Magical Bundi

I have been meaning to write about Bundi, one of the most beautiful places I have visited in Rajasthan and even India. Just 40 km from Kota, the ugly industrial town, Bundi has managed to stay largely undiscovered and consequently unspoilt; ‘off the beaten track’ does not begin to describe Bundi…

Painted gate at Bundi

Bundi is a series of one delightful discovery after another. Sadly, I did not know enough about Bundi to realize than that it deserved more than just a day trip from Kota. The tourism websites list many many “sightseeing” options but we ventured on our own and stuck to what seemed most inviting. And we were not disasspointed.

First was the Chaurasi Khambhon-ki-Chatri or the 84 pillared cenatoph. Although the blazing heat did not make this seem very exciting then, this is what I found out about this place later. This 84-pillared cenotaph was raised in the memory of Deva, the son of the wet nurse of Rao Raja Anirudh Singh. Built on a high platform this unique double story cenotaph has a large Shivlinga at the center, which makes it both a temple as well as a cenotaph.

And then on to the most famous of the stepwells of Bundi, Raniji ki baori. Built in 1699 by and for Rani Nathavatji, this stepwell is 46 metres deep and is supposed to be one of the largest stepwells in that region. Interestingly, apart from serving as private swimming pools for the royal ladies, these stepwells also acted as reservoirs in the hotter months.

Raniji ki baori was as dry as Bombay on Gandhi Jayanti and the main gate was locked, the key with an inebriated (at lunch time) watchman who vanished on seeing us. However, the exquisite carvings and arches all along the sides were enough to make that trip worth it.

Down to the stepwell

Arches and garlands

Our final destination for the day was the Garh Palace.

A steep climb along a roughly cobbled path takes you to this entry to the palace.

Gate of Bundi Palace

Window views

Only parts of the palace are open to the public; there was noone else in the palace at that time and we went around at our own pace, looking at the captivating murals on the walls and ceiling and pillars. One of the rooms is kept locked and was opened for our benefit; the walls which must been full of colur at one time had now faded and peeling murals (and some obnoxious graffiti too) but the government seems to be doing something to preserve whatever was remaining. The room is kept dark and flash photography is strictly prohibited.

Thankfully, the most captivating portion, the Chitra Shala or the palace of paintings was open. The walls and ceiling of the chitra shala are filled with traditional murals of the Bundi school of painting, all dating back a few centuries (I am not aware of the exact date). Most of them depict scenes from Krishna raas-leela, with a few chest thumping murals thrown in between about the splendors of the kingdom – glimpses of court life, animals of the region, hunting scenes and the like.

Faces of Krishna

I could have easily spent hours at the chitra shala, especially the watchman there had kindly allowed me to take pictures without using a flash. Except it was getting dark and we had to get back to Kota. Without seeing Taragarh fort and the other “sightseeing” marvels that the afore-mentioned tourism websites go on and on about…

When I have a lot of money, I am going back to Bundi to spend a few days there, taking in the colors on each mural at the Chitra shala and walking up and down the Taragarh fort. And all the while, staying in sinful luxury at some ancient haveli converted into a hotel for the sake of tourists like me. When I have a lot of money…

Proud of what heritage?

Independence day pleasantly spent at Karla caves near Lonavala. Well, mostly pleasantly. A drive on the Mumbai Pune expressway. A nicish climb up a hundred or so steps to reach the caves. Getting drenched in the rain all the way up and down.

And then the magnificent chaitya(chappel equivalent – Buddhist) at the end of the climb.

The chaitya - chappel or prayer hall

The principal cave is the largest Chaitya among Buddhist cave in the country, Being 15meters wide and 16 meters high. The most remarkable feature of the cave is its arched roof supported by wooden beams which have astonishingly survived the onslaught of elements for more than 2,000 years.

The roof of the chaitya hall

Onslaught of the elements they have survived. What about the onslaught of the humans?

Not just the humans who have steadily and thoroughly defaced and destroyed the magnificent architecture in the caves through the centuries. Religious motivation? Part of the plundering of the vanquished? Or was it just timepass…?

No, not just them from the past.

Which is the not so pleasant part. The litter. And the noise. And the plastic. And the catcalls. And the beer bottles. And the utterly unimaginative bunty-heart-arrow-babli graffiti. And the stench of urine inside the caves.

And did I mention the litter?

Why this utter lack of pride in what is ours – our heritage, our past? Is it ignorance? Or just plain indifference?

And all this from people who took off their footwear somewhere towards the top of the hill – before they entered the ekvira temple just near the caves. And bent low before every stone that had a flower and a red and yellow mark on it along the way…

These caves have survived – are surviving these ‘elements’ too – for how much longer, I wonder…

There is a wonderful group on flickr called Ruins from India. If you liked these pictures, have a look at more pictures and the interesting discussions there.

From Jalandhar

Jalandhar is a small town in many ways – nice friendly people who want to know everyting about you and invite you home for garam khaana (hot food) right after the first meeting…

And small enough for people to commute by cycle rickshaw… Five rupees can take you a long way in this city. And people bargaining with the rickshaw puller – paanch rupaiye kyon? paas hi to jaana hai – teen rupaiye le lo (why five rupees for such a short distance – take three rupees)

I guiltily think about how little five rupees means to me. I wave away the rickshaws who stop near me and start walking…

What is worse – to ride on one of them, with another human being pulling you? or walking away and depriving him of this opportunity to earn his living? I never know…

Another thing is the number of travel agents and ads for airlines – in the half kilometere stretch that I walked between my hotel to my work place, I counted nine travel agents, one one side of the road, that is… Japan Airlines, Turkish Airlines, Slovakia Airlines, Gulf Air. You name it.

