September 19, 2014

Mewar (July 2014): Part II: Kankroli, Nathdwara, Sajjan Garh (Udaipur).

21-July-2014: Monday: Visit to the Krishna Temples and Sajjangarh, Udaipur.

After enjoying a rejuvenating four days at Club Mahindra Fort Kumbhalgarh we checked out from our cozy tent at 8.30 am. It took some time to settle our bills, by which time our cabbie Rajkumar arrived and was waiting for us. We wanted to visit the Krishna temples at Kankroli and Nathdwara, then go to Sajjangarh (Monsoon Palace) on a hilltop near Udaipur before checking in to the Club Mahindra Udaipur resort.

Rajkumar took us via Kelwara and Rajsamand to Kankroli. The road was not very good and passed through many typical Rajasthani villages, and a lot of marble mines as we approached closer to Rajsamand.

We reached the Dwarkadheesh Temple at around 10.30 am. This temple is located at Kankroli, on the banks of the Rajsamand Lake in Rajasthan. It is about 15 km north of the Shrinathji  temple of Nathdwara on National Highway No.8.

Entrance to Dwarkadheesh Temple, Kankroli

The temple opens for darshan at fixed timings. We reached the temple at 11 am and had to wait till 11.30 am to be let in. In the meanwhile we walked to the ghat behind the temple overlooking Rajsamand Lake and fed the fish, of which there were many of various shapes and sizes. They would jump out of the water as soon as we dropped the grain into the lake.

Rajsamand Lake

This temple is not as crowded as the more famous Nathdwara temple, and there was no jostling and pushing as happens at Nathdwara. We got a good darshan of Shrinathji (Lord Krishna). We collected the prasad (holy food) and enjoyed the music being played by the temple band.

Dwarkadheesh Temple Band.
Around noon we moved ahead towards Nathdwara on National Highway No.8 (NH8) and had reached the temple town by 12.45 pm. There is a vehicle entry tax of Rs.40 as you enter Nathdwara town, and parking charges of Rs.30 in the parking lot next to the main temple.

Nathdwara town

The temple of Shrinathji at Nathdwara is among the most sacred places of worship for the followers of Lord Krishna. The idol is made of black stone and is said to have been brought here from Mathura in 1669 to protect it from the marauding Moguls under Aurangzeb's rule.

The temple opens its doors to the public for worship seven times a day for just about half an hour each, and there is a huge crowd always waiting to rush in. Inevitably there is some pushing and jostling and you barely get a minute for darshan before you are pushed out to the exit, just like in a Mumbai local train. This makes the whole experience quite unpleasant, and the temple authorities should take the initiative to organise it in a better way. Some touts promise to get you in through the VIP channels, but they only serve as paid guides, and can do nothing when the push becomes a shove.

Entrance to Shrinathji Temple.
The temple timings vary slightly on a daily basis and are announced publicly and on their website. It generally starts at 5.30 am with the ‘mangala’ darshan, followed by ‘shingar’ at 8.15 am, ‘gwal’ at 9.30 am, ‘rajbhog’ at 10.30 am, ‘uthaapan’ at 3.30 pm, ‘sandhya’ at 5.15 pm, ‘shayan’ at 6.30 pm. ‘Bhog’ is distributed among devotees as ‘prasad’ (holy food). At each darshan the child in Lord Krishna is pampered in a different way, from his awakening, to his feeding, grooming, afternoon siesta, evening outing and dinner, till he is finally tucked in to bed.  Devotional music is played during the darshans. The timings change completely on festival days.

This temple visit is not for the people weak in heart and body. Entry is free, but photography inside the sanctum is strictly prohibited. All cameras, mobiles and smart phones are to be left outside for which you will be given a token at the counter. It is preferable to leave them locked in your vehicle, because there is a rush at the counter after darshan, and it can take a while to get your valuables back.

After the temple visit you can do some shopping in the ‘Chaupati Bazar’, in the lane leading to the temple. Pictures and paintings of Srinathji are readily available in every second shop, whereas you can buy local jewellery, vases, handicrafts and decorative items in the other shops. There are some food stalls and sweetmeat shops too. A few shops just outside the temple sell ‘prasad’ in case you want to take some home for your near and dear ones.

Chaupati Bazar at Nathdwara
Another good place to visit at Nathdwara is the ‘Lal Bagh’ garden, about 2 km north of the main temple on the highway. This garden houses the museum where you can see the ancient chariots and other items which were used in the ceremonial processions in older times.

Shrinathji museum at Lal Bagh

Lal Bagh Gardens at Nathdwara
Last but not least, and if you are spending more time at Nathdwara, you can visit the ‘Gaushalas’ or cowsheds of the temple trust, which is about 5 km away from the temple. There are about 1500 cows and around 500 oxen. One cow here is known to be Shrinathji’s cow, and comes from a lineage that has served the deity for long.

