Bearing the unique distinction of being the Rajasthan desert’s only hill station, Mt. Abu emerges from the sweltering desert as a cool oasis. With its picturesque lake, famed sunsets, and abundance of temples, it is a favoured tourist spots for people across India. For many, it is where they will spend one of the most awkward weeks of their lives. Nearly 90% of all Indian marriages are arranged ones. As a popular honeymoon spot, Mt Abu is filled with shy girls with intricate mehndi and their new husbands studiously avoiding eye contact or taking posed and costumed pictures in front of Mt. Abu’s many vistas. Young men bent on drinking binges away from watchful parents, families and the religiously devout all brave the curving roads and overcrowded buses to enjoy Mt. Abu’s delights. With their white bangles covering their arms from elbow to shoulder, sharply filed teeth, and elaborately embroidered and mirrored clothes, the local Rajasthani women fill the place with colour and light. As popular as it is with locals, Mt. Abu has yet to make it on the foreign tourist checklist. As a foreigner, you’ll soon find yourself the main attraction. It’s a brief flash into the life of the celebrity, with complete strangers vying for pictures, handing you babies and asking for your autograph.
Mt. Abu is famous for its many temples and religious sites. There’s Peace Gardens for mediation, ashrams for pray and contemplation, temples for pooja and religious schools for study. Elaborate temples and schools serving the Brahma Kumaris, Jainists, Hindus and more esoteric sects abound. From the ancient Dilwara to the modern Madhuran, the temples and schools are a part of daily life. People clamour for blessings, children play and incense fills the air. The Dattatreya temple is a tough climb in the heat of the day. While its more sensible and tempting to start early, the thick morning fog obliterates any view. Remember that the temples are still active places of worship and be respectful. The markets surrounding the temples give the unfortunate impression capitalism is the greatest god here. Many spend more time haggling over the intricate Rajasthani bangles than heeding the priests!
Nakki lake is nestled into between the hills. Young couples paddle together on swan boats, as families and friends row past admiring the surrounding mountains and Maharaja Jaipur Palace. Ancient Rajasthani men with bushy mustaches and calloused feet push squealing and giggling grown-ups down hills in “Rajasthani Helicopters’- oversized prams to the uninitiated! There’s a famous market nearby which is filled with temptations. It feels remarkably like an English seaside town- down to the penny arcade, softie ice cream stands and questionable magicians! The shops themselves tell a completely different story. Aimed at the abundance of Indian tourists, they offer an impressive range of exquisite sarees, costume jewelery, bedspreads and fluorescent-bright pictures. Heading away from the Nakki lake market you will encounter the Main Market filled with street stalls and more expensive shops filled with exquisite Rajasthani designs. Follow the other paths to a Tibetan market or the local market. All twisting alleyways, delectable sweetshops and tiny tea stands, the local market is well worth exploring and is considerably cheaper than the lakeside area. Get into holiday mode and enjoy an illicit beer by the lake, pose with the replica Eiffel Tower and pick up some stunningly beautiful or uniquely tacky gifts for friends.
Located 5km from the town centre, Gohmuk is a popular ashram and picnic spot. While taxi services will get you there in an overpriced flash, a leisurely walk will let you work off all the sweets and offer some stunning photo opportunities. Mt. Abu rises out of the Rajasthan desert offering views of the harsh landscape, lush forests, ancient rocky outcrops, villages, temples, and more. Bring plenty of water as it is a steep climb with little shade until you reach the top of the hill. From the top of the hill, descend the 750 steps through the forest to the ashram. Enjoy the cool forest air, the impressive views and know that what awaits you at the bottom is worth the walk if only for its eccentricity. Overcome your inhibitions and enjoy a cool drink of sacred water or explore the temple. Look out for the langurs which inhabit the places as well as leopards, scorpions and sloth bears! The walk to Gohmuk is just one of the many hikes in the area. There are a variety of tour companies that arrange everything from rock climbs to gentle walks, many in the Mt. Abu Wildlife Sanctuary which covers part of the mountain. Take the usual precautions and enjoy exploring the unique landscape.
The shopping down, the gods appeased and the photos snapped, the world and his newly acquainted wife gather on the mountain’s slopes to watch the sunset. Famous across India, Mt. Abu’s sunset attracts hundreds of people every evening. Arrive early for a good seat and enjoy the freshly grilled sweetcorn, sweetly spiced chai or some chili’d chickpeas as you wait. Watch Henna tattoo artists create beautiful works of art or take a short ride on a bedazzled horse. Depending on the time of year, the sunset doesn’t always live up to expectations. For many, the Mt. Abu sunset holds such religious significance that simply being there is enough to fulfill a dream.
Arrive at Abu Road Train station early and visit the market. With its wide selection of Rajasthani clothes, esoteric shops, and tropical fruits, it’s the ideal beginning or end to your Mt. Abu trip. With its pleasant climate, it’s easy to see why Mt. Abu is such a popular summer haven from India’s more drastic climes. It does get wet during Monsoon season and, while cooler than the rest of the area, is still hot during the day. Bearing in mind it is a desert and temperatures will drop drastically at night. During winter, temperatures may fall below freezing during the night. Rain or shine, enjoying a cup of Rajasthan’s famous masala chai is always the perfect way to shelter from the elements. With its surfeit of newlyweds and priests, Mt. Abu is a wonderfully eccentric place to experience a different way of tourism. Whether its nature, culture, shopping or sport you’re after, Mt. Abu is more fun than a runaway Rajesthani Helicopter ride!
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