It's natural to love the heights, and with a geography as blessed as ours, we Indians sure like our hill stations and long driving trips along the Himalayan ranges and occasionally the coastal ranges and the lush hills down south. But when it comes to the Aravallis—among the oldest features on the face of the planet (they go back 350 million years)—that extend across four states and are responsible for a distinct western-flank topography of this region and the culture and food habits of the settlements thriving around it, exploration and travel remain sparse.
Encompassing a little under 700km, the range promises adventures and sights aplenty. Their picturesque outcrops are home to rich reserves of biodiversity that have unfortunately been subjected to ruthless exploitation and industrial mining in the past few decades. It is only when drives along the scenic landscape flanking these hills that the urgent need for their conservation becomes apparent.
We chalked out an Aravalli trail that'll help you plan your own road trip along the ancient range—or explore its different parts one at a time, not necessarily travelling along its massive length on a single trip.
Opener: National Capital Region
If you're planning to go north to south, the low-lying foothills of Delhi and Gurugram in the capital's southwest can be explored through the border forest area known as the Ridge close to Delhi University's North Campus. Talking of university campuses, most of the JNU campus comprises a pocket of the patchy Aravalli forest. The scrub forest of the Asola Bhatti Wildlife Sanctuary is another pocket of the ancient hill range.
In fact, a number of biodiversity hotspots in the capital offer surprisingly tranquil nature experiences (read our list here). Gurugram's Aravalli Biodiversity Park, spread over 154 hectares, is a great option for birding enthusiasts, with over 300 flora and around 200 animal species. It's also a cyclist haven and features in our list of the six best cycling routes in NCR.
Damdama Lake, also in Gurugram, off the Gurugram-Alwar Road, is an ideal weekend getaway from Gurugram. Just a two-hour drive from Delhi, the popular excursion spot is a go-to destination offering a precious view of the Aravalli hills. The lake fills up the Aravalli Valley while offering adventure sports such as Burma Bridge, trekking, ziplining, and the like. The lake is a popular weekend hangout spot that Delhiites often visit.
Rajasthan: The Meat of the Drive
Alwar could be a nice first step on your Aravalli trail as you enter Rajasthan. Home to a clutch of popular tourist spots including the supposedly haunted ruins of Bhangarh, the Hill Fort of Kesroli and the Sariska Tiger Reserve, Alwar offers plenty to the discerning traveller, including the pretty and hilly landscape marked by an abundance of verdure. The Aravallis are known as the Hills of Harshnath in Alwar.
The Moosi Maharani ki Chhatri offers splendid views that are paralleled perhaps only by the scenic location of Galtaji near Jaipur, roughly three-and-a-half hours away by road. Surrounded by the hills from all sides, the temple complex, built in the 15th century, is believed to also have been one of the sites where Tulsidas penned the Ramcharitmanas.
Read: Feeling Blue in Jodhpur
Hereon, one could either take the road often taken, and head for the Marwar stronghold of Jodhpur. It was here that two-desert sequence in The Dark Knight Rises, starring Christian Bale, was shot. Bale is said to have adored the location, and so do most travellers who come show up here. Just the name evokes images of majestic historical structures, cerulean settlements, bustling markets and delectable food. The 2020 streaming show Bandish Bandits was based and shot in the 'blue city'.
If you decide to journey to Sawai Madhopur instead, the erstwhile hunting preserve and present-day tiger reserve of Ranthambore offer a dip into some uninterrupted natural splendour.
From Sawai Madhopur, drive for about two-and-a-half hours to reach Bundi, which is set by the banks of the bounteous Chambal here. The sleepy but hallowed town that forms the setting of novelist Rudyard Kipling's Kim, is surrounded by slightly rolling Aravallis on three sides. If you're looking to spend a day or two at this rather underrated city, read our in-depth guide that also talks about neighbouring Jhalawar. Those with extra time can make their way to the other Hadoti city—Kota. If you're one of those who really liked the web show Kota Factory, check out why you must visit the city for reasons beyond those that make it Rajasthan's education hub.
Located in the Sirohi District, Mount Abu is the only hill station in Rajasthan, so to say, and provides alluring sights surrounded by lush forests, serene lakes, and temples with artistic architecture. Through its quaint havelis and fort-ruins, Mount Abu flaunts its rich culture and indigenous artistry. The perfect destination for adventure junkies, the hill station has several locations where tourists can camp, trek, and have stargazing nights. Situated on the Aravalli plateau, visitors can also explore the Mount Abu Wildlife Sanctuary, the Guru Shikhar Peak—which happens to be the highest point in the Aravallis (5,650ft)—Sunset Point, Trevour’s Tank Toad Rock, and Abu Road.
The Aravallis further extend into the south of the state, with Udaipur, the romantic destination par excellence in all of India, turning impossibly scenic during monsoon. Nestled in the arms of the hills, the white city, or the City of Lakes, Udaipur is also another Hollywood favourite, with films such as Octopussy and The Darjeeling Limited having been shot here. While in Udaipur, there is no dearth of tourist spots and scenic views. Once you're done with the routine palace tour, head for the Nehru Garden (Japanese Rock Garden) that is situated in the middle of Fateh Sagar Lake. But beware of the leopards!
The Kumbhalgarh Fort is another popular spot located 64 kilometres away from Udaipur, and set between the Aravalli mountain range. It is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, apart from being accorded the status of India’s very own Great Wall (36km). Kumbhalgarh also attracts both seasoned and beginner trekkers from far and wide every year.
No road trip along the Aravallis can be ever complete without a detour to oven-dry Jawai, where prehistoric outcrops shelter spotted beasts in their crevices and a host of other fauna, all of whom live in a rarely-seen-elewhere harmony with the local Rabaris. The Jawai hills, formed from cooled lava, harbour the highest concentration of leopards in the world, in their innumerable natural crevices that form a safe haven for the elusive animal. Even the unluckiest of wildlife watchers spot leopards within minutes of their first trip out into leopard country in Jawai. And the glamping!
Last Leg: Gujarat
Located in the state of Gujarat, Palanpur city is a mythological and religious spot with several shrines and temples. Surrounded by hillocks, the small town has a great view of the Aravallis. Lord Shiva’s temple from the Mahabharat period, Kedarnath Mahadev is about 50 kilometres away from Palanpur city and it is one of the major tourist attractions, situated at an elevation of 1,500 metres.