Jaipur has many palaces: some big, some small, some actually built during the princely state period, and some fake “heritage hotels” built in this century. In this busy landscape of heritage structures, a few palaces stand out. The prettiest and most unique of these is certainly Jal Mahal, which seems to float in the waters of Man Sagar, an artificial reservoir between Jaipur and Amber.
Jal Mahal (Water Palace) was originally built in 1734, at the same time as the founding of Jaipur. The two-storeyed structure is square in plan, with domed towers at each of the corners and bangaldar roofs at the midpoints of each side. The building’s large, flat roof terrace has a garden with several big trees that rise above the chhatris and bangaldar roofs. Although the palace can be appreciated from afar, it has long been closed to the public. It is maintained in good condition by workers who land at a boat dock on the eastern side.
The Jaipur Development Authority has developed a pedestrian promenade on the lakeshore facing Jal Mahal. Locals flock to the place during the monsoon, to appreciate the greenery and throw food to the fish. The southern half of the promenade, closest to Jal Mahal, is typically full of vendors and beggars. The northern half tends to be less crowded and more peaceful.
Of course, Jal Mahal has its foundations on solid ground, and it doesn’t really float in the lake. In fact, the lake is not particularly deep where the palace is located. A good way to appreciate this is by watching the opening scene of the 1959 British adventure movie North-West Frontier. The film opens with rebels attacking a loyal raja in the Northwest Frontier Province in the early twentieth century. For the shooting of this scene, Jaipur and Amber stood in for the northwest frontier. The raja’s palace is Jal Mahal. At the time of shooting, the lake’s level was very low, and the palace stood on dry ground. The stuntmen rebels’ horses could gallop right up to the palace.
The lake that Jal Mahal stands in, Man Sagar or Jal Mahal Sagar, was also built in the eighteenth century and is a heritage monument in its own right. Its original purpose was to provide water for the new city of Jaipur. I will write about the lake, and the remarkable dam that impounds it, in a future post.