Surrounded by the Aravalli hills and nestled in a valley, Ajmer was founded in the 7th century by Raja Ajai Pal Chauhan. Prithviraj Chauhan lost the city to Mohammed Ghori. It then came to Mughal hands and the Mughals were fond of this city. After the fall of the Mughals, the British took over it and set up the Mayo College which was and is the place where all Rajput princes are educated.
My parents wanted to visit the tomb of the Sufi Saint Khwaja Moinuddin Chishti at Ajmer which is famous all over the world for its sanctity. We were looking forward to the calm and serenity that is characteristic of such a place. Khwaja Moinuddin Chishti who is referred to as garib nawaz (Benefactor of the Poor) by his followers established the Chishtiya Monastic order in India. Other famous Chishti saints are Nizamuddin Auliya (whose tomb is in Delhi) and Salim Chishti (whose tomb is in Fatehpur-Sikri). The Mughals were followers and patrons of the Chishti saints. Akbar used to make a yearly pilgrimage to Ajmer by foot from his capital city!
The dargah is at the foot of the Taragarh Hill atop which sits a fort believed to be the earliest Rajput hill fort. The fort is accessible only by foot and is a long steep trek. The dargah complex has been built and rebuilt by various rulers from Iltutmish to Shah Jahan. It consists of several white marble buildings arranged around two courtyards, including a massive gate donated by the Nizam of Hyderabad. There are two vast cauldrons kept in the courtyard whcih are used to cook for the pilgrims during the annual fest called Urs.
Taxis are not allowed near the Dargah and one has to either walk through winding lanes or hire an autorikshaw. We had a bad experience with the auto driver who demanded Rs. 500 to take us to and fro from the Dargah to the Car Parking area. He told us that the Dargah is far away and that we can’t go by foot. Actually the total distance overall was less than 1.5 km! Beware of such people! If you are not accompanied by elders it is best to walk to the Dargah.
The Dargah itself has become a commercial enterprise. There are people everywhere demanding money and forcing you to buy the “chadar” or flowers. The queue’s are badly organised and one doesn’t even get a minute to pray at the Dargah itself. There are people sitting all around the tomb demanding money. If you don’t give any money they say “You’ve come empty handed and you will go empty handed”. I was really shocked by the entire experience. It is such a shame that a place meant to be a spiritual haven is far from being that.
Just a 10 min walk from the Dargah Sharif is Adhai-Din-Ka-Jhonpra which is a mosque built by Qutbuddin Aibak in 1200 making it one of India’s oldest mosques. It is named so because it was supposedly constructed in two and a half days (adhai din). It was built by demolishing a Jain Sanskrit learning centre and by using major portions of the already existing structure. One can clearly make out that the pillars, columns and roof elements are in Hindu/Jain architectural style. The outer facade is imposing and has seven arches decorated with verses from the Quran and is believed to have been added by Iltutmish in 1213. It is worth a visit if you are interested in architecture and history. The walk from the dargah to the mosque is through a narrow lane of the old market area and is filled with interesting sounds and sights and smells.
Another unique monument is at a walk-able distance from the Ajmer Sharif Dargah – the Nasiyan Jain Temple, popularly known as Soniji Temple which belongs to the Digambar Jains. The main temple which was built of sandstone in 1864 is not open for tourists. There is a Hall (Swarna Nagari Hall) behind it which is open to tourists and there is an entrance fee. The hall houses a gold gilded model depicting the Jain cosmology as described by the Jain scriptures. It took the artists and craftsmen 25 years to complete it and it was first displayed in 1895. As a non-Jain I couldn’t understand much of what was depicted in spite of there being short descriptions all around the model. But do visit the place for the craftsmanship and the detailed depictions.
There is just one temple dedicated to Lord Brahma who is considered as the creator in Hinduism and that temple is in Pushkar. Just 11 km from Ajmer, there are numerous temples and bathing ghats in Pushkar and it is easy to miss the Brahma Temple altogether! One can reach the temple only by foot as vehicles are not allowed in the tiny winding lanes. Although the present temple structure dates to the 14th century, the temple is believed to be 2000 years old. First visit the lake and then proceed towards the temple. Do not engage local guides who will force you to perform poojas at the lake. The temple and lake have no entry fees and can be accessed without the help of any guide. Pushkar is more of a pilgrim centre than a tourist place except during the Annual Fair known as Pushkar Mela.
There’s more to Ajmer than the dargah. There are many Mughal and Rajput monuments worth seeing along with the Ana Sagar lake where one can relax at the end of a long day spent exploring Ajmer.
What to see?
- Akbar’s Palace/Museum
- Ana Sagar Lake
- Mayo College
- Nasiyan Jain Temple
- Taragarh Fort