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Jal Mahal: The abandoned palace submerged in the water of the Man Sagar Lake

Anastasia Kolomiets

Situated in the center of the Man Sagar Lake in Jaipur is one of the most architecturally beautiful buildings in the state, the Jal Mahal Palace. It is also known as the Water Palace and was built in the 18th century by Maharaja Madho Singh in the 18th century in a combination of the Rajput and Mughal styles.

It has five stories constructed in red sandstone, and because of the water level, today only the top floor can be seen. The other four floors are generally underwater when the lake is full.

On the roof, there is a square Chhatri of the Bengal type and octagonal Chhatris on the four corners of the palace. The building has suffered a lot from water damage over the centuries, but it was repaired about 15 years ago by the Government of Rajasthan. Originally, on the palace’s large terrace, there was a garden with semi-octagonal towers with magnificent cupolas on each corner.

This reconstruction was not satisfactory, so an expert was sent to the palace to examine the design of the building and compare them to the original designs. The plaster work that had been added to the walls was removed and they were replastered with the traditional organic materials used in India. Another improvement was the terrace which was inspired by the one on the Amer Palace.

The Palace is situated in the center of the Man Sagar Lake in Jaipur. Author: saturnism. CC BY-SA 2.0

The Palace is situated in the center of the Man Sagar Lake in Jaipur. Author: saturnism. CC BY-SA 2.0

The hill that surrounds the lake is a part of the Aravalli hills range. In 1596 AD, there was a severe famine in this region due to drought. The ruler of Amer built a dam to store water help the local people.

The terrace was inspired by the one on the Amer Palace. Author: Varun Shiv Kapur. CC BY 2.0

The terrace was inspired by the one on the Amer Palace. Author: Varun Shiv Kapur. CC BY 2.0

The dam was made of earth and quartzite across the eastern valley. In the 17th century, this dam was converted to a stone masonry. The 980 ft long dam is still existing today, and it has three sluice gates which release water for agricultural land. Since then, the lake, palace, and dam were restored many times by various rulers in the area.

Only the top floor can be seen, and the other four are under water. Author: Pedro. CC BY 2.0

Only the top floor can be seen, and the other four are under water. Author: Pedro. CC BY 2.0

For decades, the lake provided the locals with drinking water, and it was also home to many bird species including flamingos, pintails, kestrels, marsh sandpipers, gray wagtails, and coots. But, because of the urbanization of Jaipur, the lake became a dumping ground for garbage, waste, and raw sewage, which severely damaged the ecosystem the lake and the surrounding area.

In the 18th century, it was a paradise for various species of birds. Author: Jai Mahal Project. CC BY-SA 3.0

In the 18th century, it was a paradise for various species of birds. Author: Jai Mahal Project. CC BY-SA 3.0

The groundwater of the lake was highly contaminated which created bad health hazards. Chloride, which is fatal to fish and plants. In July and September, fresh water drains into the lake. After a while, the smell became bad enough to keep visitors away from the splendid palace.

It was used for royal duck shooting parties. Author: LRBurdak. CC BY-SA 3.0

It was used for royal duck shooting parties. Author: LRBurdak. CC BY-SA 3.0

In 2004, a private company took over the site with the intention of turning it into a resort and tourist attraction. For over ten years, the company worked on cleaning the lake and restoring the underwater portions of the palace. Birds began to returning, indicating that the lake is cleaner and able to support life. Visitors can view the building from boats.

The palace at night. Author: Ankit Agarwal. CC BY 2.0

The palace at night. Author: Ankit Agarwal. CC BY 2.0

Even from the road, the palace still looks stunning, and it attracts tourists from around the world. In the past, the place was a favorite location for royal duck shooting parties. The Rajput kings held picnics and admired the lake from the big roof terrace. Beside the lake, there is a forest area with a variety of wildlife, including the Indian fox, jungle cat, deer, leopards, and boars. It is hard to believe that this remarkable palace was neglected for more than 200 years. After its restoration, lights were put on the walls, and when illuminated at night, the abandoned water palace looks like the stuff of fairy tales.