A GIFT OF HADAS: BUNDI

Airports India - - CONTENTS - TEXT & PHO­TOS: G. BRINDHA

Time has frozen in this town. In­ex­tri­ca­bly caught in the web of history. A poor rail con­nec­tion. No com­mer­cial/in­dus­trial es­tab­lish­ments worth the name. No classy ho­tels. Havelis and old homes have been con­verted into lodg­ings.

Dusty lanes and by­lanes. Nar­row streets which make it dif­fi­cult for ve­hi­cles to ne­go­ti­ate. That is Bundi.

Nev­er­the­less, this petite town re­mains very at­trac­tive, with its sui generis pieces of ar­chi­tec­ture, art gal­leries and scenic beauty.

This for­mer cap­i­tal of a once princely state nes­tles in a gorge in the an­cient hills in In­dia, the Araval­lis. All th­ese at­tributes go to make Bundi, this small town in Ra­jasthan, unique.

The town spreads small and is massed across the floor of the val­ley and then strag­gles up the bare hills. Bundi is it­self a for­ress with walls run­ning around it. There is a lake in the mid­dle; a palace above look­ing down in aloof grandeur and the scrub cov­ered hills ris­ing in shades of brown and khaki into jagged crests all around.

As the leg­end goes, back in the 12th cen­tury, rest­less young no­bles of the war­rior Chauhan clan van­quished the Bhil and Meena tribes of th­ese lands. One group chose the neigh­bour­ing area of Kota, the other set­tled in Bund. While Kota grew in

pros­per­ity, Bundi re­mained a ru­ral town stuck in a time-warp.

Be­ing the last leg of my tour in this State, I ar­rived late in the evening by bus from Kota. My ho­tel was bathed in a milky white glow like a nymph in the dark­ness. It is a new ho­tel, de­signed in the colo­nial style. I was dressed in ca­su­als.

Mr. Avi­jit, my host, takes me to the back of the ho­tel to have a look at the shim­mer­ing swim­ming pool. Sud­denly, I start shiv­er­ing.

The cold wind is aching through my bones. My teeth chat­ter. I have not ex­pe­ri­enced this in Jaipur or Kota. “We are hemmed in by hills. You are not in a con­crete jun­gle. Please wear your win­ter cloth­ing,” rea­sons Mr. Avi­jit. I rush to my cosy room and with a woolen jacket on, or­der a cup of fresh hot chocolate, but they have only a lim­ited menu of chai. I re­tire to bed sat­is­fy­ing my­self with a gob­let of warm wa­ter.

In the morn­ing, from the room, I have

a prodi­gious view of the fort and hills. All the rooms have this view.

The ho­tel has a vin­tage col­lec­tion of cars and beau­ti­ful lawns. I de­cide to go for my usual jaunt.

“See­ing Bundi can be done on foot,” coun­sels the Man­ager. But as a city slinger I en­gage an auto. Be­ing a reg­u­lar fea­ture in any city or town in In­dia, I am also fleeced by the driver (Rs. 500). The first site to visit is Raniji ki Baori. The Raniji ki Baori, was built in the year 1699 by Rani Natha­vati, who was the younger queen of the rul­ing Rao. She con­structed the 165 feet step Rani­jiki-baori. The step well has a nar­row en­trance marked by four pil­lars. Stone ele­phant stat­ues that face each other stand in the cor­ners. Ogee brack­ets dec­o­rate all the arch­ways of the 46 m

deep Raniji ki Baori, which is re­put­edly the largest Baori of Bundi.

The well was built with a def­i­nite pur­pose. It used to be a pri­vate swim­ming pool for Ra­jput ladies. How­ever, dur­ing sum­mer, the pond be­came of great use to the com­mon­ers. It was made in the most user-friendly way as the pres­ence of sev­eral steps on the sides of the well made it pos­si­ble for the peo­ple to col­lect wa­ter from the well even at very low lev­els.

Raniji ki Baori has su­perb carv­ings on its pil­lars and a high arched gate.

The next was the Garh Palace re­garded as a mile­stone in the Ra­jput style of ar­chi­tec­ture.