Ad most of these travel agents offer an additional service too – filling up of visa forms. One of them says that they make a lot of money this way, apart from the regular service of procuring the visa for their customers…

And many old people who say that families spend between a lakh to three lakhs on this business of sending a young relative abroad year after year. Families which cannot afford it but manage it somehow…

Each family has one or two young people abroad – among whom many of them have disappeared – there is no news of or from them… for many years now.

Yet people want to go… and keep going. And many never come back…

Musing on rain…

Just got back from a couple of days in Delhi – as usual, happy to be back in Bombay. Just being in Bombay makes me feel that all is well with the world (ok, here I push the Worli image and other such disturbing thoughts from my mind, just for a moment, ok). Good to be back home.

And now this post from Annie about what the Delhi drizzle means to her –

Besides, the weather’s too delicious to allow critiques. Or angst.

All you can do is walk in the monsoon drizzle. All you can feel is the damp edges of your skirt brush your toes. All you can think of is that breeze in the balcony. The morning papers are almost an intrusion into an otherwise harmless world…


Delhi rains are. Stilling.
Like you want to be very still. Like the world might stop, and gawk at it’s own reflection in a puddle, and brood about how happy it is.

The weather in Delhi is stilling… This is a picture I got back from Delhi – I cannot think of a better word to describe it..

Hard at work
Annie also says, Funny, how it was never like this in Bombay.

Bombay – the rains are lashing.
They bind you, they confine you, they swamp you, they confront you, they rise up in sheets and walls and are nearly an assault on the skin, but they don’t stop you. Strangely, Bombay rains are not ‘stilling’.

True, the rains in Bombay are not stilling. Or relaxing. To me, they are about life and movement and destruction. All at the same time. Like the huge waves crashing on the rocks at Marine Drive.

Somewhat like Bombay itself…

What does the Bombay monsoon mean to you?

Incredible India!

I read today – Tourism ministry hires 15 agencies for Rs 70 cr Incredible India campaign

And remembered what Harini, TV producer, blog mela host and friend told me a few days about why she hates Rajasthan …. the way men just look at you there and say you, aurrrrrrat

And there is another reason I dislike Rajasthan – oh, its a beautiful magical place alright – but that state never fails to amaze and dismay me with its orientation towards foreign tourists… at the exclusion of ‘locals’ (or is the word ‘natives’?)

This happened last October on a holiday in Rajasthan – I had made reservations at a haveli-type-hotel in Jodhpur – because we were travelling with an elderly family friend… I had found this place and booked on the net. We reached in the middle of the night ——-
and many unpleasant hours later, the manager told us that we could leave if we did not like the place – and he said, this is the problem with you Indians… And why – were we creating any nuisance – no, but we were complaining about the fact that the waiters at the restaurant had taken our order and then not served us – at all…

And oh, he was a Rajasthani… not “Indian”, mind you – Rajasthani… And this was in Jodhpur, India.

And the argument started…. And things only got better (in hindsight, things always seem better – because by then you think they are funny…)

The manager continued, if I had known that you were Indians, I would not have given you bookings here… After which of course, there was no point in arguing – what does one say? And as we came out, the auto driver who took us in search of another hotel told us, par aap yahan kaise pahunch gaye? woh loge to sirf firangi ko andar aane dete hain… (how did you reach this place? they allow only foreigners inside…)

Ok, so we didn’t get thrown out of the railway compartment – but then we weren’t in South Africa either… This was India in 2004….

Incredible India alright.

And this is something I had written long ago on my previous blog…

The colours of racism

Have you always, like me, associated racism with ‘white’ ?

Read this very interesting article by Martin Jacques in the Guardian, The Global Hierarchy Of Race.

Racism, he points out, is not the ‘prerogative’ of the whites although they are on top of the pile. In various rungs lower down are the yellows, the browns and various other colours of the spectrum.

A veritable race rainbow ?

The one thing in common is, he points out, is denial as the natural response to any society to insinuations of racism. Nations are never honest about themselves: they are all in varying degrees of denial.

A friend of mine was in Korea recently and has lots of stories of discrimination…. Koreans consider themselves superior to Indians and other South Asians…. basis what, please? You can be called Paki in the UK or jihadi in the US…. But then, why am I talking about the whites ? Closer home, in a country dangerously obsessed with skin tone, you can be called a dark madrasi…

Racism obviously begins at home….

Update : Tarun asks me why I am “afraid” to mention the name of the guesthouse in this post here – as I replied to him, it just didn’t occur to me – and the point was not about this particular guesthouse but the general attitude in the place – some of the localites later told us that there were many such small hotels/guesthouses which catered only to foreigners – no harm in that I guess, except I wish they would mention this clearly in their website / at the time of making reservations. Incidentally and not at all surprisingly, such places ara rated very high in the lonely planets and rough guides of the world – but clearly, we were not the target audience for these guides.

This place is called Haveli Guesthouse and believe me, the place is nowhere like these pictures on their website suggests.

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