The Hidden Fortress at Kumbhalgarh

December 25, 2014: Christmas day at Kumbhalgarh Fort.

Kumbalgarh. First, the facts: this hidden fortress sits at an amazing 1100 metres, and is built of stone and marble. It is jaw-dropping and there are not enough words to describe the largess juxtaposed with its intricacy (every surface is hand-carved) and relative invisibility (you do not see the fort until you are at the gate). The surrounding wall is the 2nd largest to the Great Wall of China. There were 7000 cannons in its day and 8 galloping horses could run side by side across the width on parts of the wall. Immense and humbling is an understatement. Lonely Planet tells me that it is possible to walk the entire wall, and that there are 360 temples within its bounds – some dating back to the 2nd century BC. This place is old and breathtaking. I don’t think the pictures will ever do it justice.

These fortresses were the strongholds of the kingdom as well as regional castles. Hence, within the walls lie smaller palaces, residences and temples as well as the main palace with its multi-level courtyards, intricately-carved and stunningly-decorated living spaces, purdah palaces (women’s chambers, dining halls and more courtyards), kitchens, sleeping chambers, entertaining halls, king’s quarters and those special chambers optimally configured, blessed and decorated for the creation of next-generation Rajput kings.DSCF1992

From the top of the fort you can see the rolling Aravalli Hills unfold, revealing temples and humble abodes that still appear to be working homesteads all these centuries later. This is the spectacularly simple beauty of Rajasthan, a 1000+ year old state that functions in the 21st century as if the greater universe does not exist. Or is it that when you enter the gate of Kumbhalgarh, you are time-travelled to the land of princely kingdoms and the outer world indeed ceases to be?

I was introduced to a fruit today called the custard apple – it is like lychee meets artichoke and is delightful. These we hoard on the bus, then we travel onward to Udaipur: city by the lake. We check into the Hotel Mahendra Prakash, another haveli and I feel a sense of warmth and comfort in the tile inlay walls, the curtained window seat…this hotel has a wonderfully inviting lobby, garden-lounge and even a pool. There is a cultural show this Christmas evening featuring Rajasthani dancing and puppetry. From the description, I fear that this is the kind of tourist attraction I’ve been dreading, but I am so relieved that perhaps 97% of the audience is Desi (Indian!). It is a holiday week and who doesn’t like dancing and puppets? So we watch the cultural show at Udaipur’s Bagore Ki Haveli on the lake. I want to stay in this city forever.

WiFi and Skype are much appreciated this Christmas night, and thanks to the time difference I am able to wish family and friends spread across the globe a happy holiday in their respective time zones. Deeply grateful for the voices across the magical interweb, I go to sleep with a smile on my face and think I’ve made the right decision coming here.

Night Train to Jodhpur

We survive the overnight train ride with minimal hassle. Tired, kya? (are you tired?) Yes, but will get over it. I feel a glint of a short story brewing here…’Night Train to Jodhpur’… overtired, overstimulated brain working overtime and I can’t wait for whatever comes next.

December 23, Jodhpur: We were lucky to only be about an hour late arriving. Tis the nature of travel – maybe everything – in India. And nobody complains. It just is. So the train adventure was enjoyed to the maximum; bumps, stops, starts, a few cockroackes and dueling loudmouths at 3am make the story more interesting. Western toilets, maybe stinkier than the Indian ones. Chai wallah delivers a brilliant wake-up cup (and fills the travel mug upon request!!), ringing in the day on a perfectly acceptable note. The ride to the Haveli is through water-logged side streets, but the tuk tuks magically sprout rudders and sail us through the muck (no, actually, we get splashed and it is what it is).

I almost expect to see royal carriages in the car park and Maharajas or their attendants lounging in this old royal residence-cum-hotel… The Krishna Prakash Heritage Haveli is a renovated mansion of old, with the decor and architecture beckoning me back to a time and place long, long ago. The hotel sits in the shadow of the large-looming Merhangarh Fort, a palace to the Maharaja of Jodhpur.

View of Merhangarh Fort from KP Heritage Haveli


Merhangarh Fort…In this land of princely kingdoms, Maharajas and Maharanis, you can feel their presence in the air. Maybe it’s because I’m reading a novel set in and around one of these palaces. Maybe it’s because the 70-100′ high walls are imposing and awe-inspiring; the views breathtaking; and the intricate detail in every room and on every surface either a spectacular testament to a Royal’s ego or a manifestation of their impeccable attention to every last detail. Either way, the views of the Blue City from the top were jaw-dropping.

And to (Sadar Bazaar) market we go… there is the story of the fabric seller who weaves his own tales of fame and high fashion and fortune. The spice merchant who carries on her father’s legacy in the spice business. The samosa maker who should win the nobel prize for street food. Same goes for the lassi walla.

So we travel on into the proverbial pink/blue Jodhpur sunset…air resonating with the distant sounds of the adhan, the call to prayer, tuk tuk beeps, cats, drums and train horns. Genuine thali for dinner (need to check if free refills are included in thali back home!), and I have said at least 3 times today, “I can’t believe I’m really in India.”