Reviving a lake palace
Jal Mahal, located in the
middle of Man Sagar Lake, Jaipur, which had been in a state of
neglect for many years, has got a facelift. The fortunes of this
once-splendid monument and the lake, which had become the cityís
dumpyard, have been revived as it opens to the public soon, Perneet
Singh writes from Jaipur
Restoration work under way at Man Sagar Lake
Photos by the writer
isnít possible to revive it ó this was the unanimous
verdict of experts a few years back, who saw Man Sagar Lake,
amid which the historic Jal Mahal stands, but today the lake and
the majestic palace have regained their royal glory. This has
been made possible due to a multi-crore face-lifting exercise
which includes cleaning the lake, recreating the ecosystem and
restoring the dilapidated monument.
tourism infrastructure firm Jal Mahal Resorts Pvt. Ltd. has
taken up this restoration work to create a fully integrated
tourist destination, with the Jal Mahal and the Man Sagar Lake
being the nodal points. The project, Jal Tarang, under the PPP
mode, will come up on 432 acres of land, including the lake,
which is spread across 310 acres. The company has taken up the
project on a 99-year lease from the state government against a
payment of Rs 2.52 crore per annum.
The journey of Jal Mahal ó from a dilapidated monument
standing amid a dead lake to the one reverberating with sounds
of water-birds flocking to a resurrected lake ó seems more
interesting due to two reasons. First, the state government didnít
allot any funds for the restoration of Man Sagar Lake and the
company took it upon itself to restore it despite it not being a
part of the project and second, the lake, which usually dried up
during the summers, has been full of water for the past two
years even when the city hasnít received normal rainfall.
Like Man Sagar
Lake, Jal Mahal, too, was in a state of utter neglect when the
company bagged the project. The company then roped in heritage
restoration firm, Jain & Associates, to restore the
architectural beauty of the monument. This firm was involved in
the restoration work of Nagaur Fort and Meharangarh Fort.
government agency had done some work on the structure, most of
which was quite shoddy. Cement had been used at a number of
places, which was subsequently removed carefully, as the
original work was intact at a few points underneath it.
A city museum
will also come up within Jal Mahal, which will be designed and
conceptualised by architect Vibhuti Sachdev and historian Giles
Tillotson. According to Project Director Rajeev Lunkad, most of
the palace has been restored and it would soon be open for
is being done by leading consulting firm Belt Collins while the
gardens are being designed by American landscape architect Mitch
Coming to the
tourism destination part of the project, Lunkad says they will
not use the lake and the monument for commercial purpose, though
the entire tourism activity will revolve around these two. The
commercial activities would be confined to just 100 acres.
restoration work is over, the company plans to come up with an
amphi-theatre for cultural activities against the backdrop of
Jal Mahal, as well as an ethnic village on the lines of the
famous Chokhi Dhani, craft markets, food courts, multi-cuisine
restaurants, museum and promenade with Jal Mahal and Man Sagar
in the backdrop.
Two hotels with a convention
centre to handle 2,000 persons, a luxury resort and spa with a
back-to-nature theme will also come up. When completed, it would
probably be the only water front recreational spot with a dash
of heritage in it.
other big project, this project, too, had its share of
controversies. The Opposition BJP attacked the state
government over the issue in the recent Assembly session.
The BJP MLAs alleged that the number of rooms, for the two
seven-star hotels to be built there, had been increased
from 200 to 435, while the area for lease itself had been
increased. Questions were also raised about a portion of
the Man Sagar Lake, which has allegedly been filed up with
mud so as to grant more space to the developer. But
Rajasthan Tourism Minister Bina Kak has assured that all
work in the area will be in accordance with the
provisions. "In fact the quality of water has
improved since the work began. And whatever more is done
will ensure that the heritage look of the city is
preserved," she adds.
Harsh Vardhan, who holds annual birding fair at the lake,
is all praise for the project. "In the past four-five
years, the foul smell emanating from Man Sagar has gone
and the BOD level, which was`A0very high earlier,`A0has
come down`A0to 40 mg/litre. All this has been remarkably
achieved through scienctific and traditional methods of
cleaning water. It is a great achievement for India as a
whole and an example across the globe," he adds. He
says with pride that even Robert Oates, Director of The
Thames River Restoration Trust, who attended the birding
fair in February this year, complimented on the improved
environment of the lake.
