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One of the modern wonders of lake restoration, Man Sagar Lake has been rejuvenated. The ongoing question is, will the newly-refurbished lake remain pristine or will it again be allowed to degrade? The man-made reservoir located in the Indian state of Rajasthan originated in the 16th century when, after a serious drought, the ruler of Amir built a dam across the Darbhawati River. Water collecting in a low depression eventually formed the 300-acre shallow lake, which quickly became a stopping area for large numbers of birds. Surrounded by the Nahargarh and Arivaldi Hills, the lake was hauntingly beautiful and added to the many attractions of Jaipur city. Unfortunately, the hills were denuded of forests, and silt began to enter the lake. Man Sagar underwent several efforts at restoration over the centuries, the last in the 18th century by Maharaja Jai Singh II of Amir, who also built the Jal Mahal, or Water Palace, in the middle of the lake. Constructed as a summer palace, the Jal Mahal is still one of the most striking features of the lake.
Jaipur, called the Pink City for its beautiful pink stucco buildings, is increasing modern yet surrounded with ancient treasures in the form of forts, palaces and legends. Jaipur, the capital city of Rajasthan, is a must-see stop on any tour of the area. A tourism route connects Jaipur with several historic edifices constructed in the late 18th century, including Khilangarh Fort, Nahargarh Fort, Jaigarh Fort, Amer Fort and the temple complexes in the Kanak Vrindavan Valley. Man Sagar Lake lies on the main route to most of these other attractions. Within Jaipur itself, a number of historic points of interest including City Palace and Maharaja Sawai Man Singh II Museum are popular stops on any city tour. The City Palace and adjacent buildings and gardens feature a mixture of Mughal and Rajput architecture with the central Chandra Mahal's seven stories offering the perfect vantage point from which to overlook the gardens and the old city. Various sections hold collections of old manuscripts, displays of textiles and costumes, armory and weapons and a clock tower.
The Jantar Mantar Observatory, built in the the 18th century, functions using massive masonry instruments with which to study the stars and constellations. A huge sun dial still provides accurate time. In the midst of Ram Niwas Gardens, the Albert Hall Museum founded by Prince Albert in 1876 holds a collection of rare handicraft pieces and archeological treasures. The Hawa Mahal, built in 1799 as a retreat from which the royal females could overlook activities on the street below, is the most-recognized feature of Rajput architecture in the city. Behind its five stories of balconied windows, the building now houses yet another museum featuring exhibits of "Jaipur Past and Present". And no visit to the city would be complete without at least one visit to the famous bazaars which feature an array of locally-made goods such as camel-skin shoes, fabrics and Rajasthani jewelry.
Nahargarh Fort, built in 1734, overlooks the city from about eight miles away on a hilltop. The fort holds several architectural treasures including the Madhvendra Bhawan and the Hawa Mandir. Equidistant from Jaipur, Jaigarh Fort commands another hilltop overlooking the City of Amir and its palaces. The Jai-Ban, the world's largest cannon on wheels, is located here. Nearby in the City of Amir, the Amer Fort (also called the Amber Fort) is one of the most visited complexes in the Jaipur area. This four-story fort, with its palace complex built of marble and red sandstone, overlooks Maota Lake.
Between Amir and the City of Jaipur, the Jal Mahal commands the middle of Man Sagar Lake. The palace, built around 1799, can be reached either by a causeway or a fleet of newly-added traditional wooden boats. Five stories, the Jal Mahal has the bottom three floors below the surface, with boats entering on the fourth level. From here, tourists can climb a set of stairs through decorated rooms and hallways to reach the stairway to the beautiful Chameli Bagh rooftop gardens. From here, visitors have an excellent view of the City of Jaipur and the restored Man Sagar.
Man Sagar, after restoration, is again home to a variety of visiting and nesting birds. For the past 13 years a birding festival has been organized to view such species as white-browed wagtail, grey heron, blue-tailed bee-eaters and common moorhens. After the lake was dredged of hundreds of thousands of yards of accumulated and toxic silt, artificial nesting islands were constructed to attract such native avian species as red-breasted flycatcher, marsh sandpiper, large flamingo, redshank, great crested grebe, grey wagtail, pintail, ruff, coot, kestrel and herring gull, all of which used to visit the lake in great numbers.
The improved water quality has allowed the introduction of native plants and aquatic animals again to the lake. Planting of trees and vegetation on the formerly denuded hillsides surrounding the shore has filtered run-off of sediments and created a green oasis at the lakefront. The two incoming streams which formerly directed storm water and sewage into the lake have been diverted to a wastewater treatment plant that now supplies clean filtered water to Man Sagar. The private tourism development group which restored Man Sagar to its former glory also expended considerable effort in refurbishing the Jal Mahal, repairing the palace and installing a large amount of local art in the lower floors of the building.
Man Sagar Lake's problems are not over, however. One complaint has been that a forbidden invasive species of fish, the African Tiger Fish, now dominates the lake, out-competing native species for ecological space. The trees planted on the surrounding hills are not native trees. And some local groups now object to the 'private' development of tourism resources mandated by the public-private partnership that managed the massive clean-up of the lake. India's current legal system does not adequately protect such partnerships, leading to the opportunity for quasi-official abuse and loss of investment. These problems will have to be resolved in order for India to receive the kinds of international investment and assistance needed to solve environmental issues throughout the country.
Meanwhile, Jaipur and Man Sagar Lake are open for business. International tour companies regularly include Jaipur in their itineraries. The city is supplied with an increasing number of quality hotels, great shopping and local arts and entertainment. Man Sagar and the Pink City of Jaipur are truly an oasis of beauty in the Rajasthan desert, one that should hold a prominent place on the bucket-list of any international traveler. More visitors insure that the value of such partnerships is clearly seen by local officials and citizen groups.
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