maharajah of the road

Day 7

Maharajah of the road

Muscle cars


Day 7

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From Darlai to Kumbhalgarh

Kumbhalgarh is one of the finest examples of defensive fortification in Rajasthan.

Situated about 85 km from Udaipur, it is famous for the massive fort & the wildlife sanctuary. This most-remarkable of forts, it stretches across 36 kms of the Aravali Mountains and is 1100 m high from the sea level. It was never conquered, for reasons which become apparent the instant you set eyes on it. The massive perimeter wall is an astounding 36 kms. Surrounded by thirteen mountain peaks, guarded by seven great gates and seven ramparts, strengthened by rounded bastions and immense watchtowers, this mountain fortress has witnessed many battles.On top is most picturesque of the palace is the ‘Badal Mahal’ or the palace of the cloud. The palace has got its name for being the highest of all the structures. It offers a superb bird’s eye view of the countryside surrounding the fort as well as of other ruins within the fort, the legendary Maharana Pratap was born here.The climate in Kumbhalgarh is temperate. In summers the temperature is about 42.6 degree Celsius and in winters it is about 11.6 degree Celsius. The best season to travel to Kumbhalgarh is from October to February. English, Hindi and Rajasthani are the common languages which are spoken here.

Thursday 22nd January 2009

All timings according to Indian Standard Time – IST


After last night’s story sessions, today began on a wonderfully laid-back note. The shooting unit had left for the famous Kumbhalgarh fort area, to shoot the documentary footage there, as we got one morning free to do whatever we wanted! Quite a surprise there, being so used to waking up to chaotic shooting schedules, we are torn between a shopping expedition into the city area, or a visit to the fabled white elephant of the Narlai mountains!


So in the end, we all unanimously decided to visit the Elephant, and sadly, we have all realized the extent of our unhealthiness! We are one bunch of unfit people here! Barely 1/10th of the climb completed, we are huffing and puffing, and barely able to lift our feet up the steps to the top of the mountain. A short 20-minute climb we were told, but it has taken us a good hour and fifteen minutes to treck our way up, quite to the amusement of our local guides, and the sheer embarrassment of our little group!


The view is amazing, beyond words… We can now see a 360° panoramic view of the surrounding area. The variations in the land, and the size of our little village of Narlai are quite breathtaking. Plus, we are so very out of breath; we need to do some serious breath-taking! The white elephant is there, quite a happy fellow, with a broad smile upon his face, and a long since dead king mounted upon his back, ready to defend his territory from whoever might dare encroach upon it. We are all freaking out taking pictures and exploring the hilltop.


We began climbing down some time back, and we seem to be making as slow progress coming down, as we did going up! Still almost halfway down, we decide to make the best of our lack of shape, and take as many good pictures back as we can. The stairway is the rocks cut into the face of the hilltop, and this makes for some pretty graphic images, of staircases going up or down, depending on which way you are climbing.


We have reached the bottom of the hill, and are all quite jubilant at having accomplished our objective. We are all looking forward to seeing David’s very professional pictures, as apart from our own. Making our way back to the hotel, we reach just in time to see the two American artists, Camilo and Kyle, up and about, getting ready to start working on the car again. The graphic that they are creating looks very interesting, with the canary yellow color of the car as a background.


As we sit down to rest our weary legs, we have just been told that the excursion to the famous Kumbhalgarh fort will begin soon. We have all ordered our lunches, and are running back to the rooms for a quick refreshing shower, before we leave again.


We are all sitting in the bus that is supposed to take us to the fort. All set, and ready to go, we take off for the 2-hour bus drive to the fort. We are surprised, as some of the guys tell us that they have carried a sound system with them, and our journey to the fort looks like it might end up being a lot of fun!


One hour down, and another hour to go, and everyone is getting antsy already. Riding a bus isn’t the same as driving very fast cars, and that can be clearly seen reflected off the passengers of this bus!


We can finally see the fort, and even from a distance, its scale and magnitude astound all of us! Some local history; Kumbhalgarh (Kumbhalmer), is a Merwar fortress in the Rajsamand District of Rajasthan. The fort has a perimeter wall that extends 36 kilometers in length, claimed to be the second longest wall in the world after the Great Wall of China. With over 360 temples protected within the fort, 300 belong to the sect of ancient Jainism while the rest are of the Hindu religion. The vista from the palace top is said to extend tens of kilometers into the Aravalli Range. Built during the course of the 15th century AD, and enlarged through the 1800s, it now stands as a firm testament to the strength and valor of the Rajput (ruling clan of the region) warriors of Rajathan.


We are all at the absolute top of the fortress, the famed Badal Mahal (Palace of Clouds). A absolutely fantastic panorama of the area greet us from the terrace of the Badal Mahal. Tearing ourselves from the captivating visuals, we finally make our way around the castle to see some more historical sights.


