Rajasthan : Jodhpur to Kumbhalgarh | Horn please, OK?

Rajasthan : Jodhpur to Kumbhalgarh

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Day 6 : Jodhpur to Chittorgarh via Kumbhalgarh
When : January 2015 | How far : 415 kms | How long : 7 hrs 

Ram Pol at Kumbhalgarh Fort

Roadtrips are exciting because they're full of possibility. You can plan them to the T but there's always a chance things won't go to plan. And that's when they're the most fun.

A restful(ish) two days at Jodhpur had us ready for the long drive to Kumbhalgarh. We'd covered most of the places to see in Jodhpur, all except the Umaid Bhawan Palace. 

Umaid Bhawan Palace, Jodhpur

Umaid Bhawan Palace, Jodhpur

An hour is hardly enough to explore India's newest and largest palace but that's all the time we could squeeze out of our day. 

Umaid Bhawan Palace the most recent addition to India's collection of palaces was built by Umaid Singh in 1929 and is one of the the most elaborate residences in the world. The early 1920's was a period of drought for the state of Marwar and the King saw the construction of a new palace as a palliative and an opportunity to create employment. 

The palace today is part hotel, part museum and part residence of the current royal family with Maharaja Gaj Singh II at the helm.

Inside Umaid Bhawan Palace
The grounds of Umaid Bhawan Palace
Inside the museum at Umaid Bhawan Palace
Inside the museum at Umaid Bhawan Palace
The section that's run as a hotel is managed by the Taj Group. Its one of Taj's most ostentatious properties and is priced in a similar vein (think $5000 per night). Since the hotel can't be accessed by non-guests we had to peer over the shrubbery to get a look. We caught the attention of one of the doormen who probably used to inquisitive visitors ambled over to answer our questions. When asked about the Taj hotel he bristled and corrected us saying that the hotel is part of the palace which is owned by the royal family. The Taj merely runs it.  
The glory of the erstwhile rulers may have faded but the loyalty they engendered remains. 

Travel tip: A Rs 25 ticket will get you access to a well curated museum. You will have to shell out significantly more to gain entry into the hotel. They have a coffee shop which we're told is nice but it might be a good idea to make reservations in advance

Kumbhalgarh Fort

It had all the signs of being a sunny day. To begin with, it was sunny.

We left Umaid Bhawan Palace around 11:30 am and estimated 3.5 hours to cover the 180 kms to Kumbhalgarh.  This hinged on the assumption that Google Maps knew what it was talking about. It didn't. It led us to a junction in Desuri which was supposed to have a road that led to the fort. It didn't. We landed up taking a 1.5 hour detour via Ranakpur (famous for its 1444 pillared Jain Temple). 

Drive through Ranakpur
Drive through Ranakpur
The approach to the fort is via a steep hilly road festooned with black faced langoors. 

Langoors on the way to Kumbhalgarh fort
Langoors act as guards of honour
We had crossed over from the arid landscapes of the desert state of Marwar to the bountiful and verdant scapes of Mewar.

Hilly drive to Kumbhalgarh Fort
A drive through the Kumbhalgarh Wildlife Sanctuary
By the time we got to our destination the weather had turned, going from bright and sunny to foggy and grey. In some parts the fog was so thick that we couldn't see more than 5 metres ahead!

Kumbhalgarh Fort lies on what used to be the border between Marwar and Mewar. Its 36km long outer wall is said to be wide enough to allow 6 horses to stand shoulder to shoulder. The fort's perimeter, second longest in the world after the Great Wall of China is affectionately referred to as the Great Wall of India. Recognised by UNESCO as a World Heritage site in India the fort is amongst the more famous tourist places in Rajasthan. 

Outer walls of Kumbhalgarh Fort
Outer walls and bastions of Kumbhalgarh Fort
Kumbhalgarh Fort walls
Kumbhalgarh Fort walls
Like most forts, Kumbhalgarh was built on a hill to give it the advantage of elevation and hence fore knowledge of an enemy attack. While the fort was built in the early 15th century by Rana Kumbha,  the site contains relics of Jain temples that date back to 2BC. Today there are said to be more than 300 Jain and Hindu temples within the fort walls.

Jain Temple within Kumbhalgarh fort
Jain Temple within Kumbhalgarh fort
HIndu temple within Kumbhalgarh fort
Vedi temple within Kumbhalgarh fort
Many Rajput clans like the Sisodias (of which Rana Kumbha was a descendant), the Rathores and the Kachwahas consider themselves descendants of the Sun or Suryavanshis. The number 7 holds a certain significance for them and shows up in different forms in their palaces and forts. In Kumbhalgarh it appeared as 7 massive entrance arches leading into the fort.

