India - Off the Beaten Path in Bundi and Udaipur

A macaque guarding his territory at the abandoned Taragarh Fort above Bundi in Rajasthan, India.

A macaque guarding his territory at the abandoned Taragarh Fort above Bundi in Rajasthan, India.

Bundi

We’re on a night bus to Bundi, a town that promises to be a place where we could away from it all, a place to relax for a while. After research and debates on how far into Rajasthan we wanted to go, we realized that six months of travel had taken a toll on us. So, we were off to the middle of nowhere in a (somewhat) comfortable and grubby bus - even my legs (almost) fit. The three-man team leads up front, one of them hanging his underwear over the open door. He had taken a shower on the street before we left. A girl is in the sleeper cabin to my left. Indian women are usually reserved, and the large majority in traditional clothing, carefully hiding shoulders, legs, and hair, though unabashedly exposing their bellies. This one is hip, with a plaid button-down shirt and jeans, short hair, and a few rings - just like many men around. Without prejudice, I wonder what the state of LGBT issues in India is.

We don’t remember how we learned about Bundi, but after a circuit of beautiful yet exhausting sightseeing, we were ready for something different: a place to just chill for a while. And this was the perfect haveli to do it. 

We don’t remember how we learned about Bundi, but after a circuit of beautiful yet exhausting sightseeing, we were ready for something different: a place to just chill for a while. And this was the perfect haveli to do it. 

With only a few minutes to gather our backpacks hidden behind a closed door at the back of the bus, the driver warns that we’re approaching our stop. We’re still full speed ahead on the highway, and he is not slowing down. Does he expect us to jump out? After some confusion, the bus drops us off in the middle of nowhere, on the freeway instead the promised bus station, around midnight. As we are the only two travelers to Bundi, he doesn’t want to make a detour. We’re pointed to cross the road to ask one of the two tuk-tuks for a ride five more kilometers to town. A quick road crossing with heavy backpacks, and a taxi ride later, we arrive at Dualat Niwas Bundi (a family haveli - traditional Indian mansion) to be greeted by Shivam - a tall, incredibly easy-going owner, who smiles at us warmly, and explains that things like this happen all the time. Bundi is off the beaten path after all. 

It’s a steep climb up to the ancient City Palace and Taragarh Fort.

It’s a steep climb up to the ancient City Palace and Taragarh Fort.

Raniji ki Baori and its intricately carved archways. Known as the Queen’s stepwell, it was once a social gathering place for all the town. Today parts of it are undergoing restoration so that one day it may return to the same glory it was in back then.

Raniji ki Baori and its intricately carved archways. Known as the Queen’s stepwell, it was once a social gathering place for all the town. Today parts of it are undergoing restoration so that one day it may return to the same glory it was in back then.

Thankfully, Bundi is all we expected. A simpler town, with a handful of tourists looking for the same: a bit of peace and quiet, and locals who smile and aren’t trying to sell you anything. For a few days, we do as little as we can: visit the nearby abandoned fort, a marvel we explore on our own without any restriction - except for the courtyard heavy with the odor of a large dead animal, and the step well protected by the local macaque mafia (with its own harem); roam the streets of blue walls and mischievous kids, following the current festival (there are many) and paying respects to Ganesha; dine on rooftops, Ringo’s lassi, Shivam’s breakfast poha, and his dinner of goat stew, including a side of brain; another visit to another city palace, to learn Hindu history through the old wall paintings; hunt for the centuries-old step wells spread throughout the city, unfortunately, turned to little more than sewers.

We head to Rudyard Kipling’s hangout (at least for a few days) while he was writing The Jungle Book. We watch the haveli’s dogs chase the tall gray langurs. The local cows hang around, waiting for the daily donation. An easy life we’re happy to be part of, just until we’re ready for the next step: Udaipur.


Udaipur

It’s a short trip to Udaipur, only half a night - which starts at 1:00 am in the empty Bundi train station, waiting for the always-late train. Udaipur greets us gently in the morning, an old city full of character, wall paintings, and cars. We find a simple hotel and, thankfully, decide on exploring on the first day after a filling thali, making a short stop at the intricate Jagdish Temple before heading to the magnificent City Palace. Amongst classes of children staring at us, we roam the halls of the incredible complex and stare in wonder over its colors, numerous rooms, and design. A place only Madie’s pictures could do justice for.

Udaipur’s City Palace.

Udaipur’s City Palace.

Perhaps the most beautiful City Palace we visited in India. There is nothing special about the architecture of the grand complex; rather, its uniqueness lies in its lavish decoration and preservation.

Perhaps the most beautiful City Palace we visited in India. There is nothing special about the architecture of the grand complex; rather, its uniqueness lies in its lavish decoration and preservation.

Albeit noisy (of course), the streets of Udaipur are pleasant. We walk around, overlook the nearby lake, and find dinner at a mom-and-pop. It’s a small room over another restaurant, and likely the place with the best thali we’ve had on our trip. There is only one large table for eight people, so we sit across the chef’s husband reading his newspaper, and converse with an older couple who invites us to contact them should we ever visit Tanzania.

The next day our travels stop abruptly, as I come down with dengue fever, a mosquito-borne disease with little to do but sleep 20 hours a day and wait it out. We lengthen our stay, lose money on a night bus, and buy a last minute flight to Delhi to be close to a hospital, which turns out to be the right decision. Mui, our dear friend, is thankfully there on a business trip. She helps us get our act together, finding us a comfortable Airbnb to recover in, and contacting friends and family back home for medical advice. Madie shows all the genes of the Filipina nurse for almost two weeks until it’s already time to leave India and head to France for a much-deserved break.

India came through as the most vivid memories of our trip. We loved and hated; ate until we couldn’t and smelt in disgust; fell short of words in front of profound spirituality or of incredible scams. Karma is an odd thing, protecting the nearby cow but not sparing the surrounding nature of plastic cups and trash. It’s an unexplainable country, of long, complex history - and we barely experienced it outside of Rajasthan. We have to be back, we need to come back and understand more, explore the Southern tropical side, the nearby Sri Lanka, the Northern mountainous region, Himalayas, Darjeeling, the Beatles’s Rishikesh, the Dalai Lama’s McLeod Ganj. India is so much more. But not yet. Right now, we need to sleep a hundred years. 


Links

  • Bundi is the Rajasthan city of incredible chill vibes. A place to get away, albeit difficult to get to. From Jaipur, we took a night bus headed to Udaipur. It will make a stop to Bundi around midnight (or like us, outside of Bundi) hopefully not too far from the train station.
  • Udaipur is another medieval city of Rajasthan, famous for its lakes and temples. We, unfortunately, did not have time to visit it all, but enjoyed our short time perusing the City Palace and winding alleyways around town.