Once upon a time in seventeenth century India, the Western provinces of Udaipur in Rajasthan were home to the great Maharana Jagat Singh II. The Maharana ruled Udaipur from 1628 to 1654 as the 62nd successor to the royal dynasty of Mewar.
Right in the centre of Udaipur is the Pichola Lake, in the middle of which is natural foundation of 4 acres of rock, roundabout 16,000 square meters in area. It was here that the Maharana decided to build his summer palace, a building that still stands tall as the face of Udaipur tourism almost three centuries later. It took three years to build (1743-1746) and it was named Jag Niwas after the man who commissioned it.
The Mughal Connection
The Maharana was quite friendly with the Mughal emperor Shah Jahan at that time and a big fan of his architecture it seems. He encouraged his own craftsmen to copy some of the glories of the Shah’s incomparable buildings at Agra.
Inspired by the amazing Taj Mahal no less, the walls of the palace are ornamented with niches and decorated with arabesques of different coloured stones in similar style. The upper room of the palace is a perfect circle about 21 feet (6.4 m) in diameter. The floor is inlaid with black and white marble. The courtyards lined with columns, pillared terraces, fountains and gardens. The differences are mostly in the patterns, which are predominantly Hindu designs as compared to the Mughal’s muslim forms. The dome too is not built as per muslim standards.
The palace faces the east, allowing its inhabitants to pray to the Sun god at the crack of dawn; Hinduism reveres the Sun as one of its many Gods. The palace was a haven in summer remaining cool in spite of the scorching desert heat outside. The successors of the Mewar dynasty used it to hold their summer durbars for many years to come. Other objects of wonder on the island include 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.
During the infamous revolt of 1857, one of the first acts of rebellion in the Indian Freedom Movment, several European families fled from Nimach and used the island as an asylum, offered to them by the then ruler, Maharana Swaroop Singh. The Maharana’s had always been allies of the Raj. As the Indian Sepoy Mutiny gained momentum, the Rana destroyed all the town’s boats in order to protect his guests; so that the rebels could not reach the island.
Ruin & Restoration
By the latter half of the 19th century, time and weather had taken their toll on Jag Niwas, as it lay deserted and moldering. In the 1960’s, as India established its democracy and the power of the ancient dynasties was fast depreciating, Maharana Bhagwat Singh decided to convert Jag Niwas into Udaipur’s first luxury hotel. It was the only way to save the palace.
In 1971, it was taken over by the Taj Hotels Resorts and Palaces. They undertook the restoration of the original property, added another 75 rooms and elevated it to 5-star standards. The “Royal Butlers” working in the hotel are descendants of the original palace retainers. Lo and behold, the Taj Lake Palace was on the map.
Till today the Lake Palace is one of the primary premium luxury properties across the country. It is invariably featured in the top 10 of all ‘Most Luxurious’, ‘Most Romantic’, ‘Best heritage Property’ lists that make the rounds. It tops most “places to visit in Udaipur” lists.
It underwent a second restoration in 2000.
The Lake Palace gained global attention and recognition after it was featured in one of the most popular James Bond films of all time, Octopussy. It has hosted international royal royalty the likes of Lord Curzon, Vivien Leigh, Queen Elizabeth, the Shah of Iran, the king of Nepal and First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy.
The best time to visit Udaipur is between the months of October and March.