Rajasthan’s Best Kept Secret

It’s a city that’s played host to Rudyard Kipling, Satyajit Ray and Rabindranath Tagore. A tiny dot on Rajasthan map, far removed from the consumerist clutter and tourist trappings of bigger cities like Jaipur and Jaisalmer – Bundi is a historical gem that I accidentally stumbled upon while visiting Kota.

The postmaster at Kota assured me that it would be well worth the rickety, backache inducing 40 km journey I’d have to undertake. So I set off, curious to see what it was about this sleepy hamlet that was worth discovering.

As I stepped off the bus, I smelled freshly-fried kachoris. Living in north India, I have eaten vast amounts of this delicious golden-brown, ‘masala’-packed snack – but the ‘kachoris’ at Bundi were unlike any other. Packed with flavor, it just melted in the mouth – this was food from the Gods. I wolfed down a plateful, hastily popped another one into my backpack and set off to find a place to stay.

While there are a few clean and reasonably priced hotels, the best way to experience Rajput hospitality is to stay in one of many family-run bed and breakfast ‘havelis’ that the Bundi hillside is dotted with. The Shekhawati family was kind enough to take me under their wings, providing me with a wonderful room overlooking the Bundi lake on one side and the 700-year old Taragarh fort on the other. An ancient grandfather clock, silver chopsticks, turquoise and pearl brooches and a paper napkin that Tagore penned a few lines on are some of the family’s most precious heirlooms – displayed proudly behind a heavily padlocked cabinet.

My hosts suggested I visit the fort first, handing me a large cricket bat, saying I would realize why I needed it when I reach there. I’m glad I went armed, for the entire place was teeming with monkeys of all sizes, waiting to pounce on unsuspecting tourists. A few quick swipes at them and they left me free to explore the fort.

Built on the edge of the hill, Taragarh is famous for the endless tunnels crisscrossing the hillside. The 16th century saw it turn into a major bastion, with the installation of one of the largest cannons of medieval Indian architecture that the locals referred to as “Garbh Gunjam” literally translating into “Thunder from the Womb”. The women’s section of the fort, also called the “Rani Mahal” is covered in creepers and cobwebs now, but the beauty of the murals and stained glass windows is still hard to miss. With a spectacular 360 degree view, it’s easy to lose track of time, in this marvelous work of architecture, but I had things to do and places to see and set off to discover the other wonders of Bundi.

My trek down the hill took me past the silver merchants and bangle-sellers. Since hardly tourists come here, they were eager to deck me up in their finest ornaments and pose for pictures. The work here is exquisite, ornate-chunky necklaces studded with semi-precious stones nestle alongside foil and cheap crystal earrings and rings – the teenage girls here, clearly preferring the latter. I struck a good bargain and walked out pleased with my purchases, with a map full of instructions to see the ‘Rani Ji Ki Baori’ (The Queen’s Well) and sample the jalebis there.

The Baori is one of the 32 step-wells that were built by the Queen in the 16th century. Musty and forgotten, it is now teeming with bats but still bears traces of the beauty of the fusion of Hindu and Jain architecture. Locals say the Queen would hold hair braiding contests in the lawns in winter, her courtesans vying with each other to win one of the prized royal combs. It’s easy to imagine how beautiful and serene it must have been in its days of glory.

All the walking had made me hungry and since, the locals had issued stern orders to try the ‘jalebis’ here, I headed to the stall right outside the Baori’s gate. Hot, fresh and gooey with sugar syrup, it was a slice of edible sunshine in the rapidly approaching twilight

My stomach full, my head exploding with the wonders of all the sights and sounds of this heritage city, I trudged back up the hill to my haveli, content to have stumbled upon this wonderful treasure in the Rajasthan desert.

Addition Info
Getting there: Nearest town is Kota (35 kms) and Jaipur (210 kms). Bundi is also easily accessible by bus/train from New Delhi
Local transport: Private taxis, auto rickshaws and buses readily available at the Bundi bus stand and railway station
For more information, log onto government run website


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