The flight of steps leads down to the sacred water.
People are gathered on the ghats to celebrate the abundance of blue gold, rare in the severe dryness of the Mewar region. The districts of Udaipur have been blessed with rivers, gifts of nature above all others. Generations of ambitious rulers, the Maharanas or ‘great kings’, perfected the picture as they constructed and carefully maintained artificial lakes to water the white city.
Pichola, Janna Sagar, Fateh Sagar, Swaroop Sagar, Udai Sagar… these familiar names of lakes evoke those of proud Rajput Kings, like Rana Lakha, who constructed the vast Pichola lake in 1382 AD.
Perhaps more importantly, the names are reminiscent of moments of joy and harmony for the people of Udaipur. The Pichola Lake is a playground. People of all ages wear their newest bathing suits and romp around.
They jump, they splash, they push each other, and they burst out laughing when their prey falls into the water. Kids have climbed on a nearby one-level house and from the terrace they dive into the lake with acrobatic movements, challenging each other successively for the award of the most impressive plunge.
Moments of joy and harmony surround the lake. Rituals of worship that bring people together are observed on an everyday basis. Men, women, and children rejoice in a collective, celebrating nature.
To celebrate the Lakes, a floating palace was built by the Kings of Mewar. The Lake Palace, formerly known as Jag Niwas, is located on Lake Pichola in Udaipur.
A lake away from this scene of daily life, at one end of Fateh Sagar, people have gathered to admire a show. The crowd congratulates itself: “The lake is full!” Locals talk about the abundant water passionately, without stopping, excited that the monsoon has been so good this year. Another artificial construction is the object of their admiration: the dam. Their enthusiasm is such that they can stay for hours, taking pictures of this human miracle, thanking the gods and calling friends to share with them the joy of this rare contemplation. Parents raise their children on their shoulders, so the kids can better admire the dam with curious, inexperienced eyes. “Look! Waterfalls!”
A man swimming far away from the ghat comes back as he catches sight of a black dog. In the deep water, he calls him, making beckoning noises and clapping his hands. The dog gives in and swims to the man. They move away from the shore together, until the dog decides to leave, conscious of the woozy depth in their location. On the upper-right banks of the Fateh Sagar, the Sahelion-Ki-Bari garden welcomes cheerful families seeking the greenness and shades of the remote, yet well-planned, the island of peace.
Fountains and pools are fed by the waters of the lake, attracted by the forces of gravity to the lower level garden. On the left, the ‘Savan-Bhadon’ fountain cools the atmosphere with flows squirting water at warm visitors. Savan and Bhadon remind Indians of two happy months in the rainy season. The human construction thus prolongs the joys of the monsoon for the thirsty population.
From June to mid-September, nature offers the cherished gift of sacred water to the region. Hours of light rain or exceptional cloudbursts nourish both the drylands and the hearts of the population. “The sound of rain is the most exciting for us”, a Rajasthani man tells me. With water flowing down from the skies, people never seem to put a stop to their activities.
They go out, carrying wide black umbrellas or not, and do not fear to get wet. Children especially enjoy the freshness of rain on their skin and often voluntarily seek this contact, cheerfully playing in the rain. The gods of water have blessed Udaipur.