Rajasthan Diaries/ 6 (Last Part): Eklingji Temple

Café Edelweiss is a small German café tucked in one of the bylanes leading to Bagore ki Haveli. Even though you can’t expect a Parisian setting but the roadside sitting arrangement there had its own charm. You could sit there and enjoy the collective view of Gangour Ghat, old buildings, a garbage bin, and the single paan-bidi shop across the street. We bought cigarettes from that shop and ordered Kashmiri tea, chicken sandwich and apple-cinnamon pie at the café. The guy in charge there was a Mohit Chauhan doppelganger and we felt he was aware of the fact himself. Tea was so good that I decided to buy Kawah tea for myself after getting home.

We had no plan for the day and after breakfast we hopped into an auto and headed for Sajjangarh Palace and the zoo adjacent to it. The trip to the zoo or what they called it the Sajjangarh Biological Park turned out to be a better experience than that to the palace. Sajjangarh Biological Park is spread over an area of total 36 hectares. Entry was free on the occasion of Republic Day. Heat was growing worse and hence exploring the whole area on foot seemed to be an impossible task. So we took the golf-cart ride. They take eight passengers on each cart and provide an extensive tour of the whole zoo which takes about an hour. I am not a fan of going to the zoo. It always reminds me of a parallel universe where humans are shown as exhibit to some more intelligent beings. Although I’m pretty sure that must have been done in the past by the humans only. Somehow the tour was not so bad mainly due to the scenic beauty of the whole area. The cart was moving at a slow pace and halting when an animal’s area was nearby. Some guy was telling his friend near the cage of hyenas that that was the animal that Bhai fought with in Tiger Zinda Hai. I wasn’t sure which part was sadder; the information itself or the fact that I knew it was the wolves in the movie.

Gate to Sajjangarh Palace is just adjacent to the gate of the zoo. After the tour of the zoo was over we headed for the ticket counter of the palace. The palace sits on the hilltop so they provide a car ride from the base. That will cost you extra. View of Udaipur from the hilltop is breathtaking but the palace itself was disappointing. Mostly because only the ground floor was open for the tourists. Sajjangarh Palace was named after Maharaja Sajjan Singh who built it in 1884. His aim was to sit at the top of the Aravalli range and watch monsoon clouds passing by over the city of lakes. Well, you can do pretty much anything as long as you have money. He also wanted to turn it into an observatory but that couldn’t happen owing to his untimely death. I had no idea why there was a photo exhibition about the various species of animals found in the Aravallis at the palace. I mean who would want to take a zoology lesson at a palace.

It was past two o’ clock and we were again skipping lunch. We had other plan. We were going to the temple of Ekling ji. Ekling ji is the ruling god of Mewar and his temple is about 20 kms from Udaipur. We asked our auto bhaisaab to drop us at the bus stand from where we would be taking the public bus that was going to Mewar. An old man was selling fruits at the stand; we bought half a kilo Indian jujube (ber) from him. That was our lunch. We were more excited about visiting this ancient temple than food, apparently. Travelling by public transport is always the best way to mix with the locales. We hopped on to the dingy bus and occupied two seats beside an old, wrinkled woman. Men with huge turban, bunch of college kids and an old couple just got in when driver started the bus. We had told the conductor to let us know when our stop came. He had assured us with usual Rajput politeness. Bus was moving very slowly but we were devouring the bers real fast. All the while warning each other not to eat much as that might lead to an emergency Sulabh Complex detour. However, we felt quite flattered when an uncle ji asked us if we were still 'in edukessan'. We smiled and told him we were in service and he looked pretty bewildered.

Ekling ji temple is perhaps the oldest temple of Udaipur. It was established during eighth century by Bappa Rawal, the ruler of Mewar. Bappa Rawal is a known figure to any Bengali who has read Rajkahini by Abanindranath Tagore. Bappa Rawal established Mewar Kingdom in 728 CE and built this temple. His story is half legend, half historical fact. Legend says that he was raised by a Brahmin lady after his whole family was killed in a battle with the Bhils, a tribal community found in western and central India. After reaching adulthood he met a sage who initiated him to be a Shaivite and also gave him a boon that made him immune to his enemies’ weapons. With the power of this boon he avenged his family’s death and established Mewar kingdom.

Ekling ji temple follows a disciplined timetable and it only opens to the visitors from 11 am to 1 pm in the morning and then from 4 pm till 7 pm in the evening. We were early so we chose to loiter around the lake behind the temple. There we met Manju and Bharti – two little girls from the village who smiled shyly and told us they were only interested in eating chips when we offered them a few pieces from our ‘lunch’. Needless to say, their wish was fulfilled. Many dogs and cows were resting along the bank of the lake and we were chased by some really bullying cows when we tried to feed the dogs some biscuits. I had never seen such greedy, aggressive cows before.

Temple authority was extremely punctual. Gate opened at 4 pm sharp. Nobody was allowed to carry bags or mobiles and the temple premises had lockers to keep the belongings safe. Men and women had separate queues and nobody was supposed to break the queue until the tour of the temple was over. Uniformed guards were coming shouting after whoever dared to break the rule. The temple we saw was not the original one built by King Bappa. It was rebuilt during fourteenth century by Hamir Singh after the fucking bastard rulers of Delhi Sultanate destroyed the idol during invasion. The entire premises had one main temple dedicated to Eklingji and 108 smaller ones for myriad deities. Again we came across that heavenly smelling mix of sandalwood and turmeric teeka. Being authentically Indian was growing on us. What can I say? I am a hardcore nationalist. I feel overly emotional every time I stand up at the theatre when the national anthem starts playing. No wonder I would be feeling overwhelmed visiting a centuries old temple founded by a Hindu king.

Our last night at Udaipur turned out to be full of more surprises. After a tiring day we decided to go back to Café Edelweiss and had a session of tea-cigarettes just to clear our head. Bagore ki Haveli was flooding with tourists, some show was about to start. We were not interested in that so we headed other way. It was our last night and a good dinner was due. White Terrace Restaurant was our random choice, because it looked good. We ordered butter chicken, naan and some gin & tonic. We were sipping gin and rewinding our whole trip when a cheery looking lady leaned across from the next table and started chatting with us. She turned out to be the production designer of the movie The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel. She had come to India for the first time on work few years back and fallen so much in love with Rajasthan that now she would visit every year. She was too happy to see us two girls travelling alone and looked visibly excited when we told her that we were friends since our college days.

Next day we had morning bus from Udaipur to Ahmedabad. This trip was not so good as the bus took a hell lot of time to reach. The AC was turned off and it was stopping repeatedly to pick up passengers. But good news was awaiting us upon reaching. IIM-A’s annual fest was going on that time and D’s husband told us that Benny Dayal was coming that night. I had morning flight the next day but nevertheless I stayed late at the concert and when we finally hit the bed it was past midnight and I was dead exhausted with an aching throat from all the singing (read shouting). A journey that had started with an unexpected date ended with a concert. What more could I have asked for? I was only praying for an on-time journey back home. Fortunately Jet Airways was almost punctual this time. And by afternoon I was back in the land of the Himalayas from the Aravallis.

The end

Read the other episodes here.