I am often surprised at how Rajasthan tourism tends to mostly revolve around the major cities, whereas, there’s so much more of this region’s heritage, hidden in the less commercial places. Like the town of Rajasamand, for instance. Almost a year ago, I had the opportunity to explore this quaint district in Rajasthan and its enchanting fortresses. But the most significant one that stayed in my memory is the tour of Kumbhalgarh, particularly its fort.
The old town of Kumbhalgarh lies about 100 KM from Udaipur, which is also the nearest airport. It was after the rainy season but it was still warm in the day. So I booked an AC cab from Udaipur to Kumbhalgarh, which barely took us two hours to reach. Although winters are the best time to explore Rajasthan, I discovered that the region had a whole new beauty after the rains, with the magically green landscape and pleasant weather.
At a glance…
As the car closed in on the fort perimeter, I could feel a different vibe, or it was perhaps the traces of its antiquity that were still trapped in the air. The robust bastions were visible from far away, towering loftily above the entire structure. Sitting above 6233 feet from the sea level, on the edges of the Aravalli Mountains in Mewar, the fort offered sweeping views of the dusty plains and the tiny villages in the valleys below. Strategically placed in the middle of eleven peaks of the Aravallis, and camouflaged by the mountain bluffs, this is the most impregnable fort in the state. It is important to avail a car rental in Udaipur with an experienced driver to ensure that the overall experience is convenient and hassle-free.
I tour guide that I was with, said that this fort was actually the birthplace of the legendary Rajput ruler Maharana Pratap and has always held an important place in the history of Rajasthan. It was later in the 15th century that Maharana Kumbha undertook the construction of the entire fortress as we see today. It took the architect and the masons 15 years to build this fort and turn it into a stronghold of the Rajput kingdom.
A fortress that was…
I walked by the ramparts and standing there, I looked down at the thick perimeter wall, snaking through the slopes and safeguarding the royal property like the Great Wall of China. The 20-foot thick wall stretched as far as 36 KM and was interrupted only by seven imposing gates. There were seven such gates, locally called pol, which served as the entryways to the fort interiors, the palaces, temples, and other private precincts of the royals.
There were various stories surrounding the fort and how it was sieged. They say, the Mughal army poisoned the water supply to the fort, killing most of its inhabitants, and then raided it. Another story of speaks of a failed conspiracy of a flower girl, who lured the enemy by laying down a path of flower petals to a secret entrance. Her plot, however, was foiled and she was walled up alive. Her site of execution still remains marked with an outline of a woman on one of the outer walls.
While the guide kept narrating the legends of Kumbhalgarh, I tried to visualize those days, when this very premise would be bustling with the royal staff running errands, the guards patrolling the ramparts and horses marching in and out of the gates.
A peek inside…
The ramp that led to the interiors of the fort went further uphill, with sharp turns, which I realized was a strategic idea of invasion-proof construction. The inside of the Kumbhalgarh Fort was a world in itself. There were significant palaces like the Kumbha Palace, Badal Mahal, the birth site of Maharana Pratap, and hundreds of small Jain and Brahmin temples. Each of these constructions reflected architectural finesse with carved facades and ornate archways, unlike the robust and rugged exterior of the fort.
We first went to see the two-storied Kumbha Palace. It was built using the classic Rajputana style, with a blue-painted Durbar (the king’s court). A corridor separated the inner sanctums reserved for men and women on each side. From there we moved on to the Badal Mahal, which was quite a bit of a climb uphill, and was the highest point of the fort. This palace is said to have been built by Rana Fateh Singh and is the most prominent section of the fort. The interiors boasted ancient paintings and colorful mural. But it was the exterior views that stole all my attention. The views from this palace truly felt like floating over the clouds. And since it was right after the rain, the surrounding hills appeared more alive and breathtaking.
It took me almost the entire day to cover half of the important parts of the fort. And there were a lot more to see and explore. I realized that even repeated visits would not be enough to absorb the complete spirit of the place. These might be silent structures today but are sagas on the stone that had seen the indomitable spirit and valor of the Rajput warriors and form the foundation of Rajasthan’s culture.