We had received some glowing endorsements of both Kumbhalgarh Fort and Ranakpur Temple from some travellers we had met in Pushkar, and after looking up some details online we realised we had to see both of them. Both are approximately 70km from Udaipur, and an expensive private taxi ride is the only practical way to see both in a day. Fortunately we befriended an English/Welsh couple staying at the same guesthouse as us who agreed to share our taxi, and consequently made the trip much more enjoyable and not too much of a budget-breaker.
The journey to Kumbhalgrah was really quite pleasant; the company was good (we got to learn a lot about dairy farming) and the scenery beautiful. As I have mentioned before, the countryside in Rajasthan is really quite desert-like. One of the most striking things about the region is that in contrast to the stark landscape, the clothing worn by Rajasthani people is fantastically bright; I had previously thought that clothing in India was generally bright, but it turns out that those colours were nothing compared to the near-neon red and orange colours favoured here. However, as we got closer to the fort and higher in altitude the scenery became much greener, and not dissimilar to some of the scenery in Kerala.
Unfortunately, as we neared our destination the mist descended (or, more accurately, we ascended into the mist, and so by the time we exited the taxi we could hardly see 10m in front of us. Kumbhalgrah Fort is a 15th century fort notable for having the second longest wall in the world at 36km (second, of course, to the Great Wall of China). We had read that within the wall there are over 360 temples, however as we entered we could barely see anything.
We took a guess as to which path to take and began our journey through the mist. The lack of visibility made it really quite fun – like we were exploring some sort of lost world. I half expected to come across a dinosaur, but this fella was as close as we got to that happening:
Periodically one of us would spot a building, but by the time the rest of us turned around to look the mist had often covered it back up. Fortunately the mist started to lift a little to enable us to see what looked like a giant dam, and some small temples (with some scary looking idols in one of them).
After quite some time we eventually stumbled upon an area with multiple impressive temples packed closely together. As there was no-one else around it felt a little bit like we were discovering them for the first time (how very thoughtful of the builders to install English language signs at the front of each temple in anticipation of our discovery!).
The mist continued to lift, and all of a sudden from the top of one of the temples we could see the huge, imposing fort itself in the distance. It very quickly dawned on us that, due to the mist, we had completely missed the unmissably-large fort as we walked only a matter of 100m away from it when we had first entered! We made our way back over to the fort, via a trip onto a small section of the fort wall (we didn't really have time for all 36km) and a few more temples, however by the time we got there we realised that we didn't have enough time to climb up to the fort and give ourselves enough time to get to and visit the Ranakpur Temple. Reluctantly we decided to miss out on climbing up to the fort, and reassured ourselves that it was probably more impressive from the outside (it being a more functional fort than the palace-forts elsewhere in Rajasthan) and the lingering mist meant that we wouldn't see much from the top.
30 minutes or so later we arrived at Ranakpur Temple, regarded as the most spectacular of the Jain temples. It looked pretty nice from the outside, but not quite as spectacular as we had hoped.
However, what we saw inside was really, really (really) special! Words cannot do the temple justice, but it can only be described as “a veritable forest of intricately carved white marble pillars interspersed with equally elaborate domed ceilings and the occasional marble elephant” (copyright Monique Z, 2013). It is really one of the most spectacular man-made things I have ever seen, and gives Ankor Wat a run for its money. I must have walked around the temple 10 times, and each time I walked into an area from a slightly different angle it was like I was seeing it for the first time; all of the solid marble pillars, walls and ceilings feature unique carvings, and hours could easily be lost discovering new features. The head priest took an interest in us and showed us around, pointing out a number of the most elaborate carvings and some interesting features. One interesting thing about Jain temples is that the Jains consider that only god is perfect, and consequently they deliberately make each temple flawed; in this case the flaw took the form of one very slightly crooked pillar.
Anyway, enough words, and on to the pictures:
After tearing ourselves away, we also visited a couple of other nearby temples. In any other company those other temples would have been considered spectacular, and the carvings are as good as any we had previously seen on this trip, but unfortunately for them they just paled in comparison to their big brother next door.
The local monkeys, however, seemed to prefer to hangout at these smaller temples. They also seemed to enjoy intimidating tourists by jumping out of trees and charging at them, grabbing at loose clothing as they pass. One of them also seemed to enjoy riding a stone lion on top of the temple.
Somewhat dazed by the truly spectacular things we had seen, we made our way back to Udaipur, collected our bags and made our way to the bus station for an overnight train to Agra. After this day-trip it looks like the Taj Mahal has some extremely stiff competition for the most impressive building in India!