Kumbhalgarh, Great Wall of India
Which is the longest wall of the World? It’s The Great Wall of China. It was so easy, wasn’t it? And which is the longest wall of India?? Not so easy to answer. Well, it is in Rajasthan – the wall of Kumbhalgarh fort. The fort is surrounded by protective wall which is about 36 kms (22 miles) long and 10 feet broad. Kumbhalgarh is a Mewar fortress on the Aravalli Hills in the Rajsamand district of Rajasthan. Deemed as UNESCO World Heritage Site, it is second largest fort after Chittaurgarh. We visited Kumbhalgarh in December, 2016. But, it was not for fort alone but for Kumbhalgarh Wildlife Sanctuary that lies adjacent to it. The winter season in India is especially good for birding and we were not disappointed with what we experienced!
Udaipur to Kumbhalgarh
Our trip started from the royal city of Udaipur. Kumbhalgarh is about 100 kms from Udaipur by road. Before heading there, we spent two days exploring richness (both natural and man-made) of Udaipur. The city is a famous tourist spot for its forts, palaces and gardens and in recent times as a destination wedding hotspot. Very few nature enthusiasts visit this place. But Udaipur is the city of lakes and when there are lakes around, they provide the good habitat for birds – especially migratory birds.
We spent our next two days in bird-watching and visiting a few tourist destinations as well. One can spend four to five days in Udaipur only bird-watching. There are lakes such as Pichola, Fatehsagar, Swaroop Sagar which are good for bird-watching. After visiting the palaces, museums and gardens of Udaipur, we spent our major time on Lake Pichola on first day of our visit. We sighted some spot bill pelicans, common moorhens and lot of common coots. These coots are very easy to identify with the white spot that extends from their beak to the forehead whereas rest of the body is black.
Next day, early morning we took a round at Agriculture University which was just opposite to the homestay we were staying in. This campus had historical stepped well inside. One can spot some birds of open/small bushy areas such as lapwings, partridges along with moorhens. After having tasty, healthy and ample of Parathas made by our host, we headed to Kumbhalgarh. On the way to Kumbhalgarh from Udaipur one can also visit Haldi Ghati where Rajput King Maharana Pratap was martyred.
There are many differences between forts and palaces. In a simple way one can say that palaces are generally made by keeping beauty and pleasure in mind but forts are like strong protectors. One can hardly see lot of carvings or paintings inside. Attention is given more to the protection of the people and kingdom. When we speak about Kumbhalgarh , it had been a strong protector. It’s earlier name was ‘Macchhindragarh’ given after a village that used to reside nearby. It was built here in 6th Century during Maura age by King Samprati, due to the strategic location of the place. Later in 15th century Maharana Kumbha built it further to how it appears today. It served huge role in protection of this Sisodiya Rajput’s Kingdom. It was only once taken over by Mughals and some harm was done to the inner buildings. But, later Maharana Pratap again conquered from them. This is also a birth place of Maharana Pratap. The wall of the fort is 36 kms long and many places it is 10 meters wide. It is also made in three layers. Majority of the wall is walkable. But, at places it shrinks to one feet and also at certain places it is dangerously ruined.
There are many temples within the premises but, we visited only two of them. The Vedi Mandir complex is right at the entrance and behind it is a shiv temple which is interesting. Rana Kumbha was 7 feet tall and hence the Shivling inside the temple is 4 feet tall. Even the entrance of the garbhagriha is pretty tall as compared to the regular entrance that we see in other temples. The fort being 1100 metres above the sea level, it offers a spectacular view of the Aravalli hills. These Hills all-through acted as a constraint and checked the spread of Indian Desert towards eastern Rajasthan and Indo-Gangetic plains, till it remained green and well forested.
There is a lot more to talk about the architecture, history etc. But, one should visit this place and experience by themselves. Also, if you are an explorer then please avoid coming here in vacations and weekends as the place is too crowded by regular tourists during this time. We took a morning trek the next day and it was great. We saw the first entrance/ Pol (local word for entrance) of Kumbhal fort which remains unseen by regular tourists. In the evening we went to Machhali Talab nearby. Since it was evening time lot of mynas gathered around the trees inside and near the lake and started their synchronized flying which was disturbed by the marsh harrier, a bird of prey.
