We smiled at the stories narrated to us about Achalgarh. The first one was about a bull that drove away an army; another about three demons that turned into buffaloes; a lake said to have been filled with clarified butter (ghee) for rituals and the last about the temple covered in lime to make it look unattractive.
We reached this temple unwillingly. We had a day free at Mount Abu and were in the mood to explore, so we headed out for the tourist circuit, trusting our driver to take us to some interesting places. Achalgarh turned out to be the first on his list.
As we headed along roads with farms interspersed between the mountains, with scarcely a person to be seen anywhere, I wondered about the place we were going to. I had heard a bit about Achalgarh before we started, and knew it had once been the capital of the area. The name indicated the presence of a fort (‘-garh’ is usually for fort), but our driver told me that there was no fort there. “There is only a temple”. My enthusiasm drooped at the idea of visiting yet another temple, but we were already on our way. So, there was no turning back.
Our arrival at Achalgarh seemed to confirm my worst fears – all I could see were the temple entrance and the vendors selling flowers and sweets for offering to the Lord. “Just another temple,” I thought. But a young boy appeared and asked us if we wanted a guide. At that moment, all we wanted was to be done with the temple and go elsewhere, but something in his manner and the way he spoke made us engage him.
The first thing we saw as we entered was a huge Nandi (a bull known as the Lord Shiva’s vehicle)
The temple is dedicated to lord Shiva, and, as we waited for our turn to enter the temple, we listened to the legends surrounding the temple.
The oddest and probably the unique aspect of the temple is absence of a typical lingam (phallic symbol of Shiva). Rather, there’s a toe print of Lord Shiva on a stone! It is believed that when the earth was undergoing one of the massive upheavals in its early days, Lord Shiva pressed it with his toe to stabilize it. This legend draws a huge crowd of devotees to this temple, but more interesting is the legend of the Nandi.
The Nandi is made of Panchaloha – an alloy of 5 metals – and is said to weigh about four tons. There seems to be no reference to which king had it made and installed in the temple, which is a pity. The Nandi is accompanied by a sage, whose name is unknown too, but it is possible that he might be the guru or the preceptor of the Mewar Rajputs. Now the story…
It is said that the fort was once attacked and captured by the Mughal invaders, who next turned their attention to the temple. As they approached to ransack the temple, a swarm of bees emerged from the Nandi, and attacked the Mughal forces, which fled in terror. The bees are said to have emerged from a tiny hole near the knee of the Nandi. Take a closer look at the pic, and you can see the hole.
The Mughal ruler repented his actions and installed a trishul (trident) here to seek forgiveness from the Lord. I asked our guide what had happened to the fort then, but he had no idea. Such is Indian nature – legend prevails over history.
The temple is a beautiful structure in marble. It was impossible to miss the delicate and intricate carvings. Some idols were also placed aside, as if they had fallen, and it was only when I enquired about them did I learn about the locals’ efforts to preserve the temple.
The Mughal invasion seemed to have scared the rulers of Achalgarh and they abandoned the fort and rebuilt their capital elsewhere. They were afraid of another attack on the temple, and so they devised an ingenious idea to protect it. They covered the whole temple in lime so that the beauty would not be visible.
The temple seems to have been left in that state until the late 1970s when one of the visiting members of the royal family happened to notice the presence of marble under the lime. He then began the restoration of the temple, and over years, the marble blocks with their intricate designs began to appear. Now, after all that painstaking repair, the temple looks the way it was intended to, and presents a beautiful contrast to the approach and the surroundings.
As we finished the temple tour and headed towards our car, our guide called out to us, telling us that we weren’t done: “You need to see this”. Next to the temple was a huge expanse of sunken land, one I thought was a dried up lake.
This was the Mandakini, once believed to have been filled with ghee for the rituals conducted at the temple. It is said that the king performed such long and tedious sacrifices here that this whole pool had to be filled with ghee to last for the whole period of the rituals. Today, there is not much left here, not even water. There are just a few ruined shrines scattered all along its periphery, making me wonder if it was, indeed a pool for ghee or a temple pond.
Walking along the side of the pool, we listened to yet another story – this one about a trio of demons who took the form of buffaloes and drank up all the ghee in the Mandakini. The king’s soldiers tried to get rid of them, but to no avail. At last, the king himself arrived and with a single arrow, managed to slay all three at once. And the three buffaloes at once turned to stone. Sounds intriguing, right? They have a proof, too. There are three statues of buffaloes standing in a single file near the pool, each with a corresponding hole in the side, as if an arrow had just passed through them.
Only as we stood by the Mandakini were we aware of the erstwhile fort built here in the 14th century by Rana Kumbha. Not much remains of it. All we can see are some walls and gateways in a bad state, and over the hill, we could see the part of the walls, which enclose the remaining Jain temples. People still visit the Jain temples, which like all temples in the area, are built in marble with intricate detailing. There are also other shrines and caves on the hill – caves believed to have been homes to great saints. We, however, were in no mood to climb the hill in the sweltering heat of summer, and decided to turn back.
As we approach the parking lot, I turn back for one last look, I can see the ruins of the fort clearly amidst the trees, with the mountains forming a backdrop, and I can almost imagine what a place it must have been, to give rise to such legends.
Achalgarh is located about 11 Km from Mount Abu. Achalgarh is a small village with no tourist amenities, and is about half an hour drive from Mount Abu. Plenty of vehicles are available from Mount Abu for visiting Achalgarh, which is part of the tourist circuit.
Mount Abu is the only hill station in Rajasthan, located about 1219 m above sea level.
Nearest Railway Station: Abu Road – 28 Kms – is well connected, with plenty of trains from Mumbai and Delhi, as well as other cities in Rajasthan.
Nearest Airport: Udaipur – 185 Km
By Road: Delhi – 712 Km, Ahmedabad – 231 Km,Jaipur – 454 Km, Mumbai – 835 Km
There are plenty of options for accommodation at Mount Abu, from five star and Heritage hotels to budget hotels and lodges.