Things to see in India

The World Heritage Sites of Ajanta and Ellora Caves – Part II

In my last post I shared our visit to the Ajanta Temple Cave complex in central India. In this post I will cover the Ellora Caves and the Daulatabad Fortress. The Ellora Caves are about 105 km (60 miles) north of Aurangabad (which is about 217 miles northeast of Mumbai).

As outstanding as the Ajanta Caves are, the Ellora Caves, which are carved out of solid rock, are even more stunning. While they don’t have the ancient temperas (paintings) seen in Ajanta, the magnificence of the structures and intricacies of the carvings—formed and shaped with rudimentary tools out of a rock escarpment is truly an amazing sight. These temples, monasteries and chapels were carved over five centuries starting with the Buddhist caves around 600 AD. There are 34 caves in all. The monks were clearly master stone masons.

Known as Cave 32, this is a Jain temple at the northern end of the Ellora complex.

Known as Cave 32, this is a Jain temple at the northern end of the Ellora complex.

Cave 15, a Hindu temple.

Cave 15, a Hindu temple.

The “granddaddy” structure is the Hindu Kailasa temple, which is the largest and grandest structure of the Ellora complex and the world’s largest monolithic structure. It is dedicated to Lord Shiva. It took 7,000 laborers about 150 years to create this magnificent temple.

The entrance to the Kailasa Temple.

The entrance to the Kailasa Temple.

Kailasa Temple from the courtyard.

Kailasa Temple from the courtyard.

One more view of Kailasa Temple - the people around the base give an indication of the enormous size.

One more view of Kailasa Temple – the people around the base give an indication of the enormous size.

A detail of Kailasa Temple showing some of the original paint decorations.

A detail of Kailasa Temple showing some of the original paint decorations.

Although very few do it, it is worth hiking up behind the temple to look down on the structure from above and to get a better feel how this temple emerged from a cliff side of rock (go to the right of the temple entrance and hike up the hill). Imagine taking a hammer and chisel and starting to chip away at the hard ground, and having to precisely carve to create this masterpiece – one mistake and the structure would have to be redesigned – there is no forgiveness working in the solid rock.

A view of the Kailasa Temple from above - imagine just a rock hillside and starting to hammer and chisel away at the rock with this beautiful structure in mind.

A view of the Kailasa Temple from above – imagine just a rock hillside and starting to hammer and chisel away at the rock with this beautiful structure in mind.

A closer look at Kailasa Temple from above.

A closer look at Kailasa Temple from above.

Practical Information: There are Buddhist, Hindu and Jain Cave groupings within the complex. We started at the north end (Jain caves) and worked our way south (Hindu caves are in the middle and Buddhist caves are in the southern grouping). The caves stretch over a 2 kilometer (about 1.2 mile) length of rock escarpment, so be prepared for some walking. You can have your driver drop you off at the north end and work your way south on foot. The main car park is near the Kailasa Temple, in the middle of your route. Guides are available if desired. The Ellora Caves are closed on Tuesday, so plan your visit accordingly.

Daulatabad Fortress

This fortress can be seen right off the road on the way to the Ajanta Caves. Since the Ajanta caves are closer to Aurangabad, it’s probably best to visit this Fortress on the same day as the Ajanta caves. The Fortress dates back to the 1100’s and was continually developed over the next several centuries.

One of the gated entrances to Daulatabad Fortress.

One of the gated entrances to Daulatabad Fortress.

A minaret at Daulatabad Fortress.

A minaret at Daulatabad Fortress.

A deep moat - another defensive feature inside the Fortress.

A deep moat – another defensive feature inside the Fortress.

One of the most fun things we did was to go through a literal “bat cave” on the way to the top. This is a long tunnel (perhaps 50 yards or more length) that is completely dark (bring a flashlight) and the thought of knowing that there are thousands (no joke) of bats hanging right over your head was an experience!

The entrance to the "dark passage" which is long, winding and full of bats. It was purposely designed to confuse enemies seeking to take the fort.

The entrance to the “dark passage” which is long, winding and full of bats. It was purposely designed to confuse enemies seeking to take the fort.

A few of the bats visible just inside the entrance to the dark passage.

A few of the bats visible just inside the entrance to the dark passage.

