Vibrant tales from a sepia-toned land

The Ranakpur Jain temple. Photo: A. Shrikumar   | Photo Credit: 12mp_RanakpurTemple

The setting sun paints the wavy contours of the Aravallis a golden yellow as we drive through the sepia-toned countryside of Rajasthan. Scanty patches of green, occasional groups of women in bright ghunghats and the lone gharadia (shepherd) with a turban, a safas and silver anklets intersperse the monotone landscape.

The blunt scarps of the hills line up perfectly against the sea of the sky, and sparse rows of trees and hedges of thorny bushes scraggily jut out, forming a contorted silhouette.

It is amidst these unconquerable mountains spread over the land of Mewar that the gallant Rajputs reigned over humungous forts, stunning palaces and beautiful cities, forged political alliances and fought and won grave battles, the heroic tales of which the winds continue to sing.

The arid, brown Aravalli range stands still as sole witness to the history, valour and power of the Maharanas, holding abundant tales of Rajput pride in its rocky folds. And nestled in these dry jungles, prettily perched atop a lofty ridge of a mountain, sits one of the most formidable forts of Rajasthan — Kumbhalgarh.

From its decked crown, an ornate dome with multi-foil arches, Kumbhalgarh offers a breathtaking view of the sand dunes of the faraway Marwar on the one side and the parched lands of the Pali and Rajsamand districts on the other. Rightly named Badal Mahal, the clouds are just a pluck away from the dome. It was here, guarded by pink sandstone walls, that Maharana Pratap, the most illustrious king of the Sisodia dynasty, was born in 1540.

Kumbhalgarh wears the pride of being the lone fort of Mewar that remained indomitable to the Mughals and later the British. Its impenetrable wall, the second-longest in the world, snaking 36 km over the crests and troughs of the mountains, still bears cannon marks, as testimony to its turbulent past.

After an arduous climb over the multi-tier walls, the fort, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, opens into modest compartments beautified by natural dye paintings. Each of the mahals in the fort has sit-in balconies with minimalistic arches, offering a view of the magnificent hills. The oldest part of the fort, Kumbha Mahal, built by Rana Kumbha in the 15th Century, is under renovation. As the moon rises up the horizon, the gigantic fortress is shrouded in darkness, only to be brilliantly lit up by elaborate lighting. A sound-and-light show narrates the history of the place.

Leaving behind the glowing citadel, we drive down the hills to retire in the comfort of our cosy rooms at Club Mahindra Kumbhalgarh. After a soothing Balinese massage at the resort’s Svaastha Spa, and a barbeque dinner at the Gazebo restaurant under the nippy starlit sky, we call it a day. The next morning, chirpy flocks of Red-vented bulbuls and Yellow-billed babblers wake us up.

Overlooking the shallow ravines, replete with greenery, orchards, an organic garden, a sparkling pool, well-manicured lawns and airy balconies, the five-acre resort is a paradise for birders, and a place to simply sit and soak in the spring sun.

But, we get ready for another day of discovery and amazement. Starting with a short hike to the Parashuram cave temple, we tread a six-km pathway that descends towards Ranakpur. And soon, we find ourselves in front of the majestic Ranakpur Jain temple, a marvel in marble. With over four dozen spires rising into the skies in concentric circles, intricate carvings, sculptures, ornate pillars and idols of hundreds of Jain Tirthankaras, the temple is a visual feast.

Our next stop is the Hamir Pal, a bountiful oasis. In the remote villages that surround the lake, legends of Pratap thrive in every household. ‘The lake was built by the Maharana and his army stopped here to quench its thirst.

This was where the soldiers rested and tethered their horses…’ — there’s no dearth of tales. And to listen to more such stories we head to the most important site in the trail of Maharana Pratap — Haldighati.

We stare into a low valley of bushes. A dry brook runs along the side, and the yellow ochre of the land is unmistakable. It is said that the yellow mud of Haldighati turned crimson from the bloody battle Maharana Pratap fought against the massive Mughal army.

The dry brook was once a river in spate, which Chetak, the daring and devoted stallion of Pratap, crossed in a single leap. The injured horse is said to have galloped on three legs, carrying its master to the safety of a temple, where it died.

A memorial stands in the place today, and the story is immortalised in not just the stone plaque there, but also in our impressionable minds.

(The author was in Rajasthan on the invitation of Club Mahindra.)

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Printable version | Sep 26, 2021 2:08:53 PM |

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