I always wonder about life in small towns. On every trip, I try and understand and to some extent live the small town life. To the city dweller, it all seems very interesting for a few days but after that, the glaring differences start making an appearance. If there is calm and peace to enjoy, getting around the town can be an issue. If places are within walking distances then the sense of anonymity that one experiences in the city is lost. Everyone knows about you and walking through the main street could be time consuming as everyone has the time to stop and have a chat about the weather or politics. I personally find this heartening but then there are also other serious issues, the municipal authorities are short staffed, have modest budgets and are not as efficient which leads to poor sanitation, deplorable medical facilities. At times law and order could be an issue too (this doesn’t hold true every time, some small towns such as Kalpa are extremely clean and well maintained). 10574339_10204429166509800_7980864909135081866_nBundi, is no different. A district in the state of Rajasthan which has remained off the tourist circuit for a long time. Enclosed by the green Vindhyas on all sides, with a protective medieval wall (complete with watch towers) running on all its boundaries, and stately gates for entry and exit; the old town of Bundi sits in a time warp. Buses don’t ply within the old town because the streets are so narrow and they terminate 2km away at the dusty bus stand. The houses are painted blue signifying the large brahmin population that inhabits the town and cows wander about its bylanes. A lassiwallah (Saathi) whose lassi is internationally well known has boards written in French and other languages standing outside his small shop close to the palace, he passed away last year but his legacy continues. On a late night stroll, through the deserted lanes you might find local bikers moving swiftly, honking noisily while somewhere, a few floors above, in one of the many rooftop cafes Bob Marley might be singing about black soldiers fighting in the Indian Wars. 10593166_10204429167829833_7446623691793001460_n Bundi is like that. Contrasting, crumbling and charming. A lot of prominent bloggers have written about it and many serious backpackers reside in the many havelis dotting Bundi for over weeks, perfecting the art of doing nothing, for, there is nothing much to do. The majestic Garh Palace, is visible from every corner and above it looms large the Taragarh – the star fort. Garh palace needs some scrubbing up and the Chitrashala with its 18th century wall paintings need some upkeep. Taragarh offers a rejuvenating climb on its cobbled pathway and a walk around its ramparts is a treat to the senses. Huge stepwells, views of undulating green hills, a small lake nearby and of course, of the swathe of blue that is the town amid the cacophony of birds and mating calls of peacocks – one can spend long hours exploring Taragarh. 10561674_10204429182950211_8865907542285991520_n There are several other monuments dotting the town, which could weave a complete story of Bundi if it were to be told. Over 80 stepwells, most in disrepair can be found here while the cenotaphs, smaller Mahals and havelis each have a story to tell. To the average tourist, exploring this side of town might seem a bit haphazard because a trail doesn’t exist. If the royal family (under whose possession lie most of the monuments including the fort) devise a plan, an auto-tour with a guide, moving around would make a lot more sense. But if medieval history doesn’t interest you, then you must meet Mr. Om Prakash Sharma aka Kukki.   10521326_10204429173669979_2779012634409898971_n   59 year old, ex-Halwai and a full time amateur archaeologist since 1968, Kukki-ji has been exploring the hills around Bundi and Bhilwara in search of coins (6 coins found belonging to the 4th, 5th and 6th century), rock art in caves (over 90 sites, he wants to hit a century) and tools. His one day Bhilwara caves + Bhimlat waterfall excursion takes you on a hike through the Vindhyas, to two waterfalls and gets you up close and personal with some old, really old rock art. His exuberant personality belies his age and he is honest about his lack of formal training in archaeology. An archaeologist friend from Deccan college, was quick to appreciate his work and certify that it was authentic. According to her, such enthusiasts on the field are the ones who lead them to bigger discoveries. His work has been covered by prominent newspapers. At 59, when most consultants in any field, charge a hefty sum, Kukki-ji he doesn’t charge a formal amount for his services. He works on the pay-what-you-like model and is very satisfied with the money he makes which he utilises to fund his explorations. He still considers himself a budding archaeologist and dreams of opening up a museum to display his findings with pride. He is particular about leaving no traces behind on the sites and clears it of all rubbish each time. He has a sharp eye for birds and can spot both raptors and small birds with ease. In a small town like Bundi, to find a person well versed in the prehistoric era and familiar with the rock art of Central India is nothing short of shocking, also quite heartening! 10369109_10204429192790457_9129612375509587055_n   If you walk beyond the popular Tom and Jerry restaurant, and head up to the quaint Cafe Rainbow, you will be greeted with a view of the palace and by a family. Dhiraj and his family run Cafe Rainbow, after working as a cleaner and moving up the cafe-ladder, from one tourist town to another, Dhiraj finally graduated as a chef. He learnt all the dishes popular among the ‘firangis’ and then took the plunge to set up his own cafe in the heart of Bundi. In his late twenties, Dhiraj has perfected the art of making Ginger Lemon Honey Teas. And not only that, he is a budding musician. He plays the Guitar and his rendition of Wish You Were Here was one of the best. But being a fan of Atif Aslam, he covered his songs and we sang along. Sipping the perfectly made tea, we spoke to him. He told us that he someday wished to make it big as a musician and come to Bombay to find work in Bollywood. But we were most surprised when he told us that he had learnt the guitar by watching Youtube videos! Even after running a cafe, he finds the time to practice and perfect his guitar playing skills. And continues to dream. A budding musician, a budding archaeologist-museum curator and a town that is a budding tourist destination. But that will take sometime, and until the evils of commercialisation take over the charm of Bundi, you must visit. 13_w We stayed at the erstwhile residence of the Mahraja of Bundi – The Nawal Sagar Palace, one of the best properties in Bundi. It offers well furnished rooms which are tastefully done in the traditional style and attention to detail is remarkable. They have six well appointed deluxe rooms and a few standard rooms. The restaurant serves authentic Rajasthani food on order. To help you plan your trip to Bundi, call us up on 9820023362 or write to us on breakfreejourneys@gmail.com


Photos by Rithika Kumar and Nilofer Rehman


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