The tuk-tuk rattled and heaved as we drove higher up the jungle-clad deserted hill. We were just a few kilometres north of Jaipur, yet there was not a soul around. Or any sound. Except for the chirping of the birds and my noisy mode of transport.
In the distance I could make out the Jaipur State’s flag—the famous panchranga representative of the five Afghan tribes Mirza Raja Man Singh I, the Kachhwaha Rajput ruler, defeated in 1585 on behalf of the Mughals. A gentle reminder that the fort on which it was hoisted, Jaigarh Fort, still belonged to the Jaipur royal family.
Unlike the Amer Fort, Jaigarh Fort built by Maharaja Sawai Jai Singh II in 1720 served as a military fort and a hideout for the royal family in the event of war. It’s a stark and functional piece of military architecture. But with such stories inside its walls! Continue reading →
Bundi. The very name is evocative. Translated literally it means sweetened, fried chickpea flour—a snack indigenous to Rajasthan. When applied to a small, sleepy, powder-blue painted town nestled in a deep gorge surrounded on three sides by the Aravalli hills with a spectacular fort and palace looming over it, it becomes synonymous with one of India’s best kept secrets. A secret with myriad secrets within its folds.
Founded by a gentleman of the Meena tribe who went by the name Bunda, it was annexed by Rao Deva Hada in 1342, founder of Bundi [the princely state] and Hadoti [land of the great Hada Rajputs]. Friends with the Mughals and thereafter, the British Raj, it retained its princely status till 1947. Not many venture into Bundi; neither today nor in the past.
Here are five secrets I discovered in Bundi which make it the treasure trove that it is. If you know of more, please do share in the comments section. 😊 Continue reading →
Me: Kotah Palace jaanaa hai. [I want to go to Kotah Palace.]
Auto rickshaw driver: Palace hotel?
Me: Nahin. Sirf palace. Jahaan rajah maharajah rehtey they. [No. Just palace. Where the kings used to live.]
Auto rickshaw driver (confused): Par vahaan toh koi Indian nahin jaataa! Sirf gorey log jaatey hai! [But Indians don’t go there! Only white people do.]
Me: Haan, vahin jaana hai, jahaan gorey log jaatey hai. [My deep gratitude to Caucasians at this point for appreciating the treasures hidden in India’s midst.]
Auto rickshaw driver (laughing): Chalo, aaj yeh bhi dekh letey hai. [Sure, let me see this place too, today.]
It’s chaotic and crowded. I had just got off a rickety bus from Bundi. My train to Delhi, deep into the night, was a good few hours away. The plan was to spend the time in-between devouring the miniature painting frescoes of the Kotah Garh Palace. Continue reading →
A woman looks brazenly across the room. Her perfect profile decorated with jewels is tilted in anticipation. On the wall opposite, a royal damsel is being dressed by her lady-in-waiting whilst a Rajput prince slyly peeps from behind the curtains in blatant lust. Two women on a side wall make erotic love to each other.
The gods and goddesses are no less immune to the dynamics of the room. A series of frescoes have Krishna dancing in gay abandon with Radha and her sakhis in the raas leela. In another, he is perched atop a tree with the stolen garments of the gopikas.
Painted using a palette of turquoise green, black, and white, the colonnaded open-sided hall with private rooms leading out of it, was once the maharaja’s pleasure room. It is befittingly called Chitrashala—chitra meaning picture, shala meaning house or abode. The abode of pictures.
What makes these paintings, and those in Bundi’s other royal palaces unparalleled, is they comprise some of the finest examples of the Bundi School of Miniature Painting. A style normally associated with paint on paper, the Bundi school found its way in its parent city to the walls of the ruling family’s private rooms to create visual extravaganzas of colour and storytelling tipped with gold. Continue reading →
If like me, you were brought up on a travel diet of London and Paris, with Persepolis thrown in for effect, you would wonder what all the hullabaloo about India’s stepwells was for. That is, until you saw them in person.
Since moving back to India, I have time and again read that the stepwells or baoris [as they are known in the local dialect] of Gujarat and Rajasthan were stunning. I was told there was even one in Connaught Place, the heart of New Delhi, which was a complete beauty. I, thus, conjured them in my mind as architectural marvels to be found in the historically grand cities of India. Read—grand.
Destination, or the journey? In travel, it is often hard put to distinguish between the two.
When I went to Bundi in Rajasthan a fortnight ago, I had no clue that merely 30 kilometres south of the town were 101 sites of prehistoric rock art painted 15,000 years ago. They were discovered by a one Mr. Kukkiji in 1997, who was to take me to the sites himself. What I knew less of was the charms of the paintings’ backdrop—the caves lined tranquil wide rivers, on whose lush shores the Bhil, an Indian Adivasi tribal had made their homes. Continue reading →
The image above is that of an antelope in a forest, next to a trap waiting to catapult it to its death. Nope. This is not somewhere in the interiors of France or Spain, more commonly associated with prehistoric art, or even in Bhimbetka where India’s prized rock art collection lies.
It is instead on the insides of a cave lining a tributary of the river Chambal in Gararda, Rajasthan, 35 kilometres from Bundi, my base a fortnight ago.
Painted 15,000 years ago in mineral colours, very few people know of it. Just a handful come from the far corners of the world to marvel at its beauty, and timelessness.
And if it were not for a local sweetmeat-shop-owner-turned-archaeologist, we would not know of it either. He discovered the site in 1997 and has passionately been creating awareness of it ever since, unearthing 101 caves festooned with prehistoric art to-date. His name is Kukkiji. Continue reading →