Holi is one of the most colorful festivals not only in India but probably in the whole world. It is a time when people smear each other with colors and have a great time, but not me. Being allergic to the dry colors and also to the dust in the air, for me and my family, the it is a time when we look for a retreat, away from the maddening crowds. This year, we shortlisted the only hill station in the state of Rajasthan, Mount Abu, a 3-3.5 hours drive from Udaipur.
Located at a distance of about 180 kms from the city of Udaipur, Mount Abu was once the summer capital of the Maharaja of Sirohi, a kingdom in the erstwhile Rajputana. To travel to Mount Abu one first has to reach the city of Abu Road. We started off from Udaipur at 9.30ish in the morning . The express highway from Udaipur to Mount Abu which has 2 toll plazas, is very scenic and you even pass through 2 road tunnels cutting through hills. The serpentine road from Abu Road taking you to Mount Abu, though, is narrow and the climb up could become a little tricky in case you encounter a bus descending from the hill station. The rocky forested hill on one side and the deep gorge on the other are a part of a protected wildlife area which has a wide variety of flora and fauna. On your way up the mountainous terrain, you encounter large number of monkeys and langaurs, lining up one side of the narrow road and waiting for the passers-by to offer tit bits to them.
Just before you start your climb onto Mount Abu at Abu Road and also on reaching the hill station, you have to pay toll taxes which supposedly goes for the development of the area. On reaching Mount Abu, you have a plethora of accommodations to choose from depending upon your budget and locational preferences with reference to proximity to the tourist attractions like Nakki lake and the main market. Some great options could be guest houses like Hotel Vinayak, budget hotels like Hotel Chanakya and premium hotels like Palanpur Palace, Hilltone or HG Grandiose to name a few. There was a rush on account of it being a holiday season and many of the hotels had full occupancy. We zeroed in on a hotel on the main road itself by the name of Madhuban, which was not only centrally located (opp to the bus stand) but also had ample parking space. Making the hotel our base we went about exploring Mount Abu, the next two days.
Mount Abu Attractions:
1) Sun Set Point- Since we reached Mount Abu in the afternoon, so after lunch and a short nap, our first destination in the hill station was the Sun Set Point. We left for the place which was about 2.5 kms from our hotel at 6pm. One has to walk about a kilometer up the hill to reach the Sun Set point and gosh was it crowded?? It was teeming with people & vehicles and trying to park the car at the entrance to the hilly walkaway, was a Herculean effort. The walk up the hill was pleasant though. If you are averse to walking then there other options for you as well. You could probably take a horse ride or could even take a cart ride which is pushed by an attendant. The view of the setting Sun from the Sun Set point was magnificent but the huge crowd marred its charm to a certain extent.
2) Nakki Lake- The lake is the heart and the center of attraction of the hill station. Located just a kilometer from our hotel, the picturesqueness of the lake with its many boats, shops lined along the narrow main entry road, eateries, parks, a huge hot air gas balloon and an enormous statue of Mother India on the bank, was awe inspiring. A boat ride on the lake and a lazy walk around the lake are just the things to indulge in to chill out and admire the beauty of the place.
3) Dilwara Jain Temples- About 3kms north-east of Nakki Lake lie the world famous Dilwara Jain Temples. The temple complex which has 5 temples looks nothing extraordinary from the exterior but wait till you enter the temples. The exquisite intricate marble carvings that adorn the walls and ceilings of the temples are just mind blowing and depict the magic that the craftsmen of a bygone era created in white marble. The marble temples have been made over many centuries with the oldest one built circa 1021 AD and the latest one circa 1459 AD
4) Temple of Shri Somnath Mahadev, Sant Sarovar- Enroute to the Dilwara Temples is this relatively new temple in which Lord Shiva is the main deity. Set in a serene surrounding, the temple premise also has a pond, Sant Sarovar, which is full of red colored fishes. Try feeding the fishes and see how they clamor up to the surface of the water.
5) Achalgarh fort and Achleswar Temple- Beyond the Dilwara Temples about 10kms from the main city lie the ruins of the Achalgarh fort. The fort or whatever of it remains offers a great view but is in a very dilapidated condition. The main attraction for me here was the Achleswar temple located just outside the fort, its surrounding completely dried up Mandakini pond with 3 stones buffaloes , an ancient ruined palace and myths about the place as told by a 10-12 year old girl guide Vasundhara Kumari, who also recited some poems for us. The Achleshwar temple has 2 big stone elephants at the entrance and a 4 tonne enormous sitting bull- Nandi made of panchdhatu (five metals) just inside. The lingam in this temple dedicated to lord Shiva is unique in the sense that it is inverted representing the toe of Lord Shiva and not straight as found in other places.
6) Guru Shikhar- This the highest point in the Aravali ranges at 1722 metres above sea level, is at a distance of around 15 kms from Mount Abu. The road leading to Guru Shikhar is very scenic, narrow & winding and ends at the steps that lead you up to the summit. There are many stalls that are lined on both sides of the steps which sell bottled water, snacks, paintings and even showpieces. On the summit is a cave that has the footprints of Guru Dattatreya, an incarnation of Lord Vishnu and also a large iron bell that is suspended from a wooden framework. The view from the top is something to behold for ever.
7) Brahmakumari Peace Park- Nestled between Achalgarh and Guru Shikhar on the way to Guru Shikhar, is this beautiful park maintained by the Brahmakumaris, a religious sect. The entry to the park is only allowed after you go through a small interactive orientation session given by a Brahmakumari practitioner. The park itself has a variety of flowers, plants, shrubs and trees and is a lush paradise. There is also a meditation cave and a hall that conducts laser shows propagating the preaching of the Brahmakumaris within the park.
8) Trevor’s Tank- On your descent back to Mount Abu from Guru Shikhar, Achalgarh and the Peace Park, before you reach the Dilwara Temples on the right side is the entry to the densely forested area of Trevor’s Tank named after the British engineer who built it. It is a great spot if you are a wild life and bird lover and has many vantage points from which you can watch the varied fauna in their natural habitat.
9) Adhar Devi Temple- Further down the road about 3 kms from the city is the Adhar Devi temple which is in a cave on top of a hill. There are 365 steps leading to the temple that is dedicated to an incarnation of Goddess Durga. The climb up the hill to the temple is quite exhausting but worth the effort.
10) Food- During our 2 days in Mount Abu, we sampled a wide range of cuisines in the hill station and we were not disappointed. The first day we had our lunch at the Kanak Dining Hall on the main road itself. It serves Gujarati, Rajasthani and Punjabi Thalis. We had Gujarati and Punjabi thalis. The food was good but a little too sweet for my liking. Our other trips induced by gastronomic reasons included a visit to the famed Sher-e-Punjab restaurant in the main market, Honest restaurant near Nakki lake, Sankhlaji’s Omelette stall opposite the bus stand and Cafe Cincini at the Hilltone Hotel. All of them gave us great pleasure but the Italian delights that Chef Arjun Singh at the Cafe Cincini conjured up were quite amazing to say the least.
After two days of full fun, we returned back to Udaipur with colorful memories of Mount Abu, our hill retreat for Holi, which we would cherish for life!