Southwest of Jaipur (130 km/80 miles) lies Ajmer in Rajasthan, by the serene waters of Ana Sagar (lake), an oasis wrapped in green hills. It is one of the country's most important Muslim pilgrimage centers though it is visited by non-Muslims as well. The shrine of the Sufi Saint Khwaja Moinuddin Chisti lies nestled at the foot of the Taragarh hills.
It is said that the great Mughal Akbar came barefoot to the tomb in the 16th century to pray for an heir. His wish was granted and Prince Salim (Emperor Jehangir) was born. A grateful Akbar used to make this pilgrimage annually from Agra.
The gates were gifted by the Nizam of Hyderabad. A mosque constructed by Akbar is on the right. Large iron cauldrons are for offerings. In an inner court is a marble mosque built by Shah Jehan It has arches and a calligraphic Persian inscription which runs the entire length of the building.
The tomb of the saint is in the centre of the courtyard. It has a marble dome which is gold plated and the tomb inside is surrounded by a silver railing and a marble screen.
The atmosphere inside the shrine is special with burning incense and the all pervading fragrance of roses, which are offered at the tomb. Devotees who come make wishes and pray. When their wishers are fulfilled they make offerings. Many offer Chadars or coverings for the tomb inside.
There is a constant sea of activity at the shrine. Remove your shoes and cover your heads in reverence. As you enter the courtyard there are two massive deghs (cauldrons) donated by Akbar and Jehangir but since replaced. During the Urs or annual pilgrimage (in May) these 2 deghs are used to cook sweet rice garnished with condiments and raisins, almonds, nuts to be served as tabarukh or sanctified food. It is during the Urs that the shrine comes alive as it were, when millions of devotees visit.
Ajmer has the prestigious Mayo college a school for Indian Nobility during the British Raj. Today it is an exclusive private school. The Pushkar temple of Lord Brahma, where the famous Pushkar camel fair is held every year (October/November) is only 14 km away.
The red temple of the Jains popularly called Soni Ki Nasiyan has a series of large gold plated wooden figures depicting legends from Jain mythology. It has exquisite glass mosaic, precious stones and gold and silver work adorning the entire hall. The massive Taragarh Fort stands guarding the city. It has six gates and Miran Sahb ki Dargah. The Adhai-Din-Ka-Jhonpra (1153) is a marvel of Indo-Islamic architecture. As per legend it is so named because it was constructed in two and a half days. With its distinctive pillars, arched screen and ruined minarets it is still a splendid architectural masterpiece.
The Ana Sagar is an artificial lake where people love to boat. The Baradari pavilions built by Emperor Shah Jahan who came to Ajmer for long stays are on its banks, amid the gardens of Daulat Bagh. Ajmer's main market is behind and upto Agra Gate and is an interesting place to browse around. Stop at the Museum housed in Akbar's Palace.