Sunday, November 20, 2011

Bundi – Rajasthan’s Hidden Gem

The trucks of India each have a
 colorful personality expressed in unique
 handpainted designs
We drove from Jaipur to Bundi via a highway, which may sound like an improvement, but don’t take that term too literally.  As the signs kept telling us, this highway is a “Work in Progress” -- a dusty, partially completed roadway with a road surface that vacillated between macadam, sand, and mud.  And to make matters worse, this road was filled with hundreds and hundreds of delivery trucks.  Not a pleasant  drive.  Even Rampal, our ace driver was getting a little rammy and almost took out a sacred cow – hate to think about the ramifications of that (in this world, not to mention the next)!

Make sure you "dip" those lites at night!

The trucks of India are beyond gaudy!  They are hand painted all over the sides, front, and back with every color of the rainbow -- the hood of the truck is usually the most colorful, but even the gas tank is often painted with colorful flowers, geometric shapes, swastikas, etc.  Plus, windshields are decorated with tinsel, satiny curtains, and strands of garland making the truck look like it just ran over a Christmas tree!  And the mirrors almost always display a string of black pompons flapping in the wind.  These are supposed to act like Evil Eye charms to ward off accidents and other catastrophes (“black eyes” here in India, as opposed to the similar blue-eyed Greek evil eye charms).  Trucks also have the words “Blow Horn” painted in big letters on the back (a request to blow your horn before passing), and sometimes a strange warning to “use dippers after dark.”  We assume this is a request to use your high beam/low beam headlights; most of the time Indian drivers don’t even use their headlights until it really gets dark.  They must all have a death wish!
Beautiful Bundi
The hamlet of Bundi looks like a little piece of Rajasthani heaven with a manmade lake in front and a fairytale Maharajah palace cascading down the mountainside behind the town.  We are staying in another heritage property, the most authentic hotel in Bundi (which means plenty of ambience coupled with basic amenities).
Our newest guide is Bhanwar Singh who definitely ranks up there as one of our best.  He is a tall Bundi homeboy who knows every inch of this city, and he went out of his way to make sure we enjoyed our stay.  In fact, he dropped by the very first night just to introduce himself.  He also explained that we had arrived on celebration of Small Diwali (will these Indian festivals never end?) which explained the firecrackers we kept hearing.
Elephant entrance gate at Bundi Palace
The following day, it was another holiday, an Islamic holiday called Eid.  Bhanwar showed us the wonders of Bundi beginning with the palace – a magnificent (but neglected) 16th c. edifice, high on the hill behind our hotel.  The welcome gate was topped with wonderful stone elephant carvings.  For entertainment, the mahouts (elephant trainers) used to get the elephants drunk and stage elephant fights in the outer courtyard while the Maharajah watched from his elegant balcony above.
Bhanwar, our guide, shows us some magnificent Bundi artwork  
The real glory of this palace is the fabulous artwork, paintings that still sparkle even though most are in disrepair.  The brilliant blue colors, made from lapis lazuli, are especially striking.  One painting of the hunting lodge showed how animals would be lured to a pool of water in front of the lodge so that the women could shoot them!  Nice trap for the animals, huh?
Step wells were built deep, and used to gather
water during the monsoon season
We also visited two fascinating step wells, elaborate wells used to capture water during the monsoon season.  The zigzag pattern of the steps made the wells look like geometric designs similar to the pyramids of Egypt. 
Community dentist will pull your teeth or adjust
 your dentures right here on this busy street corner
Driving through the small market, we got a look at the local dentist manning his stand with a nice choice of dentures on display.  And a good selection of sunglasses as a sideline business!  His wares and “shop” were spread out on a blanket on a busy intersection, alongside other merchants selling flowers, spices, and other unrelated things.  We wondered who would have their teeth pulled or have their dentures adjusted right out on some busy, dusty open-air street with hundreds of motorcycles, tuk-tuks, and other vehicles just 10 or 15 feet away?  Life here is sooooooo so different.
