Written by Ritika Singhal | Guided by Sophiya Islam
Udaipur is known as the 'City of Lakes'.
Lake Pichola, located in the centre of the city of Udaipur, is like its heart.
Despite the enormous size of the lake, there is a relatively small area of land around it that is intricately connected to the city. Having two famous ghats, the Gangaur Ghat and the Ambrai Ghat, this area is immensely popular among the people - both tourists and locals. These two ghats are connected by two bridges across the Lake.
Ancient havelis are scattered around the Gangaur Ghat, which is part of the old city fabric. In contrast, across the lake, around the Ambrai Ghat, the city fabric comprises newly constructed residential areas and tourist infrastructure. This article explores the relationship of Lake Pichola with the surrounding precinct; focusing on how it is perceived, occupied and manoeuvred by the people.
1. Lake Pichola, Udaipur ©www.thrillophillia.com
2. Map highlighting important locations around the Lake ©Ritika Singhal
A visual connection
While approaching the Gangaur Ghat, the streets are perpendicular to the Lake, creating an element of curiosity as water becomes a focal point. In contrast to this, while approaching the Ambrai ghat, the Lake emerges as an element of surprise because the streets are running parallel to the Lake edge.
The city's growing skyline is representative of the battle for the best view. Several restaurants and rooftop cafes advertise the ‘lake view’ as a unique experience for the visitors. Also, the activities around the Lake demonstrate a response to people's visual relationship with it. One of the major activities is photography, which takes place on the ghats that offer panoramic views of the Lake. The evening activities on this Ghat are complemented by a view of the sunset with a scenic backdrop of mountains and lighted up havellis adding reflections in the water.
Various vantage points along the streets of the Precinct around the Lake ©Ritika Singhal
1. The lighted up city fabric as a backdrop to the Lake ©Ritika Singhal
2. Map highlighting various visual connections around the Lake ©Ritika Singhal
A recreational commodity
Visual connection when combined with other amenities such as food, lounging, clubbing, painting, or boating, utilises the lake as a recreational commodity. Access to water, whether physical or visual, is recognised in the city as a limited asset, and thus the city fabric also evolves to accommodate the growing tourist demands, especially the Havelis (palaces) that are transforming into hotels, cafes etc. This effect is more prominent near the Ambrai Ghat edge.
Activities like boating have their own attraction due to the close proximity to water and the dynamic views. Other than this, locals of the city also associate with this precinct as the go-to place, to meet their friends, have a chat, dip their feet in water, and relax. The character of the surrounding precinct is evolving into a consumer-oriented district, focusing on tourists and their needs.
Boating at the Lake ©www.rajasthantourplanner.com
What often goes unnoticed in the midst of the tourists, shopkeepers, and visitors is the daily routine of the numerous locals who live in the vicinity of this well-known tourist destination. Typically, the residents of this precinct begin their day with the rising sun, when they come to the Lake for their morning bath and pooja (prayer). Young boys usually arrive in large groups to swim and play. The women visit later in the morning to do their pooja and wash utensils and clothes.
Shops in this precinct typically open up in the afternoon, and men gather at major intersections to sit and chat in groups, and often find interested tourists to share stories about their people and City. Children returning from schools stop by at their ‘addas’ (fixed meeting points) at ghats to have a small chat with friends. With everything focused towards tourism, these local activities have found a home in these public places. However, due to a heavy footfall of visitors, the usual neighbourhood activities, such as children playing or women talking around a corner are difficult to find in this precinct.
1. Women washing clothes at the Lake ©Ritika Singhal
2. Men performing their morning prayer rituals at the Lake ©Ritika Singhal
A religious symbol
Traditionally the water edges emerged for cultural and religious purposes as is evident from the presence of temples at all the ghats around the Lake. Locals believe the area was envisioned as Kashi. Interestingly, the presence of the temple and sacred trees have ensured that the ghats are not encroached by nearby buildings, retaining this public open space in the city and sustaining the local lifestyle.
Temples become anchors for cultural activities and celebrations during the festival period.The sound of ‘aarti’ in the morning and evening adds to the otherwise silent soundscape of the precinct. The temples on both sides of the water body have a strong visual and aural connection, and thus, despite being spread out, they unify the precinct as a single religious centre.
1. Congregation at the Ghats ©Ritika Singhal
2. Temples on the edge of the Lake ©Ritika Singhal
The lake through its multiple roles becomes a central space for segregation, congregation, celebration and leisure. It serves as both the precinct's collective memory of the past and as a catalyst of activities in the present. Traditional water features like the Lake Pichola must be valued and recognised as heritage because they offer a wide range of intangible benefits to the people, such as cultural heritage, social connections, artistic inspiration, and various functions related to culture, aesthetics, recreation, and environmental aids. Such landscapes require the preservation of their cultural and economic ecosystems in addition to their ecological ecosystem.