India: Mewar, Rajasthan

Lake Palace

Lake Palace in the middle of Lake Pichola, Udaipur

Kumbhalgarh Fort The Aravallis divide Rajasthan into two parts – the dry Mewar and the bone-dry Marwar. A brilliant opening line shamelessly plagiarised from our Marwar travelogue from a year ago. Now it was time to continue the story into Mewar and I will pick it up from the point when the Pune-Jodhpur Express dropped us an hour late in the shanty Abu Road railway station. The only reason why anyone tolerates the said shanty-ness is for the beautiful Dilwara Temples, located atop Mount Abu. Reaching the hilltop involves climbing 5600 ft via a series of hairpin bends, and since a simple right turn is all it needs to bring Pranav down with motion sickness, I dropped him and his mum in our motel in Abu Road and headed up the hill with my parents. The series of five temples of Dilwara, oldest of which dates back a millennia, are built entirely of marble and houses one of the finest temple carvings on the planet. It is a pity that photography is not allowed owing to a popular misconception that capturing the photons from the sculptures will rob them of their beauty.

Adinath Jain Temple, Ranakpur

Aparna’s turn to be dazzled by the temples had to wait till the next afternoon as the Dilwara temples don’t open for non-believers till noon. The only thing you can do in Abu Road while you wait for a temple to open is to visit another one. The most famous of the rest being the Amba Mata temple just across the border in Gujarat. Myth says that Shiva, who controls the destiny of the universe (but strangely not his anger), was enraged by the death of his wife, Sati, who self-immolated herself to defend his honour. In order to stop the resulting Rudra Tandava, Vishnu destroyed the body of Sati and pieces of her body landed all over the sub-continent, each one of the location is now a Shakti Peeth. Amba Mata temple is where her heart ended up. After being squeezed and churned through a sea of humanity, we lost ours and somehow managed to escape the mayhem in one piece and in time to head up to the relative peace of Dilwara.

Two hours on a spanking new highway brought some of us (Aparna, Pranav and yours truly) to Udaipur the following morning. My parent’s plan-A (to take the longer route to check out the sights that we were to see the next day) changed to plan-B (to get Udaipur in one piece), thanks to an idiot masquerading as a driver who got hopelessly lost in the ravines of Aravallis. Meanwhile, we spent the relaxing day rambling through the old Bagore ki Haveli decorated with period furnishings and also housing, believe it or not, the world’s largest turban. The day closed with us enjoying a stunningly pretty sunset over the Lake Pichola from the comfort of our hotel’s rooftop. The following morning Aparna and me took a day trip to check out the same sights my parents failed to see the previous day. Thankfully, our driver knew his left from his right and got us to our first stop in time: Kumbhalgarh Fort. The imposing fort with 15 ft thick walls was built by Rana Khumba, one of the most famous Rajput rulers. The walls of the fort run over 36 kms making it the second longest wall in the world. As with everything else, from the economy to the Badminton, I have a sneaky feeling that the Chinese have beaten us to the top spot here as well. After taking an hour long guided tour, we headed to Ranakpur which houses one of the biggest Jain temple complexes on the planet, with carvings rivaling those of Dilwara. Thankfully, photography is allowed here. Looks like the temple authorities here either know their Quantum Electrodynamics or just simply have decided to make money by selling camera tickets. I made most of the largess by photographing every single one of the 29 halls, 80 domes and 1444 pillars all exploding with sculptures of various size and forms.

Juna Mahal, Dungarpur

Udaipur sights occupied us the following morning. Since that just involved walking, all of us went together for the first time since we left the first AC cabin of our train. The City Palace was our first stop. Although most of the lavish rooms were a déjà vu after the palaces in Bikaner and Jodhpur, it was still quite memorable, especially the Mor Chowk (Peacock Courtyard) with the wonderfully inlaid mosaic of the Indian National Bird. The adjoining Crystal Gallery housing some stunning crystal collection and also one of the most lavish Indian Durbar Halls is worth a visit despite the steep entrance fee. After the customary boat trip around the Lake Pichola, we headed to the Sajjan Garh/Monsoon Palace, a dilapidated 19th century palace with sweeping panoramic view of the city. Saheliyon ki Bari, a must see 300 year old garden with fountains in working condition, Maha Rana Pratap memorial, housing the statue of the greatest Rajput ruler, the impressive set of Royal Cenotaphs and the 350 year old Jagdish Temple housing some wonderful carvings rounded off a busy day.