Bring a hat unless you want to take a chance on getting bat dung in your hair!  You definitely hear the thousands of bats and near the entrance you can see them in the little light that is available. This tunnel is not for the faint of heart.The Fortress covers a huge area and can be best appreciated from climbing up to the top structure that sits on the highest point encircled by the walls – the walls spread out in each direction for miles.

After surviving the dark passage - we're hiking up to the top of the Fortress. Some of the extensive walls and defensive fortifications are visible in this image.

After surviving the dark passage – we’re hiking up to the top of the Fortress. Some of the extensive walls and defensive fortifications are visible in this image.

Reference: Lonely Planet Guide to India.

The World Heritage Sites of Ajanta and Ellora Caves – Part I

Although we didn’t know it at the time, we saved some of the best sights in India for the last part of our trip. From the desert city of Jaisalmer we drove back to Jodhpur and then flew to Aurangabad (via an overnight connection in Mumbai). Aurangabad is about 217 miles northeast of Mumbai.

Aurangabad is the gateway to the world-renowned Ajanta and Ellora Caves – both of which are incredible ancient temple complexes.

A road scene on our way to Ajanta.

A road scene on our way to Ajanta.

The two temple complexes are very different. The Ajanta Caves are largely carved INTO rock, the Ellora Temples are carved OUT OF rock.

A view of the path to the Ajanta Caves - you can see how they are carved into the rock face. Some entrances are more elaborately carved than others.

A view of the path to the Ajanta Caves – you can see how they are carved into the rock face. Some entrances are more elaborately carved than others.

This post will focus on the Ajanta Caves, which were part of a Buddhist monastery complex. The oldest caves date back to the 2nd century BC, and additional ones continued to be hewn out of the rock until the 6th century AD.

My mother-in-law getting a ride from porters up to the caves.

My mother-in-law getting a ride from porters up to the caves.

When the temples at Ellora were emerging from the rock, Ajanta began to decline and was eventually forgotten until the 1800’s when it was discovered by chance by a British hunting party. The paintings (actually temperas, which use pigment with a binding substance like egg yolks) are amazing, but are mostly kept in very low illumination to keep them from fading and being further destroyed.

An example of the cave paintings.

An example of the cave paintings.

There are about 30 caves, most of which are accessible, they are numbered and are more or less in order as you visit them. We visited about 10 of the caves. There are plaques (in English) outside each cave that provide some information, and then you are free to wander inside.

An example of the plaques outside each cave.

An example of the plaques outside each cave.

Interior view of Cave #1 with its tempera decorations. Amazing to think that these paintings are almost 2,000 years old.

Interior view of Cave #1 with its tempera decorations. Amazing to think that these paintings are almost 2,000 years old.

Interior view of Cave #2.

Interior view of Cave #2.

A large Buddha in Cave #6.

A large Buddha in Cave #6.

Exterior view of Cave #17.

Exterior view of Cave #17.

The 'Sleeping Buddha' in Cave #26.

The ‘Sleeping Buddha’ in Cave #26.

The incredible interior of Cave #26. Remember, all this was carved out of solid rock.

The incredible interior of Cave #26. Remember, all this was carved out of solid rock.

One other view in Cave #26.

One other view in Cave #26.

Cave #24 - unfinished, giving a feel for the work required to carve just one of these beautiful temples.

Cave #24 – unfinished, giving a feel for the work required to carve just one of these beautiful temples.

In some caves there are guards present, to ward off flash photographs and to ensure the safety of the old paintings. The caves are in a horseshoe shape around a bend in a river. To get an overlook of the area, hike up to the viewing point at the bend of the river.

A view of some of the Ajanta caves from the hill above the river. Similar to the view the British hunting party would have seen.

A view of some of the Ajanta caves from the hill above the river. Similar to the view the British hunting party would have seen.

You’ll also see some waterfalls and lakes in the distance. What a stunning setting for the Ajanta Caves!

Practical Information: We hired a taxi to take us to the Ajanta Caves for the day. The driver waited patiently for us and returned us to our hotel that afternoon. The cost was about $20 US. The Ajanta Caves are about 105 km (60 miles) north of Aurangabad and the Ellora Caves are only about 30 km (18 miles) north of Aurangabad. Both sights could probably be visited in one very long day; however, to allow sufficient time, we visited them separately on two consecutive days. We were able to combine a visit Daulatabad Fortress the same day as the Ellora Caves, which was well worth the stop (I will cover both of these locations in my next post).

