After Udaipur, we headed out to Bundi, we were hoping it would be our last stop in Rajasthan before heading down to Goa. Per the guidebook, Bundi was supposed to be a mellow, tranquil town to hang out in for a couple of days and to recoup. Quite frankly, we had been recouping from the horrors of the big cities since Jaisalmer so by now we were pretty relaxed …. But that’s ok – one can never be relaxed enough, right?
Bundi had the added bonus of being about 30 minutes away from Kota Junction which was where our trains were leaving from to head to Goa (if we ever made it off the waitlists – I had booked us on 3 different trains in hopes that we would clear at least one of these lists), but nothing was sure as we had entered ‘high season’ – the Christmas period. On a side note, one wouldn’t really imagine that in a predominantly Hindu country that Christmas would even matter or be a big deal…. But even here it is big and many children have holidays from Dec 23-Jan 12th. I guess everyone really does love Santa.
We arrived on the late train from Udaipur and got shuttled to our guesthouse, Shivam guesthouse to be exact. We spent the next 5 days exploring this little town of 15,000 inhabitants, seeing the limited sites and enjoying the people. Now at this point, we have seen some pretty cool forts and city palaces (Jaipur, Jaisalmer, Udaipur), we have dipped our feet in a holy lake in Pushkar and seen beautiful lakes and scenery in Udaipur. If these are the things you are looking for in Bundi, you will probably be disappointed. The fort and palace are somewhat dilapidated with the city palace really only having one room left where the wall paintings survive – the ‘lakes’ which are really water catchment basins are small but not as picturesque as Udaipur and there are many people selling crafts and textiles but you have nowhere near the selection of Pushkar.
We did do the tourist sites (we had 5 days to fill after all) – we visited the fort and palace and walked to the ‘big’ lake where Rudyard Kipling wrote the Jungle Book. (For anyone who comes this way, I would recommend renting a bike and heading to the lake as there isn’t much to see and that way you can explore farther afield.) We ate delicious ‘poha’ at the market stands and bought fresh papaya, chikoo (aka sapota or sapodilla) and pomegranate for an amazing fruit salad. We saw the wells that Bundi is apparently famous for but to be honest they are almost dry and pretty dirty. So were we disappointed? No! What Bundi lacks in sites and shopping it more than makes up for in the honest, kind friendliness of the people! Not to mention it has the only clean and green park that we have come across in India – a little peaceful haven next to the lake that we spent many an hour in!
Let me introduce you to a few of these wonderful people:
Krishna the Chai guy, this guy not only greets you with a kind smile and a humble greeting but he makes the best chai EVER! He custom makes each cup of chai in front of your eyes. He grinds the spices with a large rock and slowly incorporates them into his magic brew. First he starts heating up the milk and adds the tea into it then he begins adding the spices: first is the black pepper followed by cloves, cardamom, cinnamon, and the piece de resistance – dried ginger. Wow! His chai alone is worth a trip to Bundi. He has had his store and has been making chai like this for the last 15 years. He has truly perfected his craft and we loved spending time sipping our chai and watching the world of Bundi go by.
One night as we were walking back to our guesthouse from dinner, a teenaged boy, Gopal, asked us the usual questions that you get: “Where are you from?”, “What is your name?” How long are you in India?” – These must be the first questions that they all learn in English class as these are questions that we probably answer at least 50 times a day. In any case, Gopal asked us if we would please come to his house for a chai. He practically pleaded with us and promised his place was only a short distance from our guesthouse. He seemed like a nice kid so we followed him. He brought us to a tiny room (6ftx6ft max) that he shares with his little brother and sister. You should have seen his brothers and sisters faces when we entered their home – complete surprise! I am sure it was the last thing they imagined happening – some random tourists coming to share a cup of chai with them. They were very sweet and we tried to make do with our limited Hindi skills (which are close to none) and they practiced their English. They told us their father is a farmer (a poor one) and that they live in Bundi to complete their studies. They are all studying to be engineers and hope to be able to work in America one day. It really brought perspective, as travel so often does, on how lucky we are to be born and live in first world countries. We forget how fortunate we are to have all the ‘things’ that we have. To be able to drink clean water out of the faucet, to have garbage collectors and even to have 2 days off every weekend, all of these things that we take for granted are unknown to these people.
Finally, there is this guy, I don’t know his name and we didn’t really speak (language barriers) but you should have seen his face when I asked to take a photo with him. He and his friend were so excited! I had seen him all week, I mean look at that mustache! It’s a beauty!! I would look for him every day just to admire it from afar! Finally on our 2nd to last day I got the photo! In other cities, you might be afraid to ask people for photos because in big cities people will turn around and ask for money. To be fair we are asked to take photos at least 2 – 3 times every day and we happily oblige, thus allowing us to support our vacation. (just kidding!).
We felt the warmth and kindness of Bundi – I think it is a town that is struggling as the fort and city palace are not being kept up and more and more restaurants and guest houses are opening but less and less tourists are coming. They told us that tourism is down by 80% due to the money crises in India so you can tell many are struggling to make ends meet. I would recommend a visit to Bundi for the people. It gave us a chance to meet genuine, kind people in a town setting. We got away from the ‘hard sell’ and were finally able to feel the hospitality of India. Thank you beautiful Bundi!