Friday, April 18, 2008

Kumbhalgarh - A glimpse into the past

My last few posts have been about my trip to Kumbhalgarh, and I have written in detail, probably more than required, about my experiences there. I felt that my posts were much too long to qualify as a travelogue, and be of use to people who might like to visit the places I have mentioned. I am, therefore making a fresh effort to write about my trip, this time in brief, giving the relevant details, but nothing more. I hope this literary effort is of use to all of you.

Nestled among the mighty Aravallis are many forts of the Rajputs, each one greater than the other, each one relating a story of its own, a story which is part history, part legend, but which gives each of these forts its own unique identity. The Kumbhalgarh fort in Rajasmand district of Rajasthan is one such fort which has its own story to tell.

Kumbhalgarh Fort

Kumbhalgarh is about 90 km from both, Udaipur as well as Falna. We took the Ranakpur express from Mumbai to Falna, and a cab from the Falna station to Kumbhalgarh. The 2 ½ hours drive took us through lush green fields and rocky mountains welcoming us to a part of Rajasthan we had never seen before.

Our destination was the Club Mahindra Resort, 5 Km from the fort. The other options for accommodation near the fort are ‘The Aodhi’, a favorite with foreign tourists, ‘The Dera Tented Resort’, which offers variety and adventure in the form of luxurious tents, the ‘Kumbhal Castle’, and the ‘Tiger Valley Resort’.

A View of the wall of Kumbhalgarh Fort

The Kumbhalgarh fort was built by Rana Kumbha to defend his kingdom from the Mughal invaders, and the USP of the fort is its 36 km – long wall, said to be the second largest after the Great Wall of China. However, the fort wasn’t the first structure to be built at this place. In ancient times, it was the capital of a Jain king, who built about 300 temples at this place. Rana Kumbha added to this and at the peak of its fame, the fort had a total of 360 temples within its walls, 300 of Jains, and 60 of Hindu gods. Today, few of these are left, fewer with idols inside. Of these, the Neelkanth Mahadeo Temple has pride of place, having been the chosen deity of Rana Kumbha. The 5 feet high Shivaling in this temple was personally cared for by the king who, it is said, towered over the lingam at 8 feet. Ironically, it was while he was praying to this idol that he was stabbed in the back by his own son, who, again ironically, was the father of the great Maharana Pratap.

The idol of Neelkanth Mahadeo

The fort itself is very impressive, and one can spend hours roaming over the vast area, if only there was someone to guide us. As it is, the only effort the government is making to popularize the fort is in the form of a sound and light show, as part of which, the fort is lit up every evening between 7:30 and 8:00PM. This is really a very beautiful sight, one which every visitor must look forward to. The palace, at the highest point of the fort is however, not all that impressive, or rather, unlike what one expects of a Rajasthan Palace. This palace, in fact, is the birthplace of Maharana Pratap, and deserves a lot more care and maintenance.

A View of the Palace

Rana Kumbha was well known, not only for his valour, but also for his large-heartedness, his generosity, as well as righteousness. Kumbhalgarh abounds with legends connected to him, and when one hears these legends from the mouths of the locals who make up for the scarcity of guides, one can actually imagine the great man who made this difficult terrain his home, and feel his presence lingering around……

Rana Kumbha

There are quite a lot of places to visit around Kumbhalgarh-

The Kumbhalgarh Wildlife Sanctuary (5 Km) – The Jungle safari is a must for nature lovers. Don’t have great expectations with regard to animals, and you won’t be disappointed.

The Parshuram Mahadeo Temple (20Kms) – A Cave temple approachable from Falna as well as Kumbhalgarh, it involves a 1 ¼ Km trek to the cave where Lord Shiva blessed Sage Parshuram. Water permanently trickling down on a natural Shivaling is a wonder of nature. This temple is a must-visit for those who are spiritually inclined, as well as those who aren’t.

The Ranakpur Jain Temples (50 Kms) - Architectural wonders!

