The Great wall of China is 173 times longer than the outer peripheral wall of Kumbhalgarh Fort, which measures but a mere 36 km in length. So I would take no umbrage at anyone for not knowing about this magnificent exemplar of Indian fortress building that adorns our Rajasthan’s countryside across the Aravalis… Interestingly, it is worth not- ing that this outer peripheral wall of Kumbalgarh is still the second longest wall in the world after the Great Wall of China. And it has been so built that horses could traverse it at a gal- lop.
I went there on a lark … The “Oh Kumbhalgarh ? … Yea … have heard of it … is is nice ?! … OK, let’s check it out” kind.
It is just 82 kms from Udaipur, and it takes around 2 hours to reach there by road – a narrow one though, but in de- cent condition. The entire jour- ney spills out vista after rolling vista of rural Rajasthan this side of Aravalis … the greener side. The fort, you don’t get to see from afar, it rears up all of a sudden, when you are just about a kilo- meter or so away. This feature was deliberately intentional and by-design, with the entire structure sited and landscaped so ingeniously to blend with the terrain as to ensure that an enemy could not get to see the fort before the inmates have long spotted his approach.
You will pass the small town of Kelwara en route, a place that offers a leisurely boating experience as an activity for tourists, and Kumbhalgarh lies about 7 km from there. The fort is one of the 84 built by Rana Kumbha, and is one of the 32 personally designed by him. It ranks second after Chittorgarh fort, in terms of its defense-worthiness and build. This is well illustrated by the fact that it fell but once after a long siege, that too purely due to hav- ing run out water despite its ad- vanced water harvesting structures. And fall it did, to the combined might of Mughal Em- peror Akbar, backed by Raja Man Singh of Amber, Raja Udai Singh of Marwar, and the Sultan of Gu- jarat.
The construction of this behe- moth is said to have started in 1443 AD, and was completed in some 16 years. An interesting legend surrounds this heritage structure. When construction work began, it was noticed that whatever was built during the day would mysteriously get razed in the night. Perplexed after sev- eral attempts, Rana Kumbha or- dered one of his trusted generals to get to the bottom of this mat- ter. The investigating general found out that the demolition oc- curred not due to any sabotage as was suspected, but was inex- plicably automatic, and without any conceivable reason. Rana then sought to unravel this mys- tery, by tapping into the lore of the region via people to people contact. He got his answer at long last from a monk, Bhairon Singh.
Bhairon Singh tells him that the fort will only get built if some-one deigns to give voluntary sac- rifice of life for the cause. Seeing a worried Rana, Bhairon Singh of- fered to sacrifice himself for the cause … on one condition … that his name be kept alive after his death. Rana agrees to it. Today, we can see how Rana kept his word. Where Bhairon Singh started his walk of sacrifice, he sited the main entrance to the fort (Hanuman Pol or Hanuman Gate). Where Bhairon Singh be- headed himself, he built a small temple dedicated to Bhairon Singh. Where the beheaded torso continued to walk and ultimately fell, he located the main entrance to the palaces.
This fort is home to approxi- mately 360 temples – around 300 of them Jaina and the rest, Hindu. The boundary wall of the fort separates Mewar from Mar- war.
You can see the dunes of the Thar from the fort. It provided safe haven to many a Rajput on the run. Rana Pratap was born here in Badal Mahal (or Cloud Palace). It was thus named as it used to get surrounded by clouds during monsoons.
Panna Dhai (a Mid-wife) reportedly brought Rana Sanga’s son, Udai Singh here stealthily to save his life. Udai Singh later established Udaipur. This lesser known, yet splendid, piece of heritage is a must-visit for any heritage/history buff as it offers other attractions like Kumbhalgarh Sanctuary, replete with leopards and tigers; and Ranakpur Temple, an iconic Jain temple with 1444 marble pillars, each uniquely carved. So, when are you going there ?