Walking around the fortress, we befriend a local guide who tells us a little bit more about the fortress of Kumbhalgarh. An undefeated fortress till date, the minute you step inside it, you can tell that there is something unique about this fortress. Kumbhalgarh is the birthplace of Maharana Pratap, the great king and warrior of Mewar. According to legend the then Maharana of Kumbhalgarh tried to build the wall of the fort many times, but each time failed to do so. At the end of their tether, they finally consulted a local pilgrim about their consistent dilemma. The pilgrim advised that he be beheaded and after cutting his head, they build a temple where the head should fall, and build the wall and the fort where the rest of his body lay. Following his advice, they succeed in building the world's second largest wall. Creepy… Makes you look at the fortress with a new perspective…


After a fascinating glimpse into the prod lineage and traditions of the Rajput warriors, we decide to head back to the hotel. All packed into the bus, we embark upon our 2 hour journey back to Narlai.


We are in a forested region, on the way to Narlai, it is getting darker and darker as we speak, and the bus has suddenly stopped. Trying not to panic, we try and make the best of things, looking up at the starry sky, as it shimmers down at us.


Still no idea. This looks like a larger problem than what we first assumed. There seems to be some kind of engine trouble. Bassam, Pascal, and Christian get down to try and assist the bus driver and the mechanic in trying to fix the bus. The twilight is getting darker and darker, and there seems to be no one around for miles, save a tiny little hut some 5-10 minutes into the forest area.


We are still unable to discover the problem, and have finally decided to give up on fixing the bus, and call for the backup production vehicles to come and get us. The creepy night sounds form a strange cacophony to this unusual predicament that we find ourselves in today! Awaiting the back up vehicles, we sit quietly, and stare into the night…


Our vehicles have reached us, finally! We feel like a group of shipwrecked sailors, who find a rescue ship! Finally, after a whole busload of people squeeze tight into the 3 rescue vehicles, we leave to return to the hotel.


We reach the hotel to find a strange sight. Half a dozen bullock carts, with simple white cushions on them, are lined up outside the entrance. One inquiring we are told that these are our rides, to the very special dinner party that we are all invited to today! Imagine that, from Ford Mustangs to bullock carts, this trip has covered the whole spectrum of transportation!!! We barely have any time till we leave… rushing back to the rooms to freshen up and leave right now!


The bullock carts are taking us deeper and deeper into the forest. Thankfully, we are followed at a safe distance by a jeep. The jeep is carrying some men with some large guns and torches, to keep away any curious wildlife. Without those guys around, I doubt if any of us would have had the courage to make this night-time journey today! After all, today has been an exciting day, and adventures seem to be the wont of the hour.


Oh my god. I can barely believe the vision that meets my eyes. We have reached, what might just be the most fantastic sight that I have ever witnessed. We have reached the Stepwell of Narlai. What makes this sight breathtaking, is that the nearly 30 feet deep stepwell, has been lit up by candles and diyas (terracotta lamp, with an oil wick) and it looks like a scene from a fairy-tale! The dinner party has been organized inside the stepwell! A Stepwell, also called bawdi or baoli, are wells in which the water can be reached by descending a set of steps. They may be covered and protected, and are often of architectural significance. It can be multi-storied also, in which a bullock turns the water wheel ("Rehant") to raise the water in the well to the first or second floor. This is often routed into the fields through a set of channels, which helps in irrigation, in these regions, where water is scarce. It all looks enchantingly beautiful, and wasting no further time, we descend into the stepwell, and join the party!


After talking to some of the people involved in the organization of this wonderful experience, some interesting facts come to light. For example, the stepwell of Narlai was built in the 9th Century AD!!! The traditional interpretation of the history of city is, that Narad Muni (Saint Narad - the messenger of Lord Shiva of the Hindu Pantheon, quite similar to the role that mercury played in the Greek or roman pantheon) in one of his acts of devotion to his beloved Lord Shiva, asked Shiva how could he attain Nirvana (state of bliss). Lord Shiva advised him to meditate in a certain region, and promised him, that bliss would be his if he followed his advice. So, Narad Muni sat and meditated at the spot that is currently the sytepwell of Narlai, and eventually attained his bliss. Thus, the area, in and around the stepwell is supposed to have special spiritual powers, and a very strong energy for those interested in yoga, meditation etc. The village of Narlai grew out of this stepwell in many ways, and it is locally considered to be the birth seed of the village. Wow. Looks like we might actually be in an enchanted place!


We have been asked to leave the magical stepwell, to move to another location for dinner. As we all walk the lantern lit path, we find pourselves at yet another fantastic location. The Chattris of Narlai (cenotaph). The cenotaphs are a memorial to the brave and the valiant of the area. Those ancestors who committed an act worth remembering them for. Be it on the battlefield, or in the village. Seated in a circle, around a massive 8 foot bonfire, we await dinner. Suddenly, our of the darkness around us, troop in a band of local folk musicians, and start singing their hypnotic tribal tunes. Soon after, they are followed by the strange dancers of the Kalbelia tradition (Kalbelia - Black whirling skirts). A lot of the guests join in, and we are all having a fabulous time here! So leaveing you all today, to the beautiful sight of the cenotaphs, the bonfire, the dancers, and the tinkling laughter of happiness, and maybe even Bliss.

Maharajah of the Road

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