Rangilo Rajasthan - Part 4 - At the one and only hill station of Rajasthan – Mount Abu

After exploring the City of Lakes and its outskirts, it was time to venture out a bit further and visit other gems in the vibrant state of Rajasthan. The next destination of my journey was Mount Abu. Situated at an altitude of 1200 m, Mount Abu is a popular hill station, offering refuge from harsh summers of the region. The hill of Mount Abu, although isolated from the main range, is a part of the Aravali range that bisects Rajasthan into Mewar and Marwar. The hills are surrounded with pristine deciduous forests teeming with wildlife. Along with recreational places like Nakki lake, Mount Abu houses an architectural wonder of Dilwara temples. Being a mountain lover, I was quite excited to visit all the places on this hill station. 

The scenery on the way to Gurushikhar

I checked out of Banjara hostel by 9 AM and started my journey toward Mount Abu. Half of the route was same as that for yesterday. So, navigation wasn’t much of a concern. It was a bright sunny day and temperature was around 20 degree Celsius. How perfect it can be to ride a bullet on a smooth highway? I was enjoying my ride to the fullest. After I crossed Pindwara, the weather suddenly became warmer. I increased the frequency of water breaks to keep myself hydrated. Soon I reached Abu Road, the town at the base of Mount Abu. From here the ghat road was about to begin. I stopped for a glass of sugarcane juice and geared up to “climb” the mountain. Fortunately, the road was well-maintained. Being a weekday, traffic was scarce. The deciduous trees of Aravali hills were popping out of deep valleys. As I gained altitude, I was greeted with bouts of pleasant wind. A few more turns and I was entering the hilly town of Mount Abu. I had booked a quaint homestay called Babbar’s Deb. It was a little away from the main square of the town. This homestay was managed by Mr. Babbar. He welcomed me with a warm gesture and gave some tips about exploring the town. 

It was almost 1 PM and I was hungry. I grabbed a quick meal of Dal Bati at a local restaurant and started my excursion to Gurushikhar. Gurushikhar, rising to 1722 m, is the highest point in the Aravali range. It houses a temple of Dattatreya who is considered an incarnation of Vishnu. The road was not in a great condition and the curves were steeper. However, the scenery was breathtaking. The landscape was adorned with rocky outcrops surrounded by grasslands and forests. The blazing afternoon sun had no effect on the temperature as it hovered around 15 degree Celsius. Within a few minutes I reached Gurushikhar. I parked my bike and started climbing the steps to the summit. The temple of Dattatreya was located just a few feet below the summit. At the summit, there was a small cave housing footprints of Dattatreya. Just besides the cave was the point from where one could see the panoramic view of the Aravali hills. I climbed the last step and stood still looking at the mesmerizing beauty of the landscape. On one side, one could see the vast plains of Mewar dotted with tiny patches of farmland. On the other side, never ending rocky slopes occupied the landscape. On an adjacent hillock, there was Mount Abu Observatory operated by the Physical Research Laboratory. This lab hosts an infrared telescope and conducts astronomy experiments. I sat next to the temple for a few minutes enjoying the view. Clicked some pictures and came down. I had to reach Dilwara temples before they close for the day. 

Mesmerizing view from Gurushikhar

The observatory on the adjacent hillock

Dilwara temples are a group of temples dedicated to Jain Tirthankars. Built by the Solanki kings during 11th and 13th centuries, these temples are famous for their intricate carvings. In total, these are five temples: Vimal Vasahi, Luna Vasahi, Pittalhara Vasahi, Parshwanath, and Mahavir Swami. The main temple, Vimal Vasahi, is dedicated to Rishabhdev or Adinath and it is the most ornate among the five. I parked my bike and entered the temple area. Unlike most temples in India, these temples do not have tall Shikhara or Gopura. In fact, the outer walls appear to be quite ordinary. As I reached the entrance, I came to know that camera, phone, or other personal belongings were not permitted inside. I felt a bit annoyed for not allowing the camera. I left my belongings at the counter and proceeded toward the temple. The first one to encounter was Vimal Vasahi. The inside scene was just beyond words. Every inch of the interior was decorated with detailed carvings. The pillars were like ornaments. And the ceiling of the Ranga Mandapa was like an icing on the cake. At the center of this dome was a stone chandelier. The chandelier was surrounded by several concentric circles, each housing a row of carvings. The outermost circle had statues of Vidyadevi carved with impeccable symmetry. And all this was carved out of a single stone! I was just wondering whether this was carved before installing the ceiling or after. The ceilings of ambulatory passages were also adorned with beautiful carvings. Some portions had geometrical shapes, whereas some portions contained vines and flowers. A central chandelier-like piece protruding downward was common to all portions.

