India

The Sixth Tale from Karnataka and Rajasthan – Bundi and Udaipur

By Nick Goslett
Bundi musician

I got the time wrong for seeing Gravity in the Celebration Mall (and Yes, a genuine 5-story Mall in Udaipur and reasonably full of Indian punters) so I am in an extremely seedy internet cafe (no actual cafe stuff available) to pass the couple of hours until film time.

I arrived at Bundi in a monsoon and Bundi must have the worst roads in India. Bundi is described by Lonely Planet as “a captivating town .. “. The guy must have been completely high on drugs or some such. The filthiest city I have encountered with a plethora of nasty pigs and piglets rushing here and there. My lodging was described as “run by a dynamic mother-and-two-daughters team” but both the girls have married and moved away and I never saw the famous mother .. but perhaps I needed to be female. The first room had no AC so I asked for one with AC which it had but the remote was broken and it was turned on and off from the room next door. On the second (final) night I had no water at all! However, it so happened that they fixed the AC remote and I had the best night’s sleep of the holiday (helped with the odd drug or two!).

…and his pots


The town is famous for the palace which Kipling said had been built by goblins rather than humans. A quite extraordinary place built into a hillside with only a few (magnificent) rooms open to the public and an overwhelming stench of bats’ piss everywhere. It is all falling to pieces and won’t be long before it will be closed for good. Such a shame but that is India: so many monuments and so little money. Bundi is also famous for its stepped wells – BUT every one is either closed, or has scaffolding and all have rubbish in the well instead of water. Earlier this year 12 irate American tourists took the city chief to task and insisted that he clean the major ones out and apparently they did but it takes but a trice to trash them again. After wandering around for some hours rather forlornly I eventually came upon a lovely summer residence overlooking a beautiful lake covered in lillies where Kipling stayed for three nights when writing Kim. So that was splendid, and then I was in the midst of the procession for the end of Dussera when large images of Ma-Durga are brought to the lake on floats with music blaring from each one and with much dancing and jollity. Each statute is dumped into the (fetid) lake with much ceremony. That night there was a long procession of floats winding through the town, again with much jollity. Each float was followed by a poor man dragging along a very heavy transformer to power the lights and tremendous noise. So, much to my surprise, a rather enjoyable day. Spent quite some time in a rooftop cafe drinking Kingfisher with the lovely owner (man) who said that the number of tourists is going down every year and with more competition he just cannot make a go of it. I suspect that tales in the Western media about India are having an effect.

A lake of lilies


The next day I hired a bike and pottered off into the countryside and had such a relaxing day, the highlight of which was a little village square with four very old men in colourful turbans, two singing and two drumming. I hope that it was some wonderful tale of gods and goddesses. I watched entranced. More temples out in the sticks, looked after it seems by monkeys. I saw a field with what looked like tents so I nosed the bike in and came upon a smart hotel with 14 large tents, half of each of which were the best loos I’ve seen in India. I asked if I could have some food and the owner said that lunch had been prepared … for whom I have no idea since there was not a single guest staying that day! I spent some time chatting to the owner (the Maharajah’s grandson with a wonderful sonorous voice) and his wife. They are not doing well because they are the wrong side of the town and no one knows they exist (not in Lonely Planet) which is actually rather a shame because in December and January you can see 150 types of birds on the lake and in the grounds. All the hotel owners hate Indian tourists: arrogant, demanding with no sense of time! They love us. Behind where we were sitting was what looked like it might be for growing food and they were excitedly awaiting the arrival of a French lady who stays with them for three months every year and sets up a very large vegetable patch for them.

Wonderful colours


I had to vacate my room at 1 am to catch the (very slow) train to Udaipur and could not for the life of me work out how to open the front doors with the many bolts so ended up waking the whole house. I wasn’t being stupid so that was fine. I had assumed that every Indian railway station would be a place of mayhem all through the night so was disheartened to find that Bundi was the exception with no shop selling drink and biscuits and only about 10 people, all sleeping on the benches. I spent some time in the Controller’s room and it really was a throwback to the old days with telephones and handles being manipulated this way and that. A wonderful tall old guy with mutton chop whiskers would suddenly spring from his chair in the control room, march to a large bell, ring it three times then return to his seat signalling the imminent arrival of the next train.

Early morning coffee looking over Udaipur Fateh Sagar lake, Udaipur


And so at 9 am I arrived in Udaipur and by 9:15 I was sitting in the rooftop restaurant having breakfast overlooking a lake with beautiful buildings everywhere and no litter. The town is (relatively) spotless and that means no nasty pigs (but still plenty of cows one of which has just rum amock and careered down the middle of a main road and it had very big horns indeed. I could see the owner slinking off and pretending it was not his!) I have visited the palace, taken a boat trip on the lake, had lunch sitting by the lake, and today walked many miles to see another lake and a garden (which on the map looked gigantic but that was a naughty trick and it was rather small and although beautiful could have been so much more with some imagination).

Whilst eating that first lunch Jonathan from Pushkar sat down after returning from his camel trip in Jaisalmer. He had spotted me from the bridge. Philippa always used to tell me that she kept on meeting up with people on her Indian trips; extraordinary! We spent some more happy times together yesterday and today and have just parted with every intention of keeping in touch.

This morning I went to yoga and this time there were nine others and the teacher could do poses I had not thought possible, and got me doing some that more than surprised me. I thought the hour would never end! The toughest work out of my life, at one point regretting having had a coffee and toast beforehand and thinking I was about to pass out .. but I shall return for more punishment tomorrow. He said that after a week I would feel wonderful. Either that or the Red Cross.

Tomorrow I may take a trip to a temple described as Rajasthan’s Khajuraho – which no one here seems to have heard about. However it is quite a way (50kms) so will see how I feel after yoga.

Must away to Gravity. Next stop Jodhpur then a camel trek for two days in Jaisalmer. Jonathan insists that I do two days rather than the one I had planned since the second night out in the dunes the stars are incredible.

Nick

 

Photos from my Trip to Bundi and Udaipur

Where Kipling wrote Kim


Village group of musicians


Village children


Two elephants


Three beautiful step-wells


The second


The third


The ruined Bundi Palace


Temple bells to disengage the mind


Nightime Dussera procession


Ma-Durga


Local musicians


Jonathan


Fountain in the Garden of Maidens


Dussera procession


Bundi Station Master


Bundi is blue


Beautiful carving


A very scary person


A temple looked after by monkees


A potter


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