Jaisalmer – A Desert Mirage in Western India

A view of the walls and towers of Jaisalmer Fort.

A view of the walls and towers of Jaisalmer Fort.

From Jodhpur we drove to Jaisalmer, a city in the Thar Desert near the Pakistani border, about 177 miles (285 km) from Jodhpur. The old part of Jaisalmer is contained within the extensive walls of the fort that sits on a hill, rising above the desert. It has a different feel than other parts of India, due to the desert location. The ancient fort city was founded back in 1156 and is still inhabited by 3,000 people. Jaisalmer had a strategic position in the 16th century, it was on the camel train routes between India and Central Asia. The fort city has narrow alleyways, with apartments, temples and shops practically stacked on top of each other.

Entering Jaisalmer Fort through a succession of four gates on the northeastern side,

Entering Jaisalmer Fort through a succession of four gates on the northeastern side,

There’s a lot to do in this desert fortified city, here are the primary things we visited:

Jain Temples 

There are a number of Jain Temples within the fort. They take advantage of every inch of space within such a confined area. (Practical tip: Since you cannot wear shoes in the temples, bring your own “slipper socks” – otherwise your bare feet will get quite dirty).

Chandraprabhu Temple. This temple was built in 1509 and has many intricately sculpted pillars. It is small, with a couple circular levels and rotunda ceiling.

Interior view of Chandraprabhu Jain Temple.

Interior view of Chandraprabhu Jain Temple.

Rikhabdev Temple. Like many structures within the fort, space is tight around this temple. Take the time to soak in the beautiful intricate carvings and shrines. This temple and the one below also date from the 16th century.

The narrow confines of the Rikhabdev Jain Temple.

The narrow confines of the Rikhabdev Jain Temple.

Parasnath Temple. Another Jain Temple in the fort city is Parasnath. There are various interesting shrines made of various materials (including metal) and an underground library with ancient manuscripts, all tucked away in the corners and below the structure – a bit like a maze.

The magnificent entrance to the Parasnath Jain Temple.

The magnificent entrance to the Parasnath Jain Temple.

Wandering the Fort City. There are some great restaurants and shops hidden in the nooks and crannies of the alleyways of the old fort city. The vendors are friendly and we purchased some excellent paintings of desert scenes from one artist.

One of the narrow streets in the fort city.

One of the narrow streets in the fort city.

The Fort Palace. Just inside the northeastern gates is the Fort Palace. It was the home of the rulers of Jaisalmer and contains some beautifully restored 18th century rooms.

This is the Jaisalmer Fort Palace - it is worth touring, not only for the interior views but also the views of the old fort city from its upper levels.

This is the Jaisalmer Fort Palace – it is worth touring, not only for the interior views but also the views of the old fort city from its upper levels.

A bedroom in the Fort Palace.

A bedroom in the Fort Palace.

View of the fortified city from the Palace.

View of the fortified city from the Palace.

Kothari Haveli. In the fort city and on the northern perimeter there are several well preserved 19th century Havelis (rich merchant homes). We visited one of them. The family who lived here gained their fortune in brocade and jewelry. An audio guide and signage in the rooms provide a good understanding of life in the 19th century for the upper class.

The internal courtyard of Kothari's Patwa-Haveli Museum.

The internal courtyard of Kothari’s Patwa-Haveli Museum.

One of the richly decorated rooms in the Haveli.

One of the richly decorated rooms in the Haveli.

Bada (or Bara) Cenotaphs. Just 6 km outside of Jaisalmer are a series of royal cenotaphs or memorials. There is a great view to be had of Jaisalmer fort as you drive back towards the city from here. Very few tourists visit these cenotaphs, which are slowly crumbling into the surrounding sand.

Just outside the city are the Bada Bagh Cenotaphs. These are memorials to the royal families of Jaisalmer.

Just outside the city are the Bada Bagh Cenotaphs. These are memorials to the royal families of Jaisalmer.

