Rangilo Rajasthan - Part 7- Chittorgarh – the land of valor and sacrifice

After watching the exciting battle of two male leopards at Jawai Bandh, I started my journey to the land where humans fought numerous battles. The land of valor and sacrifice Chittorgarh. The town is famous for the Chittor fort, the foundation of which was laid by Mauryan kings in the 7th century. Bappa Rawal, the founder of the Sisodia dynasty, received Chittor as a part of dowry from Solanki kings of Gujarat in the 8th century. Since then the descendants of Bappa Rawal ruled the region of Mewar from Chittor for several centuries. In 1030, Allauddin Khilji, the Sultan of Delhi, attacked Chittor with the desire of marrying Rani Padmini, whose beauty and charm was matchless. The events that unfolded thereafter have now become a legend foretelling the bravery and sacrifice of Rajputs. The fort sits on a 300 m high isolated rocky plateau that is seven miles long. Sheer cliffs on all sides and strong fortifications make the fort almost impregnable. Along with Kumbhalgarh and other hill forts, this fort is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The total area of the fort is around 280 ha and it houses numerous palaces, temples, towers, and tanks. Being a history buff, I was quite excited to see these buildings.

The iconic view of Chittor fort

After a tiring journey of 6 hours from Jawai Bandh to Chittorgarh, I finally reached hotel Pratap Palace. I checked in and spent the evening at leisure. The next day, I started my trip to the fort. A steep ghat road passing through various gates took me to the fort entrance called Ram Pol. As expected, a guy approached me as a guide. Considering that the fort is huge, I thought some guidance might be helpful. With his help, I started exploring the various monuments on the fort. The first was Vijaystambh the victory tower. This eight storied tower is a symbol of Chittor. It was built by Rana Kumbha to commemorate his victory over Mahmud Shah Khalji in the year 1440. The tower has extensively carved interior and exterior, making it an architectural masterpiece. I went up to 3rd floor, but beyond this point, I felt claustrophobic as the stairs became extremely narrow and steep. I came down and clicked pictures from various angles. The carvings were truly mind blowing. Just besides the tower, was a small garden. According to my guide, this was the place were Jauhar (women sacrificing their lives to avoid falling in hands of the enemy) happened centuries ago. Today it looked like an ordinary garden. Thinking how it could have been in historic times just sent shivers down my body. I moved on to the Samadhishwar temple. This temple had a unique three-faced Shiva idol in the sanctum. The architecture was of the typical Nagara style. I went around clicking the pictures of the eloquent outer walls. Just behind the temple was Gaumukh Kund. This is a small tank that served as a water source for the inhabitants of the fort. The image of the Gaumukh Kund along with the surrounding monuments and temples has become an iconic image of Chittorgarh.

Samadhishwar temple and Vijaystambh

The view behind the temple

Nandi in front of the temple

Samadhishwar temple 

Our next stop was Padmini palace. This is a small palace situated in the middle of a pond where the queen Padmini was said to have lived. The main palace adjacent to the pond is now decorated with gardens. My guide narrated the entire story of Padmini and Khilji while standing at the palace. Quite an enthralling tale! Listening to it while being right at the palace was a different experience. From here, we moved to Suraj Pol. Pol means a gate. Suraj Pol used to be the main entrance of the fort. This majestic gate was now a deserted place. My guide described how in the medieval ages people use to deploy elephants to smash through the massive fort gate and how the fort entrance was designed to make such attacks difficult. I could connect this with the design style of forts in Maharashtra. 

