A lasting legacy of eighteenth-century India that continues to delight visitors and residents of Jaipur is the Jal Mahal on Mansagar lake. Moving away from Amber, Sawai Jai Singh founded the city of Jaipur in 1727, whereas contemporary historians date the Jal Mahal to 1734. The Mansagar lake is strategically located to join the ancient capital of Amber with late mediaeval Jaipur as a junction between the old and the new. The lake is a pivotal point to the north that is surrounded by all that is quintessential of Rajasthan’s landscape. Low hills, forests and forts, a perfect landscape from which to enter or exit the Pink city. Till very recently the monument was an abandoned structure, with its terraces and pavilions derelict with age, its gardens rendered invisible. At the same time, its trees grew wild amidst the concrete and plaster of botched conservation efforts of the past. All of this set within a toxic lake into which the city’s drains emptied out. The structure’s significance seems to lie in its symbolic connection with water and it cannot be seen independent of the dam and the creation of the lake.
Conceptually created as a celebration of water, a precious and scare commodity, across the arid state of Rajasthan. The restoration of Jal Mahal is synonymous with the resuscitation of the Mansagar lake. While it may have been possible to rescue the lake without salvaging the palace, it is inconceivable that the Jal Mahal would have survived without the revival of the lake. The rejuvenation of the lake and the multiple endemic issues was a very complex challenge. These ranged from problems of siltation, settled deposits, contamination from the inflow of wastewaters, decrease in water surface due to artificial land formation, the decline in spread area due to downstream irrigation besides a host of other major and minor factors. From its historical use as a ‘source’ of water for the city, Mansagar lake had become a cesspool of garbage generated by Jaipur. Practicalities of running and maintaining efficient, cost-effective systems were the need of the hour when a solution was sought from water and waste management issues at the lake. Eventually, for the rejuvenation of the Mansagar lake, a combination of natural treatment technology and advance tertiary treatments were envisaged for improving the quality of treated wastewater added to the lake. The rehabilitation of this historic lake and the creation of an enchanting usable water body has been a technically outstanding achievement. The lake now has water supply through the year to a minimum water depth of two meters at any point which may be used for boating and recreational purposes. Irrigation demand has been delinked from the lake’s water reservoir, and tourism activities have started around the lake. Nature has begun to heal itself with the creation of wetlands and appropriate vegetation; birds of varied hues are flocking in. Life has begun anew for the lake. Many species of birds, including migratory birds that were not visible here for many years, have started revisiting. The nearly three-hundred-year-old pleasure pavilion today shimmers after a meticulous restoration and refurbishment that perhaps allow it to surpass its former glory even as it seems ephemerally adrift amidst tranquil waters.
The lessons from Mansagar can have a far-reaching impact on how India can revive its water bodies and rivers. Its a pioneering and innovation-led approach implemented under a PPP format making it extremely scalable and adaptable. The challenge is to break away from preconceived approach of wastewater treatment based solutions and instead look at highly cost-effective ecological solutions, that are far more appropriate to the India Economic and Implementation reality.