Sharnita and I were relieved to see our car waiting outside the hotel at 8:30am. Not because it actually showed up on time, but because it didn’t look like it would breakdown in the middle of the sweltering Aravalli hills. Jassu, thinking that we had received too good a deal for the car and driver, scared us into expecting a vehicle that was only one step up from a bullock cart. Thankfully this wasn’t gonna be no Oregon Trail.
I was looking forward to our little excursion out to Ranakpur and Kumbhalgarh. If you’ve read my previous posts on Udaipur, then you must have gathered that I don’t think much of this city. I was ready to drive through rural India and get away from the touristy, urban hullabaloo. With one suitcase in the trunk and the other up front, we waved to Jassu and set off.
The drive to Ranakpur was two and a half hours through dry farmland and rolling brown hills, and while it was uneventful, it was immensely enjoyable and almost therapeutic. Sharnita and I didn’t talk much, preferring instead to listen to our iPods while watching the world disappear behind us in a cloud of dust. When you live in Mumbai you welcome and cherish every opportunity for a long drive on open, quiet roads. Traffic in Mumbai is notorious – just activate the traffic layer on Google Maps to see what I mean. The city will quickly transform into a diagram that looks like it should belong in a biology textbook, its streets morphing into a red jumble of intersecting arteries and capillaries. It was nice to finally have my backseat window frame a moving picture instead of just a photograph.
I listened to two albums on repeat all the way to Ranakpur. The first was Lord Huron‘s Lonesome Dreams, a record that captures wanderlust better than any I’ve ever heard. It isn’t just the literal lyrics like the ones in the song “Ends of the Earth”…
Oh, there’s a river that winds on forever
I’m gonna see where it leads
Oh, there’s a mountain that no man has mounted
I’m gonna stand on the peak
…it’s also the sweeping instrumental compositions – they seemed to flow with the hills to create an even more dramatic landscape. You can listen to the song below. If it doesn’t make you want to get out and explore, I don’t know what will. The second album was Real Estate‘s Atlas.
Ranakpur is the site of quite possibly the most spectacular Jain temple in the world. Jainism is an Indian religion that teaches non-violence and equality among all life forms. As a result, practicing Jains are vegan and the strictest ones don’t even eat root vegetables because doing so would kill the entire plant. I was born a Jain but I grew to love food too much to stick to the religion’s rigorous diet. With a soft spot for a good surf ‘n’ turf, I’m probably the worst “Jain” to ever visit Ranakpur!
Like most monuments in India, the Ranakpur temple complex charges foreigners and Indians different ticket prices. While Indians can enter the temple for free from 9am to 5pm, they have to wait until 12pm and make a Rs. 100 donation if they want to bring a camera inside. Foreigners can only enter between 12pm and 5pm and have to pay Rs. 200. The silver lining is that this ticket includes an audio guide. Be prepared for an airport-esque pat down at the entrance though. The temple authorities take free photography seriously and if they find a mobile phone on you then you’ll be asked to either present a camera donation slip or deposit your phone in a locker. The whole process is a bit tedious but hopefully I’ve helped prevent some confusion!
Built in the 15th century to honor the first Tirthankara, the Chaumukha (four-faced) Temple is a massive architectural feat with 1,444 marble pillars that are so intricately engraved that no two pillars are alike. As I walked around the temple, I marveled at the level of craftsmanship around me. I remembered my visits to Angkor Wat, the Taj Mahal, and numerous Roman Catholic basilicas, and wondered whether this kind of handiwork was relegated to the past or if it would ever resurface in my lifetime. Who knows? I guess we should just be grateful that these structures still stand strong today.
We were templed out after 45 minutes and decided to make our way to Kumbhalgarh at around lunchtime. We stopped for a quick bite at a roadside eatery called Harmony Garden Restaurant – it looked like a place that ran on commissions but we didn’t care and it’s not like we knew of a better alternative. For Rs. 250 each, we ate unlimited helpings of home style Rajasthani food, including a dish oddly labeled “Rajasthani Pasta”. Curious, I took a bite and was pleasantly surprised to find that it was actually raw papadum curry! I loved it but Sharnita found it borderline revolting.
We arrived at The Aodhi, our hotel in Kumbhalgarh, at 2:30pm. Exhausted by the drive and relentless heat, we decided to crash for a bit and visit the fort during the sun’s descent at 5:00pm – the deadline for last entry.
The Aodhi is the place to stay at if you’re spending a night in Kumbhalgarh but that doesn’t mean it’s perfect. In fact it’s far from it and for about $100 a night, we expected a lot more bang for our buck. Despite a prime location (it’s just two kilometers from the fort) and a beautiful, lush property, we felt as though the hotel tried to fleece us at every opportunity. Charging Rs. 125 for the small bottle of water in our room? Yeah right. Tacking on 25% to the room service menu prices to have the food delivered to the room? You’ve got to be kidding! So while I did enjoy waking up to the sound of chirping birds, I’d suggest visiting the fort on a day trip from Udaipur – it’s only about two hours away. No offense, birds.
The imposing Kumbhalgarh Fort, along with five other forts in Rajasthan, was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2013. It was the birthplace of Mahrana Pratap Singh (remember him and his beloved horse, Chetak?) and has a continuous wall that stretches for 36 kilometers. In fact, it’s the longest wall in the world after the Great Wall of China. Pretty cool, huh? After paying a whopping Rs. 5 for our ticket, we walked along the path up toward the beautiful Badal Mahal or the Cloud Palace. Pale yellow in color and perched on the peak of a hill, it reminded me a bit of the majestic Pena National Palace in Sintra, Portugal.
The highly advertised sound and light show is all the rage in Kumbhalgarh but I’m going to go ahead and take one for the team by saying, “It’s crap.” Shown daily at 7:00pm and costing Rs. 100, the show was so poorly produced and the sound quality was so bad that Sharnita and I actually walked out after 15 minutes. Walking out of a sound and light show – that’s got to be a new low. Our fellow audience members didn’t help either. Babies cried and old men snored loudly. Camera flashes went off like a strobe light every time a bush or wall was illuminated. Sound and light show indeed.
Apart from a small board by the main entrance and the sound and light show, there was nothing to educate visitors about the history of the fort. And that’s a shame because this formidable structure is of obvious importance to Rajasthan – shouldn’t the Archaeological Survey of India make it more accessible to the public? Monuments, in my opinion, lose some of their magnificence without a well-told backstory and unfortunately that’s what happened here. I’m not asking for much – a few more well-written signs, clearer speakers and better lighting would improve a visit to Kumbhalgarh by leaps and bounds. Heck, double the ticket price to raise funds if need be – at Rs. 5, I think there’s some wiggle room!
My next and final post about Udaipur will be about an organic restaurant in the Old City and an overview of some promising things to do there that we found out about too late. Please leave a comment or question below – I’d love to hear from you!
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