The most charming aspect of Bundi is the small town atmosphere and the friendliness of the people.  This sweet spot is our favorite destination so far.  We get no hassle here, no one has their hand out for money – it is an unspoiled little gem out in the wilds of India. 
Anne's new look: a "peacock fingernail!"
Bundi is known for miniature painting, and Anne got a peacock painted on her fingernail.  It didn’t last long (washed off), but it was a very Bundi experience.
Our favorite night here was dinner at the Bundi Inn where we spent the evening with our guide Bhanwar, a Dutch couple named Jan and Petra, and the Inn’s owner, Kamel.  This was one of those priceless interactions that we always treasure when we travel – good fun making special connections with new and friendly people.
Bundi Palace after dark
One of our discussions had to do with the mystery of the cats.  Frank was curious about why we never see any cats here.  We got some evasive answers about how a cat was bad luck and people are very superstitious.  Apparently, dogs are good, but cats are bad.  Bhanwar said that a cat would never be kept as a pet.  And Kamel abruptly said, “We don’t kill cats!”  But we are not so sure, given Kamel’s defensive response.  The cat mystery continues…
Pottery maker in Thikarda shows us his wares
Bhanwar took us on an outing to the nearby village of Thikarda, known for its pottery.  This was another friendly village where we got to see the school children doing the “morning praise,” a call and response chanting that they do each day before starting their classes. 
Village schoolgirls chant "the morning praise"
We also met a very special farmer who welcomed us onto his farm saying it was an honor to have us visit.  He had a beautiful property that he was obviously proud of, with neatly planted plots of vegetables.  He gave us some fresh cauliflower right out of his garden that was so sinfully sweet; we all walked along thru the fields nibbling on this farmer’s magnificent produce. 
Typical brightly colored turban
We have been making some progress with our Hindi, and Frank has mastered a number of basic phrases.  The reaction to his speaking any Hindi at all is quite remarkable.  People are literally stunned.  Frank spoke a few words aloud in a restaurant, and a group of 6 Hindu people at the next table all whipped their heads around as tho their favorite Bollywood star had just arrived on scene.  They laughed as they called out, “You speak Hindi!”  A few even applauded.  Apparently, very few non-Hindus even attempt the language; it is a dying language, and we weren’t even sure we wanted to know how to speak it at first – since English is always an easier option.  But now, it has just enhanced the fun of being here in India.
Winding one's turban using 40 ft. of cloth
 can be exhausting!
We want to say a few words about turbans, since we found out some neat stuff about them.  We actually watched a demo of a turban winding, as you can see from the pix here.  Man, those things are long!!  Many Indians wear these long colorful ribbons of material on their heads here in India.  Why?  Well there are many reasons.  (1) Originally, the color was an indicator of the tribe to which an individual belonged.  But, that reason doesn’t exist anymore, since tribes no longer cavort as tribes did in the past.  The turban is somewhat of a throwback to those days, and sometimes the peasants of a particular region (or family) band together and wear similar colors.  (2) Some use the turban to signify religious preference; the sikhs wear turbans always.  Next, (3) turbans are devices to help keep the head cool from the 130-degree plus heat in the summer.  Just think, a wad of fluff up there can insulate the skull from the blistering heat that can otherwise fry the brain.  (4) Indians routinely carry stuff on their heads as they walk (pots filled with milk, large wok-like bowls, bunches of sticks sometimes 10 feet long, we’ve even seen ‘em carry loads of bricks, tools, luggage, cotton bales, etc.); if they shape that turban just right, it can be used as a cushion and balancing mechanism for all sorts of portable things on top the skull.  But, lastly, (5) we also learned that the turban is a strong rope that is sometimes 30 or 40 feet long; this can be a valuable tool for a resourceful Indian, who will tie a bucket to his long-reaching turban of “rope” and lower it down to dip some water from his well.   
Faces of India:
Our faithful driver, Rampal Yadob

1 comment:

  1. very well articulated....Bundi is truly enchanting...hidden treasure of Eastern Rajasthan