Mucchal Mahavir (25Kms) – Jain temple

Ganesh Temple (Ghanerao) (25Kms) – Life-size statues of Lord Ganesha and his consorts Riddhi and Siddhi.

Haldighati (25 Km), Nathdwara (50 Km), and Udaipur (90 Km) are also easily accessible from Kumbhalgarh.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Train Journeys- Fun and Photographs

Train journeys can be fun- as I keep telling Samhith. He usually gets bored on trains, and either wants me to read to him all the time, or climb up and down, troubling everyone else, and getting hurt. This time, however, the trip to Kumbhalgarh was different. We had great company in our coach - 4 young boys, about 20-25 years old, with their family, on their way to their hometown near Falna. They were only too glad to play with Samhith, and he kept them occupied! It was certainly the best train journey I have had since Samhith was born. I don’t know their names, but when we got off the train at Falna, I asked them to pose with Samhith for a photograph, and they happily obliged. Samhith remembers their nick-names, with which he called them, and I have the photograph for him to remember them by. It was certainly a memorable journey!

I am an avid photographer- not a very good one, but I just enjoy taking photos of just anything and everything. This time, while we were approaching Virar station, I was able to get a good shot of the Jivdani temple. This temple, situated on a hilltop is a very popular one, but unfortunately one I have not yet visited. I hope I get to visit the temple soon – meanwhile, I have photos of the temple.

The Jivdani Temple

Shankar refuses to touch the camera, but Samhith is taking after me, and keeps asking me to let him use the camera. While we were on our return journey, the coach we were in was empty, and we had the whole place to ourselves. While the train was held up at a small station, we saw this temple near the tracks. As the train was stationary, I helped Samhith take a photo, and the result is in front of you. It was a Tuesday, and women were praying to Shitala Devi, a form of Durga, for good health and a long life of their husbands.

I also took some snaps of the sunset, as seen from the train.

This was, really a wonderful trip, as we had a good time on the train too, and Samhith wasn’t bored at all!

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Kumbhalgarh Trip – Day 5 – The Return to Falna

Our final day at Kumbhalgarh dawned bright and clear. We had decided to leave early in the morning and visit some temples along the way before reaching Falna in time for our train. Accordingly, we were provided with a driver who knew all the temples on that route. Prakash was indeed a well informed driver who had made the temple circuit on many occasions.

The Amaj Mata Temple

The Amaj Mata Temple was the first temple he took us to. It was not on my list, but he said we would enjoy it. This is a small temple to the goddess on a small hill, remarkably fertile. Just outside the temple is a tank, which is full of water throughout the year. Even though it was early in the morning, there were a number of people filling water from the tank. The temple is the usual kind, with an image of the Devi. Life-size sculptures of two elephants stand guard at the door, and on the side of the temple, under a banyan tree, are the images of the “NavaDurgas’, nine forms of the Goddess --- a simple, but nice temple.

The perennial source of water

The image of Amaj Mata

Samhith and the temple elephant

Samhith with our driver, Prakash

We then moved on to Charbhuja to see the famous Krishna Temple. This is supposedly the only temple where Lord Krishna is depicted as a warrior with four arms and weapons in every arm. We were told that the idol of Krishna in this form had been installed by the Pandavas on their way to the Himalayas after they gave up their kingdom. Whatever the story, the temple is a very beautiful one, and the image of Krishna, or Vishnu, dressed as Rama on the day we visited is enchanting!

We had a hard time getting breakfast that day, as it was the last day of the Holi festival (celebrated in this area for 10 days), and everyone was out playing Holi. All the shops and eateries were closed. We had to make do with some Poha (parched rice) and Samosas available outside the temple.

