The Tribune - Spectrum

Sunday, April 29, 2001

Rajasthan’s sole summer resort
By Shona Adhikari

The museumTO escape from the searing heat of Rajasthan, many travel 185 km westwards from Udaipur, to Mount Abu, Rajasthan’s only hill station. At a height of 1,220 metres, in the Aravalli Hills, the area around Mount Abu is dotted with ancient temples that include the exquisite Dilwara Temples — a major pilgrim centre for Jains and Hindus, for centuries. It was, however, only in 1845, that Mount Abu came into being, when the British decided to create a hill station, among giant granite outcrops, surrounded by scrub-covered hills.

The entire region was the property of Maharao of Sirohi, from whom the British Government leased the hilly area, to create a

summer resort for the British Resident of Rajputana. High posts were put up to demarcate the boundaries of the leased area. These can still be seen on top of hills. The British built private cottages, bungalows, churches and a polo ground, and in 1847, it was formally listed as a hill station, when 60 British families escaped from the heat of the plains, to the cooler climate of Mount Abu.


Alwar house The Rajput royal families were quick to see the advantage of finding a cool retreat in their own region, and built palatial residences high up on hill tops. The most notable among the royal homes is the Bikaner Palace, designed by the famous Swinton Jacob, during the reign of Maharaja Ganga Singh, now known as the deluxe Palace Hotel. The Bharatpur Palace is now also a hotel, and is known as hotel Sunrise Palace. The Jaipur Palace high up on the hills has been lying unused for years, the huge Limdi Palace dominating the skyline still lies incomplete, the Alwar Palace is now a school, while the Sirohi Palace, continues to be the summer residence of the royal family. The Jodhpur royal family’s Connaught House is a lovely cottage with a tiled roof (earlier the residence of Donald Field, the Chief Minister of Jodhpur), and is run rather like a country manor house. A bonus that comes with Connaught House is the presence of octogenarian Thakur Barney Singh, who seems to know everyone and everything about the region, and is happy to oblige.

The name Abu is said to have been derived from the name Arbuda, the powerful serpent who rescued Lord Shiva’s mount, Nandi, from a chasm. Many Hindu sages are said to have had their retreats on Mount Abu — the most famous being "Vashishta", who is said to have performed a yagya, or a sacrificial fire for the regeneration of the human race. It is said that the four Agnikul (born of fire) clans of Rajputs — the Chauhans, the Solankis, the Parmars and the Pratihars, were born of this fire ritual. Between the 11th and the 13th centuries, the Solanki dynasty of Gujarat, whose territory included parts of Rajasthan, built the splendid marble Dilwara temples. The rule of the Solankis was marked by spiritual devotion translated into prolific architectural development of a supreme quality. The Jain temples of Dilwara are the most ornate creations of this period.

Mount Abu is covered with gigantic and wierdly-shaped rocks that have curious indentations as though giant fingers have left finger marks while kneading dough between these spectacular rocks, grow date palms and flowering trees of all varieties. Not being a large hill station, it is possible to go everywhere on foot. Most hotels and shopping areas are close to Nakki Lake, a beautiful natural lake — that has never been known to become dry — surrounded by rocks, parks, picnic spots, and temples. The name Nakki is derived from the legend that claims that the gods dug out the lake with their fingernails, or their nakh. There is a pleasant 4 km walk around the lake, which also offers facilities for boating. A restaurant built in the shape of a large launch is popular with tourists.

Shree Raghunathjis’ TempleAmong the temples located around Nakki Lake, there are those dedicated to Shri Raghunathji (Rama), Shiva (the destroyer), Hanuman (the monkey God) and the newest temple to Gayatri. All temples have been painted white, to enhance their reflection in the waters of the lake. The Raghunathji Temple is said to have been the base for Shri Ramanand Swamy, a famous Hindu preacher, and that the image in the temple was installed by him in the 12th century. The temple itself, is made of white marble with intricate carving, and ornate silver doors and windows. Next to the temple is a marble image of Shri Swamy Maharaj, a much-loved administrator of the temple who passed away over 50 years ago.

