Chittorgarh is all about the romance of history. Where a less imaginative eye can see only a mound of rock, the artistic mind can find a glorious past etched on stone, a time when death was preferred to dishonour and swords clashed with alarming regularity. A magnificent fort watches over the town, defying the everydayness of the landscape with stories so incredible that only a thin line seems to separate fact from fiction.
Indeed, the story of Chittor is primarily the story of its 700-acre fort. Built by the Mauryas between the 5th and the 8th centuries, it fell in 734 to the Gehlot founder Bappa Rawal and was occupied for the next eight centuries by a succession of Rajputs and Gujaratis, with intermittent Muslim assaults. Having housed 70,000 people in its heyday, the fort is today more a 500-foot high colony than a monument. As a testimony to its origins and its many rulers, it’s littered with Hindu, Jain and Muslim construction, sometimes merged into one building. Chittor was the Sisodia capital of Mewar from the early 13th century until the Mughal Emperor Akbar’s conquest of 1567, at which point Rana Udai Singh decamped to the hills.
History, as warfare later comes to be glamorously known, having moved on, the beauty of this windswept swathe of eastern Mewar today lies in its quietude. Some people visit Chittorgarh as a day trip from Udaipur, but this is not recommended as you then spend half the day on the road. It’s best to base yourself in a resort in the countryside and then visit the fort, the villages, woodlands and temples nearby. From the city, you can drive up to the fort yourself or hire an auto in the main market.
Many battles were fought in and around this strategic bastion. The town faced three sieges. Today, the uphill road to the fort passes through various gateways, some with recognisably Gujarati elements. The tour begins with Rana Kumbha’s Palace, one of the fort’s most evocative sections and a model of Rajput architecture. Though Rana Kumbha didn’t establish the complex, during his long rule (1433- 68), he renovated and added to it considerably. Just inside the entrance, you can see where he used to sit and watch the sunrise and pray to Surya, to the tunes of musicians who were seated in the chhatri opposite.
Memories Of A Queen
Within the Zenana Mahal of the Kumbha Palace, the upper floors were knocked out by invaders—the better to view the lovely ceiling dome today. Around these chambers is an endless array of ruined maid servants' quarters, with stairways leading up to nowhere. Outside, there are faint traces of pink and blue paint on the walls and, when the sky is pure blue, you can imagine how stunning this place must have been.
Wander on to see where Mirabai spent much of her life as the widow of the young Sisodia prince Bhoj Raj. Little of this atmospheric building remains, but the view of the city of Chittor, all periwinkle blue houses with teal-green doors, is worth checking out.
The Diwan-i-Aam (the Hall of Public Audience) is essentially a tree-dappled lawn, at the end of which stands the Rana Sangha’s elephant chamber. The fort’s Jain population comprised accountants and bankers who worked for the Ranas, and they left their mark architecturally. Across the road from Rana Kumbha’s palace is a 15th-century Jain temple, Shanti Nath, built by Rana's accountant. It now represents an astonishing duality—a neat square, elaborately carved on all sides, capped with a simple Islamic dome. Nearby, in the 19th-century Fateh Prakash Palace, a museum houses weapons, sculptures, artefacts and some folk art pieces.