Jal Mahal (meaning “Water Palace”) is a palace located in the middle of the Man Sagar Lake in Jaipur city, the capital of the state of Rajasthan, India. The palace and the lake around it were renovated and enlarged in the 18th century by Maharaja Jai Singh II of Amber.
The urban lake gets filled up during the rainy season; over the years, once the reservoir became full during rainy season, it got covered with Hyacinth. During this period only the red stoned palace became approachable by boat and through a causeway and presented a spectacle on the way to Jaipur city from Delhi.
The lake got polluted due to sewage flow from the Jaipur city. The palace remained uninhabited, was not maintained and hence not visited by tourists. To remove the ecological damage caused to the lake due to indiscriminate pollution from the city sewerage, restoration measures were undertaken, since 2001, after a detailed study by the Government of Rajasthan. But serious efforts were initiated only in 2004 through a very large restoration project undertaken through a joint-venture company called the Project Development Company Limited (PDCOR Ltd), Jaipur, a private enterprise (a consortium led by M/s. KGK Enterprises), in association with the Government of Rajasthan, with institutional support provided by the Infrastructure Leasing & Financial Services (IL&FS), a parastatal organization of the Government of India, and the Ministry of Environment and Forests (MOE&F). The basic objective of the project is conservation and management of the lake in regard to ecological development, sustainable fisheries development, and wildlife development. The purpose of the project is also to cater to the tourist industry, because Rajasthan attracts the largest number of tourists every year; 650,000 national and 175,000 international tourists are said to visit the state every year. Tourism in the state of Rajasthan is generally monument-centric, particularly in Jaipur and in this context Jal Mahal has an important role.
The lake, situated to the north of Jaipur city lies between Amber, the historic city and Jaipur, the provincial headquarters of Rajastan state. It has a water spread area of 300 acres (121 ha) and is enclosed by the Aravalli hills on the north, west and eastern side, while the southern side consists of plains that is intensely inhabited. There is the Nahargarh Fort (Nahargarh means home of tigers) in these hills that provides a commanding view of the Man Sagar lake and the Jal Mahal palace, in addition to a beautiful view of the city of Jaipur. The lake was created by constructing a dam across the Darbhawati River, between Khilagarh hills and hilly areas of Nahargarh, in the 16th century. The drainage area of the lake is 23.5 square kilometres (9.1 sq mi)contributed by an urban area accounting for 50%, hilly terrain accounting for the balance area comprising the degraded Aravalli hills, which have added to siltation problem in the lake. Rain fall of an average of 657.4 millimetres (25.88 in) per year (90% of this rainfall occurs during the months of June to September) in the catchment contributes to the storage in the reservoir. At the outlet end of the dam, there is an irrigation system that is supplied with water stored in the reservoir (obligatory water demand for this is reported to be 2.41 MCM during the five months from November to March). But two large nalas (streams) that also drain the surrounding Nahargarh hills and the Jaipur town are the Brahmpuri and Nagtalai, which bring in large amount of untreated sewage flows, in addition to solid wastes.
The hills surrounding the lake area, towards the north east of Jaipur, has quartzite rock formations (with thin layer of soil cover), which is part of Aravalli hills range. Rock exposures on the ground surface in some parts of the project area have also been utilised for constructing buildings. On the north east, the Kanak Vrindavan valley, where temple complex is situated, the hills slope gently towards the lake edge. Within the lake area, ground conditions depict a thick mantle of soil, blown sand and alluvium. Forest denudation, particularly of hilly areas, has caused soil erosion, compounded by erosion due to wind and water. Due to this, silt moved to the lake resulting in raise of the bed level of the lake.