Inside Kumbhalgarh Fort
Inside Kumbhalgarh Fort
The rulers of Mewar had a penchant for building Monsoon Palaces. There are 3 still standing today at Kumbhagarh, Chittorgarh and Udaipur. They're all characterised by a tower with windows on 4 sides, built on an elevation where the crosswinds are the strongest. The palace in Kumbhalgarh fort is called Badal Mahal (or Palace of Clouds). We entered the palace though one of many beautifully sculpted and carved arches.

One of the entrances to Badal Mahal
One of the entrances to Badal Mahal
The walls inside have delicate, spidery frescos which have been restored very recently, visible by the difference in workmanship.  As though trying to show us how the monsoon palace got its name, a gust of wind blew in puffs of white translucent clouds.  

Frescos inside Badal Mahal
Retouched frescos inside Badal Mahal
Badal Mahal
Badal Mahal was built at the highest point within the fort
We'd heard stories about the invincibility of Kumbhalgarh and how it has the distinction of being one of India's few unconquered forts. When you look at its walls you realise why that story is easy to believe. Truth is, that while it was never directly captured, the fort fell to Akbar's troops for 2 days when they surrounded it and poisoned its supply of water.

Watch tower at Kumbhalgarh fort
Watch tower at Kumbhalgarh fort
Palace within Kumbhalgarh fort
Ruins of a palace within Kumbhalgarh fort
Ruins within Kumbhalgarh fort
Ruins within Kumbhalgarh fort
Rana Kumbha was a man of many talents. He is credited with designing 32 of the 84 forts built under his reign, Kumbhalgarh fort being one of them. He was even believed to be 7 feet tall. The fort has a temple with a Shivalinga that is 5 feet high and it is believed that while sitting on the floor he was taller than the Shivalinga!

Shiv temple inside Kumbhalgarh fort
If you look really hard, you'll see the 5 foot tall Shivalinga inside 
Travel tip :  Kumbhalgarh is more easily accessible from Udaipur than Jodhpur. Plan to spend half a day at the fort. If you're feeling adventurous walk along the top of the perimeter of the outer wall. You'll get some gorgeous views of the surrounding hills.  

Kumbhalgarh Fort easily features in the list of most historical places in India. Apart from its invincibility its famous for being the birthplace of Maharana Pratap and for having sheltered the baby Prince Udai Singh - the founder of the city of Udaipur. The fort has seen its share of treachery as well. Rana Kumbha was killed by one of his sons at this very fort. 

If you're wondering how you should be feeling about all of this, the Archaelogical Survey of India has some advice for you

Sustain your heritage and feel glorious

This is after all, Incredible India. 

The sun had all but disappeared and the fog was getting thicker. We had to drive another 100 kms to get to our hotel. It was past 5 pm already. We piled into the car and made our way down as carefully as we could, avoiding langoors and oncoming traffic. The first 50 kms of our descent through the hills and ravines of Kumbhalgarh Wildlife Sanctuary was one of the scariest and most treacherous stretches we've encountered.

Singing nonsensical songs kept us from panicking but with visibility close to 0 our speed was capped at under 10 kmph. The fog at one point made it impossible to tell how far the road was curving. To stop was not an option since we were on a single lane mountain road. If we hugged the mountain wall too much there was a chance we'd drive into it and if we ventured too far from it, we could drive off the road into the ravines below.

It was a long, slow drive. 


Exhausted by the time we got to our hotel Lake Nahargarh Palace, ( past 10 pm) it felt like we were seeing things. The hotel was located in the middle of a lake on an island that could be reached by boat. It looked like a mirage, remote and isolated with its lights twinkling at us through the fog. 

We stopped near the jetty and got out of the car to find a black, shiny, Doberman the size of a small horse prancing around our car. To our frayed nerves, this incongruous sight felt portentous. 

Would the boatman come to get us this late at night? Had they given away our room to other guests. Most importantly, did the hotel actually exist or was it an apparition?

The whirring sounds of a motorboat brought us back to reality and we started walking towards the jetty.  

Stories from the entire trip
Day 1 -> Gurgaon to Bikaner via Mandawa & Fatehpur
Day 2 -> Bikaner to Sam sand dunes
Day 3 -> Sam sand dunes to Jaisalmer 
Day 4 -> Jaisalmer to Jodhpur
Day 5 -> Jodhpur, the blue city
Day 6 -> You just read it
Day 7 -> Chittorgarh to Bundi
Day 8 -> Bundi to Gurgaon
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