We wanted to make sure that we would have a well-rounded experience with our winter travels, which meant hitting the hotspots like Jaipur and Agra, but also venturing a little off the beaten path. Bundi certainly shows up in the guidebooks, but it’s small and attracts few tourists. After seeing the incredible sights there, that seemed remarkable to us! This little town is so charming, with beautifully painted buildings, carved balconies, and stepwells everywhere. We loved it!
We stayed at the delightful Hotel Bundi House, run by two young men who answered every query with, “Anything is possible!” They had a rooftop restaurant with nice omelettes and aloo parathas for breakfast, pakoras for snack, and a full menu for dinner. There was no alcohol on their menu, but when we asked, “Anything is possible!” and we soon had wine and beer available to us. When we asked for an early breakfast the next morning, again, “Anything is possible!” and they opened early for us. Continuing on with the crazy cold theme that we started in Ranthambhore, we were perpetually shivering, but happy.
Meagan was great about eating unaccustomed Indian food for every meal every day, but she had hit her limit by the time we hit Bundi. Surprisingly, there was a well reviewed Italian restaurant in Bundi where we were all pretty happy to eat pasta and pizza for a change. On our way to the restaurant, we wandered around this adorable town for a while, seeing temples, cows, and brightly painted doorways on nearly every block. The open sewers that line every lane are unfortunate, but serve as a reminder that modern conveniences have not yet made it to every corner of India. It’s good to occasionally be reminded just how fortunate we are.
On our first morning in Bundi, our driver Arvind picked us up to go see some of the sights for which we needed a car: the Sukh Mahal, the 84-pillared cenotaph, and the Raniji ki Baori. The Sukh Mahal is a small summer palace on the shores of a large lake, sometimes called the Kipling Mahal because apparently Rudyard Kipling stayed there briefly while writing Kim. There was very little information available about it, but we enjoyed strolling through once we managed to evade the angry little dog who nipped at Tom’s ankle (no broken skin!).
The 84-pillared cenotaph was truly a sight to behold. It was constructed in 1683 with some stories saying that it was built in honor of the Maharaja’s foster brother and others saying it was in honor of his childhood nurse. All stories claim that it is mysteriously impossible to count all 84 pillars. Tom and Melissa tried and did not get to 84. Is that because of mysterious magic or fewer pillars that claimed? Either way, it’s truly beautiful.
The Raniji ki Baori is a stunning stepwell built by the queen in 1699. From the outside, it doesn’t look like much of anything, but the inside simply takes your breath away.
After those sights, we asked Arvind to drop us off at the Bundi Palace, an easy walk from our hotel. This palace should truly be on every must-see list. The pillars are beautifully carved and the walls are painted with crushed gem stones so the paintings retain their vibrancy despite the centuries that have passed and the lack of preservation. We had an awkward moment of white privilege when an attendant offered to show us the locked bedchamber of the Maharaja’s second and favored wife, hastily adding that we had to go quickly because he doesn’t take Indians inside because they scratch at the delicate paintings. We really wanted to see this amazing space, but felt really weird about the exclusion of our fellow tourists and the odd accusation that they would scratch the paintings given the chance. Nonetheless, we went inside and were duly awe-struck. A little later in a less patrolled area of the palace, Melissa saw young Indian men scratching at the paintings until a guard came and yelled at them. So strange.
Meagan and Julie elected to head back to the hotel for a rest while Tom and Melissa climbed the hill behind the palace to get to Taragarh, the 14th century fort at the top. This fort is completely unpatrolled and unmaintained, which seems tragic given how beautiful it still is. The path and foliage are overgrown and aggressive monkeys are all around, but it is completely worth the climb. Plus, you can experience near solitude up there – a true rarity in India where there are usually people all around.
After seeing the paintings and courtyards of the palace and fort, the painted walls and courtyards of the town made perfect sense. They have replicated the grandeur on a smaller scale throughout the town, clearly for many generations. There is ancient beauty around every corner in this town that deserves far more tourists than it sees.
But then Agra beckoned with the ancient beauty that everyone sees! On the way, though, we opted to break up the 7 hour drive in the small town of Abanheri with a stop at the Chand Baori, an enormous 10th century stepwell surrounded by a crumbling palace. This stepwell was apparently the inspiration for the prison in the Dark Knight Rises, as well as the set for numerous Indian films. We’d never seen anything like it before.
This Bundi and Abanheri leg of the trip was unexpectedly wonderful!