AJMER IS FAMOUS throughout Athe subcontinent for the holy Muslim shrine, Dargah Shard, the tomb of the great Sufi saint, Khwaja Moinuddin Chishti (1143-1235). Located in the southwest corner of the city, the saint’s marble-domed tomb is at the heart of the Dargah complex, which is virtually a township in itself. It includes a bazaar and two marble mosques, built by the Mughal emperors Akbar and Shah Jahan in the 16th and 17th centuries. Akhar was Chishti’s most famous devotee, and once walked barefoot all the way from Agra to Ajmer, a distance of 363 km (226 miles), as thanksgiving after the birth of his son Salim, the future Emperor Jahangir.
Millions of pilgrims come to Ajmer for the saint’s annual Urs (death anniversary) in October, when spirited Sufi musicians sing the saint’s praises in front of his tomb. A special rice pudding, cooked in giant iron cauldrons in the Dargah’s courtyard, is offered to devotees. West of the Dargah Sharif is Ajmer’s architectural gem, the Adhai- Din-ka-Jhonpra, or “Hut of Two-and-a-Half Days”. This strange name is said to derive from the duration of a religious fair that used to be held here. Though in ruins, the early 13th-century mosque complex, built into a hillside, is most impressive. Its main glory is its exquisite seven-arched screen in front of the colonnaded ball. Each arch is different, and the numerous columns have elaborate carvings.
In the southeast corner of Ajmer is Mayo College, one of India’s best public schools. An excellent example of Indo- Saracenic architecture, it was set up in 1875 by the viceroy, Lord Mayo, as an “Eton of the East” for Rajput princes. Its early students came accompanied by family retainers and private tutors, and some, like the prince of Alwar, even brought along their own elephants. Behind the 19thcentury Nasiyan Temple, in the heart of the old city, is the Svama Nagari Hall, vividly decorated with coloured-glass mosaics and large gilded wooden figures, recreating scenes from Bain mythology. The Rajputana Museum, also in the old city, is located in Emperor Akbar’s fort and palace. Its exhibits include impressive sculptures dating from the 4th to the 12th centuries. Around Anasagar Lake, to the northwest of the city, are elegant marble pavilions built by Emperor Shah Jahan in the 17th century. They are set on the lake’s banks, in a pretty garden called Daulat Bagh. North of the city, on the summit of Beetli Hill, is the ruined 12th-century Taragarh Fort, which affords spectacular views of Ajmer and the surrounding countryside.