Rajasthan's ruling caste, the "twice-born" Rajputs, trace their mythological origins back to a powerful fire ceremony, or yagna agnikund , conducted by the sage Vashista after the fall of the Gupta empire in the eighth century AD. The ritual is believed to have taken place at the top of a huge rocky massif in the southwest corner of the state, near the present-day border with Gujarat. More than a thousand years later, the British, attracted by the same outcrop's cool air and clear light, founded a sanitarium on the high plateau at its centre. Thereafter, MOUNT ABU became a permanent hot-season retreat for the region's maharajas, who built summer palaces that made the most of the views and cooling breezes. As the state's only bona fide hill station, the town, sprawling over the sides of a wooded basin, remains a major resort, popular above all with honeymooners , who flock here during the winter wedding season to smooch around in woolly jumpers and unflattering hats while they get to know each other.
Among foreign tourists, opinion tends to be divided as to whether or not Mount Abu merits a visit. While some welcome the fresh air, panoramic views over the plains and good food on offer at the many restaurants, others find the tacky middle-class Indian holiday culture less than relaxing. One sight, however, tips the scales - at least for art and history buffs. Hidden in thick woodland north of the town, the Jain temples at Dilwara are architectural gems, decorated with what is thought to be the most intricate marble carving in the world. Anyone happy to rock hop and follow unmarked trails will also find plenty of scope for hikes and scrambles amid the granite boulders and wooded ridges high above the town, where dozens of tiny caves, connected by a tangle of dirt paths, shelter a transient community of semi-nomadic, chillum -smoking sadhus - a reminder of the area's great religious importance.
According to Hindu mythology, the focal point of Mount Abu, Nakki Lake , was formed when the gods scratched away at the mountain with their fingernails ( nakh ). These days, the waterside is cluttered by far more pedalos and ice-cream parlours than pilgrims, but the temple marking the site of the famous yagna agnikund at Gaumukh, 3km north of Mount Abu on the road up from the plains, still sees streams of devotees. In addition, around Mount Abu itself you'll come across many white-clad Brahma Kumaris , members of an international spiritual movement whose headquarters are situated in a quiet valley behind the lake.