I roamed around all the halls and subshrines, appreciating the sheer magnificence of the temple. Later, I visited the other temples in the complex. These were similar in structure but a little lesser intricate in decorations. I was badly missing my camera. I walked through all the halls and courtyards of these temples and tried to record everything in my biological memory card. The attempt was mesmerizing and exhausting at the same time! After spending almost an hour in observing the masterpieces of architecture I started my journey back to Mount Abu.

To be continued...

Rangilo Rajasthan - Part 3 - Kumbhalgarh and Ranakpur

Today’s day was decided for Kumbhalgarh and Ranakpur. Kumbhalgrah is one of the legendary forts in Rajasthan, famous for its gigantic wall stretching over 36 km. This wall, second largest in the world after the Great Wall of China, is popularly known as the Great Wall of India. The fort was built by Maharana Kumbha in the 15th century. It served as place of refuge for the infant Prince Udai when Chittorgarh was at siege. It is also the birthplace of Maharana Pratap. Together with five other magnificent forts, this fort is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The fort was on my bucket list for long time. Today was the day to live the dream. I started around 9 am from Udaipur. The highway was smooth and had almost no traffic. Riding a bullet on the highway passing through rocky hills of Aravali was an experience beyond words! I was feeling like this road should never end. But alas! The diversion to Kumbhalgarh appeared and I ended up on a narrow countryside road full of potholes! After maneuvering through the battlefield for almost an hour, a smoother road was in sight. 

The magnificent Kumbhalgarh

The Great Wall of India
The road started going uphill and the landscape was turning into a forest. Two steep curves and lo and behold. The gigantic fort gate and its massive wall stood in front of me. I parked my bike and went in. The main palaces of the fort were on a hill on the left side. A paved path was going uphill. Crossing the intermediate gates, I reached Badal Mahal. From here, the view of the fort premises and surrounding hills was simply breathtaking. I clicked a lot of pictures and came down. On the right side of the gate were a few temples. The first one was Vedi temple. This two storied temple was built in Nagara style. There were three disjoint Shikhara and all of them were intricately carved. From here, I climbed on the fort wall. Standing on a world-famous structure was quite a different feeling. The fort looked like an old sage meditating on a mighty hill. The wall sprawling over the mountain ridges appeared like his matted hair. It was a sunny afternoon and the wind had vanished in the thin air. I sat there for a while just looking at the grandeur of the fort. 

The courtyard of Badal Mahal

Valleys and fields surrounding the fort

The Vedi Temple

The never-ending wall

The fort and the Vedi temple as seen from the Great Wall of India

It was already past 2 PM and I had to reach Ranakpur before the temple closes. I grabbed a quick meal near the fort entrance and headed toward Ranakpur. The distance was hardly 50 km, but the road was in shambles. Finally, I reached a town called Sayra from where the condition of the road improved. Now the ghat section started. I was driving through the dense forest of Kumbhalgarh Wildlife Sanctuary. Being a dry season, there were hardly any leaves on tress. The thousand shades of brown and yellow created uneven mosaics on the landscape. The pleasant ride was soon over as I reached the famous temple of Ranakpur. 

The Chaumukha temple of Ranakpur

As you enter the temple, you feel like entering a different world

Mind-blowing carvings on the ceiling

The elephant hall
This temple was built by a local businessman in the 15th century. It is an architectural wonder built in white marble in the middle of a forest. It is built in Maru-Gurjara style and houses Adinatha idol in the sanctum. The Adinatha idol is of four faces, symbolizing quest in four directions. Thus, the temple is also called as Chumukha temple. The temple courtyard is bound by a wall, which houses several sub-shrines. The temple has 29 halls, 1444 pillars, and 80 domes. Of note, no two pillars are the same! The area around the temple was clean and well-managed.

