Mount Abu’s reputation as a honeymooners’ paradise does not fully do justice to the charms of this beautiful hill station nestled in the Aravalli Range. It actually has much to offer to all kinds of visitors, especially during the winter, when the sun is a friendly daytime star, and at night, when you can lovingly drape yourself in woollens.

To begin with, it takes something special to be a verdant hill station in a desert state. Then, there is the long history of Hindu mythology attached to the lakes, caves, temples and ashrams tucked away in these hills. Added to this, there are the more recent layers of Rajputana palatial and colonial architecture through which one can amble one’s time away. There are also dense evergreen forests and winding trekking trails vanishing into them, not at some unapproachable distance, but right in the heart of the hillscape. And most importantly, Mount Abu boasts of the world-renowned Dilwara Jain temples, where marble becomes rain, dew, fire, silk…leaving all but tourist guides speechless.

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Nakki Lake, a popular attraction, offers several activities for visitors
Nakki Lake, a popular attraction, offers several activities for visitors

Things to See & Do

Mount Abu sits around Nakki Lake, which, according to legend, the gods scraped from the ground using their nails. All roads lead to Nakki Lake, the town centre, around which sprawls a market. The Bus Stand and the Tourist Reception Centre across from it are among the first few landmarks as the town and the market begin. In the market, the Chacha Museum Chowk is where shared jeeps begin their shuttle route to the Dilwara Temples. The same road goes further to Achalgarh Fort, and a diversion from here leads to Mount Abu’s highest point, the Guru Shikhar Peak.

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An interesting rock formation in Nakki Lake
An interesting rock formation in Nakki Lake

Nakki Lake

Nakki Lake is the centre for most activities in Abu, and boating on the lake (there are motorboats as well as rowboats) is a must-do activity. Children enjoy it, and you get your holiday zing among those crowds. The area is also closely interspersed with forests, lakes and rocky terrain. Depending on the season, you can always have many quiet moments amidst the hullabaloo that defines this area.

Your best choice is to get here first thing in the morning as the lake area will be relatively empty; boating at sunset is more common. There are the usual rowboats and a few motorboats. There are even some boats shaped like swans which are great for a photo op, but you’re better off with a good paddle boat and a sound oarsman who, after the mandatory rounds and view of Toad’s Rock, can point out to you different birds by the shoreline (carry binoculars and a handy book on bird species). For that alone, it’s worth the effort of getting to the lake at dawn. Make sure to ask for lifejackets

Viewpoints

Mount Abu is rich in sightseeing points (some of which easily act as hiking/ trekking points). You can head towards Toad Rock (southwest of the Raghunathji Temple near the lake) or Sunset Point (2km southwest from town on Sunset Point Road); choose the latter for its lovely panoramic views. There is also an amusement park for children at Sunset Point, making it perfect for a family outing.

At Guru Shikhar, the highest peak (5,650ft) of the Aravallis, located 15 km out of town, one can enjoy majestic views of the range and can also visit a small temple dedicated to Dattatreya (Shiva). The forests surrounding these viewpoints are home to wildlife; avoid evening treks.

Dilwara Jain Temples

Originally called Devalwara, which means ‘home of the gods’, Dilwara village has a complex of five marvellous marble Jain temples built between the 11th and the 13th centuries CE. From the outside, the complex looks plain, but once you step in, you will find that the temples boast of breathtaking and intricate carvings on the pillars, arches, doorways and even ceilings.

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Intricate ceiling, Vimal Vasahi Temple
Intricate ceiling, Vimal Vasahi Temple

Vimal Vasahi Temple

Named after minister Vimal Shah of the Gujarat Solanki court, who built it in 1031, this temple is dedicated to the first Jain tirthankara Adinath (also called Rishabhdev). Each block of marble here – whether it makes a pillar or a ceiling slab – is carved with the kind of care, precision and detail with which one puts a thread in a needle. The pillars in the entrance portico and in the corridors surrounding the shrine have figurines carved with great detail of clothes, jewellery and even movement. Sixteen four-armed Vidyadevis preside on the pillars supporting the dome, each holding her own symbol. 52 smaller shrines in the corridor hold images of the tirthankaras. In the sanctum is a 57-inch-high icon of Lord Adinath cast in a brass-gold alloy.

