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Jag Niwas Palace

The Construction of The Palace

For over a hundred years Jag Mandir has served as the main pleasure palace of the Sisodia rulers. During the rule of Maharana Sangram Singh II (1716-34) his son Jagat Singh II had asked permission for a sojourn at Jag Mandir but for reasons best known to the father the young prince was refused. On the other hand the adjacent island was given up for the prince's personal use. Pavilions of the palace were constructed before 1734 and after his coronation Gadi Rana Jagat Singh II (1734-1751) further expanded the marble water palace. Jagat Singh II named the palace, Jag Niwas, also known as the Lake Palace, after himself. The palace faces east, allowing its inhabitants to pray to the Sun god at the crack of dawn.

The Extension of Many Palace

Lake Palace Hotel in Udaipur, IndiaJagat Singh's period saw the extension of the palace through the Bara Mahal, Khush Mahal, Phool Mahal, Dhola Mahal, Dilaram Palace and the Canal The Khush Mahal (Palace of Happiness) is also known as the Maharani suite since the Queens were occupying it, is one of the sought after rooms in the palace. It has a perfect Moorish setting - coloured glasswork framing the windows, marble flooring, the bed with its luxurious bedding and offers the most enchanting way to watch the sun set over the quiescent waters of the lake. In the heart of the room is an antique jhoola (swing). The other palaces include Udai Prakash with a huge terrace and Kamal Mahal with exquisite glass inlay in designs of lotus and leaf patterns. Col. Tod when writing about his life in the palace says: "Here they listened to the tale of the bard and slept off their noonday opiate amidst the cool breezes of the lake, wafting delicious odours from myriads of lotus flowers which covered the surface of the waters."

Served As A Refuge Place for British Families

During the famous Indian Sepoy Mutiny in 1857 several European families fled from Nimach and used the island as an asylum, offered to them by Maharana Swaroop Singh. In order to protect his guests the Rana destroyed all the town's boats so that the rebels could not reach the island.

The Inlay Work

The upper room of the palace is a perfect circle and is about 21 feet in diameter. Ferguson, the noted antiquarian, is of the opinion, that it was the prettiest room that he had ever seen or known in India. "Its floor is inlaid with black and white marbles, the walls are ornamented with nichés and decorated with arabesques of different coloured stones in the same style as the Taj at Agra, though the patterns are Hindu and dome is exquisitely beautiful in form. A room built of 12 enormous slabs of marble, Shah Jahan's throne sculptured from a single block of serpentine and the little mosque dedicated to Kapuria Baba, a Muhammedan Saint, are other objects of interest on the island."

The Breathtaking Beauty of Palace

About Jag Niwas it has been said that "the low yet extensive island fringed with marble piazzas enclosing luxuriant orange-gardens interspersed with sombre cypresses; towering palms and gilded minarets shooting up here and there; the whole resting upon background of the dark and lofty Aravallis, forms a scene unsurpassed by any other in India." Ferguson has written about these two spots that "the only objects in Europe to be compared with them are the Baromean islands in the Lago Maggiore but I need scarcely say their Indian rivals lose nothing by comparison. They are as superior to them as Duomo at Milan is to Buckingham Palace. Indeed I know of nothing that will bear comparison with them anywhere."

The Fading glory of The Place

By the latter half of the 19th century time and weather took their toll on the extraordinary water palaces of Udaipur. Pierre Loti, a French writer, described Jag Niwas as "slowly mouldering in the damp emanations of the lake." About the same time two colonial bicyclists, William Hunter Workman and his wife Fanny, were distressed by the 'cheap and tasteless style' of the interiors of the water palaces with "an assortment of infirm European furniture, wooden clocks, coloured glass ornaments, and children's toys, all of which seems to the visitor quite out of place, where he would naturally expect a dignified display of Eastern splendour."

The reign of Bhopal Singh (1930-55) saw the addition of another pavilion, Chandra Prakash, but otherwise the Jag Niwas remained unaltered, degrading, weak, and raring to fall but increasingly silent about it. Geoffrey Kendall, the noted theatre personality, described the palace during his visit in the 1950s as "totally deserted, the stillness broken only by the humming of clouds of mosquitoes." When Maharana Bhagwat Singh ascended the throne in 1955, Udaipur's golden years were already on the decline. Their fierce sense of self-respect and code of honour had given them their dignity but at the cost of their fortunes. Other Rajput kingdoms had prospered through their relationships with either the Mughals or the British (or both), but the Sisodias were only dependent on their wealth. Even in the 1960s Udaipur had no industry or business as such, with the only one being that of sword making.

Palace Converted into A Luxury Hotel

Bhagwat Singh was wise enough to realise this and prepared himself for the future of his dynasty and kingdom. With this purpose in mind he decided to convert the Jag Niwas Palace into Udaipur's first luxury hotel. Didi Contractor, an American artist, became a design consultant to this hotel project.

Didi's accounts gives an insight to the life and responsibility of the new maharana of Udaipur: "I worked from 1961 to 1969 and what an adventure! His Highness, you know, was a real monarch - really like kings always were. So one had a sense of being one of the last people to be an artist for the king. It felt the way one imagines it was like working in the courts of the Renaissance. It was an experience of going back in time to an entirely different era, a different world. His Highness was actually working on a shoestring. He wasn't in dire straits, mind you, but when he came to the throne he inherited big problems like what to do with the 300 dancing girls that belonged to his predecessor [Maharana Bhopal Singh]. He tried to offer them scholarships to become nurses but they didn't want to move out of the palace so what could he do? He had to keep them. They were old crones by this time and on state occasions I remember they would come to sing and dance with their ghunghats [veils] down and occasionally one would lift hers to show a wizened old face underneath. and he had something like twelve state elephants. and he had all these properties which were deteriorating. The buildings on Jag Niwas were starting to fall down and basically the Lake Palace was turned into a hotel because it seemed the only viable way that it could be maintained ... It was really a job of conservation."

Kipling had once stated that "allpalaces in India excepting dead ones are full of eyes," and Didi found it exactly so in case of Jag Niwas.

The Restoration Work Commenced

The palace was filled with peepholes, secret passages, and secret chambers. There was a room that could be entered only through a trap door at the top. The Lake Palace Hotel caught the fancy of several distinguished guests including Elizabeth II, Jacqueline Kennedy, the Shah of Iran and the King of Nepal.

The hotel provides an opportunity for guests to have an inimitable glimpse of the lifestyle that was once associated with the aristocracy. Major renovation and extension was done on the palace in 1970, which did little to debilitate it. Jag Niwas was more a garden with several pavilions, built mostly in the 18th century. However, recent additions on the island palace are modern in style. In 1971 the management of the hotel was taken over by the Taj Group of Hotels and they have made the water palace one of the most attractive Indian tourist sites with its fantastic amalgamation of courts, apartments and gardens.

Just behind the Lake Palace there is a small island, proud with its own palace called the Arsi Vilas. This one was built by one of the numerous maharanas of Udaipur to enjoy the sunset on the lake. It is also a sanctuary catering to a variety of birds, including tufted ducks, coots, egrets, terns, cormorants and kingfishers.


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