Mucchal Mahavir was our next stop. I have already mentioned the story of this temple in m earlier post. So I will try to avoid repetition, and stick to only describing the temple. The temple is a little off the main road, and is serene and calm. This was the first Jain temple I had ever visited, and was surprised to see that just like most Hindu temples, there was Lord Ganesh at the entrance, and Kala Bhairav, or Bhairon, as He is locally known, at the exit. The temple is just like a typical Jain one. Construction was going on, as they are in the process of renovating the temple. It is a sign of generosity, as well as farsightedness, that they have constructed rooms and other facilities for the pilgrims.

The Ganesh Temple at Ghanerao
While we were returning from Mucchal Mahavir, at the place where we re-joined the main road at Ghanerao, is a small Ganesh temple. It doesn’t look very impressive from the outside, but inside is a life-size idol of Lord Ganesh, with his consorts Riddhi and Siddhi. On the side are idols of Hanuman and Bhairon. All these idols are about 5 ½ feet tall! The legend goes that the idols of Ganesh and his consorts were to be installed at the Jaswant Thada in Jodhpur (For details about Jaswant Thada, see my earlier post on Jodhpur). A saint who belonged to this area of Marwar saw the idols and asked the King to give them to him. The king wasn’t able to refuse directly, but didn’t want to give them to the saint. Acting on the advice of his queen, he told the saint that he would give the idols to him, provided the idols would walk up to Ghanerao, where the saint had his hermitage, and where he wished to install the idols. To everyone’s surprise, the idols started walking and walked all the way up to the hermitage, where they were finally installed. The saint’s Samadhi, said to be a Jeeva Samadhi (where the saint is said to be alive in Samadhi –state) is nearby. The old temple apparently fell down, and the present temple has been recently built. Again, regardless of whether we believe in the legend or not, the idols are beautiful, and worth seeing. This temple is certainly a must-visit for anyone touring this area.

The idols in the Ganesha Temple

I had read of many more temples in the vicinity when I checked up on the net, and wanted to visit all of them, unfortunately, Samhith started vomiting soon after, and we had to change our plans. I wanted to see the magnificent Jain temples of Ranakpur, so we decided to go there directly and then proceed to Falna and wait for our train. On the way we only stopped at the Keerthi Stambh, a tower built recently by Jain devotees. It is a huge tower, the biggest in the area, which one can climb. Inside are paintings which depict the life of Bhagwan Mahavir. If Samhith had been better, we would have enjoyed it a lot more. As it was, we just cast an eye over the beautiful paintings, and rushed back. But we weren’t allowed to get away so easily! A priest arrived just as we were coming out of the temple. Seeing Shankar, he called us inside, and asked him to perform the afternoon Aarthi to the Lord. We were only too happy to do so…….

Ranakpur at last! I had heard so much and read so much about the temples, counted among the best. And they rally are so impressive, even from the outside! We reached after noon. Photography inside the temples is allowed after 12:00PM, so we stood in the queue to take a ticket for the camera. We were the only Indians in that queue. In fact, we were the only Indian tourists at that time. The rest were all foreigners, from various countries. The ticket queue was so long, and Samhith was so restless, I decided not to take the ticket, left my camera with Prakash, and went in, determined to at least enjoy the temple with my eyes, if not my camera! I will pass over a description of the temple, as so much has been written about it, but I will certainly say that it is among the best architecture I have ever seen, and certainly the most impressive. Perhaps the best part is that there are scores of guides inside, eager to tell us all about the temple. If Samhith had not been so restless, I would have spent hours gazing at the magnificent arches, and ceilings, but things being as they were, we were out within half an hour. I made up for not taking my camera by buying a full set of photographs, and turned our car towards Falna.

Outside the Ranakpur temple

We reached Falna with an hour to spare, and Prakash took us to the Golden temple of Falna. This is a Jain temple which has recently been covered with gold plating thanks to donations from devotees. The temple, unfortunately was closed, so we went to the station, and waited for our train.

Thus ended our hectic, but wonderful Kumbhalgarh tour, one which I shall always remember, and perhaps, Samhith also will!

