MOUNT ABU CITY

As Rajasthan’s only authentic hill station, MOUNT ABU (1220m) is a major Indian resort, popular above all with honeymooners who flock here during the winter wedding season (November to March) and with visiting holiday-makers from Gujarat, a short distance south across the state border, whose importance to Mount Abu’s economic health is evidenced by the myriad signs in Gujarati script which embellish almost every restaurant and hotel in town. Mount Abu’s hokey commercialism is aimed squarely at these local vacationers rather than foreign tourists, but the sight of lovestruck honeymooners shyly holding hands and jolly parties of Gujarati tourists on the loose lends the whole place a enchantingly eccentric holiday atmosphere quite unlike anywhere else in Rajasthan, and the fresh air is thrilling after the heat of the desert plains.

An attraction that depicts foreigners and Indians alike are the Jain Temples at Dilwara. Hidden in thick woodland north of the town, the temples are decorated with what is considered by some to be the most intricate marble
carving in the world. Anyone happy to rock hop and follow unmarked trails will also find plenty of scope for hikes and scrambles amid the granite boulders and wooded ridges high above the town, where dozens of tiny caves, connected by a tangle of dirt paths, shelter a transient community of semi-nomadic, chillum smoking sadhus – a reminder of the area’s great religious importance.

According to Hindu mythology, the focal point of Mount Abu, Nakki Lake, was formed when the gods dented away at the mountain with their fingernails (nakh). These days, the waterside is cluttered by far more pedaloes and icecream parlours than pilgrims, but the temple marking the site of the famous yagna agnikund – a powerful fire ceremony conducted in the eighth century AD, which Rajasthan’s ruling caste, the “twice-born” Rajputs, trace their legendary origins back to – at Gaumukh, 7km south of Mount Abu, still sees streams of devotees. In addition, around Mount Abu itself you’ll come across many white clad Brahma Kumaris, members of an international spiritual movement whose headquarters are situated in a quiet valley behind the lake.

In order to get most benefit from Mount Abu’s scenery and climate, it’s essential to time your visit carefully. During the crest months of April June, and at almost any major festival time (especially Diwali in November) the town’s thirty thousand population mushrooms, room rates skyrocket and peace and quiet are at a premium.

The steady stream of pilgrims and honeymoon couples ensures that Mount Abu has plenty of hotels, lots of them offering luxuries for newlyweds in special “couple rooms”. Though in low season you can live in stylish comfort for little more than you might otherwise pay for rock-bottom accommodation, prices rocket in high season (April–June & Nov–Dec), reaching their peak during Diwali (Oct & Nov).