Hathi Pol.(Pic by Anukampa Mohanty)
Bundi, in Rajasthan, is far from the touristy hype. But art lovers from all over the world come here to study its over 200-year-old miniature paintings.
“Is the walk to the palace so steep that one needs to have a stick to lean on?” I asked the man sitting in front of the counter selling tickets for entering the Bundi palace and fort. He was renting out some very stout sticks. The man smiled, “No ma’am, these are to frighten the monkeys”. Needless to say, I chose the thickest.
Later I realised the precaution is needed only if you are going beyond the palace precincts and climbing up the old fort, which sprawls across a forested hill top. Perched at 1,426 feet, this 14th century fort is designed like a star and hence called Taragarh or the ‘star fort’, which can be seen from almost all corners of Bundi town.
The day before we had arrived in Bundi, a small town tucked inside the Aravalli hills of Rajasthan, from Kota, about 40km away. We drove down straight to the Rajasthan Tourism guest house. On the other side of the motorable road was the Jait Sagar Lake, dotted with pink lotuses. The tourist lodge was compact and fancy-free but well maintained.
The tourist lodge is located about two km off town centre. Advised by the receptionist, we decided to explore the market area in the afternoon and left the palace and the fort for the next day.
Walking around the market place, the first thing that struck was Bundi’s old world charm – old buildings with crenelated walls, narrow lanes where you may have to give way to lumbering bulls, where traditional shops churned out colourful lac bangles and the gossamer Kota doria sarees. And surprisingly, despite the lack of glitz and glamour, there were plenty of foreign tourists.
“Bundi is the home of Rajasthani miniature painting that flourished between late 16th and 19th centuries,” we were told by an old gentleman selling wall hangings and other bric-a-bracs. “It is an example where Mughal painting has influenced the typical Rajasthani style of painting. You will see more of it when you visit the Chitrashala in the Garh Palace.” Foreigners, especially from France, arrive to study the paintings, he added. Now we knew, why many buildings, including the local police station, had paintings on their outer walls.
Not many people know that Bundi is also home to several stepwells, most of which are now forgotten. We visited the relatively well-maintained Raniji-ki-Baori that contained carved archways.
Next day, we headed to the Taragarh Fort and palace. We took a government approved guide to take us around the palace. Bundi was once ruled by the Hada Chauhans. Today, Bundi is part of the Hadoti circuit, which consists of Kota, Bundi and Jhalawar.
We went past the Hathi Pol (the Elephant Gate) and gazed around the Diwani Aam (public audience hall). Then one by one, we passed through the Chhatra Mahal, Phool Mahal and the Badal Mahal – each room filled with exquisite miniature paintings, unfortunately not very well maintained.
The guide had saved the best for the last we realised as we made a detour to enter the Chitrashala, an 18th century palace built by Rao Ummed Singh. Here the murals, mostly depicting life and times of Krishna, are rather well preserved.
The climb to the top of the fort is rather strenuous, through rocks and bushes. Although the sweeping view of Bundi town and the countryside is a reward for the difficult climb, still it is not recommended for those with weak knees and heart.
On our way back to the tourist lodge, we stopped at the Sukh Mahal on one end of the Jait Sagar Lake. Author Rudyard Kipling spent some time in this palace and wrote several chapters of his famous book Kim.
Information: Jaipur, about 200km away by road, is the nearest airport. The most convenient gateway is Kota (on the Delhi-Mumbai railway route), about 40km away. The tourist lodge is basic but comfortable. If you are looking for luxury, you can opt for Hotel Bundi Haveli, Ummaid Bagh Resort, Hadoti Palace and others. The best time to visit Bundi is between November and March. Rajasthan Tourism holds an annual Bundi Festival where colourful art, craft and cultural programmes are organised. In 2016, Bundi Festival will be held from Nov 17-19. http://tourism.rajasthan.gov.in/.
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