Feb 2, 2009

Rajasthan - Roads Lesser traveled (Part 2)

Ranakpur to Kumbhalgarh

The journey to Kumbhalgarh takes one through the forests of Aravali hills, in stark comparison with Shivaliks which we travelled to in summer. Shivaliks are seductive in nature, with lots of curves, cliffs & deadly turns, shrouded among the tall fir trees. Unlike Shivaliks, Aravali hills are more comforting in nature with terra firma always in sight & within reach, no presence of scary cliffs & deadly turns on the road. The lush green fields including those of Sugarcanes & Mustard mixed with barren fields in-between, was a paradox in itself, and so were the appreance from nowhere of large havelis surrounded by a number of small rural 'kaccha' houses.

Barring a brief halt to change the punctured tyre of our taxi (that gave us a chance to sight an eurasian sparrow-hawk and a couple of grey hornbills) & to have delicious hot mirchi-wada & samosas at Saira, we reached Club Mahindra resort at Kumbhalgarh well in time.

Club Mahindra Kumbhalgarh

Club Mahindra has taken over an existing hotel & converted it into a resort. The style is very much Rajasthani. Exterior in typical Gerua (Reddish Brown) colour and interiors finishing in deep hues of Yellows, Blues & Greens, provide an ambiance that is elegant & regal in style. A mid-size swimming pool providing turquoise blue tinge to the view (though lying empty due to cold weather), couple of big lawns, lots of trees & shrubs within the resort and an ever-crowded activity centre complete the entire picture.

A couple of negative factors though are – one, high priced food (still sold out due to the fact that the nearest alternate available is about 4 kms away in the small town of Kelwara with no vehicles available). The restaurant staff’s excellent service and ever smiley countenance to some extent at least makes up for the high prices of food. The second negative – the exhorbitant rates of Taxi service available from the hotel. Though there is an alternate available right outside the gate by a couple of taxi operators who have pitched a tent across the road, but soon we realised that the service provider to the resort & those guys have cartelized the entire operation. As a result, even though one can hire cheaper taxis from Kelwara, the cartel does not allow it to happen. I hope Club Mahindra management does something to break this cartel soon as it was the only sore point of our entire journey.

Kumbhalgarh Fort

Kumbhalgarh fort was established by Rana Kumbha in 15th Century. Earlier, the place was a bastion belonging to Jain descendents of Mauryan empire in 2nd Century. Under the rule of the king Rana Kumbha, the kingdom of Mewar stretched right from Ranthambore to Gwalior. The kingdom also included vast tracts of Madhya Pradesh as well as Rajasthan. About 84 fortresses were used for defending Mewar from its enemies and of these 32 were established by Rana Kumbha. Kumbhalgarh was one of the best, with massive structure leading to its invincibility. It is not a marvel of architectural beauty but important for functional reason. Set amidst the rugged terrains of Aravali mountains with wild forest all around (difficult to surmount even now without the help of any technology or road), further protected by a wall that runs for about 36 Kms and has a rampart of about 25 ft width (thus becoming the second largest wall of the world after Great wall of China), austere in style, shunning any opulence, with narrow staircase to deter easy access by the enemies - all pointing to the use of this fort as warriors's hideout. No wonder, the fort was conquered only once in history, and that too by the combined forces of Delhi, Jaipur & Marwar.

The top of the fort provides a bird’s eye view of the Mewar region. In fact, the entire lay-out of the complex, from above reminded me of similar lay-outs of the ruins of Greece. The fort complex, with ever-present huge gates ('pols' in local dialects) and massive walls also houses a number of temples dedicated to hindu & jain deities including Shiva & Ganesh. A priest is still employed by the present Maharana to care for the shrines of his ancestors. Twice a day the Priest's family makes the stiff uphill climb to the castle to light the sacred lamps before vermilion-daubed images of Hanuman, Chamunda, and Ekling. A beacon tower at the top was used for lighting up flames that would summon Mewar's chieftains to warFort's another claim to history is an octagonal room where Maharana Pratap was born who went on to fight with Mughals for seeking his self-respect & independence. Another interesting paradox is a room where at a later age his grandson Prince Karan entertained the future Mughal Emperor Shahjahan.

Tourists were much lesser in number as compared to what we saw a couple of days later at Nathdwara & Udaipur. But for those present, the end of the day brought two exclusives - first by nature, one of the most beautiful sunsets;

and second, a man made one- when the entire fort complex was lit up. These lights, which remain on for about 30 mins, everyday, literally transforms the entire fort into an oasis of Gold in the middle of the mountains.

Walk in the wilderness

The resort is situated close to Kumbhalgarh Wildlife sanctuary, which boasts of a number of wild animals including Hyena and wolves. The rides to sanctuary are available through the Taxi operators but I soon realised their lack of adequate knowledge about the sightings of animals as well as the birds. Hence rather than visiting the sanctuary, we decided to take frequent walks in the wilderness around the resort itself, including a lake at a distance of within a kilometer.

Initially we decided to explore the resort for birds and soon my efforts struck pay dirt. A White bellied Drongo, A Brown capped Pygmy woodpecker & an Oriental white-eye provided a warm welcome amidst the sound of ever-flitting numerous tailor-birds. A pair of Rufous treepies were being chased away by the Jungle Babblers (such crowish behaviour!) and an alexandrine parakeet kept surveying the entire scene perched amidst the branches in a Buddha like trance.

The water level in the lake was low due to scant rains this year. The bird activity also seemed to be subdued. While white breasted Kingfisher (back in its avatar of being a fisher) kept flashing its blue in flight, the lake also had a pair of common teal, spot-bill ducks and some cormorants. White wagtail, yellow wagtail, chat alongwith a sandpiper were the other birds at the water level.

The scene was different though on and along the the roadside. Black Redstart, Eureasian Wryneck, Small Minivets, Crested Bunting, Indian Robin, Tawny bellied Babbler, Great Tit, Black Lored Tit, Indian Silverbills, Jungle Quails, Chestnut Shouldered Petronia, White cheek Barbet & Copper Smith Barbet, Purple Rumped & Purple Sunbirds, Spotted & Laughing Doves, Asian Koel, Greater Coucal, Black headed Cuckooshrike were some of those which I could click. The link for these pictures is given below:

Despite not visiting the sanctuary, we were still not short of sighting of mammals. While travelling to & from Udaipur we encountered a Hyena and a fox. The encounter with Hyena was after the dark and though we tried to click its pictures, it ran away, scared of the vehicle. The fox, was seen in the morning and curiously it posed for a picture before deciding to get away. Another tourist informed us of his encountering a leopard & its cub just a day before on the same route of Kumbhalgarh – Udaipur. Also, while we were on our walk in the wild, during mid-morning we heard a deep rumbling sound of an animal which kept repeating for some time. The way the sound appreaed to us, fortunately for us, unfortunately for the mammal, we did not encounter this one.

One of the interesting things we noticed were the eagerness of the villagers to be photographed. Soon we realised that the eagerness was for earning a quick buck which most of the foreigner or NRI tourists are ready to disburse. In fact, one old man, who was keen on inviting us at his home and posed readily for a picture, stopped being hospitable and gave us a tongue lashing the moment he realised that his efforts were not going to be fruitful.

After so much of writing ( & patient reading on your part!) I am sure 'ab to break banta hai'.

So again, for all the visitors to this page, await the final chapter about Udaipur for this particular travelogue. Meanwhile, given below are the links to the pictures for:

Ranakpur & Kumbhalgarh - http://www.flickr.com/gp/7271923@N06/7w028a

Birds in Aravali Region - http://www.flickr.com/gp/7271923@N06/4V7k1M

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