We had lunch at one 'Poonam Restaurant' in the 'New Cottage' Hotel building. They served up a good unlimited Gujarati thali for Rs.160 each. There were two vegetables, two dals, dahi curry, chapati, puran poli, rice, and chaas to drink.

Enroute from Nathdwara to Udaipur one can also visit Haldighati and Eklingji Temples. We had visited the Maharana Pratap museum and Chetak Smarak at Haldighati during an earlier trip, and you can read my TripAdvisor review about the famous battlefield by visiting the link: Ground Zero of a famous battle.

We left Nathdwara at 2.15 pm and proceeded towards Udaipur on NH8.  As we were entering the city we noticed this huge and colourful building on our left called ‘The Celebration Mall’. We asked our driver to stop here so that we could refresh ourselves. There was ample paid parking space in the basement.

The Celebration Mall, Udaipur

We were pleasantly surprised to see the many brightly decorated shops inside the mall. There were all kinds of shops selling clothes, shoes, jewellery, souvenirs, branded goods, restaurants, food and drink stalls and even a movie theatre (PVR). It was comparable to some of the best malls in our country.

Inside Celebration Mall

We had a pizza, followed by ‘jamun’ ice-cream. We made good use of the washroom which was in a better condition than many we had encountered on the way, but could be better maintained.

For the local people this mall seems to be a good place to hang out and do some shopping, but for us tourists it was like an oasis in the desert where we could pause for a while, refresh and refuel ourselves, and be on the way again.

Inside Celebration Mall, Udaipur

We left from Celebration Mall at 4 pm and reached Sajjan Garh, also known as the Monsoon Palace  in half an hour.

Sajjan Garh is situated on top of the highest hill peak near Udaipur, and is clearly visible from most parts of the city. It is best to visit this place in the evenings to see the city lighting up as dusk approaches. The road to the top is narrow and quite steep and winds up the forested hillsides of the Sajjan Garh Wildlife Sanctuary. There is an entry fee of Rs.130 per vehicle and Rs.20 per person. Entry timings are between 10 am to 6 pm. The gradient is too steep for the tuk-tuks (auto-rickshaws), so you have to use your own transport or hire a cab.

Sajjan Garh on the hilltop

The Monsoon Palace at the top also served as a Hunting Lodge for Maharaja Sajjan Singh, and you can see many exhibits and pictures of the wildlife sanctuary inside the building. The condition of building and the display seems to be in a state of neglect, though.

Sajjan Garh also known as Monsoon Palace
View from Sajjan Garh

City Palace and Lake Palace as seen from Sajjan Garh

The place is quite isolated with no restaurants or food stalls around, so carry your own picnic basket. You can spend some time in the garden and open spaces around the Palace, or walk through the clouds if you are there on a rainy day during the monsoons.

After an evening visit to Sajjan Garh we proceeded to our resort, Club Mahindra Udaipur, passing through the narrow lanes near Lake Pichola, and joining back on NH8 going towards Ahmedabad.

Club Mahindra’s resort at Udaipur is a royal retreat, resembling a Haveli, set amidst the Aravalli Hills and the National Highway No.8 (Jaipur-Ahmedabad). It is located about 9 km outside the main city of Udaipur as you drive towards Ahmedabad. It was earlier known as the ‘Paras Hill Resort’. As you enter the gates you are greeted by the soothing sight of beautiful green lawns and fountains.

Check in was quick and easy and we were allotted a room on the 2nd floor with a view of the hills and highway in front and the resort pool behind. The swimming pool is located in a quadrangle in the centre of the resort, so all the rooms have a poolside view! You can sit out in the common balcony enjoying the breeze and watching the trucks trundling by. There is also an open air sit-out on the terrace where you can gaze at the stars after dinner.

There are in house entertainment programs arranged by the resort like magic/puppet shows, Rajasthani dances and cultural activities. Pottery classes as well as spa and indoor games are also available. 

Club Mahindra Udaipur, swimming pool.

All the rooms are hotel units and don’t have kitchenettes, so you have no choice but to use the resort restaurant. They do have a mini fridge and tea maker though, and the rooms are well furnished with central a/c. We enjoyed the food at the restaurant, where they serve both buffet and a la carte. Chef Ranbeer is always on the prowl to make sure that all his customers are enjoying his recipes.

Club Mahindra Udaipur, restaurant.

We enjoyed their preparation of 'Alu Gobi Adraki' with 'nan' and 'lachha paratha' at the restaurant.

After a tiring day of travel and sight seeing in Mewar, we hit the sack early to wake up fresh for another day of exploring tomorrow.

Tomorrow we would be visiting the beautiful City of Lakes and Palaces, Udaipur!

