THE PAST IS PRESENT

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Sonia Nazareth spends a day exploring Chittorgarh fort in Rajasthan, reliving its intriguing history

The spotlight on Chittorgarh – the city in Rajasthan known for its ancient honeyhued fort – shines bright. Not least because this Mewar stronghold, often described as the largest fort complex in India, was added to the list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites a couple of years ago. But even without these international endorsements, Chittorgarh has long captured the imagination of those who have visited it. Every structure brims with symbolic references to its intriguing past, driven by the power and valour that accompanied the lives of the Rajputs who flourished here.

Expectations suitably set, I take the two hour drive from Udaipur to Chittorgarh. My first thought, as I drive closer, is that I have travelled through time and am now part of a vintage painting. Spread over approximately 280 hectare is a  cluster of palaces, gates, temples and commemorative towers; some of these sprawl over a hill, from where the fort seems to be guarding the sleepy town of Chittorgarh. Amid these, water bodies pepper the landscape. Less significant in number than they once were but present nonetheless, they appear in the form of ponds, wells and stepwells. My guide points out the sparkling emerald-hued Gaumukh Reservoir, which is fed by a spring emerging from a rock formation resembling a gaumukh or a ‘cow’s mouth’.

As I step inside the fort premises, I realise that everything within the fort was created in preparation to fend off the enemy. The larger-than-life gates were constructed in such a way that adversaries couldn’t observe or attack the fort, even while perched on elephant-back. The pointed arches on the gates were sturdily reinforced to fend off elephants and cannon shots. These were a necessity, as the fort is known to have faced violent attacks thrice in its history. The intricate architecture and the enormous scale of the fort bear testimony to the power and valour of the Rajput princely states that flourished in the region.

The structures, some in ruins, lead us successfully through history – from Rana Kumbha’s Palace, one of the most massive  monuments of the fort, to the Tower of Victory, or the Vijay Stambh, where – if you’re energetic enough to climb the narrow stairs to the top – a grand view of the Meerabai Temple awaits. Designed in the classic North Indian style of temples, this shrine is associated with the 16th-century poetess, Meerabai. Queen Padmini’s palace is the next architectural treat. This exquisite palace is built on the banks of a lotus pool and has a pavilion that used to provide privacy to the women of the royal family.

The more time you spend in the fort, the deeper an insight you gain into it. For instance, the Tower of Fame, or the Kirti Stambh, is dedicated to the first Jain tirthankara, Adinathji (Adinatha). Nearby, the Kumbha Shyam Temple, constructed during the rule of Maharana (Rana) Kumbha, is built in the Indo-Aryan style popular in those times.

If you have a few extra hours in hand, drive to the nearby Bassi Sanctuary. It is a pleasant way to balance a day spent admiring architecture and history. The thicket of trees and a glorious sunset over the water bodies here provide occasion for meditative thought. If you happen to chance upon a flock of migratory birds, some curious wild boars or a nilgai, that’s an additional treat.

A fulfilling way to end the day is the sound-and-light show at Chittorgarh Fort. Here, as the historic buildings are illuminated and stories are retold, you’ll have time to reflect on the nature of bravery, the idea of chivalry and the cause of tragedy – predictable outcomes of epic adventures unfolding on a monumental landscape.

The author is an avid traveller and the views expressed in the article are her own

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