Time to visit – Summer destination. Winters get very cold. Rains are not so heavy, so doable then as well.
Getting there – By rail – Aravalli Express leaves Mumbai at 9 p.m. and reaches Abu Road station at a convenient 10 a.m. Cabs to Mount Abu are available outside the station on hire. Costs 300 rupees for the half hour winding drive. We used Ummed Singh (98289 22692) who turned out to be quite helpful for the rest of the trip. By air – Closest airport is Udaipur. The other option is to travel via Ahmedabad, which takes about 6 hours by road. I am told the roads are excellent, (which also probably explains why roughly 70% of the tourists are Gujarathis)
Stay – We stayed at Hotel Udaigarh. This is located atop a steep driveway and hence does not attract too many huffing and puffing middle aged people with children. (It is another thing that we were also huffing and puffing after multiple climbs). Backpackers usually stay at Hotel Ganesh, where rooms cost Rs. 150 – 180. Mt Abu was choc-a-bloc with hotels, so there is no dearth of choice. Unless you are here during the peak tourist season (all school holidays) in which case it is better to book ahead. The cabbie told us conspirationally that tourists have been found forced to stay in the footpath.
To do –
The usual tourist round comprises Dilwara Temples, Nakki Lake, Achalgarh temple, Adhar Devi temple, Guru Shikar, sunset point and other places of increasingly lesser significance and attraction. A full day tour of these places by car would cost 800 rupees and a half day tour would cost 400 rupees (Ummed Singh is available for these). We chose to focus on a few
- Dilwara Temples – Definitely must see. Two of the five temples are so stunning that no amount of gaping at the intricately carved work on the marble is going to satiate your appetite for more. There is a free guided tour in Hindi frequently. You just hang around till you spot a large group being herded by a loud person and then join them. English speaking guides are apparently available outside the temple. The Hindi guided tour was useful in pointing out the statues which we were especially supposed to gape at. Otherwise they did not have anything further to add to what you would find on the net.
- Achalgarh Temple and fort – The temple has interesting myths around it but is not spectacular otherwise. The climb to the dilapidated fort is nice. There is a steep winding road, after which there are about 270 steps which takes half an hour to climb. You can get a great view of Mt Abu from here. Though I am told you can do even better in terms of view at the area’s highest point, Guru Shikar. Achalgarh’s peak has the merit of being practically deserted and free of tourists
- Trek – there are lots of tiny treks to choose from. Mr Champak (9414219013) from Hotel Ganesh took us on a 3.5 hour end to end trip based on our fitness levels and time availability. The top point of the trek had really stunning views of the entire countryside.
- Nakki Lake – This can equally morph into Kodaikanal Lake or Nainital Lake or ‘Lake in whichever commercialized hill station you can think of’. It had boating facilities, a lovely 3.5 km walking area around the perimeter and lots of crowds. It is pretty large and clean since drinking water supply to the town is from the lake.
- Sunset point – The point was jam packed when we got there almost an hour in advance of the sunset. It mostly had young men, dressed to the hilt in jeans and dark glasses and posing for ‘I am a cool dude’ snaps. The sun had almost set by the time we could peel our eyes of the antics of this crowd. Definitely not meant for a communing-with-nature experience but total paisa vasool if you want to have a good laugh at the vanity of youth.
To eat - Lots of places that serve yummy dal-batti and churma, the speciality of Rajasthan. I liked Jodhpur hotel near the Eiffel tower structure. Veena and Arbuda restaurants recommended by Lonely Planet were average.
To shop - Lots of Rajasthani print bed linen and joothis.
Others - This place is the global head quarters of the Brahma Kumari society. Expect to see a lot of people dressed in white wandering around. They run the Global Hospital which is spotlessly clean and very inexpensive.