Kipling’s Bundi: Peacocks and Palaces in Rajasthan
Bindi: Where the Mowgli Writer Stayed
By Mridula Dwivedi
When my nephew Sunil and I visited the Sukh Mahal (Palace of Comfort would be the rough translation) at Bundi, the caretaker who opened the room filled with paintings told me (in Hindi), “This is where the Mowgli writer stayed.”
I told him the writer’s name was Rudyard Kipling and the book that is associated with Bundi is Kim, not The Jungle Book. But he told me firmly, “It was the Mowgli man who stayed here.”
That is how Kipling is remembered in Bundi. Kipling is said to have got the inspiration for writing Kim in Bundi (I have yet to read that book but it is now high on my agenda) and I can imagine why. The Phul Sagar Lake behind the Palace gets filled with lotus flowers in September. I have never seen so many lotuses in one place in my life.
The Train to Bundi
There are two direct trains from New Delhi (not from the main New Delhi station but from Hazrat Nizamuddin Station): Mewar Express and Dehradun Express.
Mewar Express arrives at Bundi around 1.30 am and that is too early. So we took the Dehradun Express around 10 at night. It is supposed to reach Bundi at 9:36 am the next day.
Sunil woke me up at 7.30 am saying the train is standing at Kota station, so has it already crossed Bundi? As I thought Bundi came before Kota, we got down from the train thinking that we would take a bus to Bundi; after all, it is just 35 km away.
Sunil consulted a shopkeeper on the platform and he told us, “The coaches going to Bundi get detached from Dehradun Express, so your coach will go to Bundi.”
We got back on the train happily. It went up and down the tracks many times (called shunting) and then got attached to a new train. It took a lot of time in the process but finally dropped us at Bundi at 9:46 am
We did not have much clue as we were walking out of the station and a few auto wallas involved us in their favorite routine, “Kahan jayegne aap (Where to?)” When this happens in Delhi, it is usually a little unpleasant but at Bundi, if we told a person that we were not interested they left us alone.
We soon found a shared auto that took us to the city for 5 rupees each (around 1 cent). We asked a shopkeeper about hotels in the Nawal Sagar area (about which I had read at the Beautiful Bundi, Indiamike travel message board) and he said, “That is the area where the foreigners stay!”
We asked him if we could walk there and he told us it was quite far away, we need to take an auto.
Soon we reached there and went inside the Brij Bhushanjee Haveli (mansions). The owner asked us if we wanted an air-conditioned room. As soon as we saw the room we liked it a lot. It has such colorful glass on the windows and an old-world charm about it (Rupees 1200, Dollar 25). Most of the hotels in Bundi are old Havelis or huge homes that are partly run as hotels too.
Sunil and I got out for a late breakfast and saw the signboard ‘Mangalam Guesthouse.’ Once again because of Indiamike, I knew that in the guesthouse there is a pet tortoise. We rang the bell. A young girl called out, “Who is it? Would you step this way?”
We showed her our faces and asked if we could get some breakfast? She said yes and we gladly walked in. We asked for Aloo Paratha (flat Indian bread stuffed with potatoes) and tea and while we were waiting, Gopi the tortoise walked in.
The young school-going daughter of the family told us that their father had found it in an injured condition when he was young! Soon the parathas also arrived with tea and we had a hearty breakfast.
Hot, Hot, Hot
While walking back we realized that September in Rajasthan was still quite a hot month and it was a good decision to take that AC room. After a good breakfast, sleep was a natural outcome. Both of us were tired and got up rather late towards the evening.
We looked around for a late tea there was no point in thinking of lunch at that hour. We went inside the Haveli Kat Koun and once again enjoyed our stuff.
The Bundi Town
By the time we started walking towards the Bundi Palace, it was already after 5:30 pm and it was closed. Still, we enjoyed the view of the Bundi city from a height and wanted to explore the path leading higher up. But a big group of monkeys was using that path for their evening walk, so we decided to head down to the town instead.