I clicked some pictures there and we went to Kirti Stambh. Unlike Vijaystambh, which signifies victory, this tower signifies the teachings of Jainism. It was built in the 12th century by a Jain merchant Jijaji Bhagerwala during the reign of Rawal Kumar Singh. The six storied tower is dedicated to Adinath and houses beautifully carved balconies and passages. The lower stories show images of Adinath, whereas the upper stories have numerous miniature images of Jain divinities. Next to the tower is a temple dedicated to the Digambara sect of Jainism. I spent some time here clicking pictures. The light was perfect and there was not much crowd. This was the last spot of my guided tour of the fort. I paid to the guide and returned to Ram Pol. The two-hour-long guided trip was a bit exhausting. It was nearing noon and I was hungry. I decided to go back to the town and have lunch. On the way to the hotel I spotted a cozy restaurant serving Rajasthani Thali. I had a sumptuous meal and came back to the hotel to take some rest.

Padmini palace

Gardens around Padmini palace

The palace in the middle of a pond
Suraj Pol

View from Suraj Pol

Kirtistambh and Jain temple

Around 3 PM, I went back to the fort to explore the remaining places. The fort is huge and the monuments are scattered throughout. However, as I had taken a guided trip in the morning, I had got some idea regarding the locations of various monuments on the fort. I went straight to the Fateh Prakash palace, which is now converted into a museum. The museum was about to close in half an hour. I hurriedly bought a ticket and went inside. The museum was much smaller than what I had expected. The galleries explaining the fort architecture and history of Mewar kingdom were quite impressive. From here, I went to Gaumukh Kund. Clicking some pictures in the evening sunlight was the motto. But alas, the weather was cloudy. Nonetheless, I spent some time exploring the area and went to Kumbha palace. This palace was a perfect place for ruins photography. The broken walls and dim lit passages appeared spooky. The cloudy evening and chilly breeze were uplifting the spooky mood of the palace. By now, dusk was approaching and the lights in the city were slowly lighting up. I was so engrossed in clicking pictures of the city lights that I almost missed the Light and Sound show. I quickly grabbed a ticket and went inside. The show beautifully narrated various historic events that happened on the fort. After the show, I had a light dinner and returned to the hotel.

Ruina of Kumbha palace

The outer wall of the fort

The Kumbha palace

Chittorgarh was my last destination of this trip. The next day I rode back to Udaipur and boarded the  flight back to Bangalore. From temples to mountains, from palaces to forests, and from lakes to forts, this trip was the most diverse trip I had taken so far. The colorful land of Rajasthan had given me an enriching experience. As my flight took off, I was already planning my next trip to Rangilo Rajasthan.   

The End

Rangilo Rajasthan - Part 6 - Leopards of Jawai Bandh

Along with forts and palaces, Rajasthan is also famous for its vibrant wildlife. Places such as Ranthambhore and Bharatpur are already famous. Recently, another place in Rajasthan has become a famous wildlife retreat Jawai Bandh. And it is famous for the most elusive animal of Indian forests the leopard. This place is located in the Pali district of Rajasthan, almost midway between Udaipur and Jodhpur. The terrain is mostly scrubland interrupted with rocky outcrops. These rocky outcrops offer a unique habitat for leopards and other animals to thrive. The caves and dens in these rocky hills serve as safe havens for leopards to raise their young. So, more than usual leopards can occupy a small territory. The whole area has a thriving population of 5060 leopards. Usually, spotting a leopard is more difficult than spotting a tiger. But here in Jawai, because of the unique terrain, spotting a leopard has become an easy sport. After the documentary Leopard Rocks was aired on National Geographic, this place became immensely popular and a whole new industry of wildlife tourism started flourishing. I was quite excited to visit this place.

The leopard of Jawai (source: https://www.rajras.in/index.php/jawai-bandh-conservation-reserve/

After a three-hour-long ride from Mount Abu, I finally reached the dusty village of Mori Bera. I had booked a lavish home stay here. My host, Suryapratap Singh, was a very jovial man. He offered a very warm welcome. I was quite impressed with the home stay. It was simple yet comfortable. By the time I reached, the clock already hit 5 PM. I freshened up and spent the evening at leisure. My safari to the leopard hills was about to begin at 6 AM on the next day. As decided, the safari driver picked me up at 6 in the morning. The weather was a bit chilly. The eastern horizon was slowly turning red. I sat in the open cantor clenching on my camera. We picked up another guest from a nearby camp and began our hunt for the leopard. First, we went to Jagtala. This is a group of three small hillocks, and a female leopard calls it her home. We drove near the rocky hills and waited in silence. Wildlife watching is a game of patience. By now, the sun was up and the entire terrain was brightly lit in the golden sunshine. The hills looked simply gorgeous. I was scanning the entire area through the binoculars. However, there was absolutely no action!