The intricate carving
There wasn’t a ticket to enter the temple; however, I had pay 100 bucks just to take pictures inside. An audio guide was available. But the time for renting it was already over. I climbed up the steep plight of stairs and entered the temple. It just felt like a wonderland. The carvings on the inner side of the roof were simply mind-blowing. The pillars were intricately decorated. Each hall had a unique appearance. The hall I liked the most was the one with an elephant. The proportions of animal’s body parts and the decorations on its trunk and back were impeccably perfect. Most of the carvings depicted stories from Jain mythology. The sunlight penetrated through narrow openings and shone over marble structures, giving a mystic, spiritual experience. I was walking through the temple premises like a starry-eyed kid. My camera was probably exhausted because of constant shutter movement. I just didn’t realize how time passed. It was almost 6 PM and I had to reach Udaipur before it gets too dark. I unwillingly rushed out of the temple and started my journey back to Udaipur. 

The hall full of carved pillars

A subshrine in the temple

To be continued...

Rangilo Rajasthan - Part 2 - Udaipur and around

Todays day was planned for sightseeing around the city. I had pre-booked a bike for my entire trip of 6 days. I picked up the bike and headed to Saheliyon ki Bari. This place is a garden where ladies from the royal family used to go for recreation. Today it is one of the famous tourist spots. The garden has several sections. The central courtyard, which houses a pond, dancing fountains, and decorated domes, was quite impressive. The Lotus Lake was also stunning. Flowers always attract me for macro photography. I spent some time in the garden clicking flowers of diverse colors and moved on to my next destination Moti Magari.

Domes and fountains at Saheliyon ki Bari

The Lotus lake

Colorful flowers in the garden

Maharana Pratap statue
Magari means a hill in the local tongue. This is a small hill besides the Fateh Sagar lake. On top of the hill, there is a statue of Maharana Pratap, a museum, and a small garden. I parked my bike at the entrance and trekked up. It was a small hike. The weather was pleasant. Birds were chirping in the woods. Within a few minutes I reached the hilltop. From here, I could see a mesmerizing landscape of the lake and the city. I spent some time there clicking pictures. At the central place of the hill, the statue of Maharana Pratap was standing tall. Just looking at the great figure brought goosebumps on my body. Besides the statue, there is a museum. The museum has replicas of the famous forts of the region: Kumbhalgarh and Chittorgarh. It also houses informative panels on the history of the Mewar kingdom. Strolling through the galleries of the museum was a good learning experience.

View from Moti Magari

After spending around an hour on the hill, I came down and grabbed some food. Fateh Sagar lake is bigger than Pichola lake and has a couple of island in it. One of these islands houses a beautiful park known as Nehru Garden. I took a boat ride to this garden. The garden was quite ordinary and didnt offer anything much interesting. I came back to the shore and headed to Sajjangarh monsoon palace.

Nehru Garden

Sajjangarh is an isolated hill around 5 km away from the city. The palace was built as a monsoon retreat. Situated at around 900 m above sea level, this palace offers magnificent view of the city and its lakes. Riding the steep, curvy road, I reached the palace. The afternoon sun was mellowed down at this height. The city looked stunning and the lakes were just adorable. The palace itself was quite a small structure and didnt have anything impressive from architectural perspective. Probably the natural beauty of the place was so overwhelming that the creators of the palace just decided to keep it low key. Whatever! From here, I drove to Badi lake. This lake a bit far from the city, but it is the most beautiful. Just a driving along the lake was a joyful experience. I stopped at a promenade to click some pictures. The promenade was beautifully decorated with domes and arches. And there were hardly any people. I spent some time there enjoying the tranquility of the moment.