The first church built in Mount Abu is the Anglican St Lawrence Church, that has some interesting stained glass windows, and carved wooden pews. Built in 1846, the name of the church has recently been changed to St Saviour’s Church. The Roman Catholic Church of St Ann’s was built in 1870, and is a less ostentatious building, with the Bishop’s House situated on the hill just above it. The total number of Christians in Abu are said to be less than 300 — no doubt the reason for the fact that there are only two churches in the entire area. The Christian Cemetery has interesting tombstones, the earliest being that of Col W. Andrews of the 51st Bengal National Infantry, who died on August 21, 1858, at 55.

The Polo Ground was created by Maharaja Sawai Jai Singh of Jaipur in 1894, to provide grounds for recreational purposes. A plaque at the pavilion (now also a library) proclaims that it is dedicated to Col G.H. Trevor, agent to the Governor-General of Rajputana. Named ‘Trevor Oval’, the plaque also states that the "work being one of magnitude, as well as of public utility, the funds required for it amounting to Rs 75,000, were kindly contributed by several chiefs in Rajputana."

Close to St Saviour’s Church is the tiny Museum and Art Gallery, built as recently as 1966. Being part of the compound of the Governor’s residence, the main gate of the museum has been closed for the past decade, due to security reasons. Visitors to the museum should remember to go to the back of the building, which is the original entrance. Here there are a great many stone carvings — mostly damaged but certainly worth seeing, dating back to the 12th century. Probably because the museum is so small, these pieces lie scattered around on the lawn, unprotected from the elements. Inside the museum, however, there are many more splendid pieces excavated from nearby Amravati, Varmana, and Achalgarh. These pieces are mostly made of granite, while there are others in marble from the Dilwara region ranging from the 8th century to 12th century.

The Adhar Devi Temple, carved out of a huge rock, is situated high up on a hill and a splendid view of Abu may be seen from here. The image of Devi Arbuda lies within a cave, and the temple can be reached by climbing 306 steps. To the north of this temple lies the wildlife sanctuary and Trevors’s Tal, a man-made reservoir constructed by Maharao Shri Keshri Singh Bahadur of Sirohi, as a memorial to Col Trevor. The reservoir, surrounded by natural rocks and the hilly forests around it, has become a sanctuary to a large number of wild animals — panthers, sloth bear, sambar, nilgai (blue bull), jungle cats, hyenas, wild boar, and monkeys, are all found here, and if one is lucky they may be seen, coming for a drink of water to the reservoir, after sunset.

The stone buffaloes at Mandakni Tank, at AchalgarhAchalgarh fort is in ruins, but the huge Mandakini water tank with steps leading down to it is still fairly intact... The tank has three life-size granite images of buffaloes, and a splendidly carved image of an archer, lying next to the totally dry tank —this fills up partially after the monsoons. Next to it is the temple of ‘Achaleshwar Maharaj’, or Shiva. It is said that the deep hole that worshippers pay obeisance to, goes down to the very centre of the earth, and was created when Shiva decided to make a mark on the face of the earth with his thumb. The main temple has ornately carved marble pillars, and an entrance cupola, with 16 female figures representing the different aspects of learning and the arts. In front of the temple a brass Nandi bull, is an object of worship, and a popular backdrop for photographs.

One of the most important spots for visitors, is the Gaumukh Temple, reached by descending 700 steps, and is located next to the sage Vashishta’s ashram. Here a stream gushes out from the mouth of a marble cow from which its name is derived — a combination of gau or cow, and mukh or mouth. This is said to have been the spot where the four agnikula clans of Rajputs were born, after an ordeal of purification by fire. There are also shrines to Vishnu in his reincarnations, as Rama and Krishna.

Mount Abu offers a number of spots where visitors may enjoy watching sunsets, or looking out over splendid panoramic views of the surrounding hills, plains and valleys. The highest point in the Aravallis and in Rajasthan is Guru Shikhar, 15 km from Mount Abu and 1772 metres high. Sunset Point finds tourists making the most of photographing the splendid sight of the setting sun behind the hills. Anadra Point, now popularly referred to as Honeymoon Point, offers an unequalled view of the valley and plains below.

There are a large number of places to stay in Mount Abu, in different price ranges, to suit every pocket.

Mount Abu offers invigorating walks on gentle slopes, without much traffic, and climate that is pleasantly cool in summer, and crisply cold in winter. It is an ideal location to rest, away from the cares of a busy city, and for spending a few days in communion with nature.

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