Kumbhalgarh Wildlife Sanctuary
The vast expanse of lush green forest in the Aravalli Range surrounding the fort has status of Kumbhalgarh Wildlife Sanctuary. And aptly so. We took early morning safari to visit this Park which is spread over 578 sq. kms. A typical safari route enters the sanctuary from the Kumbhalgarh Fort and cutting across the sanctuary it reaches Ghanerao, and then borders an old abandoned road.
The sanctuary is home to a very large variety of wild life, some of which are highly endangered species. The wild life includes wolf, leopards, sloth bear, hyena, jackal, jungle cat, sambhar, neelgai, chausingha (the four horned antelope), chinkara and hare. We were welcomed by spotted owlet which probably had worked a lot at night in search of food. It refused to come out of its tree hole. Just on peeping from that and staring us (Since there was no one else in the forest for safari). We saw a group of spotted deer, Neelgai, Sambhar and some birds such as dancing peafowl, treepie, drongo, prinia birds and jungle babblers.
Jawai Bandh and Lake Minar Bird-watching
Then it was a time to leave Kumbhalgarh and reach Udaipur. But, we took a detour and went to Jawai Bandh for evening bird-watching. It is located near Abu. We took photographs of Kingfishers, Openbill storks, egrets etc. These Eurasian Openbills have unique beak. A gap remains in the middle even if the beak is closed. We spent some time there and reached late in Udaipur. The Jain temple of Ranakpur can be covered on the way to Jawai bandh from Kumbhalgarh.
Next day morning again on the information provided by the host of our homestay, we went to Lake Minar which is on the way to the airport and about 1.5 hrs drive. But, it was worth visiting. It is a popular birding spot. It is a home for a large number of winter migrants such as Pelicans, Flamingos, bar-headed geese. The bar-headed geese fly to our land over Himalayas- the highest mountains in the world. Almost as high as jet planes!! For us it was difficult to move away from that place. But we had to leave and as we were leaving, a huge flock flamingos appeared in the sky. Their flying pattern and colours made us to stop even further for some time. Later after half an hour we left from there. Reaching back to our homestay – Raaga Home, a delicious breakfast was waiting for us like last time. And we finished it all within almost no time before packing our bags.
Oikoessence and Environment Awareness
Visit to Rajasthan is certainly incomplete without shopping. We indulged in shopping items created by locals whenever we had time. Bandhanis, razaees, quilts, dohars, mojrees, kathputhlis are few things one must look for while shopping in Rajasthan. On our way to the airport we again crossed Minar lake site. I just wished from the bottom of my heart that this site along with many such open areas and lakes should remain undisturbed. As these ecosystems are crucial for the survival of birds and ultimately to our survival. Looking at the way we are progressing (really?), day by day such natural habitats are getting wiped off. I really don’t know how we are going to get good water, clean environment, fresh air, pure pleasure and all our basic needs full filled without conserving such natural ecosystems?
Each and every ecosystem plays a vital role in human survival. We try to create awareness about environment and such crucial habitats by introducing them in a proper way to the general public through my venture – OikoEssence. Tourism has a lot of impact on natural habitat. So one has to be extra careful while visiting such places. Wherever possible we all can show our solidarity against any degradation of these natural habitats happening around us. We are doing it. Can you do that as well? We all can do our bit to keep our environment natural and healthy. If this happens then the day is not very far when we feel proud of our natural wealth as we are proud of our history. If these habitats are conserved then in true sense the Mewar’s pride will remain untouched.
Gauri Gurav is a botanist and naturalist based out of Mumbai. Having worked at World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF India), Gauri has expertise in bio-diversity (birds and plants species) and has extensive field experience in organizing nature camps. Currently, she runs her own venture Oikoessence – http://oikoessence.blogspot.in/