Mount Abu, at 4,000 feet (1,220 meters) above sea level, is the highest peak in the Aravalli mountain range and Rajasthan's only hill station set up by the British. It's situated close to the Gujarat state border, approximately five hours drive from Ahmedabad and four hours from Udaipur. The British took a liking to Mount Abu because of its comfortable climate, and they relocated the headquarters of their political Rajputana Agency there from Ajmer in 1857. The imposing Rajputana Residency building, renamed Raj Bhawan after the British left, is now occupied by the Rajasthan Governor during summers. Mount Abu has a reputation as a honeymooner's haven but Indian families flock to the area as well. It remains an offbeat destination for foreigners though. There are plenty of diverse things to do in Mount Abu, particularly for adventure and nature enthusiasts. Here's the pick of them.
Enjoy Water Sports on Nakki Lake
Sacred Nakki Lake sits in the center of Mount Abu. According to Hindu mythology, the gods dug it with their nails while attempting to escape from a demon. The shops and restaurants in the vicinity of the lake draw a crowd in the evenings. However, boating is the big attraction, especially for families with children. It's not well regulated and demand is high during peak season from April to June. Hence, it's best to get there early in the morning to grab a boat and negotiate a rate. Expect to pay anywhere between 50 rupees to 300 rupees per person for a pedal boat, depending on the season. Row boats with oarsmen cost more. Aqua zorbing also takes place on the lake.
See the Town from Toad Rock
Perched above the southern bank of Nakki Lake, landmark Toad Rock provides a panoramic view over town. For peace, the lookout is best visited early in the morning. It can be reached by following the beginning of Bailey's Walk trail, named after a British magistrate, from near Raghunath Temple at Nakki Lake. Those who are interested in the teachings of Swami Vivekananda will want to stop by Champa Cave, about half way up the trail to Toad Rock. The Swami is said to have meditated there for a while in 1891.
Soak Up the View at Sunset Point
Bailey's Walk meanders all the way from Nakki Lake to Sunset Point. However, it's quite long and moderately strenuous when going uphill. Alternatively, take Sunset Point Road, west of the Polo Ground. Shared jeeps ferry passengers from the Polo Ground entrance to the parking lot near Sunset Point, which features a steel Eiffel Tower replica (go figure). From there, it's about a 15 minute walk, horse ride, or push-cart ride to the point. Don't expect to have the view to yourself though! The place becomes carnival-like with hordes of people, amusement park rides and pushy vendors. Arrive at least 45 minutes before sunset to beat the rush and claim a good position. You may want to skip the experience though, as many tourists complain that it's over-hyped and the entrance fee is unreasonable.
Marvel Over the Exquisite Jain Temples
Way before the arrival of the British, influential and wealthy devotees of the Jain religion from Gujarat built some of the finest Jain temples in India (and the world) at Delwara near Mount Abu. The temple complex was constructed between the 11th-13th centuries and is undoubtedly Mount Abu's most spectacular attraction. Its five temples are devoted to various Jain tirthankaras (saints). The two biggest temples (Vimal Vasahi and Luna Vasahi) each took thousands of artisans about 14 years to complete, and have astonishing intricately carved marble work. Sadly, photography isn't allowed. The temples are open to the public daily from noon until 6 p.m. All leather items, footwear, phones and cameras must be left outside at the paid storage counter. Furthermore, menstruating women are considered to be unclean and shouldn't enter the temples. Shared jeeps run to Delwara from Chacha Museum Chowk in Mount Abu's market area.
