It is a cool and crisp February morning at the Kumbhalgarh Fort.
The mild warmth of the winter sun and a gentle breeze make it the perfect weather for exploring it, and the mesmerising panoramic vista tempts me to stop now and then and admire the view. The blue haze of the distant mountain ranges, birdsong and the ringing of bells from the various temples within the Fort complex adds to the general sense of peace and calm all around.
Though there is some activity in the settlement below and few early bird tourists like me, it feels like the Kumbhalgarh Fort is all mine, and only mine, to explore. As I stop at one point to look at the view once again, I recall how different the Fort looked the previous evening, when I attended the sound and light show.
The sun was setting when I had arrived at the Kumbhalgarh Fort. I had just enough time to buy the ticket, reach the venue, find a seat and switch off my mobile, when the show began with the rather clichéd, but oh-so-effective, voice-over saying, “Main Kumbhalgarh hoon” [I am Kumbhalgarh], setting the tone for the narration of the story of Kumbhalgarh Fort.
Centuries ago, Kumbhalgarh Fort was the site of another fort known as Macchindragarh, which was supposed to have been built by Prince Samprati, a descendent of Emperor Asoka, in 2nd Century BC. Little else is known of Macchindragarh beyond this and for centuries after its construction it is unclear as to what happened there. One can take a simple guess of kings coming and going, some successions painless and bloody. If there were any extraordinary rulers or events, there is sketchy or no information on them.
And then came the reign of Rana Kumbha of Mewar (1443-1468 CE). Rana Kumbha is credited with having built 32 forts, Kumbhalgarh Fort being one of them.There were many hurdles in the construction of the Fort and it is believed that the Rana almost gave up the idea of building it. Till, one day, a holy man came to him and declared that the Fort could not be built until there was a human sacrifice — his own.
Before his beheading, the holy man gave explicit instructions as to where the entrance to the Fort was to be located, where its various gates were to be built, where the living quarters, stables, armoury, etc were to be, and so on. One of the instructions was the location of the entrance to the Palace Complex, which was to be built on the spot where his head landed !
Kumbhalgarh Fort took 15 years to be built and is considered to be one of the finest forts in the country today. It remains a fort that has been laid siege to, but never conquered. [Perhaps it is for this reason that Udai Singh II, heir to the throne of Mewar and founder of the city of Udaipur sought and was given protection here. Many years later, his son, Maharana Pratap was born in the Fort.] Seven huge and imposing gates protect the Fort as does its 38 km wall, which is considered to be the second longest wall in the world [some accounts put the length of the wall at only 15 km].
It was a full moon night and when the 45-minute sound and light show finished, all lights were switched off for a minute to reveal a magical world bathed in shimmering, silvery moonlight. It was one that made me want to explore Kumbhalgarh Fort right away ! But that remained wishful thinking as the security guards politely ushered us out telling us to come back the next morning.
Next morning, after an early breakfast, I decide to walk the 2 km to the Fort. The leisurely walk turns out to be a good decision as I see a variety of plants, birds and rocks. And that first sight of the Fort in the morning light from the road…
It is a little after 8 am when I arrive at the first of the gates to Kumbhalgarh Fort, just in time to say a quick hello and a bye to a herd of buffaloes as they set off for their day’s grazing. 🙂
I buy my ticket (an unbelievable Rs.5/-) and begin the climb to the top of the Fort. As I climb higher, the expanse of the Fort is revealed as is its setting among the Aravalli mountain ranges. It’s famous fortified wall can be seen meandering away into the distance like a river of stone and disappearing from view over a rise, only to reappear some distance away, and disappear yet again. Temple spires, domed structures (probably chhatris or cenotaphs), a village settlement, and other indistinguishable structures can be seen in the distance.
I spend a wonderful couple of hours within the Palace Complex, with its shrines, empty stables, painted walls, staircases leading into spooky and dank passages, windy terraces, breathtaking views, echoing rooms… Presenting some captures from the time spent there:
Kumbhalgarh Fort is one of those places that appear to be suspended between here and there. Not entirely empty of inhabitants, yet desolate. Desolate, but not neglected. Not neglected, yet forgotten. Forgotten by all, but the most persistent tourists or those breaking their journey on the way to more exciting places like Jodhpur or Udaipur.
Kumbhalgarh Fort appealed to me like no other — architecture, history, desolation, expanse, setting… everything. I wish I had got the time to spend more time to explore the Fort beyond the Palace Complex and visit some of the temples, the wells and the dam. And walk along the Fort wall. Not the whole length, mind you, just a little bit.
I want to go visit Kumbhalgarh Fort again, but don’t know when that’ll be. Till then, it is this image of the Fort that will keep me working towards that wish 😀
Forts of Rajasthan Series
- Forts of Rajasthan – 1: The Junagarh Fort of Bikaner
- Forts of Rajasthan – 2: The golden fort of Jaisalmer
- Forts of Rajasthan – 3: Mehrangarh Fort of Jodhpur
- Forts of Rajasthan – 5: Chittorgarh Fort
- Forts of Rajasthan – 6: The Gagron Fort of Jhalawar