Luna Vasahi Temple

Locally called the Devarani-Jethani Temple, it was built by two brothers who were ministers of a Gujarati Jain king in 1230. It is dedicated to the 22nd tirthankara, Lord Neminath. Its beauty is as awe-inspiring as that of the temple dedicated to the first tirthankara. The Luna Vasahi Temple’s main attraction is the gigantic inverted lotus that ‘hangs’ from its dome. The lotus is made of hundreds of delicate tiny marble petals that look as if they were made of luminous crisp paper.

Other Temples in the Complex

The Pittahara Temple, dedicated to Lord Adinath, was built in the 14th century. The Chaumukha Temple, made in the 15th century, is dedicated to the 23rd tirthankara, Parsvanath. It has a tall pinnacle, which sets it apart from the flat roofs and small domes of the other temples in the complex.

The Mahavira Temple is a small 18th-century shrine. You can see fading frescoes on its ceilings.

Timings for all temples Noon–6.00pm for tourists; 6.00am–noon for Jain devotees

Wildlife Sanctuary

Mount Abu has a wildlife sanctuary that spreads over 288sq km. During the months of March and April, the champa, jasmine, mango and khajur trees that give the animals a welcome respite from the oppressive heat are weighed down with blooms and fruit. The sanctuary then becomes a birdwatcher’s paradise, with more than 250 species of birds. Leopard, chinkara, sloth bear, wild boar and hundreds of langurs can also be seen here. The Tourism Department has identified nature trails that make for lovely hikes. Guides for the walks can be contacted through the Tourist Reception Centre. Nearby is a reservoir constructed as a memorial to the Britisher, Colonel Trevor. This is a great place for birdwatching too.

Entry Free Timings Sunrise–sunset Jeep/ car fee 120

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The ruins of Achalgarh Fort, built over 500 years ago
The ruins of Achalgarh Fort, built over 500 years ago

Achalgarh Fort and Temples The ruins of the Achalgarh Fort, built by Rana Kum bha of Mewar, watch over two temples from atop a hill . At the foot of the hill, the 15th-century Neelkanth Mahadev Temple lays claim to a toe impression of Lord Shiva. Perched some way up are the 16th-century marble Kantinath Jain temples, which emulate Dilwara in the quality of marble and sculpting.

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Jaipur House, a heritage hotel
Jaipur House, a heritage hotel

Where to Stay

Prices vary wildly in season and off-season, so call ahead to check the tariffs.

At the upper-end are heritage properties such as Palace Hotel (Tel: 02974-238673; Tariff: 7,900–14,200), the erstwhile Bikaner House, with beautiful grounds incorporating a lake. Cama Rajputana Club Resort (Tel: 238205-06; Tariff: 14,250–22,750) is 128 years old and has landscaped grounds. Near the Nakki Lake is the charming Connaught House (Tel: 238560, 235439; Tariff: 7,500), a Welcom Heritage property, with heritage rooms and a lot of antiques preserved from the days of the Raj. Hotel Hillock (Tel: 23846365; Tariff: 10,000–14,000), an upscale property, boasts of a great location and modern amenities. Jaipur House (Tel: 235176; Tariff: 3,500–6,500), located on a cliff over Nakki Lake, has the best views of Mount Abu.

Mid-range hotels include RTDC’s Hotel Shikhar (Tel: 238944; Tariff: 1,575–3,776) located opposite the Bus Stand. Mushkil Aasaan Guest House (Tel: 235150, Cell: 09824022565; Tariff: 1,500–2,500) on Delwara Road has an old-world charm and vegetarian food that must be had.

Shri Ganesh Hotel (Tel: 237292; Tariff: 800–1,800), located on the way to Jaipur House, has clean rooms and a restaurant. It is a favourite with backpackers.

Where to Eat

Try the heritage experience at the Palace Hotel, which serves Continental and Indian meals. For great food and views, visit the Jaipur House Restaurant. The market is full of dhabas (and Gujarati food), among which Kanak Dining Hall, near the bus stand, stands out. Near Chacha Museum, there’s a typical Sher-e-Punjab. There’s a Café Coffee Day here too.