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Kumbhalgarh Trip- Day 4 – Parashuram Mahadeo Temple

It was Mohammed’s suggestion that we keep aside a day for the Parashuram Mahadeo temple. Mohammed was our jeep driver for the jungle safari. Since he seemed to know the area well, and agreed to take us there the next day, we agreed to take his advice, and, in retrospect, it is a good thing that we did!
We planned to leave by 9:00 AM, after an early breakfast, but Samhith didn’t wake up, and we didn’t want to spoil his holiday by waking him up, so it was past 10:30 that we finally left.
The Parashuram Mahadeo temple is a cave on a mountain, which is accessible from both, the foothills as well as the peak. When you approach the temple from Falna, there is a road leading up to the foothills, from where you have to climb up the mountain to reach the temple. From Kumbhalgarh, there is a road leading to the mountain peak, from where one has to walk down a path to the temple.

View from the peak- on the right, the saffron flag indicates the location of the temple, and on the left, the building seen is on the foothills, from where one starts the ascent, if one comes from Falna.

It is a rough path, which has steps in some portions. This path apparently was much worse till a few years back, when a generous patron donated money for improving the path. Most of the path is now smooth and railings have been constructed on the edges. This path is 1 ¼ Km long. We started our trek down the mountain around 11:30 PM. We were told to wear our slippers, as the path was rough, but just a few steps down, Samhith stepped on my feet, and my slipper broke. I continued the rest of the journey with bare feet, taking it to be a command from the Lord to come barefoot to the temple.

Here we are, at the peak of the mountain, from where we began our descent to the temple.

Normally, climbing down a mountain is supposed to be easy, but here, the path downhill is so steep, it was not in the least easy. I had to hold Samhith's hand all the time to prevent him from running and falling down, and, believe me, it took all my efforts to do so! If climbing down was like this, you can imagine what climbing up would have been like. By the time we started our climb uphill, it was past noon, the sun was right over our heads, shining as brightly as possible, heating up the road. The steep path was difficult to climb by itself, besides, I was barefoot, and I had blisters on my feet by the time I managed to reach the jeep. It took us a full two hours to get to the temple and back!

The cave temple of Parashuram Mahadeo

It is believed that Sage Parashuram came to this cave to meditate without any kind of disturbance. It was here that he was blessed by Lord Shiva. There is a Shivaling in this cave, called Parashuram Mahadeo, which is not manmade, but is supposed to have appeared, by itself. Right above the Shivaling, the rocks of the cave form a shape, which resembles a cow’s mouth (Go-mukh), from where water keeps dripping onto the Lingam. This water, it is said, is perennial, regardless of whether there have been rains or not. Moreover, it is believed that till about 75 years ago, it used to be milk dripping on the lingam. Gradually, the milk became watery until finally, about 50 years back, water started flowing. There is another shape in a corner, from which water sometimes drips, which resembles the udders of a cow. It is a local belief that if a childless couple prays to the Lord here, and if water from this portion drips on their hand, they beget a child soon. All in all, it is a very impressive temple, and I am very happy that I could make it here.

Inside the cave- the rocks seen above the trishul form the Gomukh

Though the temple is not very easily accessible, I believe that a large number of people visit the temple on special days, and there are good arrangements made for the pilgrims. In fact, they seem to have some wealthy patrons, who are willing to donate to improve the facilities, and in fact, arrangements are being made to construct dharamshalas, resting places, etc. For those interested in visiting the temple, there are shops just outside the temple, which sell everything from puja articles, from refreshments, to photos, books and even CDs about the temple. I have bought one of those CDs and shall try to put it online soon.
An interesting thing about this section of the mountain-side is that the smooth surface of the rocks is covered with beehives. That, and the multitudes of monkeys, who kept looking for food from the devotees, made the trek worthwhile for Samhith. He was scared of the monkeys, but was fascinated by them, and happily gave them ‘Chana’ which the shopkeeper provided. I wondered how he would manage the trek back up the hill, especially as I was in no state to carry him, but he proved my fears baseless, and made me proud by walking all the way, of course, resting every now and then!
We returned to the resort in time for lunch, but were too tired to go anywhere else after walking so much. Though we had walked only 2 ½ Km in all, it seemed like so much more because of the gradient of the road. But it was truly worth all the effort and the tiredness. This is a temple I will always remember, and encourage others to visit too…….

