Saturday 1 November 2014

Days 159 - 160: Bundi - It's only a palace

The palace and lake in Bundi (viewed from the Fort above)
Our guidebook describes Bundi as "a well-preserved old town, crammed with crumbling havelis, picturesque old bazaars and a surprising number of flamboyant step-wells ... one of southern Rajastan's most appealing destinations" so we were surprised when our driver told us that he hasn't visited the place for five years.  "Tourists don't go to Bundi," he said.  "It has a palace, but there are palaces all over Rajastan."  Our trip to Bundi could work out very well (quiet and off-the-beaten track) or very badly (not really worth visiting), we thought.

As it turned out, it wasn't quite true that tourists don't go to Bundi; there were a few.  But it was quiet enough to ease us gently back into the frenzied world of India after two weeks of Sri Lankan calm.

Susan lost in the undergrowth of the Fort
We spent the morning climbing the hill to the fortress which splayed across the hill top.  It was dilapidated but comprehensive, a creature of many tentacles, and we happily followed several of them, including the one leading to Rudyard Kipling's viewpoint.

But by mid-day the heat beat us and we descended to the Maharana's palace whose walls hide behind beautiful blue-and-green murals.  As we entered, a guide of many words, high volume and little grammar joined us.  He pointed out the mural of a Maharaja peeping from a balcony as a woman changed her clothes in the garden below, another of a woman applying make-up, and one of a woman playing with a yo-yo.  "You take photo; you take photo," he insisted.  I was as interested in which murals he chose to point out as in the pictures themselves, although I also loved the colour scheme which seemed very Islamic - interesting given that Bundi claims to be one of the few cities whose palace was never taken by the Mughals.

The ladies quarters in the palace
When we left, our guide asked us which country we came from.  "England," we confessed.  "Ah, England used to rule India."  There was a pause during which we looked suitably shame-faced.  "But England gave us many good things," he added very insistently, in case we felt put down (or in case his tip was now in danger?).  "England gave us railways, it gave us the post office, it gave us telephones.  Do you know that before the English, we didn't have telephones?"  I suspect that before the days of the Raj, English households didn't have telephones either; their introduction probably had as much to do with technological progress as with empire.  Nonetheless, we handed over our tip (which had never been conditional on praising the Brits) and continued on our way.

From the Maharana's quarters we entered the main palace and took photos of the blue town of Bundi spread below.  But we had to move with care; the palace is crumbling fast.  It's a pity that the only employees seem to be the staff selling and checking tickets (with abundant duplication); none clear weeds from the pathways of the overgrown fortress or shore up flaking walls and subsiding balconies.  It would be a pity to come back in a few years and find sections of the outer wall avalanching down the hill.

After our palace visit we retreated to our hotel, which is a grand old building with courtyards and pillars and a roof terrace overlooking the blue bazaars.  Not bad for £4 each per night.

It turns out that the lack of tourists in Bundi worked out fine for us.  Perhaps more of them should visit?

The palace at dusk
Murals in the ladies quarters
Blue Bundi
The dilapidated main palace (the audience chamber is on the right)
Dodging Cows 1
Dodging Cows 2

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