As a child, I have visited Udaipur, Mount Abu and Chittorgarh with my family. Out of the three, I remember Mount Abu most distinctly and only because I had found the place to be too crowded and commercial for my taste – and that was probably 20 years ago! So this time around, I had very low expectations from it. I knew the Dilwara temples were spectacular and they were the only reason we decided to make this a stopover before heading to Udaipur.
Mount Abu is the only hill station in Rajasthan and has been used as a retreat from the crazy Rajasthan summers for centuries. We got to Hotel Samrat International on Mount Abu road, the main lifeline of the town, quite late last night We stopped for dinner en route at one of the many highway restaurants that line the roads between Patan and Palanpur, one of the last big towns at Gujarat’s northwestern border. And suprisingly, the food was quite good. I guess, this route is quite popular as it connects Ahmedabad to Rajasthan, and therefore, there are enough roadside options for the weary traveller.
Today morning we woke up late and headed out towards the famed Dilwara temples. It’s about 3km uphill from town and shared jeeps are available for the trip. But at 11:30am, we couldn’t find anybody to share the jeep with, so for Rs.40 we had the jeep to ourselves and were driven to the temples quite comfortably. We realized that, though quite scenic, the road was a little deserted and may not have been very safe to walk on. Lonely Planet had mentioned that, unfortunately, due to Mount Abu’s popularity and commercialism, there have been many incidents of mugging (and worse).
Dilwara temples have a nice system – they are open to only Jains in the morning, when all the poojas and rituals are conducted. All other visitors can visit from noon onwards. When we got there, the guards made us a wait a bit till there was a small crowd and then we were all let in together. Within the temple, a security guard corralled us and guided us towards the first temple. He went on to explain the history of the region and how the temples came about to be. Later, he handed us over to a temple priest, who continued the tour through two other temples. At the end, he asked for donations for the services provided by the security guards and priests, which we were more than happy to give. They had done a good job explaining and didn’t bore us with too many facts. For them, too, this is a nice supplement to their regular earnings at the temple, especially during tourist seasons. After the tour, we were allowed to see the temples again at our pace and spend as much time as we wanted.
Built between the 11th and 13th centuries, completely of marble, Dilwara temples are truly, truly spectacular! Everybody told us that Mount Abu is not worth the visit but I think these temples have to be seen and experienced! The carvings on the pillars are unbelievable, but even more spectacular are those on the ceilings. One such carving, hanging from the domed ceiling of the main temple, is mentioned in the Guinness book of records for being the most spectacular piece of art made from 1 block of marble, weighing about 600 kilos!!
We spent two hours on the temple premises and absolutely LOVED the atmosphere there. The temples are lovingly maintained and don’t have a commercial air about them. In fact, this has been a feature of most Jain temples we’ve visited so far; they seem to be doing a great job maintaining the sanctity of their devotion and traditions.
The rest of the day was spent in walking around Mount Abu’s small market area, eating, lounging at a coffee shop, browsing the internet at a cyber cafe and generally lazing. Apart from Dilwara, there’s nothing much to see at Mount Abu, that is if you don’t count the usual stuff like Sunset Point and Suicide Point. Even Nakki Lake is not worth a visit. Strangely, I had remembered it to be a big lake, with tons of stores lining the road that encircled it. However, when we went there in the evening, we found an uninspiring mass of water with a small promenade built on its western bank, which was quite boring and had nothing to offer except for boat rides out into the lake. We were not impressed at all.
This is not really tourist season in Mount Abu. The driver who drove us here from Patan mentioned that the place is packed during holidays like Diwali and New Year, and on weekends. He also mentioned that it’s a very popular honeymooning place for newly married couples. And this was apparent in the many ‘honeymoon suites’ that were being offered by all the hotels in the area. Since December is the busiest wedding season in India, there were young couples everywhere. Most of the girls had mehndi (henna) on their palms and feet and bright red and gold bangles on their wrists.
Though Mount Abu is commercial and can be crazy during the holidays, it has some charm to it. There are quite a few good hotels to laze in as well; our Samrat International was quite good too. But, then again, there’s nothing much to do here. So Madhu and I have decided to move on to Udaipur tomorrow.