Haldighati – where battles were fought and won
This entry was posted in December 5,2012 by Anuradha Shankar.
“It’s the blood of thousands that makes this place so fertile” says the old man, smiling in what seems to me a bloodthirsty enthusiasm for carnage. I shudder, but he continues, unabashed. “You should have come here last month. There were roses everywhere. Red roses thrive here.” He strokes his beard thoughtfully “This place has seen so much bloodshed, which is why there are no people living here, just fields. We grow roses and use them to make a living. So we make preserves, syrups, rose water….” he goes on. The enthusiasm over the bloody history has given way to sales talk. We are at the Rakht Talai, literally, pool of blood. You might not have heard of Rakht Talai, but you would certainly have heard of the battle which led to the bloodshed – the battle of Haldighati.
Haldighati was where, on 21st June, 1576, the Mughal Army led by Raja Man Singh clashed with the guerrilla army led by Maharana Pratap. The Mughals had the sheer advantage of numbers, but Maharana Pratap and his men knew the lay of the land better than anyone else. The armies clashed at the foothills of the Aravalli Ranges, and thousands fell in the battle that ensued. It was then that the place got its name – Rakht Talai. The Maharana himself was injured, and so was his horse. It was then that the horse, Chetak, distinguished himself by taking his master to safety against all odds, only to succumb to his injuries. It is Chetak who is most remembered as the hero of Haldighati, for the battle had no clear outcome. Neither side managed to subdue the other, though each suffered massive losses. Maharana Pratap spent the rest of his life amidst these same mountains, living the rough life, and making life tough for the Mughal army. He and his band of men never gave them a moment’s peace, attacking them when least expected. However, they never again met face to face in a battle the size of the one at Haldighati.
Maharana Pratap left no monuments or forts to remind us of his accomplishments. However, his name and memory have lived on, centuries after his death. Nowhere is his presence more felt than in the environs of Haldighati. It is at Rakht Talai that we see the first board telling us that we are entering Haldighati… The pool of blood has long been washed away; only fields remain today, lush and green. The roses bloom each year in March / April, but now there are just a few stray ones remain.
Memories of war and loss are raised and erased by adroit salesmen, who turn the conversation from the battle to their rose products…
Showing us how they distill the rose water….A few yards further, the mountain pass begins..
Haldighati – the name of the pass comes from the colour of the soil – which resembles turmeric..
Winding over the deserted hill road, it is easy to imagine that day, over 500 years ago, when a horse panted up these very hills, its leg injured, its master in danger, instinct leading it, and its master, to safety….
A little further is another board… Here, Chetak jumped over a ditch with a last burst of energy…. “The route to the ditch has been blocked” says our driver.”It is dangerous.”
We turn a corner and see a fort. I am surprised. I didn’t expect one here, but the driver tells us it’s not a fort, but the Maharana Pratap Museum….
The museum is a fount of information about the battle of Haldighati – there are maps, paintings, replicas, statues and audio-video presentations – all about the battle. The museum itself has been built to resemble a fort… Complete with temple and all! It is only ironic that Maharana Pratap neither had the resources nor the time, to build a fort like this.
To lighten things up, the museum also has models of the forts in the area, and you can also get your photo clicked dressed like Maharana Pratap….
As we turn away from the museum and go our way, I cannot but help think of the plaque in the museum of the Pratap Pratigya, or Pratap’s oath
Loosely translated, it reads…
“I take an oath that
Till I free my motherland from her enemies,
I shall not live in palaces,
Neither will I sleep on a bed,
Nor will I eat from vessels
Made of silver or gold, or even metal.
The canopy of trees will be my palace,
Grass will be my bed,
And leaves my plates.”
How different this is, from our image of Rajasthan, of its beautiful palaces, of its forts, of its comforts and luxuries, of the royal life. Yet, he was the true son, who refused to give up his freedom, who fought for what he believed all his life. As we finally head towards Udaipur, towards another museum in his memory, I wonder, what would he have thought of them?
Haldighati is about 40 Km from Udaipur. The best way to visit it is to make a day trip by car. The museum at Haldighati is worth a visit, because of the way the story has been presented. The museum store is also well stocked, not just with memorabilia, but also books. There are surprisingly quite a number of books on the history of Rajasthan, including reprints of British era texts. 4 Km from Haldighati is the memorial to Chetak, known as Chetak Samadhi.
Kumbhalgarh, Gogunda and Haldighati are all located in the same direction from Udaipur, and can easily be covered in a day. Club Mahindra has resorts in Kumbalgarh and Udaipur but if you would like to linger longer in Rajasthan, their new property in Jaisalmer.