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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