At Jagtala
Soon, our driver got a call from another driver saying that three leopards were sighted on another nearby hillock. Thats it. He pressed the accelerator and started driving toward the spot. My heart beats were already rising. Within a few minutes we reached the spot. Around 5-6 cantors carrying other tourists were already there. All eyes were fixed on one thing the leopard. A massive, fully grown male was sitting under a tree enjoying the morning breeze. He looked calm and content. Probably he had eaten a hefty prey last night. Unaware of our presence, he sat there moving his tail and doing cat things. I was so excited looking at this beast. Being a cat lover, I have immense fascination for felines. Having lived most of my life in Borivali, a suburb of Mumbai located on the fringes of Sanjay Gandhi National Park, I grew up listening to the tales of leopard prowling through the neighborhood. However, I had never seen the animal myself. Today, in this remote village of Rajasthan, I was watching this majestic animal enjoying a leisurely morning. Truly a wonderful sight. We waited there watching his antics.

Suddenly, another driver said, there is one more leopard around! Within a moment, a female leopard came out of her hiding. She climbed up on a rock and sat in the sun. What a sight it was! The male went near her. We could hear their growling. Overall, it looked like a courtship behavior. According to our driver, this couple was hanging out together since last two days. A clear indication that we might see these animals mating. I was so engrossed in watching the animals that I had almost forgotten about the camera. My 200 mm lens was anyway insufficient to click a good picture. For the sake of memory, I clicked a couple of pictures and began observing the animals through my binoculars. Although the female was tolerating the presence of the male, she was not letting him come too close. Suddenly, out of nowhere, another huge male leopard appeared on the scene and attacked the earlier male. We were simply stunned at this turn of events. The boys growled at each other giving warnings. But nobody was ready to retreat. And then the fight began. The poor female just ran away and hid in the bushes. We could see the intruder smashing his opponent with his paw. But then, in a jiffy, the animals disappeared in the bushes. What we could hear was just loud growling and the noise of bushes and leaves. The boys were at war. A war not just for the territory but also for the female. We stayed there for around half an hour waiting for the animals to come out in the clearing. But probably they just wanted to keep their business to themselves. After around 40 minutes, the growling stopped. We wanted to know who won. But alas, the animals were nowhere to be seen! What a thrilling experience it was!

The hill where we witnessed the great fight 

The female leopard walking over a rock

The region has many other spots for watching wildlife. The Jawai reservoir has abundant birdlife and crocodiles. A temple on a nearby hill offers great views of the landscape. Apart from leopards, the region hosts hyenas, sloth bears, peacocks, langurs, and deer. You need overall 3-4 safaris to cover all the spots. I was pressed for time. It was already 10 AM and I was hungry as hell. The driver dropped me back to the home stay. After having a sumptuous breakfast, I said goodbye to Suryapratap and moved on to my next destination Chittorgarh.  

To be continued...

Rangilo Rajasthan - Part 5 - Sunset near Nakki lake and trekking in the hills of Mount Abu

After seeing the mind-blowing architecture of Dilwara temples, I returned to the city center of Mount Abu. It was around 5-30 PM and it was the best time to visit Nakki lake. This small lake is a popular tourist attraction in Mount Abu. The lake was just a routine tourist spot full of people. Being a crowd hater, I simply walked in the opposite direction to avoid the crowd and chaos. I sat on a bench on the other side of the lake and started browsing through the pictures on my camera. Overall, the lake did not appeal much to me. I googled for some other spots nearby and found that the sunset spot to was at a 5-min riding distance.