A nursery has been developed, which can house more than one lakh trees
Resorts Pvt. Ltd. also intends to go for a massive
plantation drive in the 100-acre area meant for tourism
activity. It recently bought 40 full-grown trees, which
were axed on Delhi-Jaipur highway as part of road widening
project, and transported them to its nursery for
plantation. "The initiative to start a nursery,
specially catering to transplanting large trees, began in
2006. Ever since itís been a sustained effort to buy
trees facing the axe and transplant them at the nursery.
Today, the nursery has grown to a total capacity of more
than one-lakh trees. A large number of young trees are
being nurtured among the large uprooted ones getting a
fresh lease of life. When we got the Jal Tarang site we
had just three eucalyptus trees. The 100-acre Jal Tarang
project is envisaged as an oasis and when the project is
near completion, we plan to directly transplant large
full-grown trees to create an instant canopy of
green," says Lunkad.
Besides a canopy of green
by the lakeside, "the effort now is to also foray
into aquatic vegetation and indigenous Aravalli
plantation. We surveyed 35 to 40 nurseries and the
Ranthambhore National Park. Surprisingly, "Rohida",
the state tree, finds little attention in the landscape
scenario of the state. We have now introduced the tree
along the sedimentation basin. Apart from it, based on our
survey, we are trying to introduce and focus on the stateís
indigenous special," he added.
Water birds at the resurrected lake
the ecosystem in the Man Sagar Lake wasnít easy. It had
virtually turned into a dumping ground for the city waste.
For the past couple of decades it was the site where the
Pink Cityís two biggest drains ó Brahmpuri and
Nagtalai ó were emptying their polluted water. There was
hardly any vegetation left for the fish and other aquatic
fauna to survive. The lake was stinking, making it
impossible for tourists to even come closer to it, let
alone clicking a photograph.
Director Rajeev Lunkad says, "We were to maintain the
lake as a part of the project, but it was in such a bad
shape that it was impossible to come anywhere near it due
to the stench emanating out of it. Though restoration wasnít
a part of the original project, we saw no logic in working
on the resort until the lake is restored to its pristine
glory as it would have been detrimental to commercial
viability of the project."
company then`A0set up a panel of experts comprising
professors from IIT Powai. Experts from IIT Roorkee were
also roped in for conducting a hydrology study. The work
finally began with the dredging of the lakebed and
creating a new channel to divert the two main
sewerage-cum-storm-water drainages. De-silting was taken
up at a large scale, which cost the firm Rs 7 crore.
Around two million tonnes of silt was taken out and
subsequently depth of another metre and a half was added
to the lakebed across 310 acres. In the process, organic
pollution was also removed.
exercise was taken up following German expert Herald Kraftís
suggestion that the lake should have certain amount of
depth to survive. Kraft contended, "A shallow lake
can survive in cold countries but in a state like
Rajasthan, water in the shallow lake will become so hot
that the life will cease to exist. Therefore, the deeper
the lakebed is, higher the chance of it treating
itself." A one-and-a-half-kilometre channel was
created to divert the drains. A sedimentation basin was
also created for treating the storm water before it gets
into the lake.
result of water treatment was there for all to see. When
the project was started, the Biological Oxygen Demand (BOD)
level was more than 800 mg/litre as against permissible
limit of 3 mg/litre. But post-restoration it came down to
as low as at 30 mg/litre. "Our job didnít end here,
as the lake was almost dead and the vegetation in had
finished. We then thought of re-introducing vegetation
back into the lake. We brought vegetation from eight to 10
lakes located in and around 200 km from this area. Some of
the vegetation introduced would act as bird food later.
That is how birding got integrated. A sedimentation basin
was also created in such a way that there are at least
threes levels for waders to stand and for deep divers to
go in and for fishing.
Right next to the basin
is a natural wetland with variable depths to allow
different kinds of vegetation to come up. This will not
only treat the water but will also serve as a natural
habitat for birds. Now the lake has started offering very
specific environment for specific bird varieties. We have
also introduced fish in some numbers and will do more in
future. Soon there will be a wide variety of fish
and`A0whole spectrum of aquatic agitation and the
ecosystem will become fully active," adds Lunkad. The
company has spend Rs 15 crore on the restoration of Man
Sagar Lake, which Lunkad dubs as a goodwill gesture by NR
Kothari, chairman of KGK Group of companies. The group is
the parent company of Jal Mahal Resorts.