Chittorgarh Fort

Leaving Pranav to enjoy the lake views with his grandparents, Aparna and I headed to one of the lesser known princely states of the region – Dungarpur. Located at about 2 hours from Udaipur, the old palace in Dungarpur has some of the best lavishly painted rooms amongst all royal palaces in the country. Being over 700 years old, the palace is also the oldest continuously occupied royal residence in the nation. After spending an hour ogling at the decaying beauty in front of us, we made our way to the next destination – Dev Somnath temple, a decent looking 1000 year old temple, worth a stopover on your way back to Udaipur. Two hours’ drive the following morning brought us to Chittorgarh, the largest and the most historic fort complex in the country. The who-is-who of the famous Rajput kings – Khumba, Sanga, Udai Singh and Pratap, not to forget the mystic poetess Meera Bai all once lived in this fort. Despite their victories, Rajputs were more famous for their defeats: their legendary ability to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory remained unmatched till Azharuddin took over the mantle of the Indian Cricket Team in early 1990s. Three of their most famous defeats happened in Chittorgarh and a Jauhar followed each one of them. The last one of these pushed them permanently out of the fort when Udai Singh II found the city of Udaipur as a replacement capital. The 15th century 37 m tall Vijaya Stambha, its twin the 14th century 24 m tall Kirti Stambha, 12th century Padmini Palace, the Khumba Shyam and the 6th century Sammidheshwar temple do a great job of giving you some of the glimpses of the fort’s glorious past and leave you with wonderful memories to carry for the rest of your life.

Bundi Palace

Bundi, located at an easy 3 hour drive from Chittorgarh, is one of the lesser known gems in Rajasthan. The historic town dates back to 12th century and houses one of the most eye catching fort palaces in the nation. That is where we ended up after a 3 hour drive from Chittorgarh. We spent the afternoon checking out the only other thing Bundi is famous for - its stepwells or Baoris. There are 60 of these scattered all over the town, but most of them are lost under the piles of garbage that the city has generated over the years. I don’t know if it is a dysfunctional municipality at its apathetic best or an ingenious new trick that ASI has come up with protect them from vandalism. The 46m deep Raniji-ki-Baori, Dhabai Khund and Nagar Sagar were the pick of the ones with tolerable level of cleanliness. The nearby picturesque Eighty Four Pillared Cenotaph gave us something to look up to after peering down the holes in the ground all day. As if the high of rambling the streets of exotic Bundi wasn’t enough, we also managed to discover a place serving pretty authentic Pizzas. Life seemed too good to be true, a situation that any self-respecting kid would relish to rectify. Pranav stepped up to the challenge and decided to put a lid on the euphoria by throwing up everything he ate during the day. After sedating him with copious quantity of Ondansetron and spending a nervous sleepless night, we took turns check out the palace the following morning. The palace is in semi dilapidated state with some rooms containing the turquoise gold murals that Bundi is the most famous for. The best preserved of the lot is in the Chitrasala, a small 18th century palace adjoining the main palace. The series of mythological and historic murals are quite stunning to say the least. Thankfully, Pranav recovered by the evening and we could continue onto Kota the following morning as per our original plan.

Baroli Temples

Kota, a sister state started by Bundi rulers, also houses an impressive palace, our first stop in the city. The painted rooms were in far better condition here than Bundi and the mirror work in some of the rooms are the best preserved in the entire nation. A short boat ride down the Chambal to spot the elusive crocodiles, a shorter boat ride in the Kishore Sagar Lake and a ramble along the never ending arrays of 1000 year old stone statues in the Government Museum occupied us for rest of the day. The night was even better when we went to the Seven Wonders Park by the banks of the Kishore Sagar. Although the park is nothing more than miniature replicas of someone’s bucket list of seven random monuments around the world, the place is quite magical after sunset under artificial lighting. Quite a bit of a contrast to the historic monuments that had occupied our trip so far.

Since there is no such thing as too many historic monuments (a notion that no one subscribes to save me), I decided to spend the last morning travelling an hour each way to see the 9th century Baroli Group of Temples, dragging my family along for good measure. Rambling through the deserted temple ruins whose history no one has any faintest clue about was a wonderful way to end our forays into Rajasthan. After five attempts, we have barely scratched the surface of this vast state. Following the footsteps of many of its foreign invaders, I have decided to throw my hands up in the air, declare victory and strike of Rajasthan off my bucket list. And thanks to Pranav and the Indian Railways, we seem to have covered the area at about the pace that could have embarrassed any medieval caravan.

Click here for more photos from Mount Abu.
Click here for more photos from Udaipur.
Click here for more photos from Kumbhalgarh.
Click here for more photos from Ranakpur.
Click here for more photos from Dungarpur.
Click here for more photos from Chittorgarh.
Click here for more photos from Bundi.
Click here for more photos from Kota.