September 12, 2014

Mewar (July 2104) - Part I : Kumbhalgarh

16-July-2104: Wednesday: Mysore-Ajmer Express.

The Mysore-Ajmer Express (Train no.16210) departed from Pune Junction at 6.50 pm. Both of us had been allotted upper berths even though I had booked 60 days in advance. However we managed to get one lower berth after exchanging with a co-passenger, and we were happy to have a pair of side upper and side lower berths. The train goes via Kalyan, Vasai Road, Surat, Vadodara, Ahmedabad, Abu Road and Falna. We had our dinner of packed sandwiches and climbed into our berths at 9.30 pm to grab our forty winks.

17-July-2104: Thursday: Arrive in Falna at 2.30 pm. Drive to Club Mahindra Kumbhalgarh.

We had breakfast of dhokla curry, kachoris, and chilly pakoras bought at Ahmedabad station, washed down with a bottle of chilled Amul kesar flavoured milk. Around noon we also had some aloo parathas and veg pulao served up by the pantry car in the train. The train arrived at Falna at 2.30 pm, an hour late. I had pre-booked a cab through 'Rajasthan Taxiwale', and Rajkumar, our cabbie, called us while we were in the train and told us that he was waiting for us with his Tata Indigo since 1pm.

Rajkumar took us to Kumbhalgarh via Sadri and Ranakpur. We did not halt at Ranakpur and carried on towards Kumbhalgarh. The drive was very scenic, specially after Ranakpur as we were passing through the wildlife sanctuary. There were a lot of curious langur monkeys peering at us from the roadside as we passed them.

Langur monkey peering at us near Ranakpur

There was a very steep ascent after passing through the forests, and we could feel the car engine straining in first gear to make the grade. After that we passed through some rustic Rajasthani villages with narrow pot-holed roads till we finally arrived at the Kumbhalgarh Fort junction, near Hotel Aodhi. From there it was a 5 km drive downhill till we reached Club Mahindra Fort Kumbhalgarh at 4.30 pm.

We were welcomed with a glass of rose sherbet and checked into our a/c studio apartment room. It was tastefully furnished and had a nice sit-out with a green hedge surrounding it. It had a cozy kitchenette with a dining table, microwave oven, toaster, mini fridge, tea maker and basic utensils. The bathroom had a walk-in closet.

Studio Apartment at Club Mahindra Kumbhalgarh

Club Mahindra’s Fort Kumbhalgarh is a Royal Retreat set amidst rural and rustic surroundings in the Mewar region of Rajasthan. Its architecture and setting in the Aravalli hills gives you the feeling of living like the warrior kings of the region lived decades ago. At the same time it is not at all like the desert region that Rajasthan is famous for, and there is a lot of greenery all around, and being at an elevation in the hills the climate is quite pleasant, even in summer.

There is a grocery store where you get your basic requirements for breakfast like bread, butter, cheese, milk and noodles. The restaurant serves excellent buffet as well as a la carte and you have the option of dining at the restaurant or out in the open-air Gazebo, which has a barbeque. Food is priced a bit on the high side. There is a lone street-food stall located just outside the gates, where you can order parathas, dal and subji, if you don’t mind compromising on quality and hygiene.

There is a nice clean swimming pool with aqua-zorbing facility. It gets quite crowded here in the evenings since it’s not very big. There is also a spa and beauty salon. There are activities for kids in the Fun Zone, and there’s also an artisan available to teach you the basics of pottery. Cultural shows are arranged in the evening where local artistes perform live.

Club Mahindra Fort Kumbhalgarh Resort

Swimming Pool at the Resort

After enjoying 2 days in our Studio Apartment we shifted to a Tent (Hotel Unit) as we wanted to savour this experience too. We were lucky to get one located right at the edge of the property with a fabulous view of the hills all around.

Our tent at Club Mahindra Kumbhalgarh

We would sit outside and have our morning cup of tea. There was also a deck chair where we could relax and do some bird watching. It was truly an out-of-this-world experience. Inside the tent was well furnished and air-conditioned, and even had a rocking chair. However being a Hotel Unit it did not have a kitchenette. We enjoyed the food at the restaurant, and had their ‘Pizza Rusticana Gardenia’ at the Gazebo.

Deck chair outside our tent

Tent sit-out

Inside the tent
 18-July-2014: Friday: Exploring Kumbhalgarh and Kelwara.

Our resort was located about 2.5 km from the nearest town, Kelwara. I went out for a morning walk towards Kelwara. The famous Fort of Kumbhalgarh is 5 km in the other direction. Once you step out of the resort you enter straight into rural Rajasthan. You are surrounded by the beautiful trees and shrubs along the roadside, and the undulating hills in the near distance. 