The city is not really clean as there is open drainage flowing in some parts of the city. But otherwise, it is a colorful city full of narrow lanes and bylanes that contains an incredible amount of noise and traffic of all kinds flanked by shops selling a variety of stuff.
We walked for a long distance looking for a place called Raniji ke Baori (Queen’s Stepwell) but when we reached there that too was closed! By walking through the market we discovered that there are bank ATMs in the town.
The only thing that was left to do was to look for a place for dinner. We went to the Hotel Paradise where we did not find the food too great, probably used to making it for the foreigners and it was a little too bland for our taste.
But the view of the Bundi Palace at night bathed in light is probably the best in the town from their top floor.
The Bundi Palace and the Chitra Shala
The next day we got out of the room by 7:45 am and looked for an early breakfast because we wanted to get back to our room before it became too hot. We ordered pancakes for breakfast at the Kasera Paradise Restaurant.
The Bundi Palace (at one point home to the rulers of Bundi but the present king Ranjeet Singh lives in Delhi) opens at 9:00 am and after breakfast, we headed straight there.
The entrance to the palace is through Hathi Pol (Elephant Gates) and the palace is a charming place. The view of the city from the palace is even more beautiful. There are paintings on its walls and the roof. Sadly, the palace is not well maintained and the paintings in the main building are quite washed out.
However, there is another part of the palace which is under the maintenance of the Archeological Survey of India called Chitra Shala (The Painting House, paintings done from 1773 to 1821). The paintings in that part are exquisite and better maintained. Flash photography is prohibited in this area.
The paintings are colorful and depict the pictures from the life of kings and queens and Indian mythology. Peacocks are in abundance and the women from the era look gorgeous in the paintings. We were chatting with the caretakers of the area and they told us to go and visit the Sukh Mahal.
The Sukh Mahal, Shikar Burj, Raniji ki Baori and the 84 Pillar Cenotaphs
We decided to hire an auto for the SukhPalace and he quoted a price of Rupees 40 (a little less than Dollar 1). In one of the narrow lanes, requested the driver to stop so that I could click a ‘milk motorcycle.’ The owner also posed for me and wanted to know for sure if I was able to get him in the frame too.
We soon reached the Sukh Mahal where the lake is full of lotus flowers and discovered the Kipling connection, too. The caretakers told us about the Shikar Burj and other places.
We requested the auto driver to take us to all the nearby places and he agreed to do so for the price of Rupees 200 (Dollar 4). But now it was 1:00 pm and the sun was really, really hot, but both Sunil and I have survived to tell the tale.
The Shikar Burj is a structure that the Rajputana kings and their courtiers used for their hunting escapades. Now there is a temple around it and a lot of monkeys.
But soon the heat was becoming too much for me as well. Our next stop was the Raniji ki Baori (Queen’s Stepwell, constructed in 1699).
The actual bath can be reached after climbing down 50 steps, but they keep the area locked, so it can be viewed only from a distance. The exterior itself is a beautifully carved place.
By now we were just ticking out the places from the list because it was incredibly hot. The last stop was the 84 pillared cenotaph and then we were longing for the AC room quite badly.
The Sunset and the Goodbye
Sunil refused to get out of the AC room even at the sunset. I got out and clicked a few pictures around the Nawal Sagar (another lake) area. The palace gets reflected in the lake at the sunset and one can also see a few birds as a bonus in the water.
We asked the Haveli owner where could we taste Rajasthani food and he suggested the Nawa Sagar Restaurant. We headed there and ordered for a thali (a full meal for a fixed price, buffet style, but they serve it on your table).
It indeed was a delicious meal of papad ki sabzi, Kadhi, aalo ki sabzi (potato vegetable), and rice and chapattis. It is difficult to translate the taste of Kadhi (a curd-based curry) and papad ke sabzi (a vegetable dish made of Papadum). I would recommend that you go to Bundi (but in a cooler month) and try it out for yourself.
After the meal, we headed back to the station to catch the Mewar Express train. Soon it was the next day and Sunil was waking me up saying, “We have reached Nizamuddin, wake up.”