Above the hill fairly at a distance, snaked the beautiful Garh Palace of Bundi. The sandy munition of the palace gleamed under the golden Sun-lit sky. Down the streets, ran a busy maze of narrow colorful lanes lined with blue heritage Havelis that stood well-ornated with simple mint-colored doors and windows. The blue hue of these Havelis has always been an integral part of Bundi’s enhancive beauty. This unique blue color is brought by mixing indigo with whitewash, and it also helps act as a great mosquito repellent.
A few meters down the walk, we stumbled upon a very different aesthetic of Bundi beyond the blue Havelis, just like the modern terraced hipster cafes, the tiny lassi shops, and the old market stores. By the tapered streets of the Main Bazaar sat Baniya (a traditional sect of merchants of Rajasthan) men and women attending their shops, in the vogue of a typical Rajasthani merchant. Baniya men in white kurta-pajamas and women in colorful floral sarees perfectly blended with the decor of the blue walls that ran thoroughly down the streets of Bundi’s Main Bazaar. Apart from the chaos of the humans, the Bazaar streets were also clubbed with tangles of cable wires passing through the well-fortified historic gates that homed flocks of pigeons. The cooing and fluttering of the pigeons flared and echoed around the lingering calm of Bundi. In the gleam of the Sunset hour, Bundi seemed like a cosmos of tourists and travelers coming from different pockets of the world who were greeted with great warmth by the local merchants. As the Sun transcended down the Aravali hills and welcomed the cool nightfall, the petite town of Bundi shone in dimly lit streets, quaint gullies where cafes played trippy songs and the chitter-chatter of the walking tourists accompanied the trance of the town.
As an introverted wanderer, perceiving this unhurried element of Bundi made it seem like a town pulled out of a picture postcard that perfectly fits for slow travel. At a glance, the touristy pace of Bundi seemed like the one that could totally go unmatched to the pace of the other popular cities of Rajasthan.
Waking up to the crack of the dawn, overlooking the emerald but not-so-pristine waters of the Nawal Sagar Lake, we headed out for a slow exploration to the Bundi’s iconic Garh Palace.
The hot Sun shimmered right above us as we walked through the cobbled stone pathway that led us to the main entrance of the Garh Palace. Unlike the other touristy cousins of Bundi say Jodhpur, or Jaipur the entrance to the Garh Palace was neither crowded with hoards of tourists nor had overpriced souvenir shops to distract us from the muse of the Palace.
Up to the steep cobble-stoned rampway, stood the mystical Garh Palace that blurred us to its ravishing beauty. In the first few minutes, we were typically drawn to the beauty of the massive palace that stood right before us. Under the broad daylight, the palace glistened in vibrant gold. The solid elongated pillars had turned dull over time and now is homed by flocks of pigeons and colonies of bats. Once what hosted an army of soldiers is now a fair share of a home plate to old barren trees and barrels of notorious langurs and monkeys that are usually found hopping around the palace complex nursing their young ones. Towards one end of the palace extension, runs a ruined stretch which is now converted to a visitors toilet while the other steep walkway leads to the main entrance of the palace which is ornated with intricate details, blackened cracks that have failed to stand the test of time and specks of pink flowers and dark green shrubs. At the very first instance, the grandeur and intricacy of the Hathi Pol (the Elephant Gate) left us awed. As we loitered around, one of the guards referred the Garh Palace to be one of the largest palaces in India, however, I wonder what makes it offbeat.
From the tipping point of the entrance, the Garh Palace did not seem to be as big as it really was. However, as we walked through the courtyard, and climbed one of the dark-cornered staircases, we entered into the Diwan-i-Am (Hall of Public Audience), that had a gorgeous white marble coronation throne which is now an abode to a hundred pigeons coo-ing in the lonesome vantage of the pillared hall. As we headed straight through the Diwan-i-Am we entered the Chhatra Mahal which is beautifully adorned with Rajputi architecture and some verses of the ancient Indian scripts. The Chhatra Mahal offered us a splendid view of the entire town of Bundi which appeared to be dotted with ancient indigo colored homes, sparsely planted trees amidst courtyards of ancient mansions, bird’s eye view of the many Baoris (water reservoirs that are in the lineage of terraces which collect rainwater for the long dry season), and the emerald waters of the Nawal Sagar lake teemed up with a couple of hillocks! From the Chhatra Mahal, Bundi seemed like a tiny offbeat twin to Jodhpur.
Through the Chhatra Mahal, the stairs led us to Phool Mahal followed by the Badal Mahal; which literally translates to the Palace of Clouds and was typically used as the Janana (home to the women of the royal household). The Badal Mahal displayed some of the best murals of Bundi, that are known to have an influence of the Chinese and Mongolian culture the sources of which can be traced back to the rich barter trade of opium between the Chinese and the Mongolian merchants and the Rajputs.
Towards the other end of the Garh Palace, ran a steep pathway, a lot more rugged and less cobble-stoned, that led us to the Chitrashala past troops of notorious monkeys in the backdrop of a panoramic view of Bundi. Beautifully ladened with green plants the first glimpse of the Chitrashala intrigued us to explore the beauty it held within. The walls of the Chitrashala is tapered with murals that seem transcendental. These murals date back somewhere between 1773 and 1821.
