The Hawa Mahal and the Jal Mahal were the original poster children of Jaipur for me. A couple months before I went to India, I browsed a travel friend’s photos of India. I hadn’t yet booked anything and wasn’t sure if I’d go and I was looking for ideas on where to go. Amongst the photos, pictures of these two palaces stood out. I asked about them and found out they were both in Jaipur. A few quick Googles later and it seemed clear that Jaipur was a highly recommended stop in India and not too far out of the way on the journey from Kolkata to Delhi.
Flash forward two months or so. As we approached these palaces, I realized the driver/guide had no plans to stop. Both times, I was that tourist, the one who asked him if we could pullover briefly, pretty please. He gave us enough time to snap a few pictures while he mumbled quick scripted descriptions of the palaces. Despite how underwhelming the stops were, I was intrigued by the improbability of these buildings: an intricate palace that is just one room deep and an abandoned palace in the middle of a lake…
An Elaborate Building Used to Segregate Royal Women
The facade of the Hawa Mahal is undeniably incredible. From the side, it looks so thin, like it could easily be snapped in half. From the front, you look up at all that texture and detail and dusty rose color and it seems a bit unreal. You doubt your eyes so you rub them and squint them just to make sure.
The Hawa Mahal was added to the City Palace in 1799. It’s located in the “Pink City” part of Jaipur. Hawa Mahal translates to “Palace of the Winds”. With its many windows, it was built with ventilation in mind and it provided a respite from Jaipur’s heat during the summer months.
The royal women of that time had to adhere to purdah which meant they couldn’t show themselves to men. Because of this, the windows were decorated with lattice work so the women could see the happenings on the street below without people being able to look up and see them. Repression behind a beautiful facade.
A Palace in a Reservoir
The Jal Mahal can be spotted on the way to and from the Amber Fort. It sits not on the shore of, but in the middle of a man made lake called Man Sagar. In a previous life, the Jal Mahal was a retreat for royals; a place to duck hunt, picnic, and party.
More recently, Man Sagar was a toxic sewage bowl for Jaipur and the Jal Mahal was dilapidated and abandoned. Today, with the help of restoration, the Jal Mahal still stands as a testament to man’s audacity and intelligence as well as man’s arrogance.
Ironically, the presence of this palace in the middle of the water has helped save the area’s ecosystem. The Jal Mahal’s visibility along the road to one of Jaipur’s main attractions and its potential to be lucrative in a tourism-centric city sparked efforts to not only preserve the palace, but to clean up the lake as well. Through a relatively rapid habit restoration and waste diversion project, Man Sagar is becoming a more hospitable environment for the flora and fauna that once lived there.
But as I read about the two million metric tons of toxic silt that was dredged from the bottom of the lake, I couldn’t help but wonder how they disposed of it. When it comes to getting rid of toxic silt, it often seems that the pollution is just shifted from one place to another, presumably moved to a less visible and less lucrative location.