In the past, at the location of the lake, there was a natural depression where water used to accumulate. During 1596 AD, when there was a severe famine in this region there was consequent acute shortage of water. The then ruler of Ajmer was, therefore, motivated to build a dam to store water to overcome the severe hardships caused by the famine to the people inhabiting the region. A dam was constructed, initially using earth and quartzite, across the eastern valley between Amer hills and Amagarh hills. The dam was later converted into a stone masonry structure in the 17th century. The dam, as existing now (see picture), is about300 metres (980 ft) long and 28.5–34.5 metres (94–113 ft) in width. It is provided with three sluice gates for release of water for irrigation of agricultural land in the down stream area. Since then, the dam, the lake and the palace in its midst have undergone several rounds of restoration under various rulers of Rajasthan but the final restoration in the 18th century is credited to Jai Singh II of Amer. During this period, a number of other historical and religious places, such as the Amer Fort, Jaigarh Fort, Nahargarh Fort, Khilangarh Fort, Kanak Vrindavan Valley were also built in the vicinity of the lake. All these places are now linked under a tourist corridor of road net work.
In recent years, with urbanization of Jaipur city and areas surrounding the lake, ecological system of the lake and its vicinity area deteriorated drastically. It got silted up heavily thereby reducing the surface area of the lake. The silt deposited (estimated to be about 2.5 MCM) was contaminated with effluents (untreated sewage) from the city drainage causing intense eutrophication. The ground water around the lake was also found to be highly contaminated and created serious health hazards. The rainwater combined with sewage water flow from the city resulted in the lake water emnating foul smell. Water samples collected from the lake were tested, which clearly showed that water quality was not uniform. It was extremely poor in southeast, south and southwest caused due influent nalas. The water quality parameters of BOD and total nitrogen recorded were 20 mg/L each. BOD values indicated high level of organic matter. COD denoted a very high level of oxidisable chemicals. Nitrate and phosphate content were excessive. Coliform number was more than 500 times the normal. The Chloride content was found to be fatal to plants and fishes.
The fresh water into the lake is seasonal during rains between July and September. This flow originates from 325 small and big streams that drain the hilly catchment of the lake. But the two municipal nalas from the Jaipur city contribute the perennial flow to the lake. The volume of water in the lake has been assessed as 3.13 million cubic metres (MCM) at the maximum water level. During lean season, it is said to be about 0.36 MCM from October to June. The depth of water at the deepest location in the lake is recorded to be a maximum of 4.5 metres (15 ft) and a minimum of 1.5 metres (4.9 ft). In addition, the stored water was also used for irrigation on the downstream end of the lake during summer months resulting in drying up of the lake in these months.
The reserve forest area of the lake catchment has several wild life species such as Deer, Jungle cat, striped hyena, Indian Fox, Indian wild Boar and leopards.
The lake used to be a bird watcher's paradise in the past and was a favorite ground for the Rajput kings of Jaipur for royal duck shooting parties during picnics. The lake was natural habitat for more than 150 species of local and migratory birds that included Large Flamingo, Great Crested Grebe, Pintail, Pochards, Kestrel, Coot, Redshank, Marsh Sandpiper, Ruff, Herring Gull, Red Breasted Flycatcher, Grey Wagtail, but their numbers declined with the deterioration of the lake. Now, with restoration works undertaken, the birds have started visiting the lake again, though not to the same degree as in the past. In order to attract attention to the lake’s condition, a private initiative of holding an annual birding fair was started in 1997. It is reported that the common moorhen, a resident species has started breeding in large numbers at the lake. The other birds seen now are the grey geron, white browed wagtail and blue tailed bee eaters. The lake was also home for a large species of the aquatic ecosystem such as fish, insects, microorganisms and aquatic vegetation.
The flora is dictated by the subsidiary Edaphic type of dry tropical forests in the catchment; the total forest area of 9.01 square kilometres (3.48 sq mi) comprises dense forest cover of 6.45 square kilometres (2.49 sq mi) area, degraded forest of 0.95 square kilometres (0.37 sq mi) and encroachment of 1.61 square kilometres (0.62 sq mi). The dominant floral specie found in the area is Dhauk (Anogeissus pendula), which has lean foliage. The low vegetation cover and steep gradient of the hills causes substantial erosion and the eroded material flows into the lake. On the western side, beyond the urbanized area, the Nahargarh hills on the western side are also denuded, which has reduced its moisture retaining capacity.
