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India: Rajasthan: Chittorgarh, Devigarh, Jaipur, Jaisalmer, Jodhpur, Kumbhalgarh, Ranakpur, Ranthambore, Udaipur
Kumbhalgarh, Rajasthan, India: The mighty secret
by Prakash Bang, Editor in Chief
The ingenious planning of Kumbhalgarh Fort made it very difficult for the enemies to locate it. Thanks to the Aravali mountain range that surrounds this magnificent fort, even the fort walls that are over 36 kilometers long are well camouflaged. Good to know that the Kumbhalgarh wall is second longest in the world, the first being the Great Wall of China.
Kumbhalgarh is 90 kms. from Udaipur. Given the mountain road for part of the journey, you would need about 3 hours to make the trip. However, it took us much more than that since enroute we made elaborate halts at Eklingji and Nathdwara. We left Udaipur after a leisurely breakfast to reach Eklingji. It was around 12 noon when we reached the temple. As luck would have it, we were fortunate to attend the afternoon arti.
About 22 kms from Udaipur, Eklingji is a Hindu temple complex and is believed to be the ruling deity of the Princely State of Mewar. The ruler maharana rules as his Dewan (prime minister). Begun in 971, the temple complex was built by the Guhila (later called Sisodia) dynasty of Mewar, in honor of their presiding deity Eklingji, a form of Lord Shiva. The beautifully sculpted temple complex includes 108 temples within its high walls. The main temple, which dates to the 15th century, was rebuilt from the ruins of an earlier destroyed temple. The walled complex is made of marble and granite and has an enormous double-storied, elaborately pillared hall under a pyramidal roof, with a four-faced image of Lord Shiva in black marble. Another temple in the complex is the Lakulish temple; built in 971, it is the only temple of the Lakulish sect in India. The Maharana of Udaipur pays a private visit to the temple every Monday evening. Photography in the temple premises is prohibited.
30 kms further is Nathdwara. Shri Nathdwara (a pathway to Lord Shri Krishna) literally means the gateway to the Lord Shrinathji. This great Vaishnavite shrine was built in the 17th century on the spot exactly identified by the Lord himself. The legends have it that the idol of the Lord Krishna was being transferred to safer place from Vrindaban to protect it from the destructive wrath of the Mughal Emperor Aurangzeb. When the idol reached this spot, the wheels of the bullock cart it was traveling in, sank axle deep in mud and refused to move further. The accompanying priest realized that this was Lord's chosen spot and the Lord did not want to travel any further. Accordingly a temple was built here. This is a temple and place of pilgrimage amongst its believers. Pilgrims have to wait for hours to be able to have a glimpse of the deity. Photography in the temple premises is prohibited.
Kumbhalgarh would be our base for 4 nights. We were booked at Club Mahaindra Fort Kumbhalgarh. Like in all other destinations, even this property was excellent. Thatís one plus point with Mahindras. The flip side, of course, is the high cost of food and beverages. Though the guests have the option not to dine in, but their locations are generally faraway from town. They have meal packages that can be opted for. By the time we were in our rooms, it was 8PM. Time for dinner and hitting the bed. It was a long day.
Its location had always been Kumbhalgarh's greatest advantage. Because it was virtually inaccessible in the 15th century, Rana Kumbha of Mewar built this great defensive fortress on a 3,500 feet high hill overlooking the approaches from Ajmer and Marwar.
In Kumbha's time the kingdom of Mewar spread from Ranthambore to Gwalior, including vast tracts of present-day Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh. Mewar's rulers became patrons of all that was best in Indian martial and fine arts, architecture and learning. Of the 84 fortresses defending Mewar, 32 were designed and built by Rana Kumbha. Of these, Kumbhalgarh with its 36-kilometer long wall and soaring towers is the most impressive.
