The colorful state of Rajasthan is known worldwide for its forts and palaces. A lot of them have been restored or converted into heritage hotels, but a few still reside in the centuries they were built in. Crumbling here and there but still glorious, some of these forts and palaces make for an interesting visit. None more so than the Kumbhalgarh Fort – one of the grandest, most imposing, and most formidable forts in Rajasthan. It is also home to the Great Wall of India – and no, we didn’t just make that up! This crenellated wall is 36 kms long and encloses the fort. The local guides affectionately call it the Great Wall of India and claim that it is second in length only to the Great Wall of China. Walking on this wall will have you catching your breath – at the awe-inspiring views and in exhaustion from the grueling walk.
Legend has it that when Maharana Kumbha started the construction of this fort in the 15th century, whatever progress was made during the day would turn to dust overnight. The legendary Mewar king had designed this fort to be impregnable and majestic, but his plans would stay on parchment till he could get the construction going without hitch. That’s when a saint, Bhairon, approached him and told him that he needed a human sacrifice to get the walls of the fort started. Bhairon offered up his own life for the cause and was beheaded. The place where his head fell was where the main gate, Ram Pol, was constructed. And what a grand entrance it is! One of the seven gates of the fort, Ram Pol is flanked by gigantic towers and solid crenellated walls. A visitor only needs to cast a glance at this gate to understand the brilliance of using architecture as a defense strategy. The Great Wall of India starts off at Ram Pol.
The walls of the Kumbhalgarh Fort were designed to keep invaders out. Their magnificent strength, the strategic placement of the fort high up on a ridge of the Aravali Hills, the massive rounded bastions and the nooks and crannies on the battlements that were used to spot and attack the enemy – all these garnered the fort the reputation of being invincible. It took the combined strength and cunning of three armies to find a way over that wall – and that too, only by trickery; they poisoned the water supply of the fort during a siege, leading to surrender. The wall still stayed invincible and impenetrable.
Today, the wall stands almost as solid as it did in the 15th century. The 36 kilometers of it encloses the highest fort in Rajasthan. There are 3 palaces, 360 temples, and acres of forested land within its circumference. Maharana Pratap Singh, that brave Rajput king, was born within its confines. The wall has protected and sheltered countless Rajputs and has been a symbol of their steadfastness in the face of Mughal rule. The Kumbhalgarh Fort was declared a UNESCO world heritage site in 2013 and since then, the Rajasthan board of tourism and the ASI have painstakingly worked to eliminate the signs of decay. 15kms of the 36 kms of the wall are now open to the public.
Kumbhalgarh is located about 82 kms northwest of Udaipur. When you’re driving up to it, you’ll see the desert dunes giving way to fields and then eventually to the green, lush hills of the Aravali range. As you approach the Fort, the first thing you’ll see is the wall undulating across the ridge, much like a python snaking in protectively around the fort. The old stone battlements set against the lush greenery of the hills is a sight that sears itself into your mind. The area is now the Kumbalgarh Wildlife Sanctuary and the Fort and the wall are like the guardians to all the endangered species that freely roam the hills.
If you’re there for the express purpose of walking the wall, then let us give you a heads up. You need to be in peak physical condition to cover the 15 kms of the wall in one day. Even though the wall is wide enough at 15 meters to 25 meters in places – apparently 8 horses could walk alongside on it – there are enough undulations to make it much like an obstacle course. As the wall winds over ridges and swoops into valleys, the ascent and the descent is steep and if you’re walking it, you’ll have wide stairs to climb up and down. And of course, there are no rest places on the wall. It’s you against the elements.
But take heart. It has been done before and if you’re a trekking enthusiast, you can easily do it. If you’re not, well, there are lots of exit points from the wall that lead up the fort. There are forest trails that will take you from the wall to the fort but you’ll have to have a guide show you the shortest route.
Walking the Great Wall of India will be an experience that will stay with you for the rest of your life. A kilometer in, and you’ll have left all the tourists and locals behind. It will be just you, the forest spread out before you, the hills on one side and the dunes in the distance and this old, steadfast, invincible wall. The noise, the city, the people – everything will be far, far behind. The walk will be a physical challenge but a mental treat. You’ll be walking on an architectural marvel that has stood the test of time while surrounded by the most peaceful and awe-inspiring vistas. You’ll be walking on a wall that protected people for centuries and made their enemies shake their heads in despair. You’ll be walking on a fascinating piece of history. Remember to take your sunscreen with you though!
Where: 82 kms from Udaipur, in the district of Rajsamand, Rajasthan
How to get there: Take a flight or train to Udaipur and then hire a cab to take you up to Kumbalgarh.
Places to Stay: There are a few luxury heritage properties around Kumbalgarh but not many budget hotels are available in the area.
Tip: The Rajasthan Tourism Board organizes a heritage walk here every winter. For more details on the next walk, check out http://kumbhalgarhfortwalk.com/Default.aspx
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