Old cities that are still living have traces of history that can take you through a walk across the major milestones in the life of the city. Before the time when people recorded the lives and times in ink and paper, it used to done on stone, in water and in the spirits left my the people who inhabited these places. Ajmer or Ajaymeru as it was originally called, is also one such place, which was blessed by a holy saint more than 800 years ago and the saint continues to live here in spirit and bless his devotees.
The most important point in Ajmer is of course Moinudin Chisti also known as Garib Nawaj’s dargah. In fact people who still live and do business around the Dargah feel that Ajmer exists only because of the dargah. Many narrow lanes, all of which lead to one or the other entrance of the dargah, surround the Dargah. It appears if dargah is the center and from wherever you go, you reach there. These narrow lanes have colorful bazaars, selling all kinds of things from clothes to sweets. As you get closer to dargah, shops sell offerings for the dargah – flowers, chaddars, incense sticks, sweets, caps and scarves. Massive doors indicate the beginning of the logical boundary of the dargah, though spiritually it encompasses the whole city. There will be appeals to keep your footwear and buy offerings from all the shops, and if you know the ways in India, you will try and reach the last shop with your footwear on and take them off when you have to. Cover your head, someone or the else would tell you. Your hair should not be visible. You move inside the dargah compound along with a crowd, you can never be alone here. Get into the line to step into the actual shrine of the saint, which is all gold from wherever you can see. I am not sure how much you can see inside, all I could see was people all around me. The guy standing on top would take your offering basket, ask you for money in the name of the saint and show you the way out. There were people who brought chaddars as offering for their revered saint, and the person inside just throws them on top of the mazaar. I wish crowd was a little less so that I could feel the presence of the saint, but I guess that is next to impossible given the huge crowd that is always there around the saint. After ever namaz there, Qawalis are sung, which is another thing that I was looking forward to, as I enjoyed Qawallis in Nizamuddin and at Bhaktiar Kaki’s mazaar in Delhi. But I guess, my timing in Ajmer was not right, so could not listen to them. I came out exhausted from the Dargah, wanting to be back in my AC room in the hotel.
Not too far from dargah is a Dhai din ka Jhopra, which was originally a Sanskrit college in a Jain temple, but was converted into a seven-arched mosque by the later muslim rulers. These arches were erected in two and a half days and hence the name. You have to take a steep flight of stairs to reach the place. As of now the place is as filthy as it can be and in a dilapidated state. I could see the architecture, I wanted to see the hidden history but it was difficult to stand in the place filled to the brim with people eating and throwing garbage. I wish I could spend some more time here.
Most people visit Ajmer to visit the Dargah, to seek the saint’s blessings and sometimes to thank him for what he has given them. But the hidden gem in Ajmer is Soniji ki Nasiyan aka Lal mandir that was built over 100+ years back by a rich Jain businessman or a seth. What you see here is a huge hall 90X65X92 ft in dimension, with a diorama of a complete Jain city Ayodhya Nagari, at the time of the birth of a Jain saint Adinath. There is a complete 3 storied palace built with scenes depicting the life of the city. The huge armies of elephants and horses are depicted on the ground. There are devas or demigods on their planes coming to visit the earth at city of Ayodhya made holy by the birth of the saint Adinath. The walls adorn the glass paintings showing scenes and stories from the Jain scriptures. The whole aura is of grandeur, divinity and celebration. It is said that the models were created and showcased in Jaipur before they were brought to Ajmer. You can view this huge piece of sculpture only through small opening in walls of the hall and that too through a glass. But for the security reasons, you want to step inside and feel like how a literally golden city would be. For some reason I had never heard of this place till I actually landed in front of it. This was the hidden surprise of this trip of mine.
There is a Jain temple adjoining this Golden city, which is open only to Jains and thanks to my part Jain lineage I could go in. They do not allow any photography inside, but this temple is also beautiful, typically Jain and typically Rajasthani.
There is a Sai Baba temple, newly built, in a relatively new area of the town. Besides the fact that it is beautiful and spacious temple, you should visit it to have the in-valley view of Ajmer and its surroundings. Standing on the platform of the temple you would be able to see Taragarh fort on one side, with its expanse across the hill, and on the other sides you would see other hillocks that surround this city. I was there early morning, even before the morning Aarti was performed and the temple has just been cleaned. It was a perfect serene place to spend a soulful morning, amidst nature and nurturer.
You can climb to the Taragarh fort or drive in a 4-wheel drive, but again this is a place where all traces of history have been removed. Only a wall along the hill has remained, everything else has been erased. A humble baoli or water tank remains, and that too is in a pitiable condition. There is a dargah, which again seems to be very popular. But I wish the devotees would do something to keep it clean. From the top of hill, you get a birds eye view of the city of Ajmer and like most things when seen from the top, it also looks amazing.
Then there is Ana Sagar Lake, a huge artificial lake built centuries ago. It is a huge lake with ghats for people to use it. There are marble pavilions, probably built by the mughal emporers who had a constant connection with this city. Akbar’s palace in the middle of city and again not too far from the city is now a museum. It is a small palace with barracks all around. It is one the better maintained places of Ajmer.
While you are there in Ajmer, you must try the kachoris and the Daal pakwaan here. I was also told the Ajmer’s Sohan Halwa is also famous, but when I looked at it, I felt it is no where close to what we get in Apni Dilli, so skipped it. There were lots of colorful bazaars, but I could not locate anything typical of Ajmer to carry back.
Ajmer has many things to offer to its visitors: spirituality, sculpture, hills for trekking, temples, lake and its unique offering a city of Gold. No wonder it remains on the itinerary of most people.