Gadisagar Lake. This lake, on the outskirts of Jaisalmer, was the city’s main water supply hundreds of years ago. It has some interesting ruins around the shores and in the lake. The lake stands out as a refreshing spot in this dry desert landscape.

A view of Gadisagar Lake.

A view of Gadisagar Lake.

Thar Desert. Just about 20 miles (30 km) south of Jaisalmer are some accessible dunes of the Thar Desert. We spent an evening out in the desert riding camels, enjoying the sunset view and a dinner with a dancing show.

Women gathering water at a well in the desert - almost a biblical scene of life in the  desert.

Women gathering water at a well in the desert – almost a biblical scene of life in the desert.

Robyn giving her camel a rest.

Robyn giving her camel a rest.

Jodhpur, India – Home of the Colossal Mehrangarh Fort

From Udaipur (via Ranakpur and Kumbahlgarh) we visited the large Rajasthan city of Jodhpur, about 198 miles (319 km) distant. For a map of locations visited in India, click here.

The huge Mehrangarh Fort dominates the landscape for many miles.

The huge Mehrangarh Fort dominates the landscape for many miles.

One of the main sites in Jodhpur is the magnificent Mehrangarh Fort, sitting on a prominent hill dominating the sprawling city which has seen tremendous growth in the last decade. The fort was built around 1460. The thick, high walls (over 100 feet) of the fort make it an imposing structure and it must have been a very intimidating sight for potential invading armies 500 years ago. There are miles of old walls extending around the area in every direction.

One of the gates leading into the fortress.

One of the gates leading into the fortress.

Cannonball pockmarks from the 1800's can be seen on this bastion.

Cannonball pockmarks from the 1800’s can be seen on this bastion.

The fort dates from the 16th century, and contains palace rooms with numerous intricate lattice stone carvings; ladies of the court could view the activities of the fort’s daily life without being seen.

The intricate lattice stone work can be seen in this photo.

The intricate lattice stone work can be seen in this photo.

The fort is now a museum containing various displays in the rooms (such as a collection of highly decorated palanquins and paintings as well as a collection of arms) and period furniture.

One of the palanquins on display.

One of the palanquins on display.

Display of daggers and other formidable weapons.

Display of daggers and other formidable weapons.

Interior of the Phool Mahal at Mehrangarh fort.

Interior of the Phool Mahal at Mehrangarh fort.

North side of the fortress, with several gates leading up into the main area.

North side of the fortress, with several gates leading up into the main area.

An audio guide provides a good overview of the fort. On the north side, just outside the main gate are some beautiful gardens that are worth a vist. Jodhpur is known as the blue city. The city’s founder decreed that the homes surrounding the fortress be painted blue, but no one seems to know why blue was chosen. A number of homes near the fort still retain the blue hue.

The blue buildings near the fort's north side.

The blue buildings near the fort’s north side.

Other Sights in Jodhpur

Jaswant Thada. Close to Mehrangarh fort is the beautiful Jaswant Thada, a white marble memorial to Maharaja Jaswant Singh II. There are nice views of the fort from this location. It was built in 1899.

A view of the Jaswant Thada.

A view of the Jaswant Thada.

Mandore. This area was the original capital of the local Marwar Kingdom until the 1400’s. This small city contains beautiful temples, tombs, and gardens. It is an area that does not see a lot of tourists, but we found it quite fascinating.

A view of Mandore with the shrines, temples and gardens.

A view of Mandore with the shrines, temples and gardens.

Inside one of Mandore's temples.

Inside one of Mandore’s temples.

One of the Hindu shrines in Mandore.

One of the Hindu shrines in Mandore.

Clock Tower. This is a landmark in the older part of the city. During the day there are numerous market stalls selling all kinds of food and other goods.

A view of the Clock Tower at night.

A view of the Clock Tower at night.

Markets near the Clock Tower.

Markets near the Clock Tower.

Our hotel in Jodhpur, the Pal Haveli Inn. It has a very peaceful and quiet courtyard inside, a respite from the chaos of the city.

Our hotel in Jodhpur, the Pal Haveli Inn. It has a very peaceful and quiet courtyard inside, a respite from the chaos of the city.

Our hotel (above) was in an excellent location, in the heart of the old city next to the Clock Tower and square. From the peaceful courtyard of our hotel you are immediately plunged into this market area and feel the ‘real’ India. The hotel had a rooftop restaurant that overlooked the fort for a lovely night view.

