The oldest and one of the most beautiful and largest lake of Udaipur, Picchola lake lies to the western fringe of the city. It derives its name from village Piccholi which existed to the north of the present Sajjan Nivas garden.
It is enveloped by lofty royal palaces, temples, beautiful bathing ghats, and elevated hills on all sides. There are also mansions of some erstwhile estate holders of the Mewar kingdom on both of its banks. One of them is Bagore Ki Haveli that houses the Western Zone Cultural Centre. In the southern part, there is a hill known as Machhala Magra and one can have a glimpse of Ekling fort from here. The City Palace broadens along the eastern banks of the lake.
The Sisarma stream, a tributary of Kotra River, drains a catchment of fifty-five kilometers from the Aravali hills and contributes to the flow in the lake. It accounts for a total waterbody of around 6.96 square kilometers. Its gauge height above and below sill level is 3.35 and 5.2 meters. The lake has a depth of 10.5 meters. It is 4 kilometers long and 3 kilometers wide and has a depth varying from a minimum of 4.3 meters to a maximum of 10.5 meters.
It has been accepted that the dam over Picchola Lake was constructed by a Banjara during the region of Maharana Lakhasingh, grandfather of Maharana Kumbhasingh. There is evidence that a trade route to Gujarat passed through Udaipur. The Banjaras carried grain, salt, etc loaded on the back of bullocks, a group of which was called Baalad. Once due to heavy rains, it was not possible to cross the river. This disturbed the leader of Banjaras. He took permission from the Maharana and built a dam with sand and stone. This is how Picchola Lake came into existence and got its name from village Piccholli where it was located. The Banjara could never have dreamed that his action would one day make Udaipur famous all over the world.
It is said that when a Banjara named Chhitar was passing through Udaipur with a group of bullocks loaded with his wealth, his favorite bullock Peela fell into the pond and died. The Banjara got dug a lake with half of his wealth in the memory of the bullock. The lake got its name Picchola as a combination of the letters from Peela and Chhitar.
When Maharana Udaisingh moved his capital to Udaipur in 1559, he strengthened the dam and greatly enlarged the lake.
Not only this, the Maharana built a palace in the middle of the lake but also a Vishnu Mandir that is famous as Udaishyamji Mandir on the western bank of the lake.
The most famous ghat on the bank of the lake, Gangaur Ghat was built by Maharana Bheemsingh. In 1878, Maharana Shaktishingh built Tripolia, exquisitely carved three gates. On this ‘ghat’, are celebrated several festivals and events. At the time of Gangaur festival, the procession of famous Issar Gangaur idols culminates here and cultural programs are performed. A large number of Indian and foreign tourists also congregate on this ‘Ghat’. On Jalghoolani Ekadashi, Ram Rewardis are taken to this place. Maha-aarti is performed on the eve of Hindu New Year. It is also a popular spot for film shooting.
It consists of five different lakes viz the original Picchola, Amar Sagar, Rang Sagar, Swaroop Sagar, and DoodhTalai, and is now all together referred to as Picchola.
The lake up to Chand Pol bridge is known by the name of Amar Kund. This later portion was built by Amar Chand Barwa, a Brahmin Prime Minister of Mewar, who held the portfolio during the period between 1751 and 1778 A.D.
Again to the north of Amar Kund and Chandpol Bridge there exists an accumulation between standing water, which was reshaped during the reign of Maharana Jaisingh and named as Rang Sagar.
To the west of Rang Sagar and beyond the bridge that leads out Amba Pol, stands a pool of water, which is known as Kumbariya Talab. A little north-east of Rang Sagar and beyond yet another bridge known as Naya Pul (new bridge) we come across a large pool of water that prior to the reign of Maharana Swaroopsingh was known as Kalaliya Shiva Sagar, as there existed a small temple of Lord Shiva that belonged to the people of Kalal caste. However, during the reign of Maharana Swaroopsingh the dam of this pool was rebuilt to the orders of Maharana and the lake was renamed Swaroop Sagar.
Astonished and amazed by the beauty of this lake, Rudyard Kipling once wrote: “If the Venatan owned the Picchola Lake, he might say with justice, “see it and die”. Take Kipling at his words and visit Picchola in Udaipur both in day and night. The lake takes on a whole new character depending on the time of the day. In the morning, the lake and the palaces are quiet. the lake is speckled with tourists boats and people clicking selfies line the banks. As the night creeps in, all the palace around the lake light up and illuminate the lake. No boats, no birds, nothing to see except the lit up palaces that stand impressively around the lake. It’s an aweimposing spectacle. The dam over Picchola Lake was constructed about 175 years before Udaipur was founded.
The water management system in Udaipur is so efficient that it is not difficult to assess the position of water in lake Picchola. It is said that the Putli in Samore Bagh is an accurate indicator of not only the inflow of water in the lake but also the water level. When the level is over four feet, water starts flowing out of the pitcher in the hands of Putli. The flow increases as the level touch six feet. When the level rises further and the lake gets filled, water starts flowing in a stream from the pond behind the Putli. The increase in flow is an indicator of danger.
Among the localities that were there even before the foundation of Udaipur was village Picchola that was located in the northwest side of the present Gulab Bagh and Samore Bagh flowed a river only during the monsoon. However, during heavy rain, it was difficult to cross it.