Slice of a majestic past left high and dry

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 13 November, 2004, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 13 November, 2004, 12:00am

Enjoyed by royalty for centuries, the famous water surrounding the Lake Palace Hotel in Udaipur, Rajasthan, has dried up. Where once maharajahs took their boats out onto the shimmering water for opulent summer parties and tourists enjoyed a taste of the royal life, there are now herds of cattle grazing the scrubby pasture.

It has taken years of drought in the desert state and total neglect by the government to dry up Pichola Lake. Visitors to the Lake Palace Hotel used to take a boat from the City Palace on the shore. Now they drive up to the entrance along a makeshift path where the lake used to be.

Rajasthan, with its forts and palaces, relies heavily on tourism. Fears are growing that with no water at the Lake Palace Hotel, the tourists will not bother coming. Hotel bookings in Udaipur, famous in India as the 'City of Lakes' are down by a third this tourist season. Other lakes in Udaipur have dried up too and become thoroughfares for people and grazing grounds.

Local people fear for their income, knowing the government is unlikely to do anything. The most it has done is launch an inquiry into the cause of the lake drying up, even though everyone knows it is a combination of years of drought and the pressure of a teeming population on water resources.

Although the local government has tried in the past to bring water to the city from nearby areas, the projects have failed.

Environmentalists like Harish Paliwal believe only effective water harvesting can solve the problem.

'If we don't act soon, the beautiful lakes of Udaipur will disappear,' he laments.