Monday, April 8, 2013


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Ambaji Temple
We go back to Jodhpur and head for Mt. Abu by bus. From its foot, we take a diversion by another bus to visit the famous, beautifully carved in marble, Benevolent Goddess Ambaji temple, a Shaktipeeth.  Then we reach the 22km long, 9km wide plateau of the scenic hill station, said to be the only oasis in Rajasthan, with gorgeous lakes, waterfalls, evergreen forests and rivers.  Next morning we take a tour of Arbudaanchal, the ancient name of Mt Abu, by bus and begin it with a good breakfast of hot bread pakodas and nice masala chai (spiced tea) at a vendor near our hotel. Climbing a winding route, and then walking some distance into the interior, we reach the Lovers’ point, as explained by our guide; he also warns us, not to try to come here alone, as the  native Gurjars suddenly appearing and robbing you is possible!
Lovers' Point
Also known as Honeymoon Point, a huge rock expressing a couple in love, at an elevation of 4000ft, gives panoramic views of the Arravalies and plains and also a marble quarry; not Makrana! It’s wonderful to spend time along with other lively people enjoying the sunshine, breeze and mutual frolic and fun!

Next, we reach Madhuban ( forest of honey), with the Universal Peace Hall, a gorgeous, attractive white building, with beautiful gardens around and a huge hall without pillars with religious paintings around and a seating capacity of 3000! This is the universal head quarter of the Bramhakumaris World spiritual University, a worldwide organization with unusual philosophy and practices. 

Universal Peace Hall
Arbuda Devi Temple
From here, our bus meanders through scenic regions to reach the Arbuda Devi temple. Then we reach the Gomukh temple, climb 700steps to visit the simple temple dedicated to sage Vasishtha and also to enjoy the natural beauty on all sides.
Scenic Region

 We see three live looking bulls, sculptured in stone at a distance, which are said to be demons troubling the sages in the ancient times. 

Gomukh Temple
Near Gomukh Temple

We keep on moving higher and higher with beautiful scenes around and rock formations due to water erosion, giving impressions of weird skulls. Finally, we reach Guru Shikhar, the highest peak of Mt Abu at an altitude of 5676ft, again climbing a number of steps, though tired by then. It has a small, bright, white and vermillion painted cave-temple of Lord Dattatreya (given by Atreya), a three headed Hindu deity (representing Bramha, Vishnu and Shiva), son of sage Atri and his noble wife Anusuya as the mythology goes; adjacent to this summmit is the Mt Abu Astronomical Observatory. We relax at the peak for quite some time before we descend, watching beautiful views.
Weird Skulls
Guru Shikhar

At Guru Shikhar
A Gorgeous View


Our next destination, again the next day, is the Jain temples complex of Dilwara, the miraculously artistic heart throb of Rajasthan in marble! Very strictly, no photography is allowed at present and the visitors are expected to maintain silence; definitely worthy measures to preserve the worthiest of the treasures of the world created between 11th and 13th centuries! The five temples complex, surrounded by hills with dense forests and further concealed by a high wall around them, seems to be a legend handed over to the civilization by Gods (the sculptors of the era). As we enter the Vimal Vasahi Temple, created ( the most fitting word) in 1021 by Vimal Shah, a minister of the Chalukya (Solanki in Gujarat) king Bhim Dev1 in Gujrat; it is as if we have entered a wonderland full of animated reality in white marble, the toughest substance to be cracked into lively sculpture! 
Enter Vimal Vasahi Temple (Wikipedia)
Doorway in detail (Wikipedia)
The guide (from the temple) informs us that huge marble blocks were transported by elephants to this elevation of over 1200meters, from Arasoori Hills at Ambaji to construct this 140ft by 90ft and 1500 artisans, 1200 workers spent 14years to present this marvel to the world! We come into the magnificent Rang Mandap, supported by twelve pillars throbbing with beautiful statuettes playing different musical instruments, branching into ornamental pediments towards the roof and as we come into the centre, the spectacular dome with life-like lotus-buds, petals, flowers and Vidhyadevis (Goddesses of knowledge) with different instruments in their hands. 
Dome (Wikipedia)
We move on straight to the brilliantly sculptured Gudh Mandap or the sanctum sanctorum with the marble idol of Adi Nath or Lord Vrishabh Dev. Then the Navchowkis, or the nine rectangular, again spectacularly live with a variety of sculpted domes, making us wonder at the tenderness of the flowers and their petals! I seem to be simply amazed that they have so much freshness and charm in them; even today! Well, well, the sculptured elephants, horses, birds, vines and a large variety of unusual imaginary species also enthrall your mind from all sides and base of the walls and pillars; but nothing is obtrusive, only the time you can give is the problem!