A view of Mehrangarh Fort from our hotel rooftop restaurant.

A view of Mehrangarh Fort from our hotel rooftop restaurant.

Ranakpur – One of the Most Outstanding Jain Temples in India

A view of Ranakpur from the entrance walkway.

A view of Ranakpur from the entrance walkway.

In my humble opinion there are three temples that are “must sees” in India: The Golden Temple (of the Sikh religion) in Amritsar (in the very north of India), the Mount Abu Temple complex (Jain religion and not too far from Ranakpur as the crow flies but quite a long drive via road) and Ranakpur Temple (also Jain).

Another view of the entrance to Ranakpur.

Another view of the entrance to Ranakpur.

Unfortunately due to the vast distances it’s difficult to see all three temples in a single trip. We at least were able to visit one of them. We were traveling from Udaipur to Jodhpur and made two stops during the day’s drive, Kumbahlgarh Fortress and Ranakpur. The two sights are about 50 km (31 miles) apart by road. From Ranakpur it’s about 170 km (105 miles) to Jodhpur and 75 km (47 miles) to Udaipur.

Ranakpur Temple leaves one almost speechless. It’s difficult to truly convey its beauty in either words or images.

Interior view and the most holy part of the temple. Only Jains can enter the sanctuary (straight ahead in the photo).

Interior view and the most holy part of the temple. Only Jains can enter the sanctuary (straight ahead in the photo).

The temple was built in the 15th century and is huge. It contains 29 halls, 80 domes and 1444 individually carved columns. The detailed carvings are astonishing – intricate designs in beautiful white marble.

A view of one of the many halls in the temple. Note the column carvings.

A view of one of the many halls in the temple. Note the column carvings.

An elephant carving in Ranakpur.

An elephant carving in Ranakpur.

Detail of one of the dome's carvings.

Detail of one of the dome’s carvings.

Robyn with a carving of the first Jain teacher (or tirthankar) Adinath, to whom the whole temple is dedicated.

Robyn with a carving of the first Jain teacher (or tirthankar) Adinath, to whom the whole temple is dedicated.

The Jain religion is fascinating and would require a whole separate discussion. It is one of the many religions found in India, and its followers are extremely devout. We saw many Jain pilgrims walking on the side of the road and our driver explained that they walk for hundreds of kilometers with few if any personal belongings. They wear a covering over their mouths so as not to destroy life by accidentally inhaling an insect.

Other Information:

With your Ranakpur entrance fee you’re given a handset and headset that provides an audio tour of the temple with numbered stations to guide you through this amazing complex.

For a better view of the temple, hike up the nearby hills.

Ranakpur as viewed from a nearby hill. The vast size becomes more apparent from this angle.

Ranakpur as viewed from a nearby hill. The vast size becomes more apparent from this angle.

You will also see some other temples around the vicinity.

Other small temples near Ranakpur.

Other small temples near Ranakpur.

Ranakpur is located in the center of the Kumbahlgarh Wildlife Sanctuary, and we had monkeys jumping all over our van as we drove up the mountain road to the temple! There are leopards, wolves, and many other forms of wildlife nearby.

Monkeys jumping on our car as we drove up to Ranakpur!

Monkeys jumping on our car as we drove up to Ranakpur!

Kumbahlgarh Fortress – One of Rajasthan’s Greatest Forts

On our way from Udaipur to Jodhpur, India there are at least two major sights definitely worth visiting, Kumbahlgarh Fortress and the incredible Ranakpur Jain Temple (I will review the Ranakpur Temple in a separate post). Kumbahlgarh is about 80 km (50 miles) north of Udaipur, and somewhat remote – the roads got narrower as we went (barely one lane wide) and you had the feeling that the road might come to an end and that we’d be hiking before long. You are definitely in the countryside!

Approaching Kumbahlgarh fortress.

Approaching Kumbahlgarh fortress.

As we rounded the corner on a winding hillside, there it was in front of us, an imposing sight on a high hilltop (1,100 meters or 3,600 feet altitude). Even though the fortress is remote, it gets its share of visitors from Jodhpur and Udaipur, due to its significance and well-maintained structures. On the day we visited, we were lucky, we pretty much had the fortress to ourselves.

