The state of Rajasthan in India’s north-west is famous among travellers for many reasons. It is known as the King’s District (Raj meaning King, Sthan meaning district) and is home to the famous Rajput clan.
Tourists are drawn to the exquisite man-made lakes in the city of Udaipur, to travel across the yellow sands on camelback in the Thar Desert or attending some of its many musical and cultural festivals that take place in Jaipur, Jodhpur and Pushkar.
However, the humble tourist that visits Rajasthan will generally miss out of one of its most precious gems, Kumbhalgarh.
The Great Wall of India
Kumbhalgarh is known as the “Great Wall of India” and is the second largest fortress in the world with its magnitude and mystique only overshadowed by the Great Wall of China itself.
Before I first visited Kumbhalgarh I had never even heard of it before. I had never seen pamphlets and I had never stumbled upon in on the internet. So when a friend of mine suggested we take a day trip out there I was intrigued.
I had recently moved to the city of Udaipur and was keen to explore so I mounted the back of his motorbike and we were off on the 80km journey from Udaipur to the beautiful fortress. The journey itself is a treat. It involves a climb up to a plateau where wild camels graze, then along a stunning river where the villagers bathe and past gorgeous handcrafted marble temples before the steep ascent into the clouds.
Now, considering Kumbhalgarh is such an impressive structure you would think its light sandstone walls would stand out against the dense, dark forest. But that is one of its secrets, you don’t know it is there until you are literally at the first gate. One of the many reasons it is still standing today is due to the thought and preparation that went into finding the most secure and secluded spot. It is almost like an optical illusion and you can see why many foes had tried but failed to local the impenetrable structure.
It is understandable that this fortress provided a huge strategic importance for the Rajput Kings back in the 15th century. Kumbhalgarh sits right on the border of the Mewar and Marwar regions, two of the famous areas ruled by opposing Rajput Kings. It was often used as a refuge for the Mewar rulers at times of persecution or war.
The fort which is seen today was built by Rana (King) Kumbha who ruled Mewar during 1433 and 1468 AD (hence the name Kumbhalgarh which literally translates to Kumbh’s Fort).
The fortress comprises of a palace where the royal family would reside, and over 360 temples which are protected by a 36km long wall set high up in the Aravalli Ranges about 1,100 metres (3,600 ft) above sea level.
Its walls are 15 metres high and 4.5 metres thick with smooth, curved supports at its base to deter intruders from scaling the walls. It consists of 7 massive gateways and ramps with walls folded in such a way which meant that enemy army elephants could not get a sufficient run-up to break down the gates and allow their armies to enter the kingdom. These are some of the features that saved Kumbhalgarh and its people from decimation and allows us to enjoy the structure today.
Naturally, when we finally approached I was blown away by the scale of the structure and was absolutely amazed that it had somehow just appeared out of nowhere. I had no expectations of what to expect and I most certainly was not disappointed.
My friend was satisfied at my reaction and being a Rajput himself, proceeded to tell me stories of his forefathers and the significance that Kumbhalgarh has in their history. He told me of Queens who had given birth to future kings as we wandered up to the palace, of princes who murdered their fathers in order to take the throne while we explored the palace rooms, and of adventurous princesses who defied their families in order to follow their hearts while we sat on the roof of the palace overlooking the kingdom.
Tales of Kumbhalgarh
I have since visited Kumbhalgarh on many occasions and have heard just as many stories. Perhaps the most significant relate back to the time when the fortress was used as a refuge for the Mewar rulers and their families. As with any Rajput family, the tale involves deceit, sacrifice, and bloodshed.
In 1535, Chittor was still the capital of Mewar and tensions within the royal family were rife. When Rana (King) Sagna died, his son Ratan Singh II took over the throne in 1522. He was assassinated in 1531 and his brother Vikramaditya Singh was announced, king.
When Vikramaditya Singh humiliated an elder chieftain of the court during one of his famous tantrums he was placed under palace arrest and his cousin Vanvir Singh was enlisted as acting Maharana (King) until Udai Singh II was old enough to take over. Seeing this as his prime opportunity, Vanvir Singh murdered Virkranaditya Singh then went to murder young Udai Singh.
However, Udai Singh’s nurse, Panna Dai, had her suspicions about what was taking place in the palace. She smuggled her own son into the palace to take Udai’s place. Dressing her son in Udai’s clothes, jewellery and placing him in Udai’s bed before smuggling Udai out of the palace and eventually to Kumbhalgarh.
Vanvir Singh slaughtered Panna Dai’s son believing he was Udai Singh. A woman’s sacrifice in order to save her kingdom.
Udai’s survival was kept secret and he grew up at Kumbhalgarh before he was crowned King of Mewar in 1540. He would eventually go on to discover and build the new capital of Mewar which we know today as Udaipur.
So as you can see, the history of Kumbhalgarh is just as vibrant as the fortress itself.
It has fast become one of my favourite day trips from Udaipur. I love the wonder and mystery surrounding it. Every time I go I try a little bit harder to spot its magnificent walls from the roadside leading up the mountain, and every time it alludes me.
I can’t help but appreciate not only the work which was put into building the structure but also the architecture, the planning, and of course the history which is embedded into making something so magical last.
Kumbhalgarh is just a 2-hour drive from Udaipur city with many travel agencies and local guides offering day trips to the area.
You will be looking to pay somewhere between 2500 Rs to 4000 Rs per person for the day.