We head out of Pushkar, after bowing to the creator (as per Hindu mythology) – Bramha, being inquisitive about the white horse statute that adorned the centre of the temple compound and after having a typical Rajasthani lunch of Dal Bafley. As we hit the highway and I was settling down to boring visuals of the highway, I realised my co-pax was in a competition mood! He had spotted a car cruising ahead of us and was competing with it. And I was like, ” Damn! There goes my normal blood pressure.“
The car ahead had two boys and were they cruising or what! My co-pax was truly concentrating on just that car and nothing else on the road seemed to matter to him. And right then I happen to give him the dirtiest look possible which I don’t think he even noticed. The look translated to, “Boys will be boys!” (The fact that I am scared of high speeds is another factor here.) But after a while when we could have overtaken the other car I saw that my co-pax didn’t. I said, “Damn! We could have just overtaken them, no?” He said, “Ya. Actually many times before this too. But I am not racing with them. I am trailing them.“
Now what the hell was trailing? He understood my unasked question and said, ” Look at the number plate. That’s a Jaipur car. And the way he made an entry into the highway, I figured he has been driving on this stretch pretty often. So he knows the road, turns, bumps and even the potholes pretty well. Rule of the highway – trail a car that’s being driven confidently. 95% chances are that the driver has driven on the same road before. Chances of you reaching your destination faster are 95%, if you trail it right.” Where did my kid brother learn all that, I wonder. Passion, possibly, has its own ways of making you knowledgeable.
As the MP car trailed the Rajasthan car, the kilometres melted away in no time. That must have been the fastest 214 kms for me in a car drive. It felt like the highway had no turns, it was straight. Zoom! The car leading us left us around the bend where we were to turn towards Chittorgarh. And as we turned towards the by-lanes of the fort city of Chittorgarh, we were welcomed by huge, smoking cement factories. Chittorgarh not just houses the largest fort in Asia but is also the Cement hub of India.
We reached Chittorgarh around 7.30 pm. It had been a long day – Nahargarh Fort-Ajmer Dargah-Pushkar-Chittorgarh. We wanted to turn in quickly so that we could head over to the Chittorgarh Fort early morning. We started looking for Rajasthan Tourism‘s Hotel in Chittogarh – RTDC Panna Hotel and hence Google maps to the rescue! Tadaaa…it wasn’t too difficult to find and luckily we got rooms too without any prior booking (Advisable to book beforehand, the place can be crowded. We travelled in January.) The hotel isn’t really 5 star stuff but it is comfortable. Old fashioned and old amenities. But the hospitality makes up for everything. They prepared food for us, on demand. A nice hot shower. Some good old homemade tasting food. And a decent bed. One doesn’t need more than this after a tiring day. We dozed away to the stories of the Ranas and the Ranis, Jauhars and Wars, Love and Betrayal, Coronations and Annexations….To Chittorgarh Fort, the next morning.
We finished our breakfast and checked out of the hotel, early next day morning. While at the check out we also had a lovely banter with the hotel manager who told us some glorious history of the place and agreed to arrange a guide to meet us at the fort. As Chittor was lazily waking up to the winter sun, we drove towards the Chittorgarh fort and the grandeur began way before the actual entrance of the fort.
We reached the fort and while waiting for our guide, we took in the magnificence of the ancient wonder we were about to set foot into.
The guide arrived. After a brief introduction to the fort, its general history and how we are going to go about the tour, we start with the Kumbha Swamin Temple, a temple dedicated to the 3rd incarnation of the Hindu god Vishnu which as per mythology appeared in the form of a Boar. A temple complex which had withstood defacing by many invaders yet stands proud in its magnificence and architectural beauty.
In the same compound stands, Meera Bai‘s writing haven built by her supportive and loving husband. Rani Meera was a Rajput princess but more than that she was a poetess saint who had dedicated all her life to the worship of Lord Krishna, the 8th incarnation of the Hindu god Vishnu. She wrote many bhajans, popularly known as Meera Bhajans sitting at the MeeraBai Temple.
From Meera Bai we headed straight for Lord Shiva. Next magnificence on the list was The Samadishvara Temple – One of the 2 shrines in North India where Hindu God Shiva is seen in the trinity form of God – the creator, preserver and destroyer.
Next the guide took us to a natural wonder. Natural fresh water source at 1600 feet above sea level. That’s the Gaumukh for you. The flow of water is said to be never ending, which in itself is a strange wonder in an Indian state which boasts of a desert! The fort of Chittorgarh withstood many sieges because of this and other 22 reservoirs in the fort, though Gaumukh was and remains the main source of fresh water at the fort. Adding divinity tho this whole equation is a swayambhu (self manifested) Shiv Ling where the water is falling (in the picture). One can step down the rock stairs, which are submerged in water, and offer prayers to the lord here. I did.
