The Lotus Mahal is part of the Zenana enclosure (the royal harem). It is surrounded by solid walls with watch towers on every corner. (It is funny how kings known to have hundreds of wives and concubines guard their favorite ones behind un-climbable walls guarded by eunuchs.) Interestingly the royal treasury is in the zenana enclosure as well. Talk about putting all your eggs in one basket!
Though it is popularly known as a palace (mahal), several scholars firmly believe that it a figment of the romantic British. A plan etched in 1799 plan marks it as a a council chamber. Its proximity to the elephant stable and the treasury room would was probably make it the head quarters of the commander-in-chief.
The immaculate preservation of the Lotus Mahal, despite the 6 months of systematic destruction of Hampi at the hands of the Muslim invaders in 1565, has advanced theories that it was built post facto. Another interesting theory about this building is that the copper pipe plumbing is a communication device and not a means to distribute water.
The decorations at the Lotus Mahal have a confluence of two distinct Bahamani traditions (arches in different planes found in Firuzabad in Gulbarga and pointed arches with recesses designed in plaster at Takht-i Kirmani in Bidar).
In line with the "function before form" motif seen at many places in Hampi, the rear-side of the mahal unfolds a surprising asymmetry. The right hand side of the building has an undecorated, almost ugly stairwell (the part with the black steaks in the photo). I probed repeatedly to find out if it was built as an extension or an afterthought. No, I was told every time, it was part of the original plan. The structural integrity and ease of use finds preference above aesthetics in many a Vijayanagar structures
Later I read somewhere that guards allow you to go to the top of the watchtowers. The watchtowers, I am sure, provide a comprehensive view of the enclosure and I wish I had not missed it.