Kumbhalgarh stands on the site of an ancient citadel dating back to the second century AD belonging to a Jain descendant of India's Mauryan emperors. It defined the boundaries between Mewar and Marwar and became a refuge for Mewar's rulers in times of strife. Its ramparts encircle the fertile Shero Mallah Valley, with ancient monuments, cenotaphs, ponds and flourishing farms. Kumbhalgarh fell only once in its history, to the combined forces of Emperor Akbar, Raja Man Singh of Amber, Raja Udai Singh of Amber, Raja Udai Singh of Marwar and the Sultan of Gujarat.
According to legend, in 1443, the Maharana of Kumbhalgarh, Rana Kumbha, was initially repeatedly unsuccessful in attempts to build the fort wall. A spiritual preceptor was consulted about the construction problems and advised the ruler that a voluntary human sacrifice would solve whatever was causing the impediment. The spiritual advisor advised building a temple where the head should fall, and to build the wall and the fort where the rest of his body lay. As can be expected, for some time no one volunteered, but one day, a pilgrim, or some versions suggest a soldier, and some the spiritual preceptor and the pilgrim were one and the same, volunteered and was ritually decapitated. Today the main gate of the fortress, Hanuman Pol, contains a shrine and a temple to commemorate the great sacrifice.
A priest is still employed by the present maharana to care for the shrines of his ancestors. And twice a day the priest's family makes the stiff uphill climb to the castle to light the sacred lamps before vermilion-daubed images of Hanuman, Chamunda and Ekling. There is an octagonal room in which Rana Pratap was born and thereís the hall in which his grandson Prince Karan entertained the future Mughal Emperor Shahjahan. There's the beacon tower from which a flame summoned Mewar's chieftains to war. The austere chambers, the vast reservoirs, the simple garden court for the royal ladies, the easily defendable narrow staircases all declared that this was primarily a warrior's hideout, not a palace for princely pomp and show.
The next day, our first half was spent at the hotel itself and a visit to neighbouring villages. Post lunch, we booked a safari that would take us through the Kumbhalgarh Wildlife Reserve. The lucky ones can spot leopards & panthers. The unlucky ones like us can feel happy whilst spotting few species of deer and wild boars. Only authorised safari (Jeep / Gypsy / similar brands) vehicles are allowed to be taken into the reserve. 6-people are ferried. The cost for this approximate 3-hour trip costs Rs 2500. Could be a little cheaper if look around.
Early next morning, I was on my own trying to capture the early morning village charm. The serene lakes, swaying farms, grazing cattle, village folks basking in the morning sun, playful children ensured that a few hours just flew past. At 11AM we left for Ranakpur to visit the famous Jain Temple.
On our way back we visited the Kumbhalgarh Fort. Itís a good idea to be at the fort base around 4PM. That way you can spend about 2 hours visiting the fort and then enjoy the light and sound show thatís performed every evening at 6:30PM. Thereís a fee to visit the fort and the show. Itís a good climb up the fort. The view from the top terraces is simply beautiful. The Aravali range extends to as far as the eye can see. Hereís a tip. About a couple of kms from the fort, on the main road is a make-shift observation deck (thereís no sign so look-out for the location). From this spot you will witness the full-view of the Kumbhalgarh Fort. You will love to see the illuminated fort. The lights are on only for a short time after the light and sound show, so rush to the spot after the show. I was so fascinated with the view, that I came back early next morning to take a day-time shot.
The next day was our return journey home. Our flight would leave from Udaipur in the evening. We checked out at 10AM. By 11AM we were at Maharana Pratap Museum at Haldighati. Haldi is turmeric. Ghati is valley. The terrain is yellow coloured and therefore the name. This is the location were the famous battle of Haldighati was fought. In just 7 hours, more than 18,000 soldiers were killed in the battle. Emperor Akbarís army (headed by Man Singh of Jaipur) against the Maharana Pratapís troupes. Itís here that Maharana Pratap was saved his life by his faithful horse Chetak, who took the maharana to a safe spot. Only then did Chetak breathe his last. The museumís exhibits and murals take you through the course of history. A few kms away is Chetakís memorial at the very spot where he died.
We reached Udaipur at about 2PM. Lunch was a traditional Rajasthani meal followed by some souvenir shopping. We reached the airport at about 4PM, well in time for our flight back home.
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