While today in the 21st century we are only able to grind and make cement out of the hard limestone found in and around Chittor (the reason why Chittor is the Cement hub of India), our forefathers in the 15th century did this! The Vijay Stambha (Victory Tower) was built by Rana Kumbla in the 15th century to commemorate his victory over Mahmud Shah I Khalji, the Sultan of Malwa. Built over a period of ten years, it raises upto 122 ft and has nine stories accessed through a narrow circular staircase of 157 steps.
Vijay Stambha is open for public climbing upto the 8th floor, from where the view of Chittor town is something which you have to see for yourself. It is beyond my expressing abilities. Not just the exteriors but the interiors of the tower too are craved intricately. Two things are for sure about all those humans who lived in the 15th Century –
1. They not just had awesome imagination but also amazing stamina. Climbing up the 8 stories was more than the cardio we would do in a whole week!
2. Those guys didn’t suffer from arthritis. No chance. To climb those narrow stairs. No bone diseases. For sure.
Chittorgarh is famous and ill-famous for its Jauhars. Jauhar was the Rajputana practice of self-immolation of queens and female royals, when facing defeat at the hands of an enemy. Jauhar was a matter of Rajuput pride back in the days of Rani Padmini and Rani Karnavati. It symbolised the courage and valour of embracing death than the enemy. The architecture of Chittorgarh fort will be incomplete without the Jauhar sites.
I felt the gloom and sadness of death hanging around this site. Maybe it was the psychological influence of the stories of Jauhar but I felt like so many lives, dreams and stories were cut short at this site for the fear of being captured alive and made concubines by the muslims invaders. I felt like there are stories to be told here, only a willing listener was needed.
Next on the list is the big glamour of Chittorgarh Fort – Rani Padmini’s palace. Rani Padmini was possibly the most popular royal from Chittor. Her legend lives on even today in folklores. She was the extremely beautiful wife of Rana Ratan Singh and Chittorgarh Fort is said to have faced it’s first siege because of her beauty. The story goes that Alauddin Khilji, the Sultan of Delhi, had begun to rally his forces against Mewar. While Chittorgarh was still safe because of its geographical location, Khilji’s attention was diverted to Chittorgarh because of Rani Padmini’s legendary beauty. He desired to possess her and take her into his harem. When Khilji visited Chittorgarh and his only demand was a glimpse of Rani Padmini, Rana Ratan Singh, out of political politeness, allowed the Khilji to view Padmini through a set of mirrors. But this viewing of Padmini further fired Khilji’s desire to possess her. What followed was treachery, Intelligence, Bravery but it finally ended in Rana’s assassination, Rani’s Jauhar and Chittorgarh’s siege.
The guide demonstrated to us how Khilji was shown Rani Padmini’s mirror image. She is said to have sat at the stairs of this water palace and the mirror was placed in a room on the wall facing this water palace. The said room was on the first floor of the Rani’s main palace. And Khilji was made to stand facing the mirror and his back facing the window; he could only manage a mirror reflection.
Whenever the Rani felt like resting, a boat would row her from the main palace to her water palace, which was basically her bedroom. This is called luxury at its prime!
Finally before we bid adieu to Chittorgarh Fort, Kirti Stambha (Tower of Fame) looms in front of us. Built by a rich Jain merchant in the 12th Century and dedicated to Adimath Rishabhdeo – the first Jain tirthankara, Kirti Stambha is about 72 ft tall with 7 intricately carved stories. Public is allowed to climb upto the 6th storey though we didn’t. We had enough of cardio with Vijay Stambha. That climb and the resultant panting itself made us decide – got to hit the gym, man!
As we head towards, where we started though it is a different route and before the guide takes us through the exhibits of Rajasthan Tourism Board (that’s something all official guides do. Though to-buy or not-to-buy is your decision, completely) we pass though another beauty, across the lake. It is a nondescript guest house of a governor to rest and stay a day or two while visiting the state capital. It is not even on the list of the guide to show the tourists and say some words from its history; but l.o.o.k. at it. It mocks the state heads of today for being born in the days that they are.
Adieu to history monumenti-fied. To a time that stands frozen in these limestone monuments. To many stories told and untold. Standing in await of their narrator, till they are told.
Chittorgarh remains one of those visits that I want to repeat. Sometime.