Bundi: where there’s everything and nothing to be blue about

January 17, 2016

This post is a part of the Excess Baggage series

Picture: Fernando Monte da Silva

The clouds part, allowing a ray of sunlight to brighten the pathway leading up to the entrance of the Taragarh Fort in Bundi

 

 

Think Rajasthan, and the first ‘must-visit’ spots that immediately present themselves are, of course, the beautiful city of Lakes-Udaipur, Jaipur’s pink city and Jodhpur. But there does lie a thrill in chartering the unknown course and treading off the beaten path. And that is precisely where places like Bundi come in; lesser known parts of the largest Indian state that get lost in translation when tales were being recounted of its more popular, touristic counterparts.

 

The first sight of Bundi comes when wending one’s way around an almost 90° bend to the left. From that angle, all one sees is the Taragarh Fort or Star Fort, carved neatly into the mountainside, with the beautiful hues of blue of the entire town. A chat with a town elder, Bati-Ji (now a guide around the town, and a former member of the Air Force, who speaks the Queen’s English like it’s nobody’s business) revealed that the reason the town paints itself in that colour is because they mix indigo with whitewash, which is the cheapest alternative to paint, and also because it acts as a natural mosquito repellent.

 

 

Picture: Fernando Monte da Silva

The view of the blue town of Bundi, through one of the windows of the fort

 

 

Historically, the area around Bundi was apparently inhabited by various local tribes. Bundi and the eponymous princely state are said to derive their names from a former member of the Meena tribe called Bunda Meena. Bundi was formerly titled ‘Bunda-Ka-Nal’, Nal meaning ‘narrow ways’. Over the passage of time, the region came to be governed by Rao Deva Hada, who took over Bundi from Jaita Meena in 1342, and established a princely state Bundi, renaming the surrounding area called Hadoti, the land of great Hada Rajputs.

 

Comprising a series of structures all adjacent to each other, the Taragarh Fort is the most impressive of the city's structures. Having been constructed in 1354 AD, upon the top of a steep hillside overlooking the city, the fort in modern times offers tourists a panoramic view of the city below. The fort is also home to three tanks which never run dry. The technique with which they were built has since been long lost. However, the tanks survive as a testament to medieval India’s advanced methods of construction and engineering.

 

Rajasthan has always been historically renowned for its military prowess, and the Taragarh Fort has one such claim of its own. The largest of its battlements is the 16th Century bastion known as the Bhim Burj, which once had mounted upon it a cannon of gargantuan proportions that was referred to as  Garbh Gunjam, or 'Thunder from the Womb'.

 

Of the aforementioned attached structures, the most renowned is the Bundi Palace. Situated on the hillside adjacent to the Taragarh Fort, it is notable for its lavish traditional murals and frescoes. The first look at the palace, which involves an almighty climb to the higher levels of the hillside, is absolutely breathtaking. Nestled amongst the stone-carved structure, far higher than ground level, is a beautifully manicured and landscaped garden, with the purple hues of a solitary bougainvillea offsetting the fawn colour of the palace and the green hedges planted in symmetrical rows.

 

 

Picture: Fernando Monte da Silva

The garden at the top of the Taragarh Fort, which is a breathtaking view in itself

 

 

The Chitrashala, or picture gallery, of the palace is open to the general public. This edifice is also referred to as the Ummed Mahal and was the creation of Rao Ummed Singh (1749-1773 AD), with further developed by his successor, Bisen Singh (1773-1821 AD). The themes that the art in the palace attempts to cover are varied and range from musical melodies, love stories and court processions. The ones considered most important are the ones that highlight the lifting of Mount Govardhan, Cheera-Harana, Rama’s wedding procession, Ragini Todi, Dhola Maru and Mare-Miratab. The work has been heavily influenced by Mughal and Mewar styles of artistic representation. The colour scheme consists of an aquamarine background, with white being used as the colour that was chosen to represent human bodies, and yellow, red, black and blue being used as the colours to denote clothing. At this juncture, I can’t help but recall the words of a fellow traveller on this trip: “And to think that the world makes a huge noise about Italy’s sole Michelangelo, when we have all this.” To be fair, she was spot on. Granted, Bundi needs a helping hand from the government and Rajasthan Tourism. However, there is no doubt that it is an artistic and architectural marvel, albeit one that requires the footing of a mountain goat to get to.