We come into the circumambulatory corridor with 57 cells with different deities in them; each cell is a sculptural pleasure again! When we come out of the temple we see the Hastishaala, a collection of elephants with different sizes and embellishments, of course in marble!
Luna Vasahi Temple, to the north-east of the former, is smaller in size but more eloquent in sculpture. It was created in 1232A.D. by 2500 artisans working meticulously for 15 years, during the reign of Raja Bhimdev II of Gujarat, pioneered by his two ministers, Vastupal and Tejpal in memory of their brother Luna. With similar architecture this temple has 52 cells. Here the deity is Lord Neminath, realistically carved in marble, with a fantasy of marble sculptured, even to translucence in the petals of flowers and the doorways with frames of artistic pediments and pilasters! We move spellbound in the myriad depictions of mythological figures, horsemen, elephants and dancers; on the ceilings, walls and columns! The multi-layered lotus dangling from the center of the dome with lace-like filigree in a single huge block of marble is spellbinding!
Next, we come into the Pithalhar temple, where the massive main deity, again of Lord Vrishabha is made of Panchadhatu, or an alloy of five metals, the main being brass. This remarkably brilliant 4 metric tons statue, 8ft high and 5.5 ft broad, replaced the old mutilated statue in 1468, as we are informed by the precise guides of the complex. Most of the images in this temple, with unfinished Rangmandap are of panchloha.
Then we enter the three storied Parswanath temple, the tallest among all Dilwara temples; here the four sides of the sanctum sanctorum has four  mandaps and the outer walls of grey sandstone contain magnificently sculpted Dikpals (guardians of directions), Goddesses, Shalabhanjikas (  beautiful, young women under a sala tree, in attractive poses) matching those of Khajuraoh and Konark.
We end up in the comparatively contemporary Mahavirswamy Temple of 1582, which also has paintings of the Sirohi artists on the upper portions of the walls and a 32ft high, lively marble statue of Lord Shantinath is fascinating! Definitely my mind is boggled as I go and take my seat in the bus, relax, craning my neck on the edge of the back of my seat and stretching myself on the seat completely! Then I think about the generous payment made to the artisans, in the form of gold and silver; every artisan was given gold weighing the dust he carved and silver weighing the pieces of marble he carved out of his share of work! Well, what a way to honor and keep the right people happy and prosperous!
Our last destination is the Sunset Point; as we start climbing, a strenuous up, through a path aplenty with people, ponies, carts and also vendors selling eatables, we see fine evening sun rays adding lucidity to the atmosphere through trees, promising a picturesque time.
Towards Sunset Point
Twoards Sunset Point
Soon we reach the top of the Arravalies, with different points to view the sunset at the unbounded horizon of the sea of sand, lying hundreds of feet below, between India and Pakistan! I think loudly to Poonam, “Definitely it must be an important vortex point of the world with beneficial effects.” We move among the people, enthusiastic tourists, students, young couples and bustling, strong oldies like us; ha, ha….!
Reaching the Top

Thru Cactii
 We see the already-changing-color sun through trees, cacti, rocks and people settling for the final dip within some time. In the final moments, the sun paints the whole horizon with bands of yellow and orange by its sides and then suddenly takes a plunge into nothing!And hundreds of people applaud the event like the climax of an exceptional movie and rush their return to the base, the market place and center of Mt Abu town, near Nakki Lake. We have good time here, walk back to our room and then leave for Udaipur, in the night itself. 
Celebrating the Sunset
The Sun with Wings of Fire
Reach Udaipur, the City of Lakes, next morning; go to the hotel straight, relax, refresh ourselves and walk to the nearby Jagannath Rai temple, early in the evening. The imposing temple in the heart of the city, built in 1651 by 1st Maharaja Jagatsingh, is a historical monument with unique architecture and has a classic brass Garuda inside a beautifully sculptured Chhatri (canopy) in front. 
Jagannathji Temple
As the shadows lengthen, we come out and walk towards a grand triple entrance gate of the bathing Ghat, and as we enter, we are on the banks of Lake Pichhola watching beautiful, illuminated palaces, with the pleasure of cool breeze from the lake; it’s just a taste of Udaipur, we will come back!

Beautiful View from Lake Pichhola
Next day morning we reach Srinathji ki Haveli at Nathdwara, as the temple is popularly known, a distance of 45km and within some time are in for Darshan, along with hundreds of people just flooding in as the doors open. Soon we have Darshan of Shrinathji (Lord Krishna), the 7 year old, sweet, naughty heart-throb of the people of Gujarat and Rajasthan;
Srinathji (Wikipedia)
 the unique idol, with the left arm raised as if lifting Govardhan and the right arm resting on the waist, is in black marble with a large diamond below the lips. The holy place has the background of Pushtimarga (the way of grace) or Shuddhadvaita propounded by Vallabhacharya, the legendry Andhra saint. Well, we are overwhelmed by the positive electric atmosphere and collecting Prasad, come out of the grand temple and take a bus for the historic Chittorgarh, a distance of 131km from Nathdwara.
Our target is the Chittorgarh Fort, at present a part of newly formed Pratapgarh district, named after the evergreen Rajput legend Maha Rana Pratap, the beacon of the noble qualities of honor, valor and character, cherished by Rajputs. Emperor Akbar also had a great regard for him and the trio of Akbar, his minister Raja Man Singh and Rana Pratap had a great influence on the history of India in the 16th century. To begin with, we have a grand view of the biggest invincible Indian Fort, ruled by the Suryavanshi clans of Rajputs since 7th century till it was sieged by Akbar the Great in 1567, from a pond in the town, also reflecting the fort quivering, indicating the fragility of cherishable human values! 
Quivering Image!
Not birds of the Same feather!
The pond is also aplenty with a variety of birds giving an idea about the fauna around. We go to the majestic fort on a hill at an elevation of 600ft, in an auto-rikshaw with a friendly driver and entering the huge Ram Pol (gate), directly reach the modest, three storied Padmini’s Palace, the palace of the legendry, beautiful, dignified queen who committed Jauhar (honorable self immolation by women and children, to avoid capture and dishonor at the hands of enemy) along with other ladies and children, under pressure of conquest of the fort by the barbaric, powerful Turko-Afghan dynasty ruler, Alaudin Khilji. His kind has no place in the present world!
An Entrance
Block for Soldiers 
The palace is surrounded by a water moat and has a garden and a block for soldiers to stay. On the way back, we visit the Kalimata temple, where a young (children) married couple is also having Darshan after marriage!

Rani Padmini Temple
Kali Mata Temple
 Then, we come to the mighty Vijay Stambh (tower of victory), in the western part of the fish shaped area of the fort, near and around which are most of the important structures. This artistic tower, standing 122ft tall on a pedestal of 47 sq ft has nine stories and can be climbed by a narrow circular staircase, obviously! 

Vijay Stambh with ruins around
Gaumukh Reservoir
 Mostly, we find only the ruins of the erstwhile palaces of Rana Kumbha, the royal treasury and some temples. We go to the Gaumukh (cow’s mouth) reservoir, a very big complex with the ramparts all around, and find many school girls on a picnic having fun time, singing and playing with water from the mouth of the cow. We feel nice and cool; this pool was the source of water during several sieges of the fort! While returning, I spend some time in the Siva temple, in front of which there is a beautiful marble canopy with a Nandi in it, and through it, the evening sun illuminates the face and the eyes of Shiva, to create a totally mesmerizing effect! 
Mesmerizing Effect!
Flaring Up Sun!
 Of course, again a marvelous sunset, with birds flying over the big, orange sun, seemingly trying to flare up with its revolving movement! Yes, sun rises and sunsets caste their own spell in any place on earth, let alone well known tourist spots. While returning to our auto, we see the small, cute Meerabai temple and the Kirti stambha nearby it, slowly turning into silhouettes, as the sonorous Meera-Bhajans played from the temple fall on our ears. 
Meera Temple
Saint Poet Meera
 Of course the Rajput princess Meera, a saint poetess devoted to Lord Krishna and tortured by her husband, Prince Bhoj Raj (son of Rana Sanga of Chittor) for her  selfless passion, is the most celebrated feminine personality of the Bhakti Marga.  We return to Udaipur late in the night.

Palace View from terrace
Marble Arches with Toranas
 It’s our last day in Rajasthan as we have a breakfast of Gatte ki subji (traditional yogurt and spices based curry with gram flour dumplings) and puri topped with my pet masala chai in the terrace restaurant of our hotel, having a view of a portion of the City Palace. This Palace has, with Bara Pol, the first gate as the entrance, the largest complex of palaces in Rajasthan; then an equally royal triple arched entrance gate, Tripolia, with a fine brass lantern hanging in each arch, built in 1725. Between these two gates is the first courtyard with several marble arches (Toranas), where the kings weighed themselves in gold and silver! 
Range of Palaces
Amar Vilas
A Section Converted into Hotel
A Fascinating Entrance
The Suryavanshi Emblem
 From the gate with huge armored teak doors, we see the awesome range of palaces to the right   majestically occupying the eastern bank of Lake Pichhola and the balconies, on the left of the entrance, give resplendent views of the palaces in the lake. A judicious combination of European, Chinese and Rajasthani architecture, the palace is all marble and granite with an assortment of captivating courtyards, pavilions and corridors. There are eleven beautiful palaces constructed by different kings and most of them are museums, hotels and even residences of the royalty at present. Hence an excellent maintenance!  Amar Vilas is the most conspicuous starting point with the highest view points of the complex. Well, we don’t have much interest in the museums as we have been moving around in one of the biggest museums of the world since a fortnight; the what’s-not-there RAJASTHAN! 
Towards Private Residences
Private Residence
 We, leisurely, pleasurably stroll along, enjoying the pleasant, excellently maintained bright premises, full of contented tourists; till we reach an isolated Chhatri (canopy) on the lake side. 
View from the Chhatri
Palace Side
Lake Palace

Here we relax in the cool breeze, enjoying almost 360-degree views of the lake, from its arches! Soon we are on the way back and reach the Jagdish Chowk (the temple area), enjoy Masala Chai and taking an auto-rikshaw, go to Doodh Talia (Lake of Milk) a garden around a lake, which again is also a sunset point; but we miss the sunset without any regret! The lake before us was just a dusky beauty!
Dusky Beauty....
We had a wonderful time and soon bid good-bye to Rajasthan, definite to respond to its call, “Kesaria Baalam Aao Ni Padharo Mhare Des”, again!
                                                                                                                    Raja Ram Atre