There are certain places where merely your first footsteps transport you to the times of clanging swords, neighing horses, helmeted soldiers and kings whose stories are steeped in valour. One among them is the fort town of Kumbhalgarh.
Kumbhalgarh lies 182 km to the south-east of the princely city of Jodhpur. The fort is built on the Aravalli ranges, and its hero is Rana Kumbha. Its ramparts run for a length of 36 km, second only to the Great Wall of China.
The entry to the fort is quite dramatic; you have to go through numerous pols (arched gates). The story behind the fort's construction is quite mystifying. Rana Kumbha had planned to make the structure impregnable, but whatever he built crumbled so often that the king considered the fort jinxed. A hermit suggested human sacrifice to please the lords. When no subject offered his life, the hermit put himself up for sacrifice. Only, he demanded the first pol be built where his head fell and the main complex where his body finally dropped. The king kept his promise there's a small temple where the severed head landed and another on top of the fort at the point where the torso rested.
Generally, the main complex of a fort is built first, followed by its entrance at the base. But this fort was built in the opposite manner.
Simplicity is the key
The builders had no time for intricate designs. The living quarters of the king, although strategically located to get an all-round view, is simple. There is a small temple on the way up, where the king paid obeisance before going to battle. There are also Jain temples inside the complex, which predate the fort by several centuries. Lore has it that the queen of the ruler of Jodhpur was so fascinated by Rana Kumbha that she left to meet him. Her husband became enraged and banished her from the kingdom. Soon Rana Kumbha mediated between them and offered the king a part of Mewar as a sign of the brotherly affection he felt for the queen.
There's a beautiful Shiva temple at the base with a four-foot lingam. They say that the king could sit cross-legged and still offer prayers to the deity quite easily, overlooking the fact that he would have to be at least eight feet tall to accomplish that!
Our guide then sombrely told us that Rana Kumbha was assassinated inside this very temple by his son Udai Karan. The fort is also the birthplace of Rana Pratap; the room where he was born still exists.