Built in the 15th century by Rana Kumbha, this mountain fortress is, together with Jodhpur's Mehrangarh Fort, one of the most impressive sights Rajasthan has to offer. Take one look at the impenetrable walls (said to be the second largest man-made object visible from space),that snake for 36km (22 miles) along 13 mountain peaks, and you know that this is one of the most inaccessible fortifications ever built by humans. It was in fact only captured once, when the Mughal emperor Akbar had its water supply poisoned. This is also where the infant Udai Singh, who was spirited here by his nanny while Chittaurgarh was being sacked, spent his formative years. The wall, the second longest in the world, culminates in a fairy-tale fort within which lie the Palace of Rana Kumbha and Badal Mahal (or Palace of Clouds, so named because it literally is in the clouds during the monsoon months). The fort is situated deep within Kumbhalgarh Wildlife Sanctuary, and the drive there -- through tiny villages and pastoral countryside -- is one of the great highlights of a trip to Rajasthan and a great contrast to the crowded cities. Kumbhalgarh is considered the most important fort after Chittaurgarh, but its relative accessibility and the charm of the drive make this the preferable option. That said, while the sheer size and initial spectacle of the fort stays with you, be warned that the climb to the palaces is steep and stiff, and the buildings themselves are pretty lifeless (there's hardly anything left to suggest anything of the life and times of the people who once occupied these lofty chambers). The real reward for your physical exertion will be the unforgettable views of the surrounding valleys -- let your imagination soar and you may just be able to hear the sounds of war.
To have adequate time to explore the fort, or to take in Eklingji on the return journey, it's worth overnighting near the fort. The closest and best choice is the charming Aodhi Hotel, a former royal hunting lodge now owned by the Udaipur king's hotel chain HRH (tel. 02954/24-2341 through -2346; www.hrhindia.com; Rs 6,000 deluxe double, Rs 8,000 deluxe suite). Built of the local packed granite stone and rock, it mimics a hillside fortress, complete with cannons and crenellated walls and elevated thatched towers high up in the tree canopy where you can dine by candlelight. Accommodations are spacious and reasonably neat (each with A/C, TV, and big, thick, comfortable new beds) and overlook a large blue pool and a pretty alfresco dining area. Room nos. 4, 5, 10, 11, and 23 enjoy good views, but you'll no doubt find yourself sharing the hotel with groups during the winter season. Even if you don't stay here, consider stopping for a meal (the Indian food is excellent) and a special drink at the bar -- ask for a glass of kesar kastari, a unique heritage liqueur made with saffron and 20 other herbal ingredients. Note: There is now an evening sound-and-light show at the fort; it starts at 7pm, which means you almost have to be a guest at Aodhi if you want to see it.