To recap the journey so far, we started from Delhi on Dec 28, 2012 and after the bouts of shopping and sight-seeing, we spent the night at Arya Niwas, Jaipur. Next morning, after going through the educative experiences at Sanganer and learning a bit of blue-pottery and block-printing, we reached Bundi only by evening. After getting mesmerised by the stunning views of the Bundi Fort, from the roof-top dining place of hotel ‘Dev Niwas’, we retired to our rooms. I did get into a fire-drill and spent many hours, fighting the hacked website and fixing the house before we retired for a well earned sleep. Ab, aage (now, further)!
The first thing that I did the next morning was to check my emails and after some usual checks-n-balances, the hack-thing seemed to have gotten resolved. It was time to head out to the restaurant again for the morning breakfast and to watch the fort again, this time under bright sun light. Yes, the Sun was out in its full glory and from the terrace we could see the city rising. It was Dec 30th and probably a holiday as we could see a lot of folks busy with kite flying. What appeared as complete darkness the previous night was actually an unending sight of co-joined roof-tops, of not-so-large houses, almost all of them of 2 storied/levels and it looked like an ordered chaos. While we were having our well-laid out breakfast, we noticed that there is always one or usually two of the hotel staff, guarding us. It made me remember those numerous movies on US Presidents where there are officers with stone gazes are all around him, all the time. I think Hollywood is simply obsessed with the President and the White House. Ok, that story at some other time. Coming back to our own hotel staff, they seemed wiser and were smart enough to not invade your private space but their vigil was more than casual. Before long, we discovered a herd of Langurs jumping across roofs. As we looked more, we saw more of them and after a while, we marvelled on our conditioned reflexes which failed to see the monkey and langurs all this while. Yes, Bundi has a lot of them and not all of them are friendly. The hotel staff was there for our protection, more when we were eating out on the terrace. As we talked, we learnt that the Langurs are not to be worried about but we must take care of ourselves and our belongings when we see monkeys, especially the red faced ones.
Right across the street, a lady of the house was engrossingly engaged with a ‘red-bum’, negotiating a piece of cloth which the red bum was attempting to try on! So one needs to be very wary of them, when in Bundi. They are everywhere.
Our first destination for the day was ‘Bundi Palace’ , ‘Chitrashala’ and ‘Taragarh Fort‘. All are in the same line of sight. We were staying in the old city and the palace was a 10 minute walk away from the main artery of the old town. On both sides, you would see shops of all colours. The sweet-maker getting ready for scooping the first lot of hot Jalebis, the panwaalas, the tea shops with benches outside, an old temple with intricate work and as you get closer to the Palace, more touristy shops selling Bundi Paintings. Yes, Bundi is known for its miniature paintings and we would learn about them later but first lets walk up to the ticket counter, a moderate gradient away after the parking.
At the ticket window, we were refused the entry. To add insult to injury, we were told that foreigners are allowed but Indians are not given permission. On more probing, I learnt that there was some fracas created by non-foreigners and it being a private property, Raja Ji decided to stop the entry for Indians. But, I was told, I could get it along with my family since I do not look like someone who would (rather, could) create some problem as long as I pay like a foreigner. So we paid much more of what we should have paid and got in. As you get past the main tall gate, you find yourself at a do-raha/fork. On the left is the main part of the ‘Palace’ and on your right, a further climb made more difficult by unkempt way, is another section of palace called, ‘Chitrashala’.
It has a big entrance and you land up into a courtyard flanked on all sides by large, tall halls with stairs going up to the next level. You catch a breath to take a good view of overall topology and head towards the stairs. The initial bat-poo-smell is familiar but gradually the stench begins to get the better of you. The palace has seen good times and that is apparent from those murals (and more when we would visit Chitrashala), persian glass-ware and all things which are signature of forts. The jharokhas (Bay windows?) give an impressive view of the town and the Baoli. In December, the haze was thic but I would guess that in a better weather the view would take you few ages behind. The old, stunted-appearing, town almost feels like a scene from the film ‘Rudaali’. We walked around, with the help of a local guide/care-taker who patiently opened the locked doors so that we could appreciate the once-royal palace. The overgrowing stench, bad upkeep was now winning so I got into a conversation with the caretaker. He told me that the place is undergoing a litigation. There is a very thin layer of support staff to take care of the place but all they try to do is to keep the hooligans off and wait for well-meaning travellers. I didn’t want to make it more difficult for the caretaker and wished him luck and we proceed to 2nd floor/3rd level. Large rooms, supported with crafted pillars and brackets. The usual Torans (welcoming motif at the entrance) with elephants proudly protruding their long trunks.
The weather was on our side along with 4 other guests, all foreigners, quietly hopping from one quarried stone to another. We decided to take the steps down and move to ‘Chitrashala’. As we were begining to get ready for another climb, we took one last long look and rued on how litigations and policy-paralysis is just killing almost everything. Would you stop taking care of a baby while the court figures our the right of ownership post divorce. But in no time, we were back to our composed selves and got past the snack-n-bottle kiosks towards ‘Chitrashala’.
