A little piece of paradise is hidden away about 80 km south-west of the vibrant city of Udaipur. It is a place where Palaces dot the mountainous terrain and overlook the beautiful, clean and fresh waters of the world’s once largest manmade lake, Dhebar Lake or as it is affectionately known today as Lake Jaisamand. It is a must do for tourists and adventurers alike.
I often take guests out to this beautiful location and they always make a comment about not realising the sea was so close to Udaipur. I have to gently remind them Rajasthan is a landlocked state with the ocean being over 2000 mile away. That is how immense the lake is.
Lake Jaisamand was the brainchild of Maharana Jai Singh in the 17th century. He came up with the idea during a time of severe drought when he realised that there was a great need for water conservation in the southern corner of Mewar.
He began the painstaking task of damming the Gomanti River and relocating the residents who dwelled in the low-lying foreshores of the small river. In doing this he built a massive embankment with the towering height of 37 metres. If that isn’t immersive enough the dam itself is made of solid marble with a 21-meter wide base and is 370 metres in length.
The marble walls are beautiful and crisp with steps leading from the top of the structure down to the water’s edge with 3-metre marble elephants sculptures guarding its entrance. There is a striking, overgrown botanical garden in its centre which is home to some very cheeky monkeys and a couple of friendly stray dogs. A Shiva Temple is set high in the centre of the dam wall overlooking the water’s edge and naked babas (naked priests) are often found wandering the structure in between religious sermons, a smile on their faces with not a care in the world. A truly unique sight to behold.
The lake itself is just another breathtaking aspect that is Lake Jaisamand. It is 14 km in width, 31 metres deep and has a circumference of 48 km, it is no wonder that my guest often mistakes this mass of water for the ocean. The lake is often referred to as the Ocean of Victory, not only because Maharana Jai Singh was a great warrior but his name, Jai, literally translates to victory, with “mand” meaning ocean, alas the Ocean of Victory.
It is said that on the day of the inauguration, which was 1691, Maharana Jai Singh walked around the dam with his weight in gold and generously gifted the gold to his kinsmen. Celebrations for the structure lasted days.
It still stands today with its original marble work and minimal restorations completed on the structure. It truly is an engineering feat which even those of us with no knowledge of such work can’t help but sit back and appreciate.
A Destination Fit for a Queen
Lake Jaisamand was a popular destination for the Queens of Mewar to stay in order to escape the excruciating heat of the desert summer. In the generations which proceeded Maharana Jai Singh saw many palaces built in the hills surrounding the dam. As with any monument, there is always a story, Lake Jaisamand is no exception.
One of the favourite stories the locals like to tell is that of the Angry Queen Palace. Although the details as to who the queen, or rather who the king was, are rather hazy. It is still a story worth sharing.
Traditionally back in the day, the kings of the Rajput clan would often have more than one wife. This was to ensure the safety of the womenfolk if they were to be captured but also done in order to form alliances with a different district.
The story goes is the Raj of the area had married his Queen, whom he was totally besotted with. There had been arranged but that did not stop them from falling madly in love with each other. However, with the king being who he was and from such a strong Rajput family there were many offers from eligible bachelorettes from around Rajasthan (Rajputana as it was known then). In a tactical move to strengthen his kingdoms and his family standing in Rajasthan, the King agreed to marry several women from neighbouring states. Naturally, the Queen was not very happy about having to share her King. The marriages went ahead regardless of her protests. Being very disgruntled by the whole process she decided to move out but had nowhere to go. The King refused to let her leave his kingdom and instead built her a beautiful palace on the neighbouring mountaintop, slightly beneath the height of his. That way he was able to watch over his beloved queen and keep her protected.
They say the two never spoke again and that his heart forever ached for his love. He would often sit on the roof of his palace for hours and just observe his queen from afar. Some say he died of a broken heart, some say she never uttered a word to anyone every again. The locals always end the story with a smile and a wink to the gentlemen in the group “perhaps that be a lesson for you boys”, then everyone has a good giggle.
Lake Jaisamand is located 80 km from Udaipur city. The best way to get there is by car. This can be achieved by booking at the local travel agent, or most hotels will offer a driving service for a cost. The average price would be anywhere between 1500-3000 Rupee per vehicle.
A local government bus is available for those on a tight budget and can be caught at the Udaipur Bus Depot at Udaipole near the centre of the city. Prices tend to vary.
Entrance into the Lake Jaisamand area is about 10 Rupee per person which goes towards the upkeep and maintenance done by the forestry department.
Don’t forget to take a boat tour on the lake while you are there. A good price for this is about 100 Rupee per person but can involve a bit of a haggle, stick to your guns and you will end up with a good price. Don’t pay more than 300 Rupee per person.
The boat trips take you around some of the small islands teething with birdlife, as well as just underneath the “Angry Queen Palace” and along the shoreline. A must do for all visitors.
While you are at it
Its surrounding area is also a treat to behold. The Jaisamand Wildlife Sanctuary is not far from the Lake, where you can learn about the biodiversity of the Mewar region as well as see tigers, panthers, and the sloth bears up close but still in their natural habitat.
The at the southern tip of the lake is the town of Salumber, home of Hadi Rani and the beautiful Rajput palace she once lived in. The story of Hadi Rani is a captivating and romanticised Rajput story about honour and loss.