Bundi was a surprise to me. I was looking for a stop over between Ranthambore and Udaipur and chose to halt at Bundi, Kota Rajasthan. Google mentioned there are enough places to do in Bundi for a day. But in my opinion you can stay for a couple of days and take it slow, for the town is slow. It was just a couple of hours drive from Ranthambore. I arrived the day before Diwali and the town was buzzing with activities. I was told Rajasthan had a ban on crackers. There was no such sign of it. The shops were busy, streets were filled with lights, people were doing last minute purchases, it looked lively. As we turned around the Nawal sagar lake, the crackers lit up the sky and I was elated.
I had booked my stay with Castle view homestay. This was a no brainer. I looked up the maps, main attraction to visit were Taragarh fort and Garh palace. And right opposite Garh palace is the castle view homestay. It is a beautiful home tucked in the tiny lanes of Bundi, run by a warm family. Car parking is at the fort gates. And then you have to navigate by foot. Do not be scared if a pig charges by cos that's how Bundi is :) Filled with narrow streets. In fact, Bundi was called as Bunda-Ka-Nal meaning narrow ways.
The homestay was cosy. For a solo traveler like me the room was sufficient. There is a sit out common place in the front. There is a terrace with view to the Garh palace and hence the name Castle view. Countless cups of hot chai and hot hot aloo parathas are a big plus. Homestays are best when you travel solo. The comfort of home and to be part of a family, is like one big hug. Prafful was always on his feet, tending to all needs.
Woke up late the next day. The town is sleepy and I decided to be one too :) So started the day only by 10am. It was the day of Diwali and I was the only one at Garh Palace.
Garh Palace, Bundi
I think I paid around 80bucks as an entrance fee. The fort is maintained by the ASI but no audio guides were available. There were no ASI guides either. I love to hire guides and listen to stories from the past but here there was none. Maybe because it was diwali and people decided to spend time with their family. So I collected my ticket and walked up the rickety sloppy path. Man! It must have been easy to sit on an elephant and go up and down this path. But I was dead sure to trip and fall down any moment, it was way slippery. Managed my way to the top. The majestic Hathi Pol gate opens up.
There was just one care taker who was cleaning up the place. He pointed to a notebook to make an entry and I was more than happy to do. In fact, I felt safe to give all my contacts and asked him to look for me in case I get lost. On face upon entering, there was a garden and just a floor of elevation I could see. The palace from outside looked towering over the cliff. Let me break the news, the forts and rooms do extend to many more floors.
Garh palace was constructed over time. Bundi was ruled by Hada Chauhans, a clan from the Rajputs. There is a series of kings by the name of Rao Raja - Rao Raja Surjan Singh, Rao Raja Bhoj Singh and so on. So one constructed the floor, audience hall. Another constructed the Hathi Pol, another king constructed Badal Mahal and so on. Hence the palace was built over time. But the architecture is that of prominent Rajput architecture. Walls adorned with colorful paintings, jhaali windows, the domes with kumbhs. It was evident from the Rajput era but some of the paintings were exquisite.
Once you pass through the majestic Hathi Pol gate, we arrive at the Ratan Daulat (Diwan-e-Aam). This should be the courtyard, it is a huge open space and the king's throne looks down from above floors into this courtyard. I walk towards the upper floors. The first floor has the marble King's throne called the "Sinhasan", which literally translates to throne. The symmetrical pillars around this hall shows a craftsmanship. But there is nothing special about these pillars, no carvings, no paintings. Probably faded away during the restoration. Some section and rooms are closed and marked as no entry. You can hear bats screeching from the other side of closed doors.
Walking further ahead passing through narrow staircase leads to Chattar Mahal. This is where the surprises of Garh Palace starts to crop up. Its splendid paintings start to unfurl. You arrive at an open space with a central space for fountain. One side opens up to Bundi city view with Nawal Sagar Lake occupying most of the view. The hooks on the ceiling indicated the swings that must have been there. The women enjoying the Bundi valley view from here while swaying on the swings, Oh! What a lovely time it must have been!
The top of the pillars are adorned with elephant sculptures holding on the roof. The other side of Chattar Mahal has vivid paintings of kings, love stories, court scenes. Probably the whole area was a resting and ghaana naachna place (sing and dance).
Walking further up I reach the Phool Mahal built by Rao Raja Bhoj Singh Ji. This could probably another place for the king to receive guests or hold important meetings. One side of the mahal is filled with jhaali windows letting in a cool breeze. Other side is a small room filled with war scene paintings, depicting king's valor and more. Colorful mosaic tiles embedded into designs. And then there are mirrors strategically placed. This is common in palaces where concept of light is through reflection of the mirrors, be it the natural light or the diyas.
The sign talks of walking towards another mahal and I follow the narrow staircase up to the Badal Mahal. Aptly named so cause it is all blue. All the paintings gone. Probably it was too bad and ASI thought, let me just paint it blue. This is clearly a bedroom. It has rooms, shelves, hooks fro screens, toilets, color stained glasses filling up colorful light.
What next feels like another section of Badal Mahal itself is another room filled with paintings. There is Krishna rasaleela on the ceiling and more stories of Krishna all around the room. I was taken aback as how every inch of this room was filled with colors. Faded with time but one can imagine no.
