Monsoon Palace of Udaipur on the hill top
|Architectural style||Rajput Architecture|
|Town or city||Udaipur|
|Structural system||Marble and masonry|
|Design and construction|
|Architect||Maharana Sajjan Singh|
The Monsoon Palace, formerly known as the Sajjan Garh Palace, is a hilltop palatial residence in the city of Udaipur, Rajasthan in India, overlooking the lake Fateh Sagar. It is named as Sajjangarh after Maharana Sajjan Singh (1874–1884) of the Mewar Dynasty, who built it in 1884. It offers a panoramic view of the city's lakes, palaces and surrounding countryside. It was built basically to watch the monsoon clouds; hence, appropriately, it is popularly known as Monsoon Palace. It is said that the Maharana built it at the top of the hill to get a view of his ancestral home of Chittaurgarh. Previously owned by the Mewar royal family, it is now under the control of the Forest Department of the Government of Rajasthan and has been opened to the public recently. The palace provides a beautiful view of the sunset.
High in the Aravalli Hills, just outside Udaipur, the Palace is illuminated in the evenings, giving a glow of golden orange (see image in the infobox). The palace was used in the 1983 James Bond film Octopussy as the residence of Kamal Khan, an exiled Afghan prince.
It reflects the history of the Mewar kingdom. Sajjan Singh, Maharana (b. July 18, 1859 d. December 23, 1884), the initial builder of the Monsoon Palace was the seventy–second ruler of the Mewar Dynasty (1874–1884) and he ruled from Udaipur for a short period of 10 years until his untimely death. The Mewar dynasty traces its history to Guhil who founded the Mewar State in 568 AD.
Even though Sajjan Singh accepted the crown when he was 15 years old, his uncle Sohan Singh had challenged his right to the crown and even plotted through astrologers, who had said the timing for the coronation was not appropriate. But the then British agent, who was in favour of Sajjan Singh, intervened and persuaded the astrologers to give a favourable date for the crowning. But the Coronation of Sajjan Singh took place two years after he was nominated to the crown. As the trouble maker uncle was still persisting with his obdurate attitude towards the newly crowned Maharana, his property was confiscated and he was also incarcerated. The Maharana, considered an enlightened ruler and a "Man of Vision", after he was invested with power in 1876, launched on a massive programme of developmental activities in his kingdom by way of enlarging infrastructure facilities such as roads, water supply works and several civil works. He also introduced civic administration and civil courts and improved all round environment by afforestation and lake improvements. He got the Pichola Lake desilted and the masonry dam re-built to improve storage capacity and also preserved national heritage with his personal interest in arts and culture. The most ambitious project he undertook was building of the Sajjan Garh Palace or the Monsoon Palace, as a western backdrop to the Udaipur city (lack of water is attributed as reason for the palace turning into ruins in later years). It was during his rule that Udaipur city got the distinction of being the second Municipality in India, after Bombay. For his outstanding achievements to furtherance of Mewar kingdom and to remind him that his was a princley state under the British Raj, he was conferred the title of "Grand Commander of the Star of India" in November 1881 by Lord Ripon, on the occasion of Queen Victoria's crowning as the Empress of India.
The palace, built with white marble, is located on Bansdara peak of the Aravalli hill range at an elevation of 944 m (3100 ft) above m.s.l.[clarification needed] and overlooking the Lake Pichola Lake from the west about 1,100 ft (340 m) below the palace. The intention of the original planner, Maharana Sajjan Singh, was to build a nine storey complex, basically as an astronomical centre and to keep track of the movement of monsoon clouds in the area surrounding the palace and also to provide employment to people. It was also meant to serve as a resort for the royal family. Unfortunately, the Maharana died prematurely at the age of 26 (after only 10 years of rule between 1874 and 1884), which resulted in shelving of his plans for some time. Before his death, he had built it partially, which was subsequently completed by his successor king Maharana Fateh Singh who used it to watch the monsoon clouds. The Royal family also used this building as a hunting lodge.
The white marble palace has high turrets and guards regulating each of the towers. The palace has a grand central court with a staircase and many rooms and quarters. The palace has been built on marble pillars, which have been carved with exquisite motifs of leaves and flowers. The walls are plastered by lime mortar. At night, the illuminated palace with the Rajasthani architecture comprising domes, fountains and jharokas gives it a fairy tale beauty. A unique water harvesting structure to collect rainwater in an underground cistern with storage capacity of 195,500 litre exists in the precincts of the palace. In spite of this water supply was found to be inadequate and the palace was therefore abandoned.
Sajjangarh Wildlife Sanctuary, which encircles the palace, was established in 1987. It covers an area of 5.19 square kilometres (2.00 sq mi). It is a well protected sanctuary now with concrete wall of Kishan Pol surrounding it. The hillside is thickly wooded and the former rulers maintained this area as a royal shooting preserve. When Udaipur was attacked by the Scindias in 1764, the hill was used as an ordnance dump; some cannons still remain.
The palace overlooks the sanctuary, which is a reserve for reptiles, tigers, nilgai, sambhar, wild boars, hyenas, panthers, and jackals. It is also popular for bird watching. The reserve can also be approached by a trek (as an adventure) starting from the Gorilla Point to the Jiyan Sagar or the Bari Lake to enjoy the scenic beauty of the Aravalli hills and the wildlife of the reserve forest.
In popular culture
The Monsoon Palace was used as a major location for the filming of the 1983 James Bond film, Octopussy. It appears as the residence of the principal villain, an exiled Afghan prince named Kamal Khan (Louis Jourdan), and sequences shot include the finale, complete with a battle in the courtyard and a Union Jack hot-air balloon, a night-time visit by a Soviet military helicopter and a full 'tiger' hunt on elephants as 007 (Roger Moore) escapes from the Palace and is pursued into the jungle. Other footage in the film was shot at Shiv Niwas Palace and the Lake Palace Hotel. Although a significant part of the film involves Bond eating dinner inside the palace, and skirting between rooms, and features a grand staircase and finally a basement rendezvous for the villains in the film, these were not shot inside the Monsoon Palace although the film implied so. It is also said that the film Octopussy, which received worldwide attention, is screened daily in most guest houses in Jodhpur, as an advertisement of the type of accommodation that they provide. In 2008 The Cheetah Girls filmed part of their Indian movie at the palace filming the song Dance Me If You Can.
Udaipur is well connected by road, rail, and air links to all parts of the country. The palace is 5 kilometres (3.1 mi) west of Udaipur and overlooks Lake Pichola. A winding road leads up the hill to the palace. During the monsoon season, the palace and the surrounding Sajjan Singh Sanctuary are major attractions for visitors. A boat ride across Lake Pichola provides excellent views of the palace and allows visitors to enjoy the scenic beauty around the palace. The palace is open to visitors till sunset, after which it is closed for all tourists.
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