The belt of hilly land east of Udaipur is the most fertile in Rajasthan, watered by several perennial rivers and guarded by a sequence of imposing forts perched atop the craggy ridges that crisscross the region. Heading east, the first major settlement is the historic town of Chittaurgarh, capital of the kingdom of Mewar before Udaipur and site of one of Rajasthan’s most spectacular and historic forts. Further east, the tranquil town of Bundi boasts another atmospheric fort and picturesque old bazaars and havelis, while an hour away by bus, Kota is home to another impressive palace.
A prime crop in this area for centuries has been opium. Although grown for the pharmaceutical industry according to strict government quotas, the legal cultivation masks a much larger illicit production overseen by Mumbai drug barons. An estimated one in five men in the area is addicted.Read More
Of all the former Rajput capitals, CHITTAURGARH (or Chittor), 115km northeast of Udaipur, was the strongest bastion of Hindu resistance against the Muslim invaders. No less than three mass suicides (johars) were committed over the centuries by the female inhabitants of its fort, and an air of desolation still hangs over the honey-coloured old citadel. As a symbol of Rajput chivalry and militarism only Jodhpur’s Meherangarh Fort compares.
Some visitors squeeze a tour of Chittaurgarh into a day-trip, or en route between Bundi and Udaipur, but it’s well worth stopping overnight to give yourself time to explore the fort properly.
The origins of Chittor Fort are obscure, but probably date back to the seventh century. It was seized by Bappa Rawal, founder of the Mewar dynasty, in 734, and remained the Mewar capital for the next 834 years, bar a couple of brief interruptions. Despite its commanding position and formidable appearance, however, Chittor was far from invincible, and was sacked three times over the centuries, by Ala-ud-Din-Khalji (1303), Sultan Bahadur Shah (1535) and Akbar (1568). It was this last attack which convinced the then ruler of Mewar, Udai Singh, to decamp to a more remote and easily defensible site at Udaipur. Chittaurgarh was eventually ceded back to the Rajputs in 1616 on condition that it not be refortified, but the royal family of Mewar, by now firmly ensconced in Udaipur, never resettled here, and the entire fort, which once boasted a population of many thousands, now houses just a few hundred people.
The walled town of BUNDI, 37km north of Kota, lies in the north of the former Hadaoti state, shielded by jagged outcrops of the Vindhya Range. The site was the capital of the Hadachauhans, but although settled in 1241, 25 years before Kota, Bundi never amounted to more than a modest market centre, and remains relatively untouched by modern development. The palace alone justifies a visit thanks to its superb collection of murals, while the well-preserved old town, crammed with crumbling havelis, makes this one of southern Rajasthan’s most appealing destinations – a fact recognized by the ever-increasing numbers of foreign tourists who are now visiting the place.