Rajasthan’s only bona-fide hill station, MOUNT ABU (1220m) is a major Indian resort, popular above all with honeymooners who flock here during the winter wedding season (Nov to March) and with visiting holiday-makers from nearby Gujarat. Mount Abu’s hokey commercialism is aimed squarely at these local vacationers rather than foreign tourists, but the sight of lovestruck honeymooners shyly holding hands and jolly parties of Gujarati tourists on the loose lends the whole place a charmingly idiosyncratic holiday atmosphere quite unlike anywhere else in Rajasthan – and the fresh air is exhilarating after the heat of the desert plains. The town also occupies an important place in Rajput history, being the site of the famous yagna agnikund fire ceremony, conducted in the eighth century AD, from which all Rajputs claim mythological descent.
Note that during the peak months of April to June, and at almost any major festival time (especially Diwali in Nov) the town’s population of thirty thousand mushrooms, room rates skyrocket, and peace and quiet are at a premium.
At the centre of town, Nakki Lake is popular in the late afternoon for pony and pedalo rides. Of several panoramic viewpoints on the fringes of town above the plains, Sunset Point is the favourite – though the hordes of holiday-makers and hawkers also make it one of the noisiest and least romantic. Honeymoon Point, also known as Ganesh Point (after the adjacent temple), and Anadhra Point offer breathtaking views over the plain at any time of day, and tend to be more peaceful. 4pm is a good time to visit, but don’t try to take clifftop paths between Sunset and Honeymoon points, as tourists have been mugged here.
The Brahma Kumaris Museum, between the polo ground and the lake, is devoted to the spiritual ideals of the Brahma Kumaris (“children of Brahma”), whose headquarters are situated nearby. The Brahma Kumaris preach that all religions reach for the same goal, but label it differently. Once through the “Gateway to Paradise,” you’ll be greeted by freakish, life-sized mannequins including blue monsters wielding long knives. Each personifies greed, sex-lust and other vestiges of the so-called “iron age” that temple leaders promise deliverance from. If it all sounds somewhat cultish you’ll understand why many locals try to keep foreigners from entering into the sect’s clutches.Read More
The Dilwara temples, 3km northeast of Mount Abu, are some of the most beautiful Jain shrines in India. All five are made purely from marble, and the carving is breathtakingly intricate. Entrance to the temples is by guided tour only – you’ll have to wait until sufficient people have arrived to make up a group – though once inside it’s easy enough to break away and look around on your own.
The oldest temple, the Vimala Vasahi, named after the Gujarati minister who funded its construction in 1031, is dedicated to Adinath, the first tirthankara. Although the exterior is simple – as, indeed, are the exteriors of all the temples here – inside not one wall, column or ceiling is unadorned, a prodigious feat of artistry which took almost two thousand labourers and sculptors fourteen years to complete. There are forty-eight intricately carved pillars inside, eight of them supporting a domed ceiling arranged in eleven concentric circles alive with dancers, musicians, elephants and horses, while a sequence of 57 subsidiary shrines run around the edge of the enclosure. In front of the entrance to the temple the so-called “Elephant Cell” (added after the construction of the temple itself in 1147) contains ten impressively large stone pachyderms. A more modest pair of painted elephants, along with an unusual carving showing stacked-up tiers of tirthankaras, flanks the entrance to the diminutive Mahaveerswami Temple, built in 1582, which sits by the entrance to the Vimala Vasahi.
The Luna Vasahi Temple, second of Dilwara’s two great temples, was built in 1231, and is dedicated to Neminath, the 22nd tirthankara. It follows a similar plan to the Vimala Vasahi, with a central shrine fronted by a minutely carved dome and surrounded by a long sequence of shrines (a mere 48 this time). The carvings, however, are even more precise and detailed, especially so in the magnificently intricate dome covering the entrance hall.
The remaining two temples, both fifteenth-century, are less spectacular. The Bhimasah Pittalhar Temple houses a huge gilded image of the first tirthankara, Adinath, installed in 1468, which measures over eight feet high and weighs in at around 4.5 tons. The large three-storey Khartar Vasahi Temple (near the entrance to the temples) was built in 1458 and is consecrated to Parshvanath. The temple is topped by a high grey stone tower and boasts some intricate carving in places, though overall it’s only a pale shadow of the earlier temples
To get to Dilwara, you can charter a jeep (Rs50 one way or Rs150 return) from the junction at the north end of the polo ground, or take a place in a shared one (Rs5) from just up the street. The hour-long walk up there is also pleasant, though many prefer to save their energy for the downhill walk back into town.
Hiking in Mount Abu
Hiking in Mount Abu
Down in Mount Abu’s market area, you gain little sense of the wonderfully wild landscape enfolding the town, but head for a few minutes up one of the many trails threading around the sides of the plateau, and it’s easy to see why the area has inspired sages, saints and pilgrims for centuries. Unfortunately hiking alone is not recommended, as there have been robberies and even murders of unaccompanied visitors, and police will turn back anyone spotted heading out alone. There’s also a chance of running into bears and leopards – bears, in particular, can be dangerous if surprised, or when with young.
Two good local guides are Lalit Kanojia at the Shri Ganesh hotel, who leads 5hr treks every morning (Rs100/person); and Mahendra Dan, better known as “Charles” (whttp://www.mount-abu-treks.blogspot.com), who runs a range of half-day (from Rs380) and full-day (from Rs610) walking tours focusing on village life, wildlife spotting and local Ayurvedic plants, as well as overnight camping expeditions. He can be contacted via the Lake Palace hotel or on t9414 154854, or emailed on e[email protected].