Next I came up to an open space from where I could see the Jhoola Chowk. The huge pillars or towers with hooks, am not sure if their purpose was to be huge swings or served as a balance. Cos it is common for palaces to have weighing balances like this. Either the king gifts jewels and or grains using such balances or even to measure treasury and stuff. Everything around the jhoola looked like would crumble any moment. One section of the room clearly showed the architectural elements of the palace. The roof being supported by wooden planks over mud brick walls. I prayed it not to fall on my head and walked towards the next section.
With that I walked out of the Garh Palace. It was the same care taker sitting by the gate and listening to radio. He went on to ask my whereabouts and what I was doing alone in Bundi. He mentioned that I have to visit Chitrashaala, which is a little up the ramp. And further up there is a way to Taragarh Fort. But he promptly added not to climb solo. That with less visitors due to covid lockdown, the path is now occupied with more notorious monkeys that tend to bite. An auto or vehicle can be hired to go to the top of the fort and preferably watch sunset over there. For some reason he insisted not to do even that as solo and I always listen to what the locals say. So I skipped Taragarh fort.
Balancing myself down the ramp I realised there is actually a fork in the ramp which I completely did not notice while climbing up to Garh Palace. The other side of the fork takes to Chitrashaala. Aptly named, it is a palace of drawings and paintings. As if phool mahal, badal mahal and chatar mahal were not enough to go in awe, this will just stun you. Thankfully I was alone when I walked in and gasped out a loud, "Oh my God!" This was more than what I can explain. Wall size intricate paintings of Rasaleela, Krishna lifting Govardhan hill, Krishna playing with Gopikas, and more.
The pillars are filled with miniature paintings along with mirrors. It is the most beautiful thing I have seen in a while. Honestly why are people flocking to Udaipur palace ignoring this gem?! On second thoughts better to leave this place alone. Pictures to speak.
Once I was done with the Garh palace I decided to walk through Bundi. Bundi was similar to markets of Porbandar. It was fun to walk through this heritage town. Sudden turns take you to towers and gates of the fort with its roof adorned with paintings with emerald blue and ruby reds. These ornate doors are covered with electrical lines passing around and pigeons occupying them.
Then the narrow streets take you through markets. It is so charming to walk through these markets. One street lined with pawn shops, one with vessels, one with clothes, no concept of adjacent shops should not be of same commodity. It is fun and has its own charm. Quite easy to get lost here actually and I did. But the shopkeepers helped me find the way :)
Raniji Ki Baori
I walked all the way to Raniji Ki Baori. Bundi is peppered with many stepwells. Raniji ki Baroi is the prominent one and open. Raniji ki baori literally translates to Queens' stepwell of Bundi. The well was built by Rani Nathawat ji during her son Budh singh's reign.
It stands in a busy junction. The noise dies down the moment you enter the gates. You need to get a ticket (200inr?) which holds good for the cenotaph and Sukh palace and the baori. Here as well there were no tourists. So the gates to the well were closed and the caretaker opened it for me. The stepwell was poorly maintained. Been a while since the water has been refreshed. The majestic arches of the baori captivated my attention. They are made like thorans of temples. The pillars are decorative. The walls of the stepwell have Vishnu's dasavatharam (ten incarnations) carved in. There are some more prominent Hindu symbols around the well. Apparently there are 100 steps in this stepwell and I assume they are under the water :) After a long walk I enjoyed the chillness from the baori and moved on to the next location.
The 84-pillared cenotaph is also called as Chaurasi khambon ki chattri (of course the hindi translation). For some reason no one seemed to know this place. It has a caretaker and an auto guy finally recognised it as Chattri. As the name says there are 84 pillars. There is a Shiva Linga placed on the chattri. Cenotaphs are built as memorials. It is double storied and you can walk to the upper floor of the chattri as well. The walls of the cenotaph are also carved with figurines.
Sukh Mahal / Rudyard Kipling's House
By visiting Sukh Mahal, you would be visiting three places. One is Sukh mahal itself and then the adjacent Jait Sagar Lake and a museum within the same enclosure. I am told that the Jait Sagar Lake is a good place for birding and is best to visit in the morning. This is why I would say spend at least two to three slow days in Bundi. Sukh Mahal is popularly known as The Rudyard Kipling house because it hosted him and he wrote his novel "Kim" while staying here.
It is quite beautiful and you can understand why Kipling chose this place. The palace is just two rooms and two floors.. All the rooms overlook the Jait sagar Lake which would have been much cleaner and filled with lilies back then. After all, this was a sukh palace, meant for pleasure of the kings and princes. Or probably a summer retreat? Anyways! The towering Aravalli hills, the lake, the wind, the birds everything makes it a beautiful setting for a dreamy palace.
There was a security and a care taker and they both accompanied me through out the time. I was the only solo traveler here as well and so they decided to protect me from monkeys and snakes. Yes snakes :) I didn't see any as such, but they have spotted and hence decided to escort.
Few paintings of God estranged around and some of the sculpture collections are placed around the palace.
The museum houses paintings of the kings hunting, ladies relaxing, a series of eye catching paintings on Radha and Krishna tugged my heart. And there is a good collection of sculptures too.
That was my end of Bundi tour. There are couple of more step wells a little away from the city. I chose to give it a miss.
Bundi is an offbeat location mostly visited by foreigners. And the people of Bundi who live on tourism are eagerly waiting for the travel to open and the foreigners to trickle in. Honestly I would say, give the crowded Udaipur a miss and just get here. Its rustic charm of old town is beautiful place to be at.