The Jal Mahal palace is considered an architectural beauty built in the Rajput and Mughal styles of architecture (common in Rajasthan) providing a picturesque view of the lake (from the Mansagar dam on the eastern side of the lake that acts as a vantage point for viewing the lake and the valley), and the surrounding Nahargarh (abode of the tigers) hills. The palace, built in red sandstone, is a five storied building out of which four floors remain under water when the lake is full and the top floor is exposed. The rectangular Chhatri on the roof is of the Bengal type. The Chhatris on the four corners are octagonal. The palace had suffered subsidence in the past and also seepage due to water logging, which have been repaired under the restoration project undertaken by the Government of Rajasthan. On the terrace of the palace, a garden was built with arched passages. At each corner of this palace semi-octagonal towers were built with an elegant cupola. The restoration works done in the palace in the past (10–15 years back) were not satisfactory and an expert in the field of similar architectural restoration works of Rajastahn palaces carefully examined the designs that could decipher the originally exisitng designs on the walls, after removing the recent plaster work. Based on this finding, restoration works were redone with traditional materials for plastering. The plaster now used consisted of an organic material of a special mortor mix of lime, sand and surkhi mixed with jaggery, guggal and methi (cummins) powder. It was also noticed that there was hardly any water seepage, except for a little dampness, in the floors below the water level. But the original garden, which existed on the terrace had been lost. Now, a new terrace is being created based on a similar roof garden exisitng on the Amer palace.
At Gaitore, opposite to the lake, there are Chhatris or cenatophs erected over cremation platforms of some of the Kachwaha rulers of Jaipur. They were built by Jai Singh II within landscaped gardens. The cenotaph monuments are in honour of Pratap Singh, Madho Singh II and Jai Singh II, among others. Jai Singh II's cenatoph is made of marble and has impressive intricate carvings. It has a dome with 20 carved pillars.
In the year 2000, Government of Rajasthan entrused to IL&FS the task of finding a permanent solution to the development requirements of the Man Sagar lake and the palace. In 2001, Government of Rajasthan initiated a project for the 'Ecological Restoration of Man Sagar Lake' and the palace in its midst to its past glory and to enhance the tourism potential of the precincts, through the Jaipur Development Authority (JDA) as the nodal agency. It was also recommended that private developers should also be involved in this effort. In the year 2002, the Ministry of Environment and Forests sanctioned through its National Lake Conservation Programme (NLCP), Rs 24.72 crores (about US$ 5 million) and released Rs 17.3 crores (about US $3.46 million) as grant-in-aid) with the proviso that the balance amount shall be raised by JDA. JDA initiated steps for restoration and completed 2 kilometres (1.2 mi)) tourist trail and a 1 kilometre (0.62 mi)) long promenade, apart from other works.
The Lake restoration project of the Man Sagar lake area with an estimated investment of Rs 1.5 billion (considered as one of the largest and unique such projects in India) has evolved a plan that has diverse project components. Consequently, there are many project stakeholders and beneficiaries. The project stake holders are: the Government of Rajasthan and their subordinate organizations such as the Public Works Department (PWD), Rajasthan Urban Development Authority (RUIDP), the Jaipur Development Authority (JDA - the nodal agency for implementation of all aspects of the project), the Department of Tourism, Rajasthan Project Development Fund (RPDF) and the Rajasthan Tourism Development Corporation (RTDC) and an Empowered Committee on Infrastructure Development (ECID); the Central Government organizations associated for planning and financing are the Ministry of Environment and Forests (MOE&F) through its National River Conservation Program (NRCP) and ILFS. The Private Sector Developer (PSD) appointed was M/s KGK Consortium. Under the public–private sector partnership model approved by the EICD, PDCOR had prepared the Detailed Project Report (DPR) for the restoration of Man Sagar lake, Jal Mahal restoration and lake precincts development. The total project area for restoration and development approved by ECID was 432 acres (175 ha) comprising the lake with 300 acres (120 ha) water spread, the lake precincts area of 100 acres (40 ha), which subsumed 15 acres (6.1 ha) of submerged land) for tourism development under joint sector cooperation and 32 acres (13 ha) for lake promenade and tertiary treatment facility and related works.
