Published: January 22nd 2010January 20th 2010
Clutching desperately to both, we bounced over bone-shaking roads bordering Bundi. Leaving behind the funeral ceremonies caused by the death of the latest Maharaja of Bundi and the surrounding squabbles around the succession we headed out to see some rock paintings with our new found friend Sharad, a retired engineer, living near Seattle, touring around his home country without his wife. Graeme and he waxed eloquent about the romance of heading off on an old Enfield. A brief romance as Honda Heroes were thought to be far more reliable. We had met a group of fathers and sons from the UK touring around on clapped out Enfields that they were lovingly tending and coaxing around India before shipping them back. We met a young Canadian on a bright red one stuffed with backpacks and paraphernalia. In fact I wondered whether this was where old Enfields came to die but was reliably informed that when the UK factory closed down, probably due to unreliability, the Indian branch soldiered on and now provides bikes and parts for devotees. They must need them for the fathers and sons were elbow deep in grease and spent more time repairing and comparing blow-outs than riding it
Back to the cave paintings; we stopped at the village chai shop where we seemed to be the most exciting thing that had happened since 1960, the surrounding crowd pressed in, some wary, some smiling and most exceedingly shy. We visited the tiny school room empty of children off on a lunch break and wandered across the dry stony ground to the cliff overhangs next to a spring fed dam. Viewing them mostly required prone positions so dusty and muddy we exclaimed over paintings between 6,000 to 20,000 years old, we later found out when we met the amateur archaeologist Kukki at our favourite chai shop in Bundi. Some images were startlingly clear others needed water splashed on them. We cringed, hoping that this would not further deteriorate them. Graeme was taken with how similar some of the designs were to aboriginal rock painting and of course to those in France. (Can't remember the name!)
The waterfall Bhimlat, where one of the five brothers from the Mahabarata kicked his heel and provided water for his mother, was a surprising lush gorge in the middle of some pretty inhospitable countryside. Worshippers turned up on motorbikes to do their
daily puja and whilst we sat and snacked, taking in the atmosphere a monkey darted across and snatched the bag of food spilling its contents all over the temple floor. The temple priest yelled and waved his big stick and another black faced monkey and a very battered dog polished off the mess helped by some pigeons. The culprit sat and sulked on the roof, hissing and grimacing.
Bundi was proving to be one of those strange places. When we arrived late at night we raced through dirty streets wondering where we had come to. Our hotel, quite overpriced, although full of wonderful artwork and antiquities was rather gloomy and did nothing to dispel my unease. Wandering around the town and visiting the incredible palace and fort though began to give us a sense of ownership, a familiarity, a slower paced town we were happy to savour. A change of hotel to a sunny room and the best views in Bundi also helped. I felt the place getting under my skin. Would I be as inspired as Kipling to write here?
The palace housed crumbling architecture, stunning artwork, none of which was protected, and amazing views. The fort
provided the spectacle of monkeys fishing for weed in the huge stone water tanks and more artwork left to decay and moulder in the weather. Taking the umpteenth photo we were no doubt not the first to be absolutely speechless at the exquisite talent that is the Bundi school of miniature painting. Even having bought paintings in Udaipur we commissioned a small Krishna figure from one of the palace paintings to be reproduced on an old postcard addressed to a cloth merchant in Bundi.
Wandering around the bazaar Graeme bought some kites to replace the old ones the hotel had given him to fly from the roof. We had missed Makar Sankranti but could see the remains as every tree, power line and hillside was decorated with twisted and torn kites. These brightly coloured tissue paper constructions were beautifully made on a bamboo frame making them extremely light and easy to fly in the slightest wind but subject to the vagaries of the breezes and not very easy to control.
Restaurants in Bundi are all in the homestays and hotels. We were picked up by a very charming young lady, Anushta, who invited us to her home to
eat which we did. Books on the table were filled with praiseworthy comments of the family's hospitality and cooking prowess. The meal was good but not exceptional but we did enjoy the evening, meeting a Canadian author living in Thailand and his Thai wife and various assorted travellers from across the globe.
Another day and another expedition. We headed out on rickety bicycles, throwbacks to the Victorian era I feel. Our initial impression had been how were we going to fill our five days in Bundi but we were rapidly running out of time with massages, shopping, stepwells and pantheons yet to do and visit. We followed the twisting alleys avoiding cows, motor bikes, pedestrians and dogs out of the town and along the side of the Jait Sagar Lake. We weren't really sure where we were heading but had heard there was a pottery village around the back of the hill and kept asking until we found it! An enterprising young farmer, with no water for crops was now leading visitors around his village, showing off his farm and providing a pottery demonstration. Contrary to how it sounds it was not touristy, we were the only tourists and
made many of the small children cry! Not used to strangers and especially white ones they peeped out cautiously from behind smiling family and when thrust closer burst into tears. We sat in the village chai shop, what wonderful institutions, and discussed Australia, cricket, kangaroos, and money with the local barber and other villagers. Their overriding decision was that they did not like the Australian currency. The teacher asked how much Graeme earned, luckily it took us so long to convert to rupees that I don't think he heard. I am sure he would have been very dissatisfied with his lot.
Upon returning to our hotel, our cook was enthralled to see our photos and pointed out his brother the potter, his mother in the house and various other friends and family. I was made to promise to send a packet of photos to the post office in Thikarda where they would definitely reach him!
There are more photos below