A GIFT OF HADAS: BUNDI
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
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