BUNDI IS OFTEN described as the undiscovered jewel of Rajasthan. Surrounded on three sides by the rugged, thickly forested Aravalli Hills, this walled town has retained much of its historic character. The Taragarh Fort crowns the crest of a steep hill overlooking the town, while the