As you take the turn, after the tough and steep climb of 10 meters, you are welcomed into a different world. ‘Chitrashala’ is maintained/managed by ASI, unlike the fort, and boy what it indeed looks like a part of a different eco-system. Well manicured lawns, sparkling pathways, alert staff and many more people around. As if the government, via ASI, is trying to mock upon the feuding owners. To be fair to our discreet drive to Bundi, we didn’t rush thorough the palace and now we were repenting on all the time lost there. ‘Chitrashala’ is the place one must go and witness. The murals and wall-to-wall paintings are well preserved and its a riot there.
The paintings chronicle the events from history and just like a good and learned student who scribbled to fill all the hashiyas (margins) of the answer sheet, the painters have indeed not left any place. Rooms and rooms of art, sneaking on you from all sides, include the top. Bundi School of Painting, indeed seemed like a big ticket item with scenes from hunting, colourful ceremonies, festivals, animals, birds, Gods and their leelas (acts). All well preserved, a little away from the prying (Sonu loves Monu) guests via an unobtrusive short wall, for the luxury of average travellers like me. We went on a shooting rampage. When we recovered, we spent time trying to decipher the meanings and the contexts. And finally when we were tired, we also made use of December sun and the green lawns. ‘Chitrashala’ is a must. We went again the next day and I would plan to visit again, just for this place, for a few hours.
After this fulfilling run, we moved up towards the ‘Taragarh Fort’. By now, it was beyond noon and the overall morale for another climb was not high. But we still decided to move and were stopped and suggested to go down, lease a stick for each member of the group (that would be me, my spouse and my 8-year old kid) to ward off the monkeys. It meant going down the two gradients, getting a stick after signing the lease agreement, climbing up and further up to the fort. It was an easy decision and we decided to delay the visit to the fort for the next day.
Time to hunt for a place to eat. We were able to nurture a good appetite when we were called by this chap, stilling in a corner. He turned out to be the owner of ‘Out of the Box’ rooftop cafe (all decent restaurants in Bundi are on roof tops, don’t ask me why). He didn’t seem like a local product so I asked him more. Well, he was from Tamil Nadu and been running a cafe in Pushkar. When he visited Bundi, he realised that there is no good place to get the typical-cafe (a long lecture later, but this is the category where you get things like falafel, fresh fruit juices, wooden-oven baked fresh pizzas, cheese-n-mac, guess you get the drift. These cafes are abundant in places like Kasol, Mcledoganj, Goa, Rishikesh, Khajuraho, Bundi, Paharganj in Delhi, and may be Gokarna in TN and attract foreign tourists/travelers and wannabes like me) so he hung around for longer and built one. With a quiet place like Bundi, which gets a lot of good Sun, he has put his money in a good place. Impressed, we embraced for another climb towards his ‘Out of the Box’ cafe through narrow, winding stairs. At each level of the house, a living world waited for us. Elderly women sitting on folding beds, contributing to the chores of the day, glancing at us, often giving us a strange (but smiling) looks to our polite/conformist tattoos. The cafe was airy, with enough protection built from the menacing monkeys.
The fare was a good mix of pastas and pizzas and we thoroughly enjoyed it. We polished the big lunch with fresh juices and the damage was not too high. We returned to the street. It was now afternoon and our friends from Delhi, who were chasing us with a delay of a day (actually I got a handicap of a day, since my friend, a Super Randonnuer, talks and drives fast) were now leaving Jaipur and were to join us in a couple of hours. To make the whole equation even more complicated, another friend drove directly on Day 3. Talk of planning.
So we decided to check out some of the other attractions and moved towards New Bundi. From Fort one can join the Jaipur-Kota highway without much of ‘Google Maps’. Since the previous evening, we entered the city only after dark we wanted to head back to highway to see what we missed.
If you are coming from Jaipur, then Bundi falls on your left, almost appearing from nowhere since it is in a gorge with a tall hill protecting its identity, on the right side of the road. I think if someone makes a bypass road then probably Bundi would fall off the map, entirely. As we drove alongside the hill on our right and the town on the let, we realised that the town has grown over time and there is a new part of town, almost like what New Delhi is to Old Delhi, gradually pushing its way in. To discover this new town, we again entered the town from another entry further down the road and witnessed the usual mix of apartments, hospitals, traffic, schools, auto markets and what not. Our next stop was ’84 Pillars’ but I would save that for another log since we visited this place again on next day. We still had about 2 hours with us and our friends told us to stop visiting new places and instead wait for them. The dilemma resulted in this unplanned drive to Kota, famous for Sarees and coaching schools. I was way past the age for a coaching school but my wife is more consistent for her love for good weaves. We rev-ed back on the highway again and in another hour, we were at Kota. It was a Sunday so the market was closed but we could still manage to find some shops and bought a few. On the return, we stopped for a quick snack break and reached hotel from the other side of the town.
The evening was spent on terrace, overlooking the brilliantly lit Bundi Palace and reminiscing the Bundi Palace, reminding the promise we made to ourselves to visit Chitrashala again, food at OOB and the drive to Kota. The plan for the next day was to capture the alleys of Bundi and discover more of the precious heritage the city has proudly preserved over last few hundred years. Along with our friends who we had just welcomed with suppressed zeal.