Alwar is perhaps the oldest of the Rajasthani kingdoms, forming part of the Matsya territories of Viratnagar in 1500 BC. It became known again in the 18th century under Pratap Singh, who pushed back the rulers of Jaipur to the south and the Jats of Bharatpur to the east, and who successfully resisted the Marathas. It was one of the first Rajput states to ally itself with the fledgling British empire, although British interference in Alwar’s internal affairs meant this partnership was not always amicable.
Alwar is the nearest town to Sariska Tiger Reserve & National Park, but it has relatively few tourists so there’s a refreshing lack of hassle here.
This imposing fort stands 300m above Alwar, its fortifications hugging the steep hills that lines the eastern edge of the city. Predating the time of Pratap Singh, it’s one of the few forts in Rajasthan built before the rise of the Mughals, who used it as a base for attacking Ranthambhore. Mughal emperors Babur and Akbar have stayed overnight here, and Prince Salim (later Emperor Jehangir) was exiled in Salim Mahal for three years.
Now in ruins, the fort houses a radio transmitter station and parts can only be visited with permission from the superintendent of police. However, this is easy to get: just ask at the superintendent’s office in the City Palace complex. You can walk the very steep couple of kilometres up to the fort entrance or take a 7km rickshaw ride.
Below Bala Qila sprawls the colourful and convoluted City Palace complex, with massive gates and a tank reflecting a symmetrical series of ghats and pavilions. Today most of the complex is occupied by government offices, overflowing with piles of dusty papers and soiled by pigeons and splatters of paan (a mixture of betel nut and leaves for chewing).
Hidden within the City Palace is the excellent Alwar Museum .
Alwar Museum’s eclectic exhibits evoke the extravagance of the maharajas’ lifestyle: stunning weapons, stuffed Scottish pheasants, royal ivory slippers, erotic miniatures, royal vestments, a solid silver table, and stone sculptures, such as an 11th-century sculpture of Vishnu.
Somewhat difficult to find in the Kafkaesque tangle of government offices, the museum is on the top floor of the palace, up a ramp from the main courtyard. However, there are plenty of people around to point you in the right direction and from there you can follow the signs.
Hidden within the City Palace is the excellent Alwar Museum. Its eclectic exhibits evoke the extravagance of the maharajas’ lifestyle: stunning weapons, stuffed Scottish pheasants, royal ivory slippers, erotic miniatures, royal vestments, a solid silver table, and stone sculptures, such as an 11th-century sculpture of Vishnu.
Somewhat difficult to find in the Kafkaesque tangle of government offices, it’s on the top floor of the palace, up a ramp from the main courtyard. However, there are plenty of people around to point you in the right direction and from there you can follow the signs.
Deep inside the sanctuary, this imposing small jungle fort, 22km from Sariska, offers amazing views over the plains of the national park, dotted with red mud-brick villages. This is the inaccessible place that Aurangzeb chose to imprison his brother, Dara Shikoh, Shah Jahan’s chosen heir to the Mughal throne, for several years before he was beheaded.
A four- to five-hour 4WD safari (one to five passengers plus guide) to Kankwari Fort from the Forest Reception Office near the reserve entrance costs ₹1600, plus guide fee (₹150).
Enclosed within the dramatic, shadowy folds of the Aravalli Hills, the Sariska Tiger Reserve & National Park is a tangle of remnant semideciduous jungle and craggy canyons sheltering streams and lush greenery. It covers 866 sq km (including a core area of 498 sq km), and is home to peacocks, monkeys, majestic sambars, nilgai, chital, wild boars and jackals.
Around 35km from Sariska is an 8th-century temple complex, up a dramatically winding road that allows fantastic views. It sits on a small plateau ringed by low hills where the old defensive wall is still visible. It’s said that the temples remained preserved because bees chased Aurangzeb away when he tried to attack them. The main temple is dedicated to Shiva; photography is prohibited. The small pod-like shrines outside the temple are priests’ graves.
A little bit further away, through a tangle of vegetation (ask locals to point out the right path), is a Jain temple built from orange-red sandstone, with a huge stone statue of the 23rd tirthankar (great Jain teacher) known locally as Nogaza.
Around 55km from Sariska, beyond the inner park sanctuary and out in open countryside, is this deserted, well-preserved and notoriously haunted city. Founded in 1631 by Madho Singh, it had 10,000 dwellings, but was suddenly deserted about 300 years ago for reasons that remain mysterious. Bhangarh can be reached by a bus that runs twice daily through the sanctuary (₹35) to nearby Golaka village. Check what time the bus returns, otherwise you risk getting stranded.