Nakki lake
This spot was a bit inside the forest and one had to walk around half a kilometer to reach there. Only fifteen minutes were left for the sun to go down the horizon. I rushed to the spot. It was a small hillock on which stepped galleries were built. All galleries were full of people! I felt like being on a railway station in Mumbai. There was a group of college students playing Antakshari. I felt disappointed and annoyed at the same time. I somehow managed to walk past the crowd and find a rock where there were not many people. The sun looked dark orange. The horizon was hazy. The layer of haze gulped down the sun literally in a few minutes and the so-called sunset was over in a jiffy! I could hardly click a few photos. The crowd was still busy clicking pictures of the mediocre valley. I quickly got up and started walking down to the parking place to avoid the returning crowd. After visiting the picturesque Gurushikhar and magnificent Dilwara temples, the Nakki lake and Sunset point turned out to be quite mundane. Traveling throws myriad of experiences at you. They are sometimes beautiful and sometimes ugly.

The setting sun seen through the thorny forest

The dense haze swallowed the sun much before  its setting time

For the next day, I had decided to trek around the hills of Mount Abu. I had already called up a local trekking company and booked a guided trek. Generally, these guided treks are conducted for a group of 10-15 people. However, for this day, I was the only person who had made the reservation. As decided, I met my guide Jay Singh at the designated place. We started walking into the wilderness. The weather was perfect for a short hike in the hills. Jay was narrating his past encounters with wildlife in the region. Listening to him, I was getting more excited about spotting some animals. Soon we reached our first rest stop. This was a beautiful spot overlooking the valley. The breeze was pleasant and the chirping of birds was soothing. We sat there and clicked some pictures. From here, the trail suddenly became steep and went deep inside the forest. 

Crawling out of the bear's den
After climbing for around half an hour we reached a cave. It looked like a bears den. Jay started narrating how he had encountered a bear in this area a month ago. What if there was one even today? I felt my heartbeats rising. Jay finished his story and started walking inside the cave. What?! Yes, thats how the trail was. I was a bit apprehensive of stepping inside. But Jay assured me that the cave is completely safe and reiterated that he walks this trail almost every day. Hesitantly, I walkedsorry, crawledbehind him. With some acrobatic movements, I managed to come outside from the other side. What a thrilling experience it was!

The first spot overlooking the valley

The trail going uphill through a dense forest

Crawling  through the bear's den

Now we had reached a small plateau. From here, the city looked gorgeous. The Nakki lake, which appeared to be quite mundane from its shore, looked surprisingly adorable from this distance. We sat there for a while, munched on some snacks, and moved on. Now the trail became steep again and started going up a small rocky hillock. I climbed up catching my breath and was awestruck with the view it offered. This was the highest spot on this trail. One could see the plains of Gujarat from here. We sat on the cliff enjoying the view. While conversing with Jay, I learnt that these hills have a lot of unexplored trails offering beautiful scenery. I almost decided to explore these trails on my next visit to Mount Abu. From here, the trail went down the hill. We crawled through a couple of more caves and reached the spot from where we had started. It was a wonderful hike. Jay asked me if I was interested in visiting their campsite. They had some adventure activities like rock climbing and rapelling and served traditional local lunch. Although I had very little time in hand, I agreed to go with him to have lunch. The campsite was at a quite place behind the Dilwara village. Surrounded by fields and forests, I almost fell in love with the place. The food was delicious as expected. I thanked Jay for his company and the delicious food and came back to the home stay.

Nakki lake as seen from the plataeu

Walking over a plateau

The adorable view of the city from surrounding hills

It was time to say goodbye to Mount Abu. I was a bit disappointed with the popular tourist spots of the city; however, todays hike had shown me the beautiful wilderness around the city. I was happy with myself that I decided to go for this hike. I checked out of the homestay and started my journey to the next destination Jawai Bandh.

The lunch place at Jay's campsite

To be continued...