Kumbhalgarh: Taking the scenic route

Udaipur to Jodhpur, 25 September

Between the two painted cities of Udaipur and Jodhpur there’s no trains, and after hearing a story from other tourists that the bus they were on doubled as prisoner transport we decide it might be fun to hire a car and driver instead and take the touristic route to Jodhpur past Kumbhal Fort.

We’ve teamed up on this one with a couple of crazy kids we met, Tony and Jas, a Kiwi and Brit living in Sydney. At 9AM sharp we set off on our trip. Today we’re going to see rural Rajasthan, a fair bit of it too.

The drive up should take about 5 hours, plus an extra hour to visit the Fort and in the morning it’s a smooth ride on quiet roads past tiny villages. Though slow-paced it’s full of life here between the farmers herding their cows, buffalo and goats, children playing in the streets and dogs napping in the shade by the side of the road. It’s great to be here at the tail end of the monsoon season, as it’s dry and sunny but the surroundings are lush and green. We pass waterholes where nearby villagers take their cattle inside the house at night because of tigers and leopards visiting at night. Around noon we make it to the Fort, an impressive structure!

We’re still in the Mewar region in Southern Rajasthan where Mewari is the first language, and Kumbhalgarh, which literally means Fort of Kumbhal is a Mewar Fortress built during the course of the 15th century by Rana Kumbha, ruler of the Mewar Kingdom.

Kumbhalgarh is the second largest fort in India. Its walls extend over 38km, making it one of the longest walls in the world, and are thick enough for 8 horsemen to ride abreast on top of it!

A wide, winding stone road takes us up higher and higher into the Fort and at each new level you’re more and more beginning to admire the work that has gone into building this structure. It must have been a gigantic project, just carrying up all the building materials must have taken an army of workers.

Each gate has big metal spikes sticking out to prevent elephants from breaking through, and the walls contain holes for the defending archers. Almost impregnable to direct assault, the Fort only fell once to the forces of Mughal Emperor Akbar in 1576.

After a 30 minute climb we reach the top of the fort to enjoy a grand view of the Aravalli Hills.

It’s time for some lunch, and as expected our driver brings us to a restaurant owned by a friend of his’, or maybe it’s his cousin’s, were not sure, but hey, they serve cold beer, some decent food and even show off the cannabis plant they grow in the garden, so it’s all good.

Back in the car we travel through enormous valleys where the langur monkeys hang out. We stop off to feed them some crisps, which they immediately destroy, and pieces of custard apple, they wait for patiently to receive.

It’s now getting to 3 o’clock and at this point one of us notices we’re nowhere near our destination of Jodhpur yet. We decide to skip our planned visit to the Ranakpur Jain Temple and try and get to Jodphur before nightfall.

This is of course not taking India into account. Everything just takes a little longer. Most roads are littered with potholes, so we’re stuck at 20 km an hour until we get to the toll road. A simple train crossing keeps us stationary for another 15 minutes and we even get stuck inside a big herd near one of the villages!

We watch the sun go down on the horizon. At 8PM we’re finally closing in on Jodphur. We’re ready to turn into our hotels, but suddenly the driver stops at a roadside cafe and wants us to have tea with his brother! This is the moment Tony cracks up and makes clear he would like to be in Jodhpur now. We were told it would take 6 hours to get to Jodhpur, but it’s getting close to double that amount. When we finally reach the city, the driver, with a straight face, remarks he’s pleased we’ve arrived early, and we can’t help but laugh when Tony replies: “Early, you say? Early? Well in that case I got some news for you bud, we’re not f*cking early!” Poor Tony needs a drink. All is well in the end when we finish our night with a cold beer on the rooftop of our Jodhpur hotel.

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