Go on a Pilgrimage
Mount Abu is linked to various sages and seers in ancient Hindu texts and mythology. Such holy heritage means that many temples and religious places exist there. The Dattatreya cave temple on top of Guru Shikha peak is the most frequently visited one. It houses the footprints of guru Dattatreya, the guru of yogis and ascetics. He's believed to be an incarnation of the divine trinity (lords Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva). There's also a temple belonging to his mother, Ahilya, nearby. The cave temple of Arbuda Devi (also known as Adhar Devi temple) is another popular Hindu temple, situated just outside town on the way to the Jain temples. Legend has it that serpent goddess Arbuda saved the life of Lord Shiva's bull, Nandi, on the mountain. The great sage Vashistha lived at Mount Abu and is said to have performed a ritual sacrifice that created the four warrior Rajput clans. There's an ashram and Gaumukh temple dedicated to him. In addition, within the ruins of Achalgarh fort, the 9th century Achaleshwar Mahadev temple is where Lord Shiva's toe is unusually worshiped.
Explore Mount Abu Wildlife Sanctuary
The great outdoors beckons at Mount Abu! The Mount Abu Wildlife Sanctuary covers nearly 116 square miles (300 square kilometers) of the mountain and has many rare plants (including medicinal plants), plus valleys, peaks and forests. There are numerous walking trails of various distances and difficulties in the sanctuary, ranging from half-day to longer multi-day expeditions. Rock climbing, rappelling, caving and camping are also possible. Hiking & Trekking Company conducts popular guided walks and day hikes. Rajasthan Adventure and Nature Academy is recommended for adventure activities such as rock climbing. Contact Mahendra ‘Charles’ Dan of Mount Abu Treks for bespoke treks and village visits. The cost of entering the sanctuary is 50 rupees for Indians and 300 rupees for foreigners.
Spot Crocodiles at Trevor's Tank
If you don't want to go hiking through Mount Abu Wildlife Sanctuary, you can easily visit Trevor's Tank to spend time amid nature. This huge reservoir was made by British engineer Colonel G.H. Trevor, who bred crocodiles, in 1897. It's only 10 minutes from the Jain temples at Delwara, on the way to Dattatreya temple. The tank is a renowned picnic spot, and there are walkways and viewing stations around it for wildlife watching. Large crocodiles can often be seen resting on the banks during November and December. Birdwatchers should head to Salim Ali Point for standout sightings. The entry fee is 50 rupees per person for Indians and 100 rupees for foreigners, plus additional charges for vehicles.
About 15 minutes further along the road from Trevor's Tank, Thrill Zone Adventure Park offers an enticing array of almost 25 fun activities. Some of them are zip-lining, ATV rides, dirt bikes, horse riding, rappelling, land zorbing, paintball and archery. The park has been well-developed, and is safe and professionally managed. It's open daily from 9 a.m. until sunset. The cost is 250-350 rupees per activity, with discounts provided for multiple activities. There's also a camping ground for those who wish to stay overnight.
If you're spiritually-inclined, you can learn about and try Raja Yoga meditation at the global headquarters of the Brahma Kumaris (Daughters of Brahma) in Mount Abu. The beliefs of this spiritual community stem from Hinduism but are distinct from it. The Brahma Kumaris focus on soul-consciousness—that is on people's identities as souls, as opposed to bodies and the associated labels. According to them, souls enter bodies on earth to experience life and grow. Their teachings aim to create a shift from outer material dependency to inner awareness. This will uplift souls and bring about a spiritual re-awakening of humanity. The Brahma Kumaris' headquarters has a number of campuses. The recreational Peace Park, close to Thrill Zone Adventure Park, is ideal for beginner meditation. Guided tours and short films about the concepts of Raja Yoga are provided there. Spiritual retreats and talks are offered at Madhuban, in Mount Abu town, for those who want a more immersive experience. The mortal remains of the Brahma Kumaris' founder are laid to rest there. Serious spiritual seekers can stay at Shantivan Ashram at the base of Mount Abu.
Attend a Festival
Mount Abu has two annual tourist festivals that celebrate the culture of the region. The Summer Festival coincides with the occasion of Buddha Purnima (in April or May each year), while the Winter Festival always happens from December 29–31. Attractions include folk performances, ballad singing, bands, processions, kite flying, and sports competitions.