Monday, July 1, 2013

How to visit the Hill forts of Rajasthan, now on UNESCO World Heritage List

Last week, a set of 6 Hill Forts of Rajasthan were declared UNESCO World Heritage sites.

The forts range from the 7th century to the 16th century. Taken together, these rugged hill forts tell us about the political, cultural, social and architectural evolution of the ruling Rajput caste in the history of India.  Many are scenes of valour, and exemplify the Rajput belief in "death before dishonour".

These forts are built strategically on the Aravalli range, which is the oldest mountain range in India. According to UNESCO, they constitute "the most authentic, best conserved and most representative sites of Rajput military architecture".

Since there will likely be renewed interest in these forts, I thought I'd write something practical about where these forts are located, and how to get to them.

The forts on the list are:

(1) Chittorgarh (Chittaurgah) - this fort is 2hrs to the north-east of Udaipur. If you are driving between Jaipur and Udaipur, you can visit this fort on the way, although it will make for a long day. The ideal way to visit it is as a day excursion from Udaipur. See more details here: http://udaipurmagic.net/excursion-chittorgarh.html
Chittorgarh Fort, where the poetess Meera and the famous Rani Padmini lived


(2) Kumbhalgarh - it is 2.5hrs to the north of Udaipur. If you are driving between Udaipur and Jodhpur, you can visit this fort. Also, you can combine it with a visit to the temples at Ranakpur. You can do a day excursion from Udaipur, see details here: http://udaipurmagic.net/ranakpur-and-kumbhalgarh.html. You can also choose to spend the night at Kumbhalgarh, the Aodhi hotel is a very nice option. There's a sound and light show in the evenings.
Kumbhalgarh Fort, said to have the longest wall after the Great Wall of China

(3) Gagron Fort - this fort is in Jhalawar, in the south eastern part of Rajasthan. Surrounded by the waters of the Ahu and Kali Sindh rivers on three sides, it is one of the finest examples of water forts. If you are driving between Udaipur and Jaipur, you can take a break at Bundi and visit Gagron as a day trip from Bundi. It is about 2.5hrs drive from Bundi.
Gagron Fort, Jhalawar. Rajasthan's only strategic water fort.

(4) Ranthambhore Fort - located uniquely inside a tiger sanctuary, this fort is home to a popular Ganesha temple. It is accessible all days of the week and makes for a good visit combined with jungle safaris. Ranthambhore is 6hrs drive from Agra, and 4hrs from Jaipur (the nearest airport). More about my tiger sighting at Ranthambhore here. It is very popular with tourists, so expect crowds. 
Ranthambhore Fort, as seen from entrance to Zone 2 jungle safari

(5) Amber Fort - Most tours to India include a visit to Amber in Jaipur. In fact, Amber (also called Amer) is probably the most visited fort in Rajasthan, because it is part of the popular Golden Triangle circuit. There are elephant rides to the top of the fort. For how to visit Amer Fort, see this link: http://delhimagic.com/golden_tri.html

(6) Jaisalmer Fort - Jaisalmer Fort, or Sonar Qila, the Golden Fort - Its massive yellow sandstone walls are a tawny lion color during the day, fading to honey-gold as the sun sets. Jaisalmer is 6hrs drive from Jodhpur. At the moment there are no flights to Jaisalmer.
Sonar Qila, Jaisalmer

I created a map, showing where these forts are located. I'm sure you'll find it useful.
Map of HILL FORTS OF RAJASTHAN

Each of the hill forts selected in this list is of "Outstanding Universal Value" with "advanced construction techniques exploiting natural terrain and contours for defense". They also have "unique social associations with Rajput courtly life". Many are the sites of ritual suicides, the Rajput mass-immolations called jauhar. The temples and palaces inside them are extraordinarily beautiful. These hill forts represent the most sophisticated and evolved examples of secular Hindu Rajput architecture, utilizing the wealth of natural resources and located in an extraordinary geographical setting.  .

I hope you will visit at least some of these forts this year. If you need help with planning the trip, please email me at deepa@delhimagic.com

Photo sources:
Chittorgarh, Kumbhalgarh, Jaisalmer - Wikimedia Commons
Gagron Fort, Jhalawar - http://www.liveindia.com/rajasthan/jhalawar12.jpg
Amber Fort: Stephen Mullis sent this photo to me, he travelled with Delhi Magic to Jaipur
Ranthambhore Fort - my own camera

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