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Published: April 11th 2009
To begin with I didn´t get Bundi. I´d read rave reviews of this small town in Rajasthan (small by Indian standards that is) both in the guide book and on other peoples blogs but walking around that first morning well, I just wasn´t seeing it. Perhaps it was the result of my overnight bus journey from Udaipur - half frozen, no sleep and arriving at 4am maybe wasn´t helping my view of the place but the 'lake' was rather lite on water and the best thing about the palace was watching monkeys jumping around on the roof. Slightly perplexed I headed back to my hostel with its 'lake views' and used the time to catch up on some reading instead.
On my second day I started to get it - the attraction for me wasn´t any of the the 'sights', I´d seen better elsewhere, rather the opportunity to people watch. Down in the town center, well away from the whitewashed streets full of guest houses, restaurants and souvenir shops, the market was on and the locals were out in force. Men sporting what I can only describe as sausage turbans (the were loosely wound coils), in every colour including some
remarkable multicoloured ones, stood chatting, smoking or drinking chai. Brightly clothed sellers and buyers crouched around baskets laden with equally brightly coloured fruit and veg, energetically haggling over the price. Men passed by on push bikes or motorcycles laden with huge copper pots. Huge piles of dried red chilli's lay waiting for buyers. Shops were fronted with colourful displays of kites, popular given the upcoming festival, or monocolour displays of household goods - everything you could want in metal. And then there were the women, casually walking passed with huge piles of wood balanced on their heads.
There isn´t a railway station at Bundi, the nearest is a 45min bus ride away in Kota, which is where I needed to go to catch my train to Mumbai. The journey to Kota was pretty uneventful, except when I made the mistake of trying to lift my rucksack onto my lap rather than leave it blocking the aisle. An elderly local man leaned over to tell me that now I was in India I needed to get used to doing things the Indian way - i.e. leaving it in the aisle - people would just have to step over it if
they wanted to get passed.
I only had a day in Mumbai, but I could easily have stayed longer. As it was I had to catch a flight to Goa the next day so instead I had a rather whirlwind tour. The first challenge was getting the local train from the main northern rail-head into town. As the first train approached, packed so full that a row of men hung leaning out of each open door I chickened out hoping that the next one wouldn´t be quite so busy. Alas it was 7am, rush hour in Mumbai and the next train was just as packed. I wasn´t particularly keen on the thought of squeezing me and my rucksack into a carriage packed full of Indian men (unfortunately whilst many were very respectful I´d found a few thought it quite acceptable to grope a passing white women) I was really pleased when I saw a women's only carriage - no groping hands here, just lots of staring at the alien that had just stepped on, but that I could easily handle!
The walk from the station to my hostel took my passed huge Victorian buildings that wouldn´t look out
of place in central London. Once I´d checked in and recovered at the shock of having to pay almost 3x what I was used to paying for a private room but instead getting a bed in an 18 bed dorm, I headed straight out to explore. First stop was Leopold's for breakfast. Having read the book Shantaram (some of which is set in the cafe) at the start of my India trip I´d been keen to visit. A few of the people there might have been regulars, but most were obviously tourists, perhaps there because they´d also read the book (copies of which were stacked on the counter) or maybe to see what the cafe was like after it´d been a target for the recent bombings. The signs of the terrorist activities were still evident - from bullet holes in the wall to the armed guards posted outside, but inside it was busy yet relaxed. Shame the food wasn´t soo great! The rest of the day I just spent walking - gawking at the old buildings and funny snail shapped structures in the road outside the CST (formally the Victoria railway terminus), sitting in the park and walking along the
long sea front to Chowpatty beach. And it was by the beach that I ended it - sat on the sea wall with a load of locals watching sunset.
Next up: temples and churches, from Goa to Hampi
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