Jesuit missionary Joseph Tieffenthaler who visited Jaipur in 1750. He simply described it as an elegant building that could be reached only by boat. The French naturalist Victor Jacquemont, who visited in 1832, referred to it as the Ganesh Mahal and records that it was sometimes used by the Rajmata (the mother of Maharaja Jai Singh III and the queen regent throughout his reign).

A more famous visitor, the poet, journalist and novelist Rudyard Kipling described Jaipur as 'a pink city set on the border of a blue lake, and surrounded by the low, red spurs of the Aravalis'. His comment shows how much the orientation and the perception of the city have changed. At the time he visited, in 1887, the Ram Niwas gardens had only recently been laid out and the Albert Hall had been open for less than a year. As Jaipur developed subsequently it spread towards the south and the west: that is away from the hills and the lake. Earlier, the road between Amber and Jaipur was seen as a sort of central corridor linking the two cities.

The cleaning of the lake, the restoration of the Jal Mahal and the development of the region by Jal Mahal Resorts will bring the focus back onto this most scenic part of the city's environs. In future, residents and tourists will be able (like the rulers and courtiers of earlier times) to enjoy the beauty of the landscape from the luxurious vantage point of the Jal Mahal.

Why is this restoration project claimed as a model for other water bodies?

Under the clean-up plan, the lake-bed was dredged and desilted. A channel was then created to divert the drain and storm water to a sedimentation basin. For generations in Rajasthan, water has been purified with this manner of basin — using just sand and rubble. Soon vegetation reappeared and environmentalists like Harsh Vardhan, who hold Jaipur's annual 'birding fair' and Robert Oates of the Thames River Restoration Trust were impressed at the swiftly growing bird population.

The next step was foliage. The palace had an astonishing total of three eucalyptus trees. Here too the team displayed ingenuity by rescuing trees about to be felled off the Delhi-Jaipur highway. The area now boasts of over a lakh rescued trees.

The conservationists then turned to the palace. Traditional construction material was used for restoration. Just the plaster for repairing the damaged walls takes a whole year to prepare. The most back-breaking work was the research involved to restore the monument to its original beauty rather than turning it into something 'modern'. Unfortunately, traditional Indian architects never used blueprints, which could have been available for research. So all the research was done through Mughal miniatures and other monuments. The project was a story of many inspired collaborations — American landscapers, Indian lighting designers and the living memories of elderly local artists like Mohanji and Gopalji.

Today, Jal Mahal has become something of a model for restoration projects, because of its commitment to traditional methods and for restoring the lake eco-system. In 2007, two of Jaipur's largest drains emptied themselves in the lake. Hence, the bio-oxygen demand of the water was far above permissible limits, (800 mg/litre as opposed to the permissible 3 mg/litre) and there were enough chemicals to kill any signs of life. Under similar conditions in the Dal lake or the Kodai lake, the solution was to cut off the sewage flow, set up a treatment plant and build a boundary wall. Such solutions were temporary and did not restore the ecosystem.

How will the project benefit the city of Jaipur?

This project would have brought a great boost to the tourism industry in Jaipur. Today, Jaipur is a half-day destination. Tourists normally stay for an average duration of one day in Jaipur (visiting parts of Jaipur in a day, night out at Chokhi Dhani and then check out before 12 noon with a visit to Amber fort, shopping etc). This project would have forced tourists to stay on for another day, which translates to doubling the business in the city for other trades, including guides, shopping bazaars and providing employment to the local residents.

What is the legal controversy post restoration? What is the current status of the project?

In 2010 three petitioners took Navratan Kothari to court, charging him with criminal conspiracy and cheating and forging documents to snatch priceless heritage for private profit.

Between 2010 and 2011 three civil writ (PIL), petitions were filed by Prof. K. P. Sharma, Dharohar Bachao Samiti and Heritage Preservation Society to quash the Jal Mahal Tourism Project and cancel the Mansagar Lake Lease Agreement, giving 100 acres of land on lease for a period of 99 years to Jal Mahal Resorts Private Limited. According to the petitioners, the government had given away public land on a throwaway price of Rs 2.5 crore per annum to the firm.

In May 2012, the High Court declared the partnership agreement illegal and cancelled the lease. It also directed JMRPL to restore the original position of 100 acres of land by removing the soil filled-in by it at its own cost and to hand over the possession to the Municipal Corporation, Jaipur; to immediately remove all sedimentation and settling tanks from the Mansagar Lake basin at its own costs; to restore the Nagtalai and Brahampuri nallah (drains) to their original position as realigned by RUIDP under Mansagar Lake Restoration Plan. The Court also directed the government to take possession of the land and the monument with immediate effect and remove all construction raised at the site by the developer and recover its cost from it.

After the High court decision, JMRPL filed a special leave petition (SLP) before the Supreme court, challenging the High Court verdict. The Supreme Court stayed the Rajasthan High Court judgment. But restrained JMRPL from undertaking any fresh construction at the site. The case is currently pending in the apex court.