One of several gateways as you climb to the Kumbahlgarh castle.

One of several gateways as you climb to the Kumbahlgarh castle.

The castle within Kumbahlgarh fortress.

The castle within Kumbahlgarh fortress.

Kumbahlgarh was built from 1443 – 1458, on the site of an earlier fortress and some of the ruins here date back to the 2nd century BC. It has a commanding view of the countryside and is surrounded by 12 km (7.5 miles) of massive walls that are in some places wide enough for 8 horses to ride abreast.

A view of Kumbahlgarh's massive and imposing walls from the outside.

A view of Kumbahlgarh’s massive and imposing walls from the outside.

A view of Kumbahlgarh's walls and the village inside.

A view of Kumbahlgarh’s walls and the village inside.

It would take about 4 hours just to walk all the way around the thick walls and you could spend another half day wandering around the enclosed hilly area and visiting the many outlying structures, 360 in total. There is also small living village inside the main fortress.

The Vedi Temple - built in 1457 for performing rituals after the completion of the fort.

The Vedi Temple – built in 1457 for performing rituals after the completion of the fort.

The Hindu Neelkanth Mahadev Temple, built in 1458.

The Hindu Neelkanth Mahadev Temple, built in 1458.

If you like stunning old fortresses, Kumbahlgarh should be on your list!

Udaipur – Considered the Most Romantic Spot in India

One of the most pleasant places to visit (and considered the most romantic) in India is the city of Udaipur (for a map of locations we visited in India click here). The city sits on the shores of Lake Pichola, which adds a peaceful element to the setting.

A sunset view of Lake Pichola from our hotel rooftop.

A sunset view of Lake Pichola from our hotel rooftop.

We enjoyed our breakfast time sitting on the rooftop of our hotel overlooking the calm lake waters and the isolated Lake Palace Hotel. Udaipur (and specifically the Lake Palace Hotel) became a popular tourist destination after its use as a setting in the James Bond film “Octopussy” with Roger Moore. If you’re dying to see the movie again, it plays nightly at a number of restaurants in the old part of town near the shore of Lake Pichola. I think the restaurant owners would go crazy after seeing the film over and over!

Lake Palace Hotel in Lake Pichola.

Lake Palace Hotel in Lake Pichola.

Although our hotel (Jaiwana Haveli) was good and in a perfect location, in hindsight, I wish we would have spent one night at the world famous Lake Palace Hotel, even though its room rates are pricey ($300 to $1,400 US/night depending on the season). Having a reservation is the only way you can visit the hotel. It was built in 1754 and was originally a summer royal residence. It became a hotel in the 1960’s. Even though the setting is serene, you’re still in India. The local population uses the lake as a bathing and laundry room. It’s a major contrast – one of the world’s most exclusive hotels within a few hundred yards of people who have few material positions taking care of life’s daily needs.

Teeth brushing and bathing in Lake Pichola.

Teeth brushing and bathing in Lake Pichola.

Women washing and bathing in Lake Pichola.

Women washing and bathing in Lake Pichola.

You can visit Jagmandir Island, just a bit further out in the lake, on which is located another small palace and tower. It’s a lovely setting and the site is used for weddings and receptions. It is worth visiting just for the boat ride to and from the island which provides excellent views of the City Palace, Lake Palace Hotel and surrounding mountains.

The elephant statues greet you as you arrive on Jagmandir island.

The elephant statues greet you as you arrive on Jagmandir island.

The beautiful gardens on Jagmandir Island in Lake Pichola.

The beautiful gardens on Jagmandir Island in Lake Pichola.

City Palace & City Palace Museum. The City Palace dominates the lakefront and is the primary tourist sight in Udaipur. It is a fantastic place with beautiful artwork in mirrors, paintings and tiles. It is Rajasthan’s largest palace and dates from the 16th century.

A view of City Palace from the lake.

A view of City Palace from the lake.

City Palace night view.

City Palace night view.

A courtyard at City Palace.

A courtyard at City Palace.

One of the audience rooms at City Palace.

One of the audience rooms at City Palace.

The Peacock Courtyard - with intricate artwork.

The Peacock Courtyard – with intricate artwork.

