Wednesday, March 4, 2009


Ajmer - aura of sanctity

The sprawling sands at this once quiet city in Rajasthan, has registered many footsteps ever since the peer (saint) Khwaja Moinuddin Chishti first stepped here and laid the cornerstone of Sufism in India. So revered is this place that both Hindu and Muslims pilgrims make a beeline with dreamy and sometimes tearful eyes, and lift their hands up in unison wishing and thanking the lord.

Tale of the City

A 7th century discovery of Raja Ajay Pal Chauhan, Ajmer became a a major center of the Chauhan power till Prithviraj Chauhan lost it to Mohammed Ghauri. Ever since, Ajmer has been the home of many dynasties that rose and fell, and the city passed on to another, and in the process left behind imprints of different culture and traditions, making it an amalgam of Hinduism and Sufism - and an exemplary one at that.


Dargah Ajmer Sharif: Started by Akbar and completed by Humayun, it embodies Sufi tradition founded in India by Khwaja Moinuddin Chishti who reached Ajmer in 1190 AD. Intricate metal carvings, confluence of rich colors, heaped rose petals, satin drapes laced with dazzling zardozi, melodious Sufi chants and more than eager khadims (attendants) is what the tomb (dargah) has turned to due to its phenomenal popularity as a pilgrimage site amongst the adherents of Islam. Its massive gateway donated by Nizam of Hyderabad, a mosque in signature white by Shah Jehan, Akbar's Masjid, dome of the saint are grandeurs that await the eyes. Tradition has it that if your wish comes true, you must return to the dargah to offer your thanks. And if you are lucky to bump into a Qawwali (Sufi singing) gathering, your trip will take on a euphoric plane altogether.

Mayo College: Now this one is not exactly a tourist destination, but writing about Ajmer, Mayo College just cannot be skipped over. A British establishment of the 19th century, it was to educate the princes on the lines of an English Public School. A co-education now, studying in a palatial building that exudes an aura of a different age must be an experience of a kind. With special permits, we can get a student tour you around.

Adhai-din-ka-Jhonpra: Now here is an Indo-Islamic architectural marvel completed in 2 ½ days (Adhai-din). It was originally a Sanskrit college, which was converted into a mosque by Qutubuddin Aibak. Forty columns support the roof but no two are alike. Be it to admire its magnifience of a different kind, even in its dilapidated state or the intricate Islamic calligraphy - this one is something you should not miss. Check out the Taragarh Fort, built by Ajaipal Chauhan, perched on a hilltop just 3 km away.

Akbar's Palace and Museum: Akbar's pilgrimages to the Dargah got this palatial resthouse built. Today the interiors have been befittingly turned into a reservoir of Mughal and Rajasthani articles on display. Note that it here that emperor Jehangir read out the firman for trade between India and British East India Company, thereby paving the way for India's colonization by the British.

Nasiyan (Red) Temple (or Soni Ji Ki Nasiyan): This double-storey red-dyed Digambar Jain temple has interesting gold plated wooden figures from Jain mythology. The glass mosaic, precious stones, gold and silver work make it a feast to the eyes. It is open daily (8:30 am-4:30 pm).

Festivities: During Id, Muharram, Urs (the death anniversary of the Khwaja), Ramadan Ajmer turns into a pulsating beehive of pilgrims. It is recommended to check out the timings and avoid visiting during these festivals. But you can tune in to the Pushkar Mela during November a few miles away from Ajmer.


Ajmer is famous for atar (perfume) squeezed out of rose petals. And this dates back to the age of Emperor Jehangir who patronized its use. As for the other knick-knacks, you can stuff your bags with some exquisite jootis or mojaris (sandals), silver and gold jewelery, tie-n-dye fabrics, block printed textiles (Rajasthani bandhni) especially , embroidered blouses. And if you have landed there during Urs (the death anniversary of the Khwaja), you can have some good buys as the local artisans congregate near the Dargah to sell their wares.

The Shopping arcades are Puraa Bazaar (upmarket items), Kaisarganj Purani Mandi, Madar Gate and Nala Bazaar.


Ajmer doesn't seemingly have any particular taste of cuisines endemic to itself. Its kitchens are a confluence of Rajasthani, Mughlai, Indian food, while the restaurants have a splash of Continental, Italian, Chinese and Kosher to tango the menu. Try the ethnic Rajasthani dal-batti-choorma and ghewar (a sweet khoya delight).

Head for Sheesh Mahal (a swanky eatery at Mansingh Hotel), Bhola (at Agra Gate), Honey Dew (Station Road), Jai Hind (Station Road), Tandoor Restaurant (Jaipur Road) for some scrumptious delicacies.


Pushkar (11 km): A renowned Hindu pilgrimage destination, an interesting legend and the famed Fair makes it what it is - famous. Brahma, one of the Gods of the Hindu triology, was cursed by his consort Savitri that he would not be worshiped by those on earth, except at Pushkar. And hence the Brahma temples here. Come November and the annual cattle fair (Pushkar mela) makes it a swarming joint. Don't come back without a holy dip at the beautiful Pushkar lake. Another legend to it is that the 14th century Sanskrit poet and playwright chose this setting for his masterpiece Abhigyanam Shakuntalam. Banking it is the majestic Man Mahal, palace of Raja Man Singh of Amer, presently an RTDC tourist bungalow. The Pushkar palace Kishangarh House, is today a luxurious heritage resort.

Chhatra Sagar, Nimaj (100 km): Go there for some eye-warming sight of exotic birds around a more exotic lake (about 100 year old). And imagine the excitement if you can actually lodge right at the bank of that panoramic lake. October to March is the best period to head for this exotica.

Location :
In Rajasthan,
135 km West of Jaipur

Go there for :
Dargah Sharif, Monuments

Climate :
42°-48°C (Sum/daytime); 15°-4°C (Win)

When to Go:
Oct - Mar

Local Tongue:
Hindi, Rajasthani

Literacy :

STD Code :
+ 91 - 145

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