Lakes dry up in Udaipur, so does tourism

Lakes dry up in Udaipur, so does tourism

UdaipurIt’s a hard to believe sight. The lakes of Udaipur that had bestowed on this city the epithet of Venice of the East have become so dry that instead of boats, SUVs are being used to ferry guests across.

What is less visible but more worrying for many in this historically rich city is its impact on tourism.

Udaipur, where 40 percent of 2.5 million people directly or indirectly earn a livelihood from tourism, has five major lakes - Lake Pichola, Udai Sagar Lake, Fateh Sagar Lake, Rajsamand Lake and Jaisamand Lake.

Lake Pichola, one of the largest and oldest, is located in the heart of the city and surrounds the temple Jag Mandir and the Lake Palace Hotel, also known as Jag Niwas and said to be one of the most romantic places in the world. On its shores are the Oberoi Udaivilas, the Leela Palace Kempinski, two heritage hotels - Shiv Niwas and Fateh Prakash - and the City Palace museum.

The lake itself is surrounded by the Aravali hills. Tourists are usually ferried in boats to their destined hotels. But now the scene is different.

“Instead of boats, four wheelers are running on the lake,” Lakshyaraj Singh Mewar, whose family owns and runs Jag Mandir, Shiv Niwas and Fateh Prakash hotels and has leased out the Lake Palace hotel to the Taj Groups, told IANS.

“Pichola Lake has dried up, partially due to less rains in the city last year and also due to regular withdrawal of water for drinking purposes.”

With the lakes drying up, business has been hit.

“It has a huge impact on tourism, especially the hotel industry. We have slashed prices but are still unable to increase tourist footfall. The situation is the same across the board. After the 26/11 Mumbai terror attack and recession, the drying up of lakes is weighing heavy on the industry,” he said.

The city, which is a dream destination for holiday seekers and, according to industry sources, draws around 700,000 tourists, received below normal rainfall in the past two years, resulting in very little water in the lakes.

These lakes remain fairly deep at the time of heavy rains, but dry up at the time of severe drought. Except rainwater, there is no other source to fill these water bodies.

People are now being ferried to Jag Mandir - much sought after by celebrities and top corporate honchos for weddings - in four-wheelers while for the Lake Palace, a canal has been dug where one boat is being used.

Chhatarsal Singh, manager at the Jag Mandir, said: “We have no booking for the past some time. Earlier we used to get booked in advance; now hardly we see 15-20 dinners in a day.”

Hospitality industry sources say tourist arrivals, among them NRIs and foreigners, have dipped by 25-30 percent.

Even small shopkeepers who sell jewellery, traditional handbags, clothes and puppets as well as tourist guides, porters, transporters and camel owners are feeling the pinch.  

“Tourists used to wait in queues and would pay any amount for a camel ride. Now we have slashed our prices to half and still don’t get people. We are not dependent on local people for our survival,” said Ranbir Singh, who takes people on camel safaris.

Vijay Kumar, a shopkeeper, said: “When there is water in the lake, we get a lot of tourists and NRIs from other countries. We are largely dependent on them for our survival. But this time business has taken a real hit.” 

Arvind Singh Mewar, Lakshyaraj Singh’s father and the 76th custodian of the house of Mewar, said that lakes have been directly or indirectly a source of livelihood for many in the city.

“The state government has taken up a project where they are digging a 13.5 km long tunnel to ensure water supply in the lake,” he said.

According to the Udaipur district website, the project will be completed in December 2009. But Lakshyaraj Singh says the project has been hit many times for “political reasons”.

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