As in most for­ti­fied cities , the palace­fort com­plex dom­i­nates the town, massed across a rocky height, ap­proached by a flagged ramp (those with weak limbs need shoes and sticks to bal­ance them­selves). We en­tered the in­ner court­yard (through the outer gate Hazari Pol) and then through Hathia Pol, a tall por­tal

sur­mounted by stone ele­phants so typ­i­cal of the Hadoti re­gion. A fleet of steep stairs leads to Rat­tan Daulat, where stands a white mar­ble throne. The most note­wor­thy among the apart­ments is Chat­tra Ma­hal, which has ex­quis­ite wall paint­ings of the fa­mous Bundi Kalam. They have gone a long way in making Bundi world fa­mous for its minia­ture paint­ings. But the vis­ual de­light can be had at Chi­trashala, on the other side. It is a quad­ran­gle with clois­tered gal­leries run­ning around it. Es­tab­lished by Rao Raja Umed Singh in the 18th cen­tury, it com­prises some of the best of the Bundi mu­rals. Th­ese de­pict scenes from the life of Kr­ishna and are unique for their blue green tints. Out­side the Ma­hal is a Mughal gar­den, over­look­ing the town.

Once you come out, you need to climb an­other cob­bled ramp to reach the crest of the hill where the fort is lo­cated.

The Tara­garh Fort crown­ing the 500ft

(150m) hill was com­pleted dur­ing the mid­dle of the 14th cen­tury. It of­fers in­vin­ci­ble bat­tle­ments that must have proved dif­fi­cult to scale. There are huge wa­ter reser­voirs in­side the fort, hewn out of solid rock, with cre­nal­la­tions and bas­tions, the big­gest one called Bhim Burj, on which the fa­mous can­non, Garbh Ganj, is mounted. The fort com­mands a mar­velous view of the plains of Hadoti to­wards the east, with the lovely azure wa­ters of Jait Sa­gar be­low on one side, the quaint town of Bundi on the other and the gird­ing forests and hills all around.

The rec­tan­gu­lar Nawal Sa­gar lies in the mid­dle of the town, be­tween the hills. There is an is­land tem­ple of Varuna in it which gets sub­merged when the lake is full. The refreshing Jait Sa­gar with a palace (Sukh Ni­was) on its banks, is a spot not to be missed. Set amidst a pretty gar­den it houses some pretty sculp­tures. It of­fers a fab­u­lous view of the lake, hills and the sur­rounds. No won­der Rud­yard Ki­pling stayed here and got in­spired. At the other end of the lake is Sar Bagh , the ceno­taphs

of the roy­als with out­stand­ing carv­ings. Shikar Burj, a large shoot­ing tower, stands not too far away, set in a deep for­est.

Chaurasi Kham­bon ki Ch­ha­tri, built on a high plat­form, is a unique dou­ble ch­ha­tri that has a large Shivalinga in the cen­ter, which makes it both a tem­ple and a ceno­taph. The sides of the plinth are cov­ered with del­i­cate sculp­tures of var­i­ous beasts, and beau­ti­ful etch­ings dec­o­rate the col­umns. The ceil­ing is cov­ered with paint­ings de­pict­ing var­i­ous sub­jects, from bat­tle scenes to tra­di­tional fish sym­bols.

Bundi leads us to a by­gone era. For all the bus­tle of the city, there is a time­less, trapped-in-am­ber at­mos­phere about Bundi, which, for many visi­tors is oddly re­as­sur­ing in a fast chang­ing world.

GET­TING THERE :

Near­est air­port: Jaipur (206 kms) Rail-head: Though there is a small rail sta­tion at Bundi which caters only to 2 ex­press trains (to Delhi), the con­ve­nient rail Sta­tion is at Kota (40 km). Road: Buses and cabs are avail­able from Kota and the air­port to Bundi.

A view of the city sprawl­ing un­der the fort palace

View of the houses and the palace perched on the hill and fort wall

Close-up view of the palace

A rare paint­ing (in­side the palace)

Rani ji ki Baori

step well

The view of the city and its beau­ti­ful lake

En­trance gate and the view of the lake from the palace

Artis­tic steps of the Rani ki Baori

Arched gate­way to the Chi­trashala

Chat­tri with a shivling

Hathia pol (ele­phant gate)

An­other view of the lake

The dif­fer­ent chat­tris

The blue wa­ters of the lake

The palace reigns over Bundi

Beau­ti­fully arched cupo­las in­side the fort

The fort palace

Colon­naded hall in the place

A view in­side the palace

An ex­quis­ite mu­ral

A Ra­jasthani in tra­di­tional at­tire (with the tur­ban)

Crenel­lated fort wall on the crest of the hill

A bazaar in the town

Sheesh ma­hal

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