I had first heard the mention of Bundi from foreign backpackers when I was in Rishikesh in 2014. It was especially surprising, considering I was from Rajasthan itself and had never thought of Bundi as a tourist destination. The mention was quickly forgotten as I made my way to McLeodganj and Manali in the snow. Bundi resurfaced again a few months later when I was scouting for Havelis when my family pestered me to start a business.
After a quick look at Kota (Ancient : Kotah) Museum and Fort-Palace, Bundi was hardly an hour away. The original plan was to stay on for just 2 days, after all how much could a little town be worth. Two days quickly turned into three, then four and before I had realised it was the 6th day and Bundi was proving to be clingy, almost like a drug.
Rudyard Kipling, has this to say about Taragarh fort : ‘Jeypore Palace may be called the Versailles of India; Udaipur’s House of State is dwarfed by the hills round it and the spread of the Pichola Lake; Jodhpur’s House of Strife, gray towers on red rock, is the work of giants, but the Palace of Bundi, even in broad daylight, is such a palace as men build for themselves in uneasy dreams – the work of goblins rather than of men.’
The Taragarh Fort loomed large over this pretty town, it was brilliantly lit in the night and thats how my love affair with Bundi began. After trying to type and retype some sentence that could explain the beauty of Bundi, I give up.
The houses of Bundi, as viewed from afar are blue. There is a green coloured lake in the centre of the town, with a beautiful yellow Varuna Temple that rises from beneath. There are baoris (or stepwells) tucked away in small lanes with the temples. And miniature paintings decorate most houses that speak of great affection of art and fine crafts. It appears as if time stopped in the 15th Century in Bundi.
History of Bundi : Bundi was founded in the 12th Century and was the capital of the Kingdom of Hadoti.
Bundi Palace & Taragarh Fort
Rudyard Kipling wrote of Taragarh Fort – ‘The work of goblins rather than of men’. The entrance of Hathi Pol (Elephant Gate) was magnificent and so was the fort and its insides. The real treasure of the Bundi Palace were the murals and paintings inside the Chhatra Mahal, Phool Mahal and Badal Mahal. The entrance to two of these was locked and luck was on my side and a guard opened the same for me to have a look at the strangely chinese-looking paintings. Taragarh Fort is located on a hillock above the Bundi Palace and was constructed in 1354.
There are the unmistakeable shops for tourists leading to the Taragarh Fort but there were no touts and no haggling. It was a welcome experience from the other touristy places in Rajasthan and other parts of India.
Chitrashala – Ummed Mahal
We continued huffing and puffing on the steep climb; it was mid-February and yet the days were unbearably warm while the sun shined brightly. The manicured greens outside were a fair reflection of the riches of the paintings inside. Chitrashala is Bundi’s crown jewel, with some rare Krishna paintings in a unique style known as Bundi style of painting and has gorgeous green-blue colours. Real gold is also said to have been used in some, but has long since been taken away from this 18th Century Palace made by Rao Ummed Singh. Perfect place for a bird’s eye view of the Blue houses of Bundi!
Baoris of Bundi (Stepwells of Bundi)
There are known to be around 50 baoris in and around Bundi which were largely constructed to be of help in times of drought.Among the many Baoris visited, my favourites were the Raniji-ki-Baori with fabulous carvings, Nagar Sagar Kund and Dhabhai Kund – among many others. While the others were made around 100 years ago, Raniji-ki-Baori was built in 1600 and was commissioned by the then Queen of Bundi. The present condition of most baoris is terrible and they are used as rubbish and a horrible stench emanates. 🙁
This is the artificial lake in the town of Bundi; evenings at the lake are tranquil and there are fabulous reflections of the Palace and Fort when the water is calm. There are loads of fluttering pigeons around the lake and also another Fort (the entrance to which isn’t allowed.) Best views of Nawal Sagar itself are from the Fort or Palace, the water of the lake appears green while the houses of Bundi look blue and it makes for a memorable photograph.
Jait Sagar & Sukh Niwas Mahal
I was quite pleased to spot a water body from the top of Taragarh Palace, in a different direction from Bundi and next day walked to Jait Sagar Lake. We walked through the narrow lanes of Bundi town, and were surprised to see temples at every turn. Jait Sagar lake was pretty, it is a sizeable water body and Sukh Niwas Mahal (Literally Happy House Palace) is the name of the structure near the lake. It is famous because Rudyard Kipling is known to have stayed here once. A recommended site for peace and tranquility lovers with lush greenery and a water fountain.
Chaurasi Khambon Ki Chhatri
This is the 84 pillared cenotaph that is located outside Bundi but can be accessed by an auto. Although the architecture seems quite recent, the truth is that this cenotaph is quite old and was constructed in 1683. There is a large Shiva Lingam in the centre, which is flanked by the building of 84 pillars. An evening visit is better when the light is perfect to enjoy the colours and also for incredible views of the Bundi Palace & Taragarh Fort.
Kshar Bagh & Shikhar Burj
My curiosity was piqued after spotting signboards for Kshar Bagh (Or was it Shikhar Burj!) near Jait Sagar Lake. Shikhar Burj is the royal hunting lodge located in the forests, and was used by the royals on their hunting escapades. Kshar Bagh is a garden with cenotaphs of the rulers of Bundi and is a lovely place away from the town.
Excellent havelis and other cheap staying options in Bundi
Bundi is a real backpackers delight with affordable accommodation options. There are homestays and guest houses for as little as 100 Rupees. A few havelis have been restored into hotels, and are excellent value for money for approx. 1000 Rupees. We stayed everyday at a different place during the trip. It is one thing to find a place as amazing as Bundi, and another to realise that fairytales do come true.
Bundi Miniature Paintings
Little shops with artists meticulously painting and creating minute miniature paintings in the Bundi style. We sat inside one or two shops without being harangued to buy their wares. They were happy to tell us about their craft and explain it in detail. Thumbs up to Bundi, for a pleasant surprise without the hassles of a touristy city.
The street food and local shops were a delight too, and everything was authentic and cheap. This was the land of Kota Kachori and milk sweets! I must have gained a kilo or two in those six days. The locals also mentioned the festival of ‘Bundi Utsav’, held in October/November – when Bundi is decorated and really comes to life.
This is an attempt to summarise the ‘Bundi experience’ in this post; while the memories are so immense that I shall be doing separate posts on the Bundi Palace, Taragarh Fort, Stepwells and architecture of Bundi, Street photography, Places to stay and the food extravaganza that it is.
Also check : A Day in Ajmer – What to see?
Oh, and did I conveniently forget to tell you about the Bhaang experience?!