Once our time in the sleepy town of Bundi—with its crumbling palace and Neolithic cave paintings—was done, we headed off onto the road to Chittor. We were looking forward to seeing Chittorgarh Fort, the biggest and most imposing fort in Rajasthan (and a UNESCO World Heritage Site). We were also looking forward to staying at the Padmini Haveli homestay, the only accommodation inside the fort itself.
After some more hours on bad roads, and then a on decent highway, we reached the foot of the hill just after lunchtime. Chittorgarh Fort towered over the town and the surrounding landscape! And, after ten minutes of riding up the winding road towards the fort’s entrance, we realized we were incredibly lucky not to be staying in the town far below.
Also read: Bundi, a town lost in time
Into the last remaining village in Chittorgarh Fort
As we rode through the entrance gate of the fort, our GPS pointed us left, into a tangle of narrow streets and little houses. This was the only settlement that still existed inside the fort walls, and we had been lucky to score a room at the only homestay there. After some minutes of wrestling our bike through the winding streets, we decided to call our host for directions. Luckily, our hostess was on the way home on her scooter, and she guided us the rest of the way.
At the carefully renovated Padmini Haveli
The Padmini Haveli was tucked away in a little street that was narrower than most, and we had a few misgivings. But we needn’t have worried. Inside, it was a sprawling old residence built around an open stone quadrangle, with the family wing on one side, and the guest rooms on the other. It had obviously been carefully renovated in traditional style, and all the hard work had paid off. Of all the places we stayed in during this trip to Rajasthan, we liked this the best by far. The homestyle meals were great too, and we were served interesting things like pyaz ki subzi and haldi ki subzi (vegetable preparations made from spring onions and turmeric root, respectively).
That evening, we decided not to do anything much except admire the view from the roof. Chittorgarh Fort itself was on a really tall hill, and our homestay was at the top of a slope inside it. So we had a spectacular view of the sun setting over Chittor town and the hills beyond.
Also read: Jaipur: Our motorcycle tour kicks off
Exploring Chittorgarh Fort
The next morning, we were up bright and early to do some exploring. We were told that Chittorgarh Fort was too big to explore on foot, so we hired an auto-rickshaw and asked the driver to show us around. We could have used the bike, but we didn’t want to waste time asking for directions. And the auto-rickshaw driver doubled as our guide, too.
The Kirti Stambh
After buying our entry ticket at the sleepy ticket counter, we were all set. The first stop was the Kirti Stambh (‘Tower of Fame’), an intricately carved tower dedicated to Jainism. They say the 22-metre high tower was built by a prominent Jain merchant in the 12th century, for the glory of his religion. The elaborate carvings on the tower, and on the Jain temple next door, were certainly glorious, as were the views over the fort walls.
The Suraj Pole gate
Next up was the Suraj Pole (‘Gate of the Sun’), which was the main gate of the fort while it was still inhabited. The arched gate had evidently been designed to defend against battering rams and attacking elephants, because its huge double doors were still studded with spikes. The path down to the plain far below also snaked through another arch on the way, probably to stop elephants to from picking up momentum.
When Chittorgarh was faced with defeat, the men would have ridden to their deaths out of this very gate, while the women committed suicide by fire.
It was interesting to think that, on the three occasions when Chittorgargh was besieged and faced with defeat, its armies would have ridden out of this very gate, deliberately going to their deaths. And while the men were dying on the battlefield, the women committed jauhar (ritual suicide by fire), rather than face being dishonoured by the enemy.
We stayed there a while, admiring the hazy view of the plain below. But it was getting hot, so we thought we’d better get on with it. We were also disturbed by the sight of a horse whose owner was charging tourists for the privilege of posing for photos while sitting in the saddle. The horse was obviously uncomfortable standing on the stone steps, but the owner just brushed us off. The poor horse enjoyed it when I scratching his forehead, though. We later found out that this was just one of the many horses that live this kind of life in the fort.
Bhimlat Kund and the Padmini Palace
On the way to the Padmini Palace, we passed the large Bhimlat Kund tank. Legend has it that the legendary hero Bhima created this spring-fed tank by striking the ground with his mace. Whatever its origins, the tank looks ancient and like something straight out of the Jungle Book.
The Padmini Palace turned out to be a small palace complex that was not all that impressive. Its main claim to fame was obviously that it was the supposed residence of the legendary (and possibly fictional) queen Padmavati. It was on the edge of a small, half-dry lake, and the lake had an interesting pavilion right in the centre. Too bad we couldn’t get there. Instead, we took a stroll around the walled edge of the lake near the palace. It was blistering hot, and the shady mango tree at the end was a blessing.
The Fatta Haveli
On the way to arguably the most famous landmark of Chittorgarh Fort, the Vijay Stambh, we noticed a large crumbling mansion that no one seemed interested in. There was no information plaque at the gate, and even our driver could only tell us that it had been the mansion of ‘some general’. We decided to explore.
The mansion was surprisingly large, and now had a small temple in the main building.
It turned out to be surprisingly large, with a well laid-out (but dry) garden in front, and the tall mansion up a slight slope beyond. We found out that there was now a small temple in the main building, but we didn’t feel like taking off our shoes, so we skirted around it. In a corner on the left of the building, we found a staircase leading up to the first floor of this roofless part of the mansion. So up we went for a nice view of the Vijay Stambh through a broken window. And we did end up taking off our shoes, because we landed up right above the temple room. Ah well.
We did some research later, and found out that the mansion was named after Fatta, a young military commander who died defending the fort against Mughal invaders. Wonder why it isn’t better known.
