From posters stuck on walls to billboards, each one promised to help students ace their educational goals, from obtaining degrees to passing professional examinations. They listed examinations, diplomas and universities that we did not even know existed. “Kota is the coaching capital of India,” is how a guide would later introduce this city in Rajasthan to us. But for the time being we were confounded by what we read.
About half an hour later, Kota and its claims were forgotten as a long crenelated wall materialised in front of us, a wall that seemed to meander over a chain of rocky ridges. And above that loomed an old fort, overlooking the town of Bundi.
To anyone who has been to Rajasthan’s popular tourist destinations, Bundi would come as a surprise, possibly a tad dull at first sight. No gloss, no cosmetic embellishments, not even the customary jumble of souvenir shops. But that does not mean Bundi is bereft of a royal past or worthy attractions. Along with Kota, Baran and Jhalawar, Bundi was part of the former kingdom of Hadoti, ruled by the Hada Chauhans. The rulers of Bundi were known for their patronisation of art and architecture, of which there is ample evidence even today.
Taragarh or the Star Fort, which rules Bundi’s skyline, was built way back in the 14th century. Today Langur monkeys have a free run of the sprawling ruins that still offer a glimpse into the fine architectural planning. Lying below the fort is the Garh Palace or a series of overlapping palaces built by various rulers between over 17 th and 18 th century. Located here is Bundi’s best kept secret, rooms with walls covered in paintings executed in Bundi’s own version of the Rajasthani School of miniature paintings. While the painting gallery Chitrashala (located in a different part of the palace) is well maintained, some of the other rooms are in shambles. Even then you cannot ignore the paintings on the wall or their content in the Badal Mahal or Phool Mahal. There are even some paintings that have drawn inspiration from Chinese paintings. Besides, there is the Ratan Mahal with its marble throne marking the Dewan-i-Am or the loggia style Chhatar Mahal. The entry to Garh Palace lies through the Hathi Pol (Elephant Gate) perched at the top of a steep cobbled path. The way to the Chitrashala lies through a separate narrow path past the Elephant Gate.
The Chitrashala is part of the Ummed Palace, named after its patron Rao Ummed Singh who built it in the 18 th century. The paintings have been executed during the reign of Ummed Singh and Bishen Singh. Apart stories of Krishna and other divinities, the paintings also depict Raagmala (representations of Indian classical music), royal processions, court scenes, etc. The paintings reflect the influence of Mughal miniatures and Mewar School of painting. Most of the paintings have a green background with red, blue, black and yellow used for dresses and other motifs.There are other monuments scattered around the town. Sukh Mahal is a two storied palace by the side of a lake. Writer Rudyard Kipling spent some time and is said to have penned down a part of his famous novel Kim. There is a small museum here. Cenotaphs of the royal family can be seen at Kshar Bag near Jait Sagar. There are two step wells, Raniji Ki Baori and Dabhai Kund. The spectacular design of both deserves a closer look but the cleanliness leaves a lot to be desired. The 84 pillared Cenotaph or the Chaurasi Khambon ki Chhatri was commissioned by the Maharaja of Bundi, Rao Anirudh, in memory of his favourite wet nurse Deva. Nawal Sagar contains a temple dedicated to the rain god Varun standing in the middle of the lake.
In between visiting the major attractions, we also roamed its lanes and by lanes; of course we had to be careful of the ambling cows or the occasional bull. There are still some old houses in Bundi with paintings beautifying the exterior walls. There are shops selling miniature paintings. Down one lane, we discovered an old weaver working on his loom, weaving the famous Kota Doria sari and dupattas made from cotton and silk threads. Another lane was devoted to the making of lac bangles.
Workshops doubled up as stores and the time being just before Kajli Teej, there were lot of women buyers. Some even had their bangles customised to match their dresses. One of the best time to visit Bundi is during Kajli Teej. While the rest of Rajasthan and other places celebrate Teej in the month of Shravan, Bundi celebrates it in Bhadra. It is a seven-say long festival with the procession of Teej Mata a key event. Married women worship Goddess Uma for marital bliss. A huge fair is also held during this period. If you are looking for a more secular celebration, then you may visit during the Bundi Festival organised by Rajasthan Tourism.
Getting There: Jaipur (206 km by road) is the nearest airport. Although Bundi has its own railway station, Kota on the Mumbai-Delhi railway route is a more convenient railhead. One of the key cities with a rail connection to Bundi is Chittorgarh. Buses connect Bundi to Ajmer, Bikaner, Chittorgarh, Jaipur, Jodhpur, Kota, Sawai Madhopur and Udaipur. A trip to Bundi can be extended to cover Kota and Jhalawar.