The view from my window this morning is of a fort, spread out ribbon-like on a hill, shimmering like a rare old jewel in the weak winter light. This vision is dominated by a turquoise swimming pool hemmed in by emerald lawns right under the drop from my window. I am in the Hadoti Palace in Bundi, a town cradled by the Aravali hills in the Hadoti region of Rajasthan.
My day begins with a walk around the property with my hosts, Alka Singh and her son Avijit. Alka tells me that it was only five years ago that she decided to build the hotel. Rajasthan is strewn with havelis-turned-hotels so she decided to be different and build a colonial-style structure. The idea seems to have worked, as it is the only building of its kind in Bundi and is a landmark unto itself.
The domed lobby of the hotel feels spacious, with light streaming in from numerous windows. At the ground level, the main attraction is the pool and sit-outs around it. Indoor spaces like the restaurant, library and massage areas are all built around the pool. I learn that the family owns Ranjit Talkies next door — Bundi’s only cinema hall. We walk past vintage cars and bikes displayed outside the lobby as I am shown around the quaint little cinema with its red-and-blue chequered walls. Avijit is passionate about automobiles and as I climb up to the rooms, I notice how the walls bear the stamp of each family member’s hobby — Alka likes to collect miniatures, her son likes cars and Alka’s husband clearly loves wildlife. The Hadoti Palace has 28 rooms in all, including four suites — they all have an airy, well-lit character and look out either on to the fort or on to forestland.
It’s a pleasant day and I decide to experience the sights and sounds of Bundi. I set off with Billu Guide, a charming, diminutive man who regales me with fact and fiction. Bundi is a city of stepwells and lakes. Sukhmahal, the summer palace of an erstwhile ruler, is famed not only for the serene lotus-filled lake it borders, but also for its distinguished guest Rudyard Kipling, who spent a few nights here pondering his next book. The ghost of Kipling follows me through the morning from Sukhmahal to Taragarh Fort and Bundi Palace — determined not to leave any holes in my education on Bundi, Billu Guide fills me in on all that Kipling, whom he calls ‘Rudyard Kipling owgli’ lest my memory requires prompting, ever had to say about Bundi.
We embark on a bone-jangling auto ride through the lanes of the old city to reach Taragarh. Our driver likes to fly us over speed-breakers and also to frighten the living daylights out of cows blocking our way by driving up to them and blaring the horn right into the ears of the hapless animals. They break into a crazed trot; we merrily follow.
“Rudyardkiplingmowgli said, Bundi Palace was not built by men but by angels,” announces Billu Guide as I get off the auto and shake my bones back into place. I have to agree that the palace is poised impossibly high, but the climb up rewards me with a spectacular view of the old city spilling out helter-skelter in a chalky blue. The high point of my visit is Chitrashala, the picture gallery of the palace perched on dainty, geometric Mughal gardens. Though my guide has prepped me for this marvel at every step, I am nonetheless staggered by the quality of the frescoes. I am reminded that Bundi has its own tradition of miniature painting as I walk past masterful depictions of life in the palace, painted predominantly in blues, greens, greys and delicate whites. My guide delights in my wide-eyed admiration and points out, for my amusement, a “bored queen playing with yo-yo” on the wall. We visit two of Bundi’s numerous stepwells and head back to the hotel from where, much to my dismay, Billu Guide disappears even before I can thank him properly for showing me around. I am left wondering if Bundi does indeed have the goblins of Kipling’s imagination, who build impossible forts and palaces and guide visitors with such dedication.
I have lunch by the pool and decide to catch the evening show at Ranjit Talkies. I am chaperoned by a courteous staffer who sits one discreet seat away till a too-hot-to-handle Vidya Balan playing Silk Smitha sends him scurrying away after a hasty by-your-leave.
To end my day, I decide to treat myself to a hot soak. My husband calls from Delhi to tell me how wasteful it is of me to be splashing about in a tub next to a desert but, hey, there’s a pool downstairs that’s going to lure plenty of visitors to the Hadoti Palace.
Location 465km from Delhi; the nearest airport is Jaipur (206km) and the nearest railway stations are Bundi and Kota (36km).
Accommodation 24 deluxe rooms and 4 suites
Tariff Rs 4,500 (rooms), Rs 6,500-7,500 (suites)
Contact 0747-2443333, hadotipalace.com