KHUMBHALGARH CITY

The secluded hilltop fort of KUMBALGARH, 80km north of Udaipur, is the most formidable of the 32 constructed or restored by Rana Kumbha of Chittaurgarh in the fifteenth century. Protected by a series of seven thick ramparts, it was only successfully overwhelmed once, when an alliance led by Akbar poisoned the water supply. Aside from the impressive fortifications and the ancient monuments they enclose, the main reason to venture out here is to experience the peaceful Aravalli countryside. Winding through a string of tribal villages and picturesque valleys, the Udaipur road alone more than repays the effort, and once you have reached the top of the range the views are superb. The most memorable panorama of all is from the pinnacle of Kumbalgarh palace, crowning the summit of the fort – the finest views are from the Cloud Palace (which really does sit in the clouds during the monsoon) at the very top, restored and furnished by Udaipur’s Fateh Singh in the early twentieth century. The palace buildings themselves are plain and uninteresting, though if you like one of the resident staff will show you (for a tip) to the room where Udai Singh was raised by his nurse Panna Dhai after fleeing Chittaurgarh. From the rooftops, there are striking bird’s-eye views over the numerous Jain and Hindu temples clustered around the main gate and scattered over the hills below. The oldest are thought to date from the second century; the tombs of the great Rana Kumbha himself (murdered by his eldest son) and his grandson Prithviraj (poisoned by his brother-in-law) stand to the east.

Provided you’re equipped with good shoes and ample provisions, the best way to explore these more remote monuments is on foot, via the old walls. Some 36km of crenellated ramparts wind around the rim of the hilltop, and it’s possible to complete a circuit in two comfortable days, sleeping rough midway around. You won’t need a guide, but be sure to take food and water as there are no permanent settlements. Lining the deep valley that plunges west from the fort down to the plains, the Kumbalgarh Wildlife Sanctuary comprises a dense area of woodland which offers a refuge for wolves and leopards. With a local guide, you can trek through it to Ranakpur, a rewarding and easy hike of between four and five hours (the alternative is a long journey on an infrequent country bus). For entry to the sanctuary, foreigners need permits which are obtainable from the District Forest Officer at nearby Kelwara. Local guides can also obtain your permit for you – and stop you getting lost.

There’s a cluster of mid-range and top-end places to stay close to one another below the fort, though no budget options.