Kumbalgarh – The Great Wall of India

Possibly the least known of the great forts in Rajasthan and one of the most spectacular. It loses out a bit to the likes of Mehrangarh, Chittorgarh and the likes due to its relative inaccessibility but it more than makes up with its grandeur and the legendary stories. The fact that it is home to the second longest wall in the world is now becoming more well known and slowly attracting more tourism. New hotels are coming up and while none of them are the big brands, some are quite nice and clean. The roads still leave a lot to be desired. The 80 kms to the nearest city of Udaipur are patchy at best and quite rough over a 2 lane corridor for the most part. The cell phone connectivity is poor and roads are not lit, making navigation post dark a challenge. All the issues aside, the experience is more than worth it.

We actually drove in from Jaipur as part of a multi-day road trip to the Rann of Kutch from Delhi. The drive was a little over 6 hours and while it was comfortable for the most part, the last hour or so was bumpy and narrow. We had some booking goof ups which meant we were looking for a hotel the day before. Fortunately we found this place Fateh Safari Lodge which was quite amazing. The pool view rooms also overlook a stunning valley and have a shared patio that provides the most awesome views, both in the day and even more so at night. For the price and being last minute, it really exceeded expectations – even the food was quite good.

A stunning night sky from our hotel

We reached the hotel around 5 pm and were told to rush for the sound and light show that starts at 6:30. In the winter holiday season they also do a second show at 7:30 due to higher demand. By the time we got to the fort, about 15 min from the hotel, both the shows were sold out. We got lucky that someone was trying to sell their tickets for the 7:30 show and we were at the right place – right time. While we waited an hour in the December chill for the first show to end, a small shack serving maggi and tea came to the rescue. As the time for the show approached, the crowd built up quickly in the square that also served as the waiting area.

It was soon apparent that there wasn’t going to be a line and checking of the tickets was going to be cursory at best as the flood of people let itself lose at the 2 single file entry gates. The well lit temples in the backdrop made the entrance seem quite grand, though it was mostly broken rock floor with some steps just to introduce some challenge. The seating was on a very wide set of steps with a thin dirty carpet on top. It kind of gave the feeling of sitting in a stadium.

The best part of the show was actually just before it started. As the lights dimmed for the show to begin, the brilliant star studded sky came to the fore and it was one of the best night skies I had seen in a long time, millions of stars, most of the galaxies that I knew and some that I didn’t lit up to greet us. The show itself was short and crisp and told the takes of Raja Kumbal and Maharana Pratap as would be narrated by the fort, in first person. The show spoke about the construction and some pretty creepy legends, especially the one about some old heretic who suggested that his own life be sacrifices for the goddess of the hill (on which the fort was built) to be pleased. He suggested that he be decapitated while he walks up the hill; the gate of the fort to be where he stops when he is beheaded. The legend has it that his body continued to walk after losing the head and the path it followed is where the great wall stands.

The fort apparently was breached only once when Raja Man Singh attacked Maharana Pratap. The Maharana managed to escape and later came back to chase the mughals out of the fort. The fort would then be one of the crowning glories of the kingdom of Mewar.

We came back the next morning to explore the fort and it was a memorable walk up to the roof of the palace in the fort that offers 360 degree views of the surrounding areas. One can see the long walls that stretch far and wide around the fort. It would need 2-3 hours of time to explore the fort well and make it to the top. It is hard not to stop on the way and eavesdrop on some guide telling his group about the 4 rooms for the 4 queens and that the 2 who got rooms on the lower floors were the favored ones and had a larger staff to attend to them.

I would also recommend getting there by around 9:30 as the crowds pick up a lot after 11, especially in the peak season. The parking situation around the fort is miserable with only parallel parking available on the sides of the hilly road leading up to the fort. The cars on both sides then convert the 2 lane road to something so narrow that even smaller cars could find it hard to make their way up.

The best views of the fort are from the location of the light and sound show and especially at night it looks stunning when the lights are on. The best views from the fort as from the absolutely highest level – the roof. The 360 degree view make it totally worth the climb. There are actually good views at multiple levels each one being a little better than the last. Only at the top, though, the view get more sprawling with very few obstructions.

The town of Kumbalgarh is actually quite dead, with hardly any places to eat outside of the several hotels that line the road leading upto the fort. In fact there is hardly any light to talk of… and that made the star gazing a highlight of the trip.

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