Being a traveler who is intrigued by history, palaces & forts are always in my bucket list. In 2015, a chance cancellation of my trip to Uttarakhand resulted in me going for a short trip to Udaipur, Rajasthan. And, wow…what a majestic and rich city it is. While doing my research on forts to see, came across a website on UNESCO protected “Hill Forts of Rajasthan” (http://whc.unesco.org/en/list/247) and decided to go for Kumbhalgarh that is 84 kilometers from Udaipur. What really intrigued me was a description that it has the second longest wall in the world after the Great Wall of China…. What added history to the whole setup was that the fort was birthplace of legendary warrior Maharana Pratap and has a reputation of being Impregnable.
With next to none online material available on internet about the fort, I was looking forward to little adventure. Once started from Lake City Udaipur, slowly I was a transferred to an altogether different landscape of Hills and Valleys and Ponds and greenery all around. For a moment I was actually taken aback that such beauty of nature exists in a Desert State. The jungles were lush after monsoons and Aravallii ranges were all around with mist and greenery.
Oh.. The journey was a delight. Enroute , saw many tented accommodations and high end stay options but what I kept searching was a glimpse of the fort…. And suddenly when I thought that it’s going to be a while, lo and behold, the majestic fort walls were visible. No doubt, in medieval times, the soldiers had hard time locating the fort.
What immediately strikes one is the nakedness of the stone walls, the solid foundation, and the pure functional approach in the construction of a defense fort and wall.. It leaves one with both awe and delight at seeing such an architecture marvel.
The fort has 7 main gates, though I could only spot 3 as I was so engrossed in looking around. It’s not a frequently visited place so not many people were around. The monument is ASI protected so one has to take an entry fee of nominal 10 Rs. I got myself an ASI guide with fee of 300 Rs.
Some facts to consider, This fort was built as a defense fort by Rana Kumbha between AD 1443 and 1458 under the supervision of famous architect Mandan and later additions including Badal Mahal were done throughout the 19th century. The fort is on a hill at an altitude of 1,100 m (3,600 ft) above sea level on the Aravalli ranges. The perimeter wall extends for 36 km with frontal walls being fifteen feet thick.
The fortified fort walls are the main feature of the fort today and it houses more than 360 temples within , among it being 300 ancient Jain and the rest Hindu. One could still see mini dams and structures to regulate waters.. along with the depilated old temples far and wide from the fort. The fort walls cover 13 hills and they run like a python covering the valleys, peaks alike.
The frontal walls are in shape of spherical structures and are very different, the guide mentioned that this was the first line of defense as climbing on it was difficult. Also, the round shape made it difficult for lizards to get a hold on same; which was eventually used by attackers to climb up.
I could already see the plain logic applied to make this fort impregnable.. There are multiple layers or walls..making defense stronger. The outer perimeter has misleading false walls that lead potential attackers to nowhere where they could have been easily ambushed. As I entered the main gate, I could see many temples on the right side and the fort walls. Once I started climbing up the fort…realized it was pretty uphill and at every nuke and corner there was something to look at…. Be it, stairs lining the fort walls..or a small shrine for local goddess..or the mish mash of the fort drainage system.
One notable thing was, the huge fort gates..They were huge wood structures really wide and with metal spikes coming out from them. The guide explained that it was for safety of the fort. In case the fort was breached with help of elephants and the gates have to be forcefully opened the elephants will get hurt, and manually it will be hard and time consuming to get in the fort insides.
As I moved forward, the expanse of the fort walls and the fort within started to make sense to me.. This was indeed a defense fort. To be used as a safe house in times of attack.
The idea was to reach the Badal Mahal which is the highest point in the fort and was later added in 19th Century. Throughout the ascent, one could see miles and miles of Aravalli ranges, being an overcast day, there were clouds in the hills and the winds were pretty strong. Every point in the fort is a vantage point, I could imagine that in medieval times, how easy it must have been to keep a watch around…. There are multiple watch towers too, with proper avenues for holding the tanks and ammunition. One could see the tanks and ammunition room. As I climbed up, came across the room where Maharana Pratap was born. The room was simple bare room, with just holes in wall for keeping candles, this was a separate structure from main fort…Assume it was a midwife room and queens must be coming here for delivery and other times must be used as an Infirmary.
From here, one could see the top of the Badal Mahal.. As one enters there are various sections for Horse stables, kitchen… One could still see the kiln where huge vessels must have been kept for cooking , stone grinders and vessel holders. As I entered the fort, the old section of fort had 1 rooms and 1 compound. The room was identified as the bed room for royal couple. It was a small room with no adornments one see in Rajput forts. It was a bare room with just windows all around for ventilation. And my..my…it was awesome.. Couldn’t help but grin at the prospect of having intimacy in a room high above the clouds with a view to die for.
Attached to room was a small terrace, that the guide explained was used by the king for giving water to sun god. What was surprising that to climb up , may be 12 ft.. There were hardly 3-4 stairs. The guide explained that Rajput were tall men and they could climb that height easily in 3-4 strides… Cool.. Genetics..
From here, there was an attached compound that was for committing Jauhar. Now, Jauhar was an ancient practice were Rajput women used to burn themselves alive rather than being captured by enemies in case of defeat. The compound had a defunct shrine and a courtyard surrounded by corridor like structure. One could imagine…a huge pyre in center and woman climbing the same after worshipping the goddess. The place had an eerie feel to it and very sad vibe to it. I literally hurried past it.
All around in old section, one can see interconnecting tunnels and drainage systems. From here , the guide took me to newer sections. The new section has multiple shrines for varuious gods and is in 2 levels. The top level is called Badal mahal and has two sections for “Janana” & “Mardana” for women and men respectively. The painting in the mahal still looks fresh. The rooms are bare, with little or no adornment. The rooms have jaali windows and nooks for keeping candles , being so high up and with no blockage one could feel the force of the wind all around. At the ground level are temples and a central courtyard.
From here, one could climb the terrace of the fort. And the view is simply amazing. Miles and Miles of AR Ravalli hills with greenery all around,. The force of the wind, the mist and clouds transfer you to a very happy heavenly place. Took lot of pictures here and finally decided to descend back. The overall feeling was of awe, delight and a sense of accomplishment in seeing an architecture marvel of bygone era.
Some folklore associated with fort:
- Maharana Kumbha used to burn massive lamps that consumed fifty kilograms of ghee and a hundred kilograms of cotton to provide light for the farmers who worked during the nights in the valley.
- Rana Kumbha, was initially repeatedly unsuccessful in attempts to build the fort wall. He consulted a spiritual advisor and was suggested that a voluntary human sacrifice would solve whatever was causing the impediment. The spiritual advisor advised building a temple where the head should fall and building the wall and the fort where the rest of his body lay. Initially none responded, but then a soldier volunteered and he was ritually killed. Today the main gate of the fortress, Hanuman Pol, contains a shrine and a temple to commemorate the great sacrifice.
Udaipur is the nearest airport and railhead that is 84 kms far. Most convenient way to reach is to hire a private taxi on a daily rental and bargain a package to see Fort and nearby attractions of Jain temples of Ranakpur , Haldighati and Nathdwara.
There are government buses also that ply, but they are sparse.
- The fort is open on all days , but weekends are more crowded.
- Do hire an ASI guide, as there are no plaques explaining different sections and trust me, with a guide you will see the fort from a different perspective.
- There is a sound and light show in the evening so plan your day accordingly if you want to catch the same.
- Wear comfortable shoes, as the ascent is steep and the expanse to cover is huge.