By Sutapa Basu
The hot sunlight was welcome after the eerie vibes. Down below, at the foot of another flight of stairs that disappeared into the still waters, a spring gushed out of a hidden crevice in the cliff wall.
‘Gomukh kund?’ my husband asked. ‘Why is it called that?’
Pushkar pointed to stone structure half-hidden under a roof, ‘The spring water falls from the mouth of a rock devised like a cow’s head and so the tank is called Gomukh kund.’
The stream fell with force on a black stone Shivling and filled the large natural tank. ‘Gomukh kund is the largest water body in the fort. Nobody knows the source of the spring but over all these centuries, its water has never depleted,’ said Pushkar. ‘In fact, Chittorgarh originally had 84 natural tanks, sarovars, kunds and baolies. It was said its water could keep an army of 50,000 soldiers for a few years. Now only 22 of them remain.’ A few people were getting ready to take dip where the water flowed from the Shivling. We decided to move on.
Passing the Kalika temple built upon an old Surya temple, we stopped at the most popular spot in the fort…the palace of its legendary queen, Padmavati. The garden surrounding it called Padmini Udyan had throngs of visitors. Despite the many legends of Chittor, hers is the most alluring. We entered the lovely rose gardens, walked along a corridor with cupped balconies and came upon a graceful cupola or chattri. From that vantage point a wondrous sight opened up before us. Facing us, floating in a lake was a small white palace. ‘Jal Mahal, Rani Padmini’s palace,’ said Pushkar with a flourish, like a magician pulling out a rabbit from his hat.
It was certainly a magical spectacle and instantly I wanted to know, ‘Where is the mirror in which Allaudin Khalji saw her reflection?’
‘Alas, I can’t show it to you.’ He pointed to a padlocked door. ‘The Karni Sena hooligans broke the mirror a few months ago and ransacked the room. Now it has been locked by the police.’
‘Oh yes,’ said my husband, ‘We read of their protests against that Bollywood film.’ It is so sad that now goons are taking over our beloved heritage places and destroying valuable antiques.
But Pushkar did describe the historical sighting by the Sultan. Apparently, the padlocked door led to a verandah that was open to the lake. The mirror had been placed high on the wall opposite the lake so that it reflected the steps of the palace where the glamorous queen sat. The Sultan had been blindfolded and brought up here. After he was placed before the mirror, his blindfold was removed. When he looked into the mirror, due its position he could only see the head of the queen rising from the waters like a nymph. He had been spellbound by her exquisite loveliness. While the Sultan stared mesmerized at her reflection, swords were held to either side of his neck. If he even tried to turn his head a little, the sharp blades would slash him. Myths say that Alauddin became so bewitched by the spectacular queen that he refused to lift the siege of Chittor without attaining her.
Intriguing, to say the least!
Leaving this beautiful palace , we settled down for a drive around the circumference of the fort. Chittorgarh is oval like the shape of fish and covers about 700 acres. A road circumvents its 13 kilometre perimeter. On the way we came across another tower, the Kirti Stambha. This is a 72-foot tower completely embellished by beautiful sculptures and adorned by Jain figures. Built by a Jain merchant, probably in the 12th century, it is dedicated to Adinath, the first Jain Tirthankar. It is older than the Vijay Stambha and at the lowest of its six levels there are carved figures of all the tirthankars, each nestling in its own niche.
We noticed that the ramparts on the eastern side of the fort were more ravaged than the front walls. On asking Pushkar, we got to know that the fort was mostly attacked from this side. In fact, the plains at the base here were especially meant to engage the enemy. That would protect the plains below the front ramparts because those were the agricultural lands of the farmers from the fort and a source of food for its inhabitants. Even now, there are many villages inside the fort. Most of foliage in the fort region was scrub and kikar or acacia trees but there were a lot of custard apple orchards too. We passed by the famous Bhimlat Sarvor and reached the eastern gate of the fort called Suraj Pol. There was a tiny temple here and usually the royalty who belonged to the Suryavanshi lineage would come here to worship the rising sun.
Stepping out of the gate, we observed the same pointed arches on the massive wooden doors. The ramparts were lined with notches for the archers and there were slits with channels along the walls for the defenders to pour boiling oil on the attacking foes. The road from this gate leading down to the plains was in complete ruins and impassable.
Finally, our cab turned the corner and there was Ram Pol before us. We had completed the tour of one of the largest forts in India that is also an UNESCO World Heritage site. As the cab wound down to the small town of Chittorgarh, I noticed a few small hotels and some state government tourist houses. So it did have decent if not luxurious places for tourists to stay.
On Pushkar’s insistence, we visited an emporium of an NGO run by Mahender Singh Mewar, the elder brother of the present ruler, Maharana Arvind Singh Mewar. It showcased and sold textiles made from natural plant fibres, handmade silver artifacts and leather goods crafted by the Bhils and other local tribes around here.
It was nearly evening when we handed over a few rupees more than his fees to the smiling Pushkar and sped off towards Udaipur. Contentment oozed out of us as we leaned back against the cab seats. As we recollected the gamut of emotions that we had experienced throughout the day from astonishment to wonder to the bizarre to admiration and enthrallment, we were convinced that as a destination place, Chittorgarh is an unforgettable and a must-do tour on the map of Incredible India.