The Vijay Stambh
The 37 metre-high Vijay Stambh (‘Victory Tower’) was far taller than the Kirti Stambh we had seen earlier. It was also more crowded. Impressive though it was, the crowds and the heat told us we were better off admiring it from afar. There were other sights to see around it too, after all.
We spent some time admiring the intricate carving on the nearby Samadhisvara temple, and watching the langurs playing on the stand-alone archway gate leading to the temple. The Gaumukh Kund (‘Cow’s Face Tank’), with its inlet in the shape of a cow’s head, looked tempting from up above, but we decided not to brave the steep stairs down in the heat. So it was back to our homestay, for a nice lunch and a quick nap.
Sunset at Ratan Singh’s Palace
The previous day’s sunset had been incredible, so I thought I’d try to take some time-lapse video that evening. We decided to do it while exploring the palace of Ratan Singh (husband of Padmavati) near our homestay, because we’d seen it from the roof and it looked interesting.
We strolled around the small palace, looking for a nice place to set up my camera. The best place would have been the top of the entrance gate, but that was off limits, sadly. Anyway, we found a nice place with a view, and I set up my camera. As we waited for the sun to set, I realized that the air was far hazier that it had been the previous evening. That meant the sun would disappear long before it reached the horizon. Rats!
Still, it was nice to sit around doing nothing, watching the sun set surrounded by history.
A sound-and-light show to end the day
The last bit of business for the day was to watch the sound-and-light show at the palace of Rana Kumbha, the most famous ruler of Chittorgarh. We would have liked to see the palace during the day, but there was only so much we could fit in. Seeing it at night would have to do.
We bought our tickets and took our seats on some benches arranged in the palace garden. There was a huge noisy family group there too, and we expected the worst. Luckily, they quietened down once the show started.
The show was quite good, with voices telling Chittorgarh’s story while parts of the fort were lit up.
The show itself was quite good, and recorded voices told the story of Chittorgarh while various parts of the palace and the fort beyond were lit up. The narrators spoke at length of the heroic conduct of the Rajput rulers and their people, who chose death over surrender and dishonour. Centre stage was the story of Ratan Singh and Padmavati, who died rather than surrender to the Sultan of Delhi, Alauddin Khilji.
The end of our stay in Chittorgarh Fort
We decided to walk back to our homestay after the show, because we knew the way by now. And because the fort closes after the show, we were the only visitors on the road. It was nice strolling through the old fort, only seeing the occasional local on the way. We even caught a glimpse of a night-time game of volleyball being played under spotlights on the grounds of the fort’s museum. Quite a nice way to end our time in Chittorgarh Fort.
The next morning, we packed up and headed off through the winding streets of the village and down the hill, towards Udaipur. Chittorgarh Fort had left an impression on us, with its many monuments and martial history. We only wish we could have spent more time there.
IQ’s top tips for visiting Chittorgarh Fort
- If you want to see all that Chittorgarh Fort has on offer, plan at least two full days there.
- It gets quite hot up in the fort, even during winter. There’s also surprisingly little wind, even though it’s so high up.
- If you feel like, you can actually climb up a level or two in the Vijay Stambh.
- The fort walls at the far end of the Rana Kumbha Palace garden have a nice view of the town. But you might need to do some climbing to get there.
- There’s a sunset viewpoint down by the Gaumukh Kund. We didn’t manage to get there, but we’ve heard it’s really nice.
- Just after the rains is probably the best time to see the Padmini Palace, because the lake next to will be fuller.
- The Padmini Haveli is by far the most convenient place to stay while visiting Chittorgarh Fort, since all other accommodation is at the bottom of the hill.
- To make a booking, you’ll have to email the owners and make a bank transfer of the entire amount upfront. They don’t take bookings through booking sites, only directly.
- It’s a little pricey, but very well appointed and with very good home-style food. But being a strictly brahmin household, they don’t serve non-vegetarian food or alcohol.
- You can expect to pay around Rs. 4,000 per night, including breakfast.
- If you’re driving, you’ll have to park some distance away from the Padmini Haveli. The lane is too narrow for cars.
- Ask for some local traditional vegetarian dishes. The haldi ki sabzi (turmeric root curry) is especially interesting. It tastes a little strong, though.
- Also ask for jaggery pancakes (I forget the traditional name). They’re simple pancakes made only with whole-wheat flour, water and unrefined sugar.
Staying at the Padmini Haveli doesn’t just make it easier to see the fort, it also avoids the drive up from the town below, reducing your carbon emissions. Also, staying there contributes directly to the village economy inside the fort, since most things are sourced directly from the village.
I took most of these photographs with my trusty Canon EOS 200D DSLR camera, using my new Tamron 18-400mm zoom lens (read my review). One or two were taken with my brilliant old Samsung Galaxy S5 phone. I took the footage for the video (and some photographs) with my GoPro Hero5 action camera. I used my Moza AirCross camera stabilizer (read my review) to keep it steady when I wasn’t on the bike.
|Tamron 18-400mm lens for Canon cameras||Tamron 18-400mm lens for Nikon cameras|
In case you’re wondering how I took the videos while on the road… First, I tried strapping my GoPro Hero5 onto my helmet’s face guard with a few of these useful extra-long Velcro-type straps, but that threw my helmet’s balance off. So I alternated between strapping it onto my chest with an elastic chest harness, and mounting it on my bike’s crash guard with a handlebar mount. I used a protective case too, and strapped it in place, just in case. It doesn’t last too long on a single charge, so I had to take along an extra battery and an external charger. I used these high-performance microSDXC memory cards for the hours of footage (Tip: You can use them for your phone too, and they come with an adapter to fit DSLRs and card readers).
This is all the riding gear I was using during our motorcycle tour.