Mount Abu in Rajasthan may not qualify as a cool hill station for those used to the imposing Himalayas or the diverse Western Ghats, but it merits a place in the honours list nonetheless.
Mount Abu may be a little infamous for attracting weekend tourists looking for a drink from nearby Gujarat, the only state where prohibition continues till date. Overlook that, and you have forests, moderate weather, religion and adventure all thrown into one. At the end of a day of sightseeing, go to one of the sunset points and enjoy the views of the skies changing colours even as the valleys below come under a shadow for the night.
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Design and sculpture rarely get finer than at these Jain temples – every nook and corner seems like a labour of love and skill. The temples are so called because one’s heart, or Dil, has gone into making these says the guide. The oldest structure is the Vimal Vasahi temple built by Vimal Shah, a minister to the Bhima Dev I, the Solanki ruler of Gujarat. Work started in 1031 A.D. and took 14 years to complete at a cost of Rs. 185 million at that time; 1500 artisans and 1200 labourers were employed for the purpose. Walk around to marvel at other creations including the Hastishala (Elephant Cell), Luna Vasahi Temple, Pittalhar Temple and Parshwanath Temple all built over a 500 year period.
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The highest point in Rajasthan at 1,723 metres (5,653 feet), Guru Shikhar is located 15 kilometers (10 miles) from Mount Abu. With a temple and ancient cave for Lord Dattatreya, believed to be the sixth incarnation of Lord Vishnu, this location is never short of devotees. Or picnickers. Offering 360 degrees picturesque views, you can also shop for tourist souvenirs here while munching on cheese or butter flavoured special ‘American Sweetcorn’ as advertised by vendors. If you are seeking miracles, go to the ‘miracle’ cave of Santoshi Maa. If your back and joints are in constant pain, you can buy Mal Kangni oil or Salamushi, a vegetable grown locally. Selling at fifty rupees a pack, it promises to ri d you of all trouble within fifteen days. Try at your own risk though.
‘Chai mein patti nahin to pine ka kya maza, saath mein Ravi guide nahin to ghoomne ka kya mazaa’ (Just like tea is no fun without tea leaves, it is no fun to roam around without Ravi guide) is how the 12 year old guide Ravi sells his services the moment you reach Achalgarh. With a promise to narrate more poetry at the end of the tour of the fort and temples which can take half a day or more exploring. The fort, now more of a ruin, was built by Raja Kumbha in the fifteenth century.
The place is visited more for its religious spots though. You have the Achaleswar Temple where the toe of Lord Shiva is worshipped. And the 500 year old Jain temples of Lord Adeshwar with 14 imposing statues made of gold and five other metals. As you explore the area, possible only on foot on inclined terrain, you can visit the temples of Chamunda Devi, Mahakali and Meerabai as well as the Gopichand Raja cave and the Shravan Bhado pond. Each with their own legend to tell.
Mount Abu is one of those towns whose identity is linked to their lakes. Legend says the Nakki Lake was dug out by the Gods using their nails, or Nakh, and hence its name and religious significance. It is another matter that the lake is used more for boating than a holy dip. The attached food kiosks and lawns ensure you have a good picnic here. The clean and pristine lake make boating a pleasure. If you come early morning you can even spot many species of birds.
Forests and Green Cover
If you are seeking a date with a Hyena, Leopard, bear or a Chinkara, head out to Mount Abu’s wildlife sanctuary. Even if you don’t spot any of these animals, you are sure to see one of the hundreds of languor monkeys or over 250 species of birds. Mount Abu is surrounded by forests, and these seem to be on a recovery path after stringent laws put a check on rampant deforestation. The green cover is a pleasure to the eye and the soul, and also allow one to chart their own hiking course. The trails are not very well defined though and you may want to take a guide along to avoid losing your way.
Some act of nature seems to have given Mount Abu and the surrounding hills an abundance of strange looking rock formations. The most prominent one is the Toad Rock looking like a toad ready to plunge into the Nakki Lake. You have others in various shapes resembling some life forms like a skull or even versions of modern art. It is almost as if these were hand made; perhaps the Gods decided to get creative after creating Mount Abu as the legends go. A traveller can make a game out of spotting and clicking pictures of these rocks to come up with the best collection of all.
Mount Abu: Travel Tips
• Best time to visit: You can visit Mount Abu any time of the year, but it can get hot in the summers. Maximum temperature is 35 degrees Celsius while it can drop to about 8 degrees Celsius at night in winters. Monsoons from July – September can be beautiful.
• Accommodation: There are enough places to eat and stay for all budgets – from basic to luxury.
• Getting there: By air to nearest airport in Udaipur (207 kms / 130 miles); by train to Abu Road (29 kms / 18 miles) or by road on excellent highways.
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