Sunday, April 6, 2008

Kumbhalgarh Trip- Day3- A Jungle Safari

There is something about a jungle safari that is exciting and adventurous and at the same time reasonably safe and possible for everyone. Most of the places we have been to, on vacation, have had a forest nearby, and we have always tried out the safari. Traveling with a small kid, it is rather difficult to participate in adventure activities, and a safari is the closest one can come to adventure with a kid. In fact, to Samhith, a jungle safari is a true blue adventure. He can imagine tigers and lions lurking at every corner, and even a monkey is interesting enough for him at this stage. In no safari have we seen any wild animals--- monkeys, elephants and deer being the only animals we have seen. Shankar jokes that there are probably more panthers in Thane than in these forests, and maybe he is right. We did not, therefore, have any great expectations when we decided to go for the jungle safari in an open jeep into the Kumbhalgarh Wildlife Sanctuary.

The road through the forest

Our driver, Mohammed, was a local chap, and he entertained us with stories of all the cheetahs and bears he had seen in the jungle. We started at 6:00AM., having only a cup of tea on the way. Samhith was looking forward to it, imagining all sorts of wild animals jumping out from behind the bushes, but even he lost hope of ever seeing a wild animal after an hour. Though there were no wild animals to be seen, the drive through the forest was interesting in its own way. The terrain was rough, and only a good jeep could navigate the curves and dips in the so-called road. I was surprised to see that the whole mountain was covered with bamboo, mango, Jamun, and Amla trees. But what was really refreshing was that there were absolutely no humans in sight! The forest department seems to have done a good job in keeping the villagers away from the jungle. In fact, they have employed the local youth to accompany jeeps into the forest compulsorily, and make sure no illegal hunting or cutting of trees takes place. They have also set up an aqueduct to provide water for the animals during the hot and dry summer months. There are also specific watering holes where wells have been dug, and during severe summer, water is drawn from the well, and poured into the water-holes. I don’t really know if such measures actually help the animals, or scare them away, but at least it shows that someone cares about them!
A well which is part of the aqueduct

A Structure built by the kings to be used on hunts
The best part of our jungle trip was the view of the fort from the middle of the forest. From there it was obvious how huge it was, and that it could be seen from quite a distance in that direction. This sight was so impressive that Shankar suddenly had a desire to see the fort lit up from there. He spoke to the driver and arranged to return there in the evening. Surprise! Surprise!

Well, there we were, ready at 4:00P.M for another trip into the jungle. The driver seemed to feel sorry for us, since we hadn’t seen any animals, and he took us a little further into the jungle this time. This path was even more difficult, but very scenic.

We loved the view, and were delighted when we saw a Nilgai. At last! An animal sighted! The Nilgai wasn’t really scared of us, but it kept a wary eye on us, and when we got up to get a better view, took to its heels. But not before I got a good shot with my camera. Finally, I can show my friends a photograph of an animal I saw in the jungle.

The only others we saw in the jungle were fowl. Wild fowl and pea fowl. We saw lots of peahens and peacocks, and decided that we had seen as many as were destined to, and decided to return.

We came back to the watering hole from where we could see the fort, waited for it to be lit up, and after that, started back home.

While returning, we saw a mongoose or two, and another animal resembling a porcupine. Finally, we had the blink-and-you-miss-it appearance of an animal, which the driver said was a cheetah. Personally, I wasn’t too sure….I could just make out that an animal was crossing the road. This ended our second jaunt into the jungle.

It was a memorable day. Practically the whole day had been spent in the wild. We may not have seen many animals to justify the safari but a day spent in the midst of nature is always satisfying. This is a trip I am sure to make again, whenever I visit Kumbhalgarh again!


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