Rajasthan’s only hill station sits among green forests on the state’s highest mountain at the southwestern end of the Aravalli Range and close to the Gujarat border. Quite unlike anywhere else in Rajasthan, Mt Abu provides Rajasthanis, Gujaratis and a steady flow of foreign tourists with respite from scorching temperatures and arid beige terrain elsewhere. It’s a particular hit with honeymooners, middle-class families from Gujarat and others from that alcohol-dry state in search of a beverage more potent than lassi.
Mt Abu town sits towards the southwest end of the plateau-like upper part of the mountain, which stretches about 19km from end to end and 6km from east to west. The town is surrounded by the flora- and fauna-rich, 289-sq-km Mt Abu Wildlife Sanctuary which extends over most of the mountain from an altitude of 300m upwards.
The mountain is of great spiritual importance for both Hindus and Jains and has over 80 temples and shrines, most notably the exquisite Jain temples at Delwara, built between 400 and 1000 years ago. According to one legend, Mt Abu is as old as the Himalaya, and named after Arbuda, a mighty serpent who saved Nandi, Shiva’s revered bull, from plunging into an abyss. According to another, it was here that the four great Agnivanshi (Fire-Born) Rajput clans – the Chauhans, Solankis, Pramaras and Pratiharas – were created from a seething pit of fire.
In the 19th century the British and several Rajput princes took a liking to Mt Abu’s relatively temperate climate and launched its career as a hill station, building summer palaces and country cottages among the folds of the hills near Nakki Lake.
Try to avoid arriving in Diwali (October or November) or the following two weeks, when prices soar and the place is packed. Mt Abu also gets pretty busy from mid-May to mid-June, before the monsoon. This is when the Summer Festival hits town, with music, fireworks and boat races. In the cooler months, you will find everyone wrapped up in shawls and hats; pack something woolly to avoid winter chills in poorly heated hotel rooms. If you come in spring, you may come across the local variation of the Gangaur festival, celebrated by Garasia tribespeople.