View of the town from Sajjangarh

The Sajjangarh palace

A spot near Badi lake that has recently become popular is Bahubali hills. God knows why it is called Bahubali hills. I heard some illogical tales relating the spot to a place in a random scene in the movie Bahubali. Whatever it is; the place looked quite appealing on Instagram. I was quite excited to go there. I parked my bike at a parking place in a nearby village. From there, I trekked for around fifteen minutes on a dusty, uphill road to reach this panoramic place. The spot on the top of the hill was indeed beautiful. The calm waters of Badi lake surrounded craggy hills that were spread until the horizon. Interestingly, the hill right in the front appeared like the map of peninsular India. The late-afternoon sunlight made the scenery even more dramatic. This place was comparatively crowded. A couple was having their pre-wedding shoot and the whole crew had almost sabotaged the point from where one could have the best view. People were annoyed but still tolerating their shenanigans. I spent some time there clicking pictures and returned to the city. I went to another roof-top restaurant, grabbed a beer, and called it a day.

The drive along the lake was joyful

Arches and domes at Badi lake promenade

The promenade was quite and serene

Bahubali hills and Badi lake

The India-shaped hill 

To be continued...

Rangilo Rajasthan - Part 1 - The picturesque sunset at Pichola lake

 Rajasthan, the land of forts and forests, deserts and folklores, and bravery and sacrifice, is one of the topmost tourist destinations in India. Udaipur and the places around it were on my bucket list since long time. Winters were about to end and I decided to make this trip happen before the mercury starts to rise. I booked my flights for the last week of February and started to plan the itinerary. I had six full days, excluding travel days, and wanted to make the best of it. After a lot of browsing on the internet, reading travel forums on Facebook groups, and talking to friends who have been there, I finalized my itinerary. I decided to spend the first day in Udaipur to explore the city, visit Kumbhalgarh and Ranakpur on the second day, go to Mount Abu on the third and explore the places of interest there. On the fourth day, I thought of exploring some more places in Mount Abu in the morning and reach Jawai Bandh in the afternoon. Do the leopard safari in the morning on the fifth day and travel to Chittorgarh. Spend the sixth day exploring the fort and travel back to Udaipur on the seventh day to board the flight in the afternoon. Theres nothing more exciting than making a solid plan. I applauded for myself!

Finally, the wait was over. On a bright, sunny Saturday morning, I boarded the flight and landed at Maharana Pratap Airport, Udaipur. Although it was 4 PM, the temperature was pleasant at 24 °C. I had booked three nights at Banjara Hostel. The hostel was in the heart of the old town. I checked in and went out for a stroll in the town. The famous Gangaur Ghat was just in the next gully. The entrance of the ghat was beautifully decorated with arches. The waters of the lake appeared calm and soothing. As it was late afternoon, there wasnt much crowd. An old man sitting on the ghat was playing a musical instrument. His tunes were creating a different vibe in the atmosphere.

Beautifully decorated gate at Gangaur Ghat

Calm waters of Pichola lake

The City Palace was a just at a walking distance. This is the main attraction in Udaipur. The royal family still resides in a part of this palace. The other parts have now been converted into a hotel. Some parts are open for tourists. Unfortunately, the palace was closed to visit from inside; however, one could walk through the premises. I took the 30 ticket and entered the premises. It felt like a different world. Unlike the chaotic and noisy streets of the old town, the palace premises were clean, neat, and tidy. The decorated arches and domes of the palace were shining in the golden sunlight. Just behind the palace is Pichola lake. This lake is truly the charm of Udaipur. I walked to the promenade and sat there watching the red-orange sun playing hide and seek with the dusty hills. Calm waters of the lake were showing a spectacular reflection of the setting sun. Cool breeze made the evening even more enjoyable. What a wonderful evening it was!

The City Palace of Udaipur 
Vast galleries of the palace

After watching the picturesque sunset, I returned to the hostel. Almost all buildings in the old town of Udaipur now sport a roof-top restaurant. These eateries offer the best view of the city of lakes. The hostel I stayed at also had a restaurant on the terrace. I went upstairs, grabbed a cozy corner, and ordered a chilled beer. What else do you need to compete the picture of a spectacular evening?

The setting sun and the royal architecture

The sun playing hide and seek with dusty clouds

The perfect boat journey
To be continued...