Mount Abu located on the Aravali Hills at a height of 1220 metres, is one of India’s busiest hill stations throughout the year. While winter is the best time to visit the hill station, even in summer, to get away from the searing heat of the plains, hordes of visitors make a beeline to Mount Abu not only from Rajasthan, but also from Gujarat. The presence of a number of ancient temples that include the exquisite Jain Temples of Delwara, also makes the area a major pilgrim centre.
This charming hill station was discovered in 1845, when the British decided to create a hill station among giant outcrops surrounded by scrub-covered hills. The entire region was the property of the Maharao of Sirohi, from whom the British Government leased the hilly area to create a summer resort for British Resident of Rajputana. High posts were erected to demarcate the boundaries of the leased area, which can still be seen on top of the hills. The British built private cottages, bungalows, churches and a polo ground and in 1947, it was formally listed as a hill station, when 60 British families escaped from the cooler climate of Mount Abu.
The Rajput royal families were quick to see the advantage of finding a cool retreat in their own region and built palatial residences high up on the hill tops. The most notable among the royal homes is the Bikaner Palace—now a deluxe Palace Hotel—designed by the famous Swinton Jacob during the reign of Maharaja Ganga Singh. The Bharatpur Palace is now also a hotel and is known as Hotel Sunrise Palace. The Jaipur Palace located high up on the hills, lay empty for many years. There huge Limdi Palace that dominates the skyline also lay unfinished for many years. The busiest is the Alwar Palace, which has been a school for many years. The Sirohi Palace is among the only royal residences that is regularly used by the royal family.
The name Abu is said to be derived from the name ‘Arbuda’, the powerful serpent who rescued lord Shiva’s mount, ‘Nandi’ the bull. Many Hindu sages are said to have had their retreats on Mount Abu—the most famous being ‘Vashishta’ who is said to have performed a ‘yagna’ (a sacrificial fire) to regenerate the human race. It is said that the four ‘Agnikula’ (born of fire) clans of Rajputs—the Solankis, the Chauhans, the Parmars and the Pratihars were born of this fire ritual. Between the 11th and 13th centuries, the Solanki dynasty of Gujarat, whose territory included parts of Rajasthan, built the splendid marble Delwara temples.
Mount Abu is covered with gigantic and weirdly-shaped rocks, that have curios indentations as though giant fingers have left finger marks while kneading dough. Between these huge rocks grow date palms and flowering trees. At the centre of Mount Abu is a lovely lake surrounded by a road , known as Nakki Lake—a name derived from a legend that says, the Gods had dug out the lake with their fingernails. Surrounded by rocks, parks, picnic spots and temples, the Nakki Lake is known to never turn dry. The pleasant 4 mile walk around the lake is very popular with tourists, as is the restaurant built like a big launch, for refreshments after the long walk.
A Polo Ground created by Maharaja Sawai Jai Singh of Jaipur in 1894, is known as Trevor Oval and a plaque says it is dedicated to Col G H Trevor, Agent to the Governor of Rajputana. A plaque at the pavilion (now also a library) adds that the “work being one of magnitude, as well as public utility, the funds required for it amounting to Rs 75,000 were kindly contributed by Chiefs in Rajputana”
There were two churches built at Mount Abu - the first being the Anglican St Lawrence Church which has interesting stained glass windows and carved pews. Built in 1846, its name has now been changed to St Saviours Church. Close to this church is the tiny museum and art gallery built as recently as 1966. Being part of the Governor’s residence, the main gate of the museum has remained closed for decades. Visitors to the museum should remember to go to the Entrance located at the back of the building. Here in the small garden there are a large number of stone carvings – mostly damaged but still worth seeing. Inside the museum there are some splendid pieces excavated from nearby Amravati, Varmana and Achalgarh. These are mostly made of granite while some others from the Delwara region are made of marble ranging from the 8th to 12th century.
Among the many temples at this hill station, we begin with the Adhar Devi Temple carved out of a huge rock, situated high up on a hill, from where a splendid view of Mount Abu may be seen. The temple can be reached by climbing 306 steps, where the image of Devi Arbuda lies within a cave. The Achalgarh Fort is in ruins, but the Mandakini water tank with steps leading down to it is still intact. The tank is empty but it has three life-size granite images of buffaloes that are well worth seeing, as well as a splendid image of an archer lying next to the dry tank. Next to the tank is the temple to Achaleshwar Maharaj, another name for Shiva. The deep hole that worshippers pay obeisance to goes down to the very centre of the earthand was created when Shiva decided to make a mark on the face of the earth with his thumb. The main temple has ornately carved pillars and a brass Nandi bull near the entrance—an object of worship as well as a popular backdrop for photographs.
One of the most important spots for visitors is the Gaumukh Temple, reached by descending 700 steps, located next to sage Vashishta’s ashram. Here a stream gushes out of the mouth of a marble cow - from whom the temple’s name is derived. This is said to be the spot where the four agnikula clans of Rajputs were born after an ordeal of purification by fire. He there are also shrines to Vishnu in his reincarnations as Ram and Krishna.
That Col.Trevor was highly respected by the Rajput Chiefs is apparent from the name given to a Reservoir – ‘Trevor Tal’ This splendid reservoir was built by the Maharao Shri Keshri Singh Bahadur of Sirohi at a cost of Rs 34675, as a memorial to Col Trevor. The reservoir surrounded by natural rocks and a hilly forests has since become a sanctuary to a large number of animals—panthers, sloth bear, sambar, nilgai, jungle cats, wild boar and monkeys are all found there . if one is lucky they may be seen coming for a drink of water after sunset.
Watching sunsets is one of the favourite activities by visitors—the highest point in the Aravalis and Rajasthan is Guru Shikar 1772 metre high and 15 km from Mount Abu. Sunset Point finds tourists photographing the setting sun and at Anadra Point, now commonly known as Honeymoon Point, there is an unparalleled view of the valley and plains below.
Mount Abu with its invigorating walks on gentle slopes, without traffic, a climate pleasantly cool in summer and crisply cold in winter is an ideal holiday destination for all ages.