Bundi

Pushkar is coming with me.

Well, Jim and Em and Fi are coming with me, or I’m leaving Pushkar with them. It proves to be one of those great travelling days, where conversation between friends new and old drifts from banal to confessional to transcendental, and – thanks to Fi’s forward thinking playlist – we are able to depart (if just this once) the standard taxi fare of throbbing Hindi dance music.

Our driver becomes lost in Bundi, and – as we later discover, much later – had sped past the exit to our guesthouse mere moments after arrival in the city. Following a bewildering detour through the uninviting new town we are back where we began, and arrive at our destination, an old haveli on Lake Nawal Sagar.

The haveli is, perhaps, crumbling to that special point where charm teeters on the precipice of peril. Someone heavier than I, for instance, would surely tip the toilet in my bathroom, and rip it from the tiles. Another hazard of the old haveli, as Jim soon finds, is a ravening house dog who would deter less determined guests, as well as all those lurking thieves and bandits. 

Bundi is a late arrival on the tourist trail through Rajasthan. Most of the guesthouses are clustered between the Garh Palace and Nawal Sagar, leaving little room for growth. Bundi feels like a Rajasthani city with a handful of tourists, rather than a tourist city with a handful of Rajasthanis. And, unlike the City Palace of Udaipur, the palace of the Raja in Bundi feels abandoned, even haunted. Above, in the Taragarh Fort, one encounters only monkeys… and the odd local with an axe.

Sometimes it is good to let time run its course. It leaves one with an acute sense of history’s passing to encounter a seat of power and wealth now crumbling, echoing with the flutter of birds and screech of bats, rather than the fluttering of tills and screech of touts.

Soon Emilie and Fi depart, returning to Pushkar, whilst Jim and I remain for another day to explore the further reaches of the city, most poignantly for me the Sukh Niwas Mahal, where Kipling wrote much of Kim. We also make a trip to explore the royal stepwells known as baori. Like so much in Rajasthan, the baori rise like something out of Game of Thrones.

It will be sad to leave this oddball city, an appealingly unpolished gem. The only thing I won’t miss are the kamikaze midges, so fragile that they die on impact. Even a short stroll around Bundi polka-dots one’s face and clothes with their puce cadavers.

Sadder still is to part from Jim, but we say goodbye over one of the best meals I have enjoyed in Rajasthan, home-cooked by the proprietor of a nearby guesthouse, as we sit beneath the floodlit palace, a radiant ghost from Bundi’s past.

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