The peacock - symbol of Rajasthan. The feathers are all inlaid colored stone.

The peacock – symbol of Rajasthan. The feathers are all inlaid colored stone.

Colored mirror decor in City Palace.

Colored mirror decor in City Palace.

Another reception area in City Palace - it has an English "Wedgwood" look.

Another reception area in City Palace – it has an English “Wedgwood” look.

Next to the City Palace is the Crystal Gallery. It houses a collection of rare crystal furniture, which has an interesting story behind it. Maharana Sajjan Singh ordered the crystal pieces from F&C Osler & Co in England in 1877. The maharana died before it arrived, and all the items stayed forgotten and packed up in boxes for 110 years. Once the crystal was recovered it was put on display here. Officially, I couldn’t take photos in this museum, so the quality is poor, but you can get an idea of the crystal furniture’s beauty.

A crystal love seat and "coffee" table.

A crystal love seat and “coffee” table.

A crystal canopy bed.

A crystal canopy bed.

Jagdish Temple. This Hindu temple sits in the middle of the old town and it’s hard to miss. We got a short tour by a local worshipper during an evening service. The temple was built in 1651. The town has narrow twisting streets and alleyways, a tiny bit reminiscent of Europe.

An evening view of Jagdish Temple.

An evening view of Jagdish Temple.

Udaipur is also a great location to shop for textiles and jewelry. We enjoyed wandering the narrow streets and myriad of shops. There’s a lot to see in the surrounding area as well. I’ll cover those sights in a separate post.

Street scene in Udaipur.

Street scene in Udaipur.

A colorful textile store in Udaipur.

A colorful textile store in Udaipur.

A Visit to Chittorgarh Fort

A view of Chittorgarh Fort from the city of Chittor.

A view of Chittorgarh Fort from the city of Chittor.

This huge fortress complex is largely off the tourist map. It is located about 306 km (190 miles) south of Jaipur on the way to Udaipur (another 116km or 72 miles south). Chittorgarh sits atop a striking plateau above the modern town of Chittor (“garh” means fort).

Local residents of Chittorgarh Fortress.

Local residents of Chittorgarh Fortress.

It is the largest fort complex in India, and the plateau is 6 km long, which is largely uninhabited (except by monkeys and a small village near the entrance) and open for exploration.

One of the gates (Ram Pol) into Chittorgarh.

One of the gates (Ram Pol) into Chittorgarh.

There are several stunning towers, temples and palaces at the fort as well as reservoirs and other structures. A number of the buildings date to the 12th and 13th centuries. The fort was sacked at least three times (from the 1300’s to the 1500’s) and the female residents chose to perform the ritual of jauhar (burning to death) each time rather than being taken prisoner.

A view of the ruins of 15th century Rana Kumbha Palace.

A view of the ruins of 15th century Rana Kumbha Palace.

Another view of Rana Kumbha Palace.

Another view of Rana Kumbha Palace.

The Tower of Victory (Jaya Stambha), built in the 1400's. Dedicated to the Hindu god Vishnu. You can climb the tower for a good view of the whole area.

The Tower of Victory (Jaya Stambha), built in the 1400’s. Dedicated to the Hindu god Vishnu. You can climb the tower for a good view of the whole area.

Detail of the Tower of Victory.

Detail of the Tower of Victory.

Due to the few visitors here, we found the locals and (mainly Indian) tourists very friendly, wanting you to take their pictures and to show you around.

A young couple who wanted their picture taken at the top of the Victory Tower.

A young couple who wanted their picture taken at the top of the Victory Tower.

A Jain Temple at Chittorgarh.

A Jain Temple at Chittorgarh.

Another Jain Temple at Chittorgarh. The tower (Kirti Stambha) was built in the 12th century.

Another Jain Temple at Chittorgarh. The tower (Kirti Stambha) was built in the 12th century.

One of Chittorgarh's reservoirs.

One of Chittorgarh’s reservoirs.

A pavilion in a small lake at Chittorgarh.

A pavilion in a small lake at Chittorgarh.

This was an unplanned stop on our way to Udaipur suggested by our driver. Since it’s a fairly long drive to Udaipur we spent only about 90 minutes here, but it would be easy to spend a few hours exploring all the various ruins and sights. Well worth a visit!