A variety of blues, turquoises, topaz, teals, and cyans form the original decor of the Garh Palace’s Chitrashala and is evenly decorated with cut pieces of Belgian glass that were barter-traded by the Rajput kings of Bundi. The architectural specialty of the Chitrashala lies in the fact that it sits at the inner side of the palace, where the withering of time, sunlight and moisture haven’t affected the paintings. These paintings at the Chitrashala portray the glory of Lord Krishna, depict the scenes of Ras Leela, the wedding of Ram-Sita, and scenes from Dhola-Maru (the local interpretation of Romeo and Juliet).
The slight imperfections and the withering of the Chitrashala, only add an intimate muse to the grimace of this beautiful art gallery.
The tiddly town of Bundi in the North-Western state of Rajasthan is nothing less than a unique town that seems to be pulled out of a postcard with perfectly dotted blue households, rustic ancient heritage mansions, and emerald splashes of water. The historic town of Bundi dates back to the early 16th century. It was once ruled by the Hada Chauhans. A good number of historians claim it was once the capital of the great Hadoti Kingdom. It was renowned for its art and sculpture.
However, in 1624, Kota separated as an independent state and this marked the beginning of an era of the downfall of Bundi. Bundi still retains its charismatic medieval grandeur majorly through it’s Garh Palace. The Garh Palace and the Taragarh fort of Bundi are privately owned by the inherent king of the Rajput dynasty of Bundi.
The palace was constructed during the reign of Rao Raja Ratan Singh (r 1607–31) and added to by his successors. Part of it remained occupied by the Bundi royals until 1948. Phool Mahal (1607), Badal Mahal (Cloud Palace; also 1607), and the whole palace is actually an aggregation of separate palaces built by later rulers. They are so perfect in harmony that it looks like a fabulous conglomeration of palaces built over a hill. The Art Gallery of the Garh Palace is a visual delight which was initially known as Ummed Palace and was built by Rao Ummed Singh.
84 Pillared Cenotaph – This is a historic structure that was built by Bundi’s Maharaja – Rao Anirudh, to pay a tribute to his wet nurse, Deva who he loved dearly. Just as the name suggests, this cenotaph is made up of deer and elephant carvings in the 84 pillars that it beholds.
Shikar Burj – The ancient hunting cottage of Shikar Burj attracts a lot of tourists because of its scenic location of being nestled between the forests of Bundi. Historically, Shikhar Burj was the abode of Raja Umed Singh back in the 18th century who withdrew from the royal household after renouncing his throne. Today, Shikhar Burj is a popular picnic spot and is ideal to spend a quality evening.
Kshar Baug – Occasionally also known as the Saar Bagh, it abodes the cenotaphs of the royal household of the state of Bundi and perfectly fits for a spooky yet enduring visit.
Dabhai Kund – The inverted pyramid-like structure which is also known as the Jail Kund is a visual treat with fine carvings and the premise of the largest Kund in Bundi.
Nagar Sagar Kund – Another Kund, however, this is a set of twin stepwells which sits right in the middle of the market and can be easily dismissed in the Bundi buzz but is a visibly good site to have a brief visit.
Raniji ki Baori – Literally translates to ‘Queen’s Stepwell,’ ‘Baoris’ – are step wells that were built for the purpose of water conservation during the times of drought. Raniji ki Baori is illustrious to be one of the largest among the more than 50 Baoris that contemplate the town. It was built back in 1699 by Rani Nathavati Ji and was partly also used as assembly areas for social gatherings and folk recreational events. The Baori stands architecturally beautiful and intrinsic even today; however, the lack of proper maintenance is what has diminished its past glory. (And it would be just fine if you plan to skip it!)
Taragarh Fort – Built in 1345, in a very typical Rajput architectural style, the Taragarh Fort portrays a sense of its beauty during its heydays, however, it is now in the state of ruins and only permits foreigners and not Indians for reasons unknown.
Lake Jait Sagar – Adjacent to the Taragarh Fort, it is a beautiful site to spot lotuses in full bloom during the winter and the monsoon months.
Sukh Mahal – Famed after the book ‘Kim’ written by Rudyard Kipling, which was apparently penned down in Sukh Mahal, is what carries its trance till date. Historically, Sukh Mahal acted as a summer hideaway for the yesteryear rulers, but today, it enjoys the pomp of an ancient two-storied palace ideal for a day’s exploration.
Ticket Price of the Garh Palace and the Taragarh Fort – 25 INR per person (Indian nationals), digital camera – 50 INR and video camera, 100 INR. For foreign nationals, the entry ticket is INR 100, while camera tickets are the same as Indians.
Rudyard Kipling, in one of his books, ‘Kim’ has fondly addressed of Bundi as – “Jaipur Palace may be called the Versailles of India … Jodhpur’s House of strife, gray towers on red rock, is the work of giants, but the Palace of Bundi, even in broad daylight, is such a palace as men build for themselves in uneasy dreams – the work of goblins rather than of men.” And I couldn’t find finer words to describe Bundi but Kipling’s prose.