The studies indicated two approaches to tackle the nature of environmental degradation that had occurred in the lake, namely, dealing with natural catchment area and concurrently addressing the serious problem of municipal sewerage emerging from large scale urbanization or human settlement. Keeping this broad planning approach in view, under the lake restoration project, the works undertaken involved were: the re-alignment of city drains, de-silting of the lake, constrcution of artery road from Amber to Mansagar Dam (about 2.7 kilometres (1.7 mi)), construction of check dam in a 100 metres (330 ft) length with silt removed from the lake, creation of three nesting islands for migratory birds, lake front promenade in1 kilometre (0.62 mi)), afforestation and treatment of forest area portion of lake catchment, plantation to stabilize the slopes of bank formation. Afforestation envisaged plantation of local plant species such as Acacia arabica (Desi babool) and tamarix indica (planting close to the water edge where they can grow well), Terminalia arjuna (Arjun ) poplar, Neem and all species of Ficus, which would provide diversity in vegetation and also better habitat diversity for feeding by birds and wild life.
In addition, to remove eutriphication of the lake water and improve its water quality, in-situ Bioremediation process with 140 diffusers & 5 air compressors to aerate and create inversion of the lake bed and stored water was also envisaged. The city sewage, which supplied 7.0 MLD of untreated sewage was treated with Sewerage Treatment Plant (STP) and then led to the lake to maintain its water level, after due removal of nutrients through tertiary treatment. This process involved diversion of the Brahampuri Nala into the Nagtalai Nala by a lined channel to its south. This was then lead through a treatment plant on site to generate secondary level effluent, which was then discharged into an artificial wetland through a hyacinth channel. For this purpose, a Physico Chemical Treatment Plant was also envisaged and the effluent from this plant was taken through artificially created wetlands in an area of 4 hectares (9.9 acres)) (not only to treat the water but also to serve as natural habitat for birds) and through this process the entire eco-system is being re-generated. Vegetation generated in this process is disposed in a composite pit near the lake.
It is also reported that about 0.5 MCM of silt was removed from the lake. This silt was then put to use for strengthening of embankment and building of islands as wintering grounds for migratory birds.
After the above initial restoration works of the lake and its feeder system were mostly completed by the JDA, during 2003, private sector developers were invited to develop identified tourism components on the land adjoining the lake. After following the due process, a joint sector undertaking called the PDCOR was formed between the JDA of the Rajastahn Government and the consortia of private developers with lead provided by M/s. KGK Enterprises. The project for tourism development was entrusted to this joint group. The tourism project entailed development of Convention Centre and Art Gallery, Multiplex and Entertainment Centre, Craft Bazaar, Arts and Craft Village, Resort Hotels, restaurants and food courts, public park and gardens including responsibility for restoration and maintenance of the Jal Mahal.
The Jal Mahal palace within the Man Sagar lake is accessible from the Jaipiur-Delhi National Highway No 8, over a road distance of 4 kilometres (2.5 mi)) from Jaipur. Delhi is a further 273 kilometres (170 mi)) away. Jaipur city being centrally located in Rajasthan, the National Highway No.8 not only links to Delhi but also to Mumbai. NH No.11 is a road link of 366 kilometres (227 mi)) from Bikaner to Agra via Jaipur. The lake is 8 kilometres (5.0 mi)) from Amer palace on the Amber - Mansagar dam road to the north.
Jaipur is well connected by rail to all the major cities and towns of India. Jaipur is on the broad-gauge and meter gauge network of the Indian Railways and has direct trains on the broad gauge network to all major cities in Rajasthan and India. The city is also connected with a metre gauge rail route with Sri Ganganagar, Churu andSikar within the state. One of India's most famous and luxurious trains, The Palace on Wheels, originating from Delhi also makes a scheduled stop in Jaipur.
Jaipur has well connected domestic air links with Jodhpur, Udaipur, Aurangabad, Delhi, Hyderabad, Kolkata, Goa, Chennai, Ahmedabad, Indore, Bangalore, Mumbai, Surat and Raipur, Lucknow, Gorakhpur. Jaipur's Jaipur International Airport (IATA: JAI, ICAO: VIJP) is situated in its satellite town of Sanganer and offers sporadic service to Muscat, Sharjah, Bangkok and Dubai.