A local bus at Kumbhalgarh

Kelwara town, Rajasthaan
The region is a paradise for bird watchers. You get to hear the piercing call of the peacock though they may not always be visible. There are plenty of other birds like the bulbul, cuckoo, wood pigeon, weaver birds, and jungle fowl  which you can easily see and hear.

Sometimes you can hear the 'whoop whoop' call of the langur monkey in the distance.

Weaver Bird

Red Spurfowl
There are a number of Resorts and Hotels on the road from Kelwara to Fort Kumbhalgarh. The most luxurious of these is 'The Aodhi' located about 1 km from the fort. It is a heritage property run by the HRH Group of Hotels. Some of the others are pictured below:

Kumbhalgarh Forest Retreat

The Rock Valley

Tiger Valley Resort

Kumbhal Castle and Kumbhal Palace Hotels

Hotel Devi Palace

Besides our morning and evening walks we had a generally restful day at our Club Mahindra resort. We went to the activity centre and saw the beautiful creations the Molela potter had produced from clay and terracotta. Molela is a small village near Haldighati and is famous for its red clay and its talented artisans. You could choose any of the figurines on display and the resident potter would teach you how to make it....for a fee, of course.
Molela clay art
19-July-2014: Saturday: A visit to the Kumbhalgarh Fort.

I had a refreshing morning swim in the resort pool. It opens at 8 am and is almost empty till around 10 am. After breakfast the little kids come with Daddy to play and frolic in the water.

We had our breakfast of snack toast and muesli in the kitchenette of our studio apartment and then packed up and shifted to our tent.

We relaxed a while savouring our new surroundings. Our tent was at the outer edge of the property with the hills behind us and the jungle on one side. I sat on the deck chair and enjoyed the peace and serenity of nature enveloping us. Geeta sat inside the tent in the rocking chair and meditated for a while.

The day was cloudy but not very rainy. So we decided to walk to the Fort. Around noon we started out on our trek to the Kumbhalgarh Fort. It took us about an hour and a half to do the 6 km since there was a gentle gradient all the way up and we took frequent stops by the wayside. 

The Kumbhalgarh trek

This majestic hill fort is a UNESCO World Heritage site. It was built in the 15th century by Rana Kumbha and is also the birthplace of Maharana Pratap, the great warrior king of Mewar. It is the 2nd largest fort in Mewar after Chittaurgarh, and also has the 2nd longest wall in the world (after the Great Wall of China), running along its boundary for 36 kms.

Kumbhalgarh Fort

Kumbhalgarh Fort

The fort is built on a hill at a height of 1100 metres and requires a considerable effort to climb to the top. But once you are in the palace at the top of the fort, also known as ‘Badal Mahal’, you are rewarded with awesome views of the forested Aravalli hills, with the Mewar region on the eastern side and Marwar region on the west.  The forests surrounding the fort comprise the Kumbhalgarh Wildlife Sanctuary which is home to leopard, sloth bear, monkeys, wolf, jackal, sambar, peacock, jungle fowl and a host of other birds and animal species.

Badal Mahal
It is worthwhile for a tourist to spend at least one day at Kumbhalgarh. He can arrive here from Udaipur or Ranakpur and have some refreshments at one of the two restaurants at the base. There is a nominal entry fee and parking charges to be paid before entering. Guides can be made available for a fee, if you ask at the counter. There are many Jain and Hindu temples near the base of the fort. It takes between 30 to 60 minutes to reach the top of ‘Badal Mahal’, depending on how much time you spend at each of the many sights and views on the way up. It is a stiff climb but there are benches and boulders beneath shady trees, where you can sit and catch your breath. When you reach the top you are literally blown away by the views and the wind!

View from the top

Every evening there is a Light and Sound show (chargeable) where the story of the fort and its erstwhile rulers is recounted in an open air amphitheatre. You are transported into the past and the old history and events of Kumbhalgarh Fort comes alive. It is quite impressive, and worth waiting for at the end of the day. But to witness this show one must spend the night in a nearby hotel, or drive back to Udaipur in the dark.

Light and Sound show
20-July-2014: Sunday: A Day of Relaxation.

It was the last day at Kumbhalgarh and we spent the day relaxing at the resort. I went to the pool and had my usual morning swim. After breakfast we sat outside our tent under the canopy of leaves and watched the birds flitting around. I noticed a flying creature darting quickly from one flower to another. It was too small to be a bird and too large to be a bee. I couldn't get a clear snap as it was moving too fast. Later I found out that it is actually a large moth known as the the humming bird moth.

Trying to photograph the humming-bird moth.

The Parshuram Mahadeo Temple about 13 km from the resort, and the Ranakpur Jain Temples, about 60 km away, are some of the other places to visit nearby. We had already visited Ranakpur during an earlier trip and it is indeed a place worth seeing. You can read my review about this attraction on the TripAdvisor website by visiting the link: