On my flight to Manchester last week on Etihad, I read an excellent article by Jamie Lafferty about the Great Wall of China. Excellent not only because it was well written but I also enjoyed the slightly humorous no nonsense style, akin perhaps to my own. It is rarely that I read travel articles, which may seem odd given my profession, but I was spurred into action by two things; one was the introduction by Tiffany Eslick in her Editor’s letter which definitely piqued my interest and the second, of course, was that I could relate it back to India. How on earth can the Great Wall of China be related back to India?
Well, for 16 years now, I have been telling anyone who was even vaguely interested in traveling through Rajasthan that the Kumbalgarh Fort has the second longest, consecutive wall outside of the Great Wall of China. Since reading the article I now realise the true scale of the Chinese version, anywhere between 6300 to 22,000 kms depending on who you are speaking to, and realise that the 36km wall of Kumbalgarh may not therefore seem quite so impressive. Ahem.
But, Kumbalgarh is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and it did remain for centuries (more than the GWOC managed) falling only once to that pesky Mughal Emperor, Akbar in 1576 (though he needed quite a bit of help). It has, like the Great Wall, been used for film sets, probably the most famous being James Bond’s Octopussy (the bit where the tiger chase takes place), though I am sure there are others. It also contains 360 temples, that’s ten for every km of wall – only in India!
One paragraph I particularly liked in Jamie’s article was the one about the Great Wall being more of a series of walls, some in a state of disrepair, some not, though the Chinese chose not to call it ‘The Sprawling Dilapidated Half-Walls of China,’ well that wouldn’t sell half as well now would it? However, I am also not sure, never having circumnavigated it, that the Kumbagarh Fort walls remain intact. I have been promoting it as such but knowing Rajasthan as I do, my guess is probably not. It is time to find out for myself.
China is a country which I can honestly say has never appealed to me; after all, it is down to their ancient beliefs and Chinese medicine that many of our tigers are poached each year, one reason all on its own to prevent me from visiting the country. I do though appreciate that my indignation in this matter may, just may, have me tarring a very large population with a very small brush. Even so, I have always maintained that ‘Not even the Great Wall itself could lure me to China.’ However, I do now have to admit to being ever so slightly intrigued. This article has appealed to a) my competitive spirit, it sounds bloody tough and therefore a challenge to be conquered and b) my curiosity. A visit to trek at least a small section of this masterpiece of engineering is now not completely off my agenda, and that thought has surprised me. Well done Jamie. Are you northern btw? Your name wouldn’t indicate so, but your tone and humour do.
Jamie lives in a flat country and so trained for his trip by climbing up and down many long flights of stairs. My vague thought of trekking the Great Wall has inspired me to do one of the more off the wall trips in India for which I am renowned. Why would you just drive up and look at the Kumbalgarh Fort or watch its lacklustre sound and light show when one could actually trek around its circumference? What a fabulous couple of days that would be. Given that it is only 36kms and I warrant, nowhere near as steep at the GWOC it may take me several rounds to get suitably fit. However, having learned the hard way when my impatience led me to trek from Kumbalgarh to Ranakpur (the other wonderful UNESCO site a mere spit away) in May in 45C, 5 hours of self-inflicted, blistering, torturous hell, I will wait for the Indian summer to be over. I already can hardly contain myself on the discoveries I may find when the temperatures have cooled sufficiently.
So many people when traveling India merely look at a site and move on, treating each destination as a list of monuments, boxes to be ticked off. Anyone who knows me will know that I can’t bear that kind of tourism. For me, travel is about discovering, it can be a new place or it can be different facets of the same destination. Despite having spent two years living in Jaipur , and having explored its cultural aspects since then in depth, it was only at the beginning of April this year that I trekked and cycled and rode horses in the hills behind the Amber Fort. I mentioned on Face book that I would be heading out of Delhi for 48 hours and would be embarking on an 8km trek, a 20 km horse ride and a 25 km mountain bike ride and asked for people to guess my destination. Not one person out of over 100 got it right, and a lot of these people are travel professionals. People just head out, look at monuments and don’t have the time or the inclination to discover what else there is to discover. On that particular weekend I discovered so many things I had never previously known. We climbed the walls of the 13C Kuntilgarh Fort, about which one never hears, came across the Sheesha Was village where they make maawa, delicious sweets out of milk and whose gateway is over one thousand years old. We looked down over the Kali Temple where the first rays of the morning sun strike and we also strolled by the former hunting lodge of the Maharaja, Audi Ram Sagar. Not one of these places had ever been mentioned to me in all my 18 years of being in India.
So now, it is with great excitement that I look forward to October when I will head out and circumnavigate the Great Kumbalgarh Fort on foot. Not glance at it from a distance, or drive by enroute to Ranakpur or Udaipur. No I will trek its circumference to find out first hand whether it’s wall is complete and what other mysteries are held within its surrounds. Who fancies joining me?