 

 

Picture: Fernando Monte da Silva

A mural from a ceiling, serving as a sample of the Bundi School of Art

 

 

However, there is more to Bundi than just the fort and the palace. The town amongst many other marvels, and its awe-inspiring modest lanes with tiny homes spaced five metres away from each other, is a repository of step-wells. There are over 50 step-wells in Bundi, of which only a handful have been maintained. Once the only source of water for the town until the introduction of a modern pipeline, these step-wells have since been abandoned, with the monuments that surround them falling into a state of disrepair. Most have, in fact, become refuse dumps, slipping out of the focus of public consciousness. Of these age-old structures, there are two that deserve special mention: the Dabhai Kund and the Raniji ki Baori.

 

The Dabhai Kund (also known as the jail kund) is the largest kund in Bundi. It is considered remarkable due to the spectacular carvings on the numerous steps that lead down to the level of the water. Then comes the largest of Bundi's baoris; the intricately carved, Raniji ki Baori. Approximately 46 metres deep, it was built in the year 1699 by Rani Nathavatji. The steps built into the sides of the well made water accessible even when at a very low level. The baori is one of the largest examples of its kind in Rajasthan. Which raises the question of what the difference is between a baori and a kund, given that they are both step-wells. Bati-Ji once more steps in, with his infinite wisdom, pointing out that while a kund was used for all practical purposes that water was required for, the water from a kund was never drunk. That is precisely where the baori came in; providing water for drinking. While the surface level of the Raniji ki Baori now has a layer of what appears to be algae covering it, Bati-Ji swears with absolute conviction, that the water beneath is still pristine, and that it is the way it is only due to neglect and lack of use.

 

 

Picture: Fernando Monte da Silva 

The now almost-deserted Raniji ki Baori

 

 

When it all comes down to it, Bundi is a lost marvel, one which is a photographer’s paradise, and an artist’s education. International tourists on the spot tell me that it is highly rated on their itinerary, especially for visitors travelling from France and Germany. As such, I see no reason why it shouldn’t similarly be high on a list for visitors from much nearer to home.

 

 

 

Fernando's Findings

#1
Bundi is, by and large off-the-beaten-track for most Indian tourists, who tend to limit their trips to Rajasthan to the more popular areas of Udaipur, Jaipur and Jodhpur (Pushkar being a stretch in itself).

#2
If you love art, architecture and photography, this is a town that you must stop at. It is one that needs to be experienced. The Taragarh Fort in itself will take a day to go through in detail, with the town requiring another. 

#3
The local fare isn't great, especially if your inclinations lie more towards that of a carnivorous nature. However, due to the influx of European tourists, you can even find yourself a Crêpe Suzette in the alleyways around Taragarh Fort.

#4
Recommended places to stay include the havelis in the town, where the tariff needs to be haggled over, before it can be frozen on. Part of the Taragarh Fort serves as a guest house, though it leaves much to be desired in its current state. lternatively, one can do as I did and stay at the Lake Nahargarh Palace, run by jüSTa Hotels, which is a 120 kilometre drive (through scenic country) away from Bundi.

 

 

 

My love for travel is second only to my love of food. Excess Baggage is a series of posts that delves into my experiences with the places that I’ve been to, why they are special to me and my sharing of my own insight that may lead you to take the path I have, which is quite often the path less travelled.

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#1 

 

The views here are completely my own, and may not reflect those of any other members of the human population, which is why it is 'my blog'.

 

 

 

#2

 

I will always do my best to not be offensive, but sometimes, just sometimes, there are things that annoy me. So if I'm writing about one of them (and if anyone involved is reading this), I apologise for any hurt sentiments in advance.

 

 

 

#3

 

Try not to be overly sensitive and take offense to things like beef, bikinis, sex scenes in movies, Donald Trump's inability to be an effective president and so on. The world is happier with unicorns in it.

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© 2015 by Fernando Monte da Silva