We checked out of Jaiwana Haveli early today morning and waited for our taxi, which arrived a few minutes later than the agreed upon time of 8am. And instead of Shahid, it was his younger brother who turned up as the driver. Apparently, Shahid had found another gig and therefore, had to delegate. We didn’t care as long as the new guy drove well … and he did.
I’ve never been a big fan of breakfast, especially in the US when I’ve had to fend for myself. More often than not, especially on weekdays, my first meal of the day has been an early lunch and that was good enough. But since we’ve been in India, I’ve gotten used to breakfast being prepared and served at home or bought at restaurants while traveling . So today as we drove towards Chittorgarh Fort, my tummy rumbled and complained for food. We checked with our driver and he said that there are no proper restaurants on the way except for roadside stalls that sell samosas and kachoris. We haven’t had any of this in India yet, so we enthusiastically asked him to take us to such stalls. Obligingly, he stopped in a small town, which had a row of tea stalls right by the highway we were traveling on. They didn’t look particularly clean, especially by Madhu’s standards, but he bravely agreed to eat there. We sat on plastic chairs outside one of the stalls, which looked quite busy and were served with a small steel plate filled with our favorite breakfast on this trip – Poha. A variation from what we were served in Gujarat, Poha here was served with some crunchy Sev and Boondi on top. It was absolutely yummy! The chai that went with the meal – Mumbai’s ‘cutting chai’ sized – was the best ever as well. Then Madhu spotted the samosas, freshly fried, and emboldened by the delicious Poha, he decided to try one of these as well – I was so proud of him! We shared the samosa and it was, again, the yummiest thing we had tasted in a long while. It wasn’t oily at all and spiced perfectly! There’s no better food than street-food!!! Breakfast for 3 (including the driver’s) cost us Rs.35. Unbelievable!
We reached the town of Chittor just before 11am and headed straight for the fort, which is the town’s only attraction. The fort is spread over 600 acres of land and is said to be Asia’s largest. And for the same reason, it cannot be explored on foot. We passed 7 arched stone gates with ruined, pillared monuments by them, before we reached the main entrance. Here we bought entry tickets for ourselves as well as a permit for the car. We were approached by many govt-accredited guides and our driver even recommended one of them to us. But they showed us a charge card stating Rs.450 as the guide fee, which we thought was way too much. We have never paid more than Rs.200 at any place. Moreover, most of these guides go into too many details of religion and/or mythology, both of which we have very little interest in. Then a non-accredited guide showed up and he agreed to give us an overview of the fort for Rs.200, which was perfect.
The first stop in the fort is Kumbha Palace. It is pretty much in ruins but has gorgeous Jharokhas and a nice layout. One of the princesses, Padmini, who is rumored to have been extremely beautiful, committed Jauhar here. Jauhar is like sati, but in this case it is done when the husband is defeated by the enemy, who may take the wife as war spoils. The palace includes stables and a Shiva temple.
Our next stop was at 2 temples – one dedicated to Radha Krishna and the other to Krishna’s much-hailed devotee, Meerabai. The Radha Krishna temple is built in similar style to the one at Somnath – it was quite beautiful. Meerabai’s temple was smaller and not as grand but the idols within the temple looked very graceful.
The 3rd stop was the grandest part of Chittorgarh Fort. It is a compound that houses the magnificent Jaya Stambha (Victory Tower). It is nine stories tall and is exquisitely carved. We climbed about 2 stories but found the interiors a little too claustrophobic to continue upwards. However, there were some lovely carvings inside. Outside, the compound encompassed a temple dedicated to the 3 main deities of Hindu religion – Brahma, Vishnu, Maheshwara. The temple was pretty but the huge idol inside was most impressive. In front of the temple is a huge tank, which is fed from a natural spring. It is called Gaumukh as the water springs from a cow’s mouth shaped hole in the cliff. From here, the views out to the town of Chittor is very impressive.
Later we visited Rani Padmini’s palace, which has a beautiful pavilion in the middle of a pool by the palace. Legend has it that when Alaudin-Khilji demanded to see Padmini, he wasn’t allowed to see her in person. But she sat on the steps of the pavilion, while Khilji saw a reflection of her in a mirror placed strategically in a room in the main palace. With just this vague glimpse, he fell in love with her beauty and defeated her husband to conquer Chittor and possess her. But she committed Jauhar before he got to her. I vaguely remembered this story from the time I visited Chittorgarh Fort with my family almost 20 years ago. Back then, this story had created a very deep impression of Rajputi valor and sense of honor.
We then visited Kirthi Stambha, which is an older and shorter, but just as beautiful, version of the Jaya Stambha. Next to it is a serene and exquisitely carved Jain temple with lovely marble statues within. After this, we drove to Suraj Pol, which is the main gate on the eastern side of the fort. Views from here are absolutely fantastic. If we had the time and inclination, this would have been a great place to sit and gaze out at the greenery at the base of the hill.
Our last stop was the sad museum within the Fateh Prakash Palace. It mainly housed weapons and some sculptures but had nothing special. However, the lovely courtyard within the palace with a statue of Maharaja Fateh Prakash in the center, was worth a look.
It took us nearly 2.5 hours to drive through the entire fort but even then there were many sights that we passed by without stopping. It’s too huge a fort to cover completely. There’s a sound and light show in the evenings, which should be very interesting. In fact, I wish we had stayed over for a night just to see this. Chittorgarh Fort is probably the grandest fort I’ve ever seen.
After a quick lunch in the town of Chittor, we drove on to Bundi and got here around 5pm. We checked into Haveli Braj Bhushanjee and spent the rest of the evening relaxing in our wonderful room, stepping out only for dinner.