Hiding relatively unknown in far Eastern Rajasthan just miles from the Uttar Pradesh border, Deeg Water Palace is an awe-inspiring visual masterpiece. Few tourists feel compelled to visit the remote town of Deeg (Dig) because it’s surrounded by more star-studded attractions like Taj Mahal and Jaipur City Palace. Each of the latter are still complete in their ornate finishes, and unlike the Deeg Water Palace, their location offers tourists a variety of lodging and dining options aside from other sightseeing activities.
I made time to explore the impressive complex of marble and sandstone while passing between Alwar and Bharatpur. Built by Raja Suraj Mal in the 18th century as a summer resort of the royal family of Bharatpur, it’s also known as Surajmal Palace. Dusty and unglamorous, arriving in Deeg was a bit like stepping back in time. Finding directions to the palace proved challenging as locals didn’t seem as enamored by their claim to fame as one might have thought.
The palace sits in the heart of Deeg’s commercial district where I arrived shortly after opening. A wide stone pathway leads from the roadside parking up to a massive archway decorated in a beautiful floral motif. The main entrance is a gorgeously designed two level passageway made of red sandstone consisting of 4 arches. High enough to allow decorated elephants and camels, the path continues into the main palace area but not before a stop at the ticket counter.
Purchasing a ticket can be an exercise in patience. The nearly deserted palace doesn’t call for many staff members to sell tickets thus a short wait time may ensue.
A calming tree-lined shaded corridor must be passed after leaving the entrance before reaching the main open expanse. TIP: Beware of the playful yet menacing monkeys who sit atop the pathway walls.
Ahead is Gopal Bhavan, the only area of the palace still fully furnished and open to tourists. It lies on the right side of the palace alongside Gopal Sagar, one of two man-made water tanks found at either side of Deeg Water Palace. Entry is through a side door and shoes must be removed. Sadly, no photography is permitted inside. Female guides lead visitors through the various rooms, switching on lights and doing their best to provide historical facts in broken English. Don’t be surprised when you’re asked for a tip after the 5 minute tour.
A walk outside away from prying eyes is much more rewarding. Walk the steps below to get within inches of the green algae covered musky smelling water which still cools the palace. Pieces of the fragile building are loose, and as such, caution should be taken when walking near accident prone areas. Flowered handrails, detailed archways and molded support beams are all carved from large pieces of sandstone. An overall attention to detail is cheerfully reminiscent of the construction used in Victorian royal homes of England.
Keep an eye out for monkeys who venture into this lower level. They have little regard for humans and won’t refrain from showing you who is in charge. At the same time keep watch for the delightful green parrots who also call this part of the palace home. Perched in small alcoves, they fly in and out regularly.
Move ahead from Gopal Bhavan to the ladies quarters of Deeg Water Palace. A perfectly symmetrical Mughal garden is surrounded on all sides by royal housing and servant’s chambers. Peaceful and serene, you won’t find any other tourists in this area nor monkeys to ward off. The idyllic area begs to be photographed. It’s quite possibly the most beautiful area of any Rajasthani palace.
Above Keshan Bhavan is the roof top reservoir. Four wells supplied water which then flowed through pipes to the water passages and fountains within the palace. These days the water beds are dry except for special holidays when the fountains are filled. Still it’s impressive to imagine.
From here you can make your way toward Keshav Bhavan. This is the famous monsoon pavilion which sits next to Rup Sagar, the second of two palace tanks. Hundreds of metal balls were placed strategically on the channel in the roof of the pavilion. Water fed by pressure through pipes inside the building’s arches would set the balls rolling producing sounds similar to thunder. This part of Deeg Water Palace is void of tourists or staff. Monkeys have successfully chased away humans leaving this area unseen but from a distance.
Finally Nand Bhavan is the last of the major buildings within the palace walls. It’s exterior is shut to curious guests and the close proximity to Keshav Bhavan monkeys leave many to skip a closer inspection. Including me.
Why Visit Deeg Water Palace
Deeg Water Palace is arguably one of the most fascinating of all Rajasthan’s palaces. Exquisite architectural details such as the “floating” Gopal Bhavan to the intricate waterways running throughout the palace are incomparable elsewhere. Faded, forgotten and slightly rundown, more tourist appreciation to the palace and adjacent Deeg Fort could bring much needed repairs.
A tour of the palace can take up to one hour depending on your interest level. Unlike many of Rajasthan’s famous palaces, no pick-up guides are available for Deeg Water Palace. Tourists will need to arrange for a guide prior to arrival with a reputable hotel or travel agency. Bottled and packaged refreshments can be purchased across the street from local vendors.
Open Daily: 9:30AM – 5:30PM (except Friday)
Cost: Rs 100
Where to Stay in Deeg
Deeg (Dig) is easily visited as a half day trip from Bharatpur (34 kms) or full day trip from Alwar (75kms). There are no guest homes or hotels in Deeg. Accommodations are plentiful in Bharatpur (Hotel Sunbird) where as several heritage properties can be booked near Alwar.