Jal Mahal, the water palace at Jaipur gets an eye – popping makeover under the watchful eyes of a team of experts from around the world.
Text By Kruti Choksi
Photograph Courtesy Jal Mahal Resorts
A few years ago during my trip to Rajasthan, as we headed from Jaipur towards the Amber Fort, a pleasant sight surprised me. Jaipur’s iconic 18th century Jal Mahal sat splendidly on an isle in the calm waters of Lake Mansagar. Sadly, the access to it was restricted then. Recently, after an arduous restoration process that lasted six long years, the Jal Mahal was once again thrown open to visitors.
Built in 1734 A.D., by the erstwhile ruler Maharaja Sawai Jai Singh II, Jal Mahal was primarily a festive gathering place for the royal family.
Lamentably, after Independence, as most of the historic monuments were neglected and abandoned, so was Jal Mahal, turning into a derelict ruin.
In 2005, the Rajasthan Tourism Development Corporation signed an agreement granting Jal Mahal Resorts a lease to develop 100 acres along the Mansagar Lake, including the Jal Mahal. Consequently, the Jal Mahal Resorts development team tied hands with architects, conservationists, craftsmen and experts from around the world to restore it to its lost glory.
The Mansagar Lake has a water spread area of 300 acres. Owing to the rapid urbanisation of the city of Jaipur and the resultant dumping of untreated sewage, the ecological system of the lake as well as its surrounding land had deteriorated drastically. Along with eutrophication, the heavy deposition of silt had reduced the surface area of the lake.
According to Harald Kraft, the consultant for the project, “At the start of the rehabilitation project, Mansagar Lake was the dirtiest, filthiest pond I had ever seen in my long career. During the rehabilitation project, the waste discharged into the lake was decreased or diverted, while the self-purification capacity of the lake was increased. This once again made Mansagar Lake a living lake and also rejuvenated its shores.”
Two million tones of toxic silt were dredged from the bottom of the lake, thereby increasing its depth by over a meter. The lake is once again a natural habitat for more than 150 species of local and migratory birds, providing sustainable living to the countless species of the aquatic ecosystem.
Professor Kulbhushan Jain of Jain & Jain Associates, was entrusted with the responsibility of the metamorphosis of Jal Mahal. According to professor Jain, “Jal Mahal was in a state of total neglect and was an abandoned building in every respect. Our biggest challenge was the architectural documentation. It was important to understand the original details and materials used in order to be as authentic as possible.”
A special traditional plaster made from a mix of lime, sand and surkhi, which is polished by hand using agate stone, was applied by an extremely skilled team of specially trained plasterers. The jewels of a palace are its intricate carvings. Under the watchful guidance of Jaipur’s renowned master Mohanji, a team of proficient craftsmen undertook the mammoth task of recreating the splendour of the 18th century Royal Rajasthani Architecture with its distinctive chhatris and tibari pavilions crafted out of white marble and sandstone combining the exquisite mural paintings, decorative brass and mirror work.
The recently revamped Chameli Bagh derives its inspiration from the classic Mughal and Rajput gardens. The Chahar Bagh form of the Jasmine Garden with its four traditional divisions, neatly carved railings, water elements, painted ceilings and decorative floral motifs reflect the vocabulary of the magnificent palaces, gardens and temples encountered all around Jaipur and Amber.
Designed by Mitchell A.K. Crites, the foremost water features are the white marble Chinikhana niches veiled by a five meter waterfall, behind which can be glimpsed twinkling lights and flower petals.
Each section of the garden is framed by water channels and splendidly carved marble fountains. Referencing the courtly pleasure gardens of the past that were envisaged as an earthly paradise, Chameli Bagh is dedicated to please all the senses of its occupants.
The air is scented with fragrant flowering plants, the soothing breeze from the lake fondles, the gushing sound of water from the fountains is gentle and the eyes are more than delighted by the glow of the setting sun.
Roaring chhatris and elegant tibaris surround the dramatic white marble garden. The Anand Mahal Tibari exhibits floral motifs in red, blue and gold. The Rass Niwas Tibari reveals intriguing frescoes of Krishna Maharaas in timber. The Gulabi Tibari features the festive pink and white decorative stucco. The Badal Mahal, with its dark clouds swirling across the ceiling, raindrops patterning the walls and lily pools blossoming in the panels, brings in all the colours of Monsoon
“The art at Jal Mahal reveals the survival of classic traditions of the courtly craft skills of Jaipur,” explains Dr. Vibhuti Sachdev who curated this extensive decorative work. The absence of ostentation is the key to elegance here. For Jal Mahal, the beauty of the place lies in its modern touches which merge seamlessly with antiquarian surroundings that in no way detract from the century old regality of this historic island.
As night falls, the palace stands out against the curvilinear outlines of the mountains as a sculpture floating between water and sky with the impressive coloured lighting creating glittering reflections in the lake. And the night continues to fall slowly…