Located around the very funnily named ‘Nag Pahad’ or Snake Mountain in the Aravali Hills, Ajmer is an otherwise unattractive town and most travellers prefer to make a pit-stop on the way to Pushkar. Ajmer is said to have been founded in the 7th Century. Ajmer is home to the most sacred Islamic shrine in India, and for Muslims a pilgrimage here is considered second in importance only to a visit to Mecca in Saudi Arabia.
Ajmer is conveniently located on NH-8 and is 130 kms from Jaipur and approximately 390 kms from Delhi. Train connectivity is excellent and it makes sense to either explore it as a day trip from Pushkar (Like I did once) or stop enroute Pushkar and wander the timeless and spiritually important sights of this fast-growing city.
Must Visit Places if You Have 24 Hours in Ajmer :
1. Khwaja Moinuddin Chishti Dargah or Dargah Sharif
This 13th Century Dargah is the holiest Muslim shrine in India and is thronged by thousands of pilgrims every day. The slender path to the Dargah is lined with flower stalls and shops selling prayer paraphernalia, biryani shops to donate food to the poor and lanes that give the impression of having arrived in the 15th Century.
Akbar was the most famous devotee of Chisti and is known to have once walked barefoot all the way from Agra to Ajmer.
Important places to notice and visit inside the Dargah are Nizam Gate, Shahjahan Gate, Akbari Masjid, Buland Darwaza, the two huge cauldrons called Degs. Also to be admired are the Mehfil Khana and Chisti’s Tomb itself.
The event of Urs Mela (In October) is important as tens of thousands of Muslims converge on the Dargah in Ajmer for India’s biggest Islamic festival and sufis sing qawwalis.
Although the crowds can get too much to handle at times, I visited Dargah Sharif (First time) on a weekday and the chaotic experience was peaceful for the heart. The sheer display of faith is mind boggling and calming. My next time was a VIP visit and much smoother experience – I shall write a separate blog post for my experiences at Dargah Sharif.
2. Taragarh Fort
Strategically located, Ajmer was a very important town and the 12th Century Fort of Taragarh was established by the town’s founder Ajaypal Chauhan.
It is in a crumbling state these days but still has fine views of Ajmer from top with the Ana Sagar Lake providing a beautiful backdrop. Taragarh Fort is only 3-4 kms away from Ajmer and can be accessed by shared taxis or by a 90 minute walk from the Dhai Din Ka Jhopda. There is a locally revered shrine at Taragarh Fort and pilgrims at Dargah Sharif usually pay their respects here too.
3. Dhai Din Ka Jhopda
Dhai din ka Jhopda, literally ‘two-and-a-half-day hut’, is unquestionably the oldest surviving monument in Ajmer. It was originally built in 660 AD as a Jain Temple and was converted into a Sanskrit School in 1153. Locals claim that the name has struck because it was built in 2 & 1/2 days, but it seems more like a legend than truth. The Dhai Din Ka Jhopda is built into a hillside and is a mosque complex. The entrance for the same is hardly 400m away from Dargah Sharif and this is a relatively calmer place compared to the cacophony of crowds at the Dargah.
It is said to have been attacked by Mohammed of Ghori who converted it into a mosque. The dazzling feature of Dhai Din Ka Jhopda is the exquisite seven arched screen in front of the hall. Each arch is different and there are delicate and elaborate carvings on the numerous columns.
I was really surprised to see damaged Hindu motifs of Jain & Hindu gods and goddesses on the pillars and ceilings (Evidence of the Sanskrit School). I found the mosque’s most beautiful feature to be the bands of Islamic calligraphy that decorate its seven-arched façade.
4. Akbar Fort & Museum
This was constructed in 1570 and was originally named Daulat Khana by Akbar. When the British were in power, they maintained a large garrison inside the fort. The Fort is important from a historical point of view, in 1660 the British got a toehold in India when Sir Thomas Roe, a representative of the British East India Company, met Emperor Jahangir and gained his permission to establish the first British factory at Surat, at this fort.
It is a huge structure and these days houses a Government Museum with a collection of rock inscriptions, stone statues and sculptures dating from 8th to 12th century. I was particularly mesmerised with the beautiful doors and architecture of the central building inside the fort. Also on display in the museum are a collection of old weapons and also miniature paintings of Rajasthan.
5. Ana Sagar Lake & Baradaris
The Ana Sagar is an artificial lake that spreads far and wide with the town of Ajmer. It was laid out in the twelfth century and is worth a visit to see the line of elegant white-marble pavilions called baradaris, or summer shelters. These were built in the 17th Century by Shah Jahan on the lake’s banks, in a garden by the name of Daulat Bagh.
I was lucky to be at the baradari at sunset time, a cool breeze greeted me. Although I didn’t find out if bathing in the Ana Sagar was sacred to Muslims, it was quite surprising to see many people taking a dip in the tranquil looking waters.
6. Nasiyan (Red Temple) or Soni Ji ki Nasiyan
Locally called ‘red temple’, Nasiyan was built in 1865 by a rich merchant. While the building is totally unassuming from the outside, when I ascended the stairs to the second floor I was taken aback by the sheer grandeur and golden opulence. It seemed like a fantasy world.
Inside the open-for-all museum – the Swarna Nagari, there was a breathtaking display that filled the huge hall with tiny gilded golden figures celebrating scenes from Jain mythology of Rishabha (or Adinath), the first Jain tirthankara. One glass hall also shows concept of the ancient world, with 13 continents – the golden city of Ayodhya complete palaces, chariots, ships, armies and people. Locally called Soni Ji ki Nasiyan.
Admission to the main temple (which is in beautifully painted red) alongside is allowed only for Jains. I have tried twice and have still not seen what lies inside. Although I could hardly understand what the work of art meant but the sheer scale of the display was spellbinding.
Food in Ajmer
Ajmer is famous for its food (veg and non-veg) and a particular dish called Kadi Kachori. The locals suggested the best Kadi Kachori in Ajmer to be of Shankar Chat Bhandar – I acquiesce, after having devoured many kachoris and sweets after numerous visits now. I didn’t particularly like the food at Honeydew Restaurant that is a local favourite from old times.
There is another restaurant (the name of which I forget) – out of four places that I’ve tried in Ajmer – only one has been able to fulfil expectations. And it was a local acquaintance who took me there. I shall update this article when I am reminded of that place’s name.
Also : 5 must eat places in Jaipur
I would love to know your thoughts on this guide sort of an article. I mostly pen down travelogues from my journeys to obscure locations otherwise. As a full time travel blogger, this is an attempt to let the world know that I have also travelled like a tourist (no pun intended!) and know what an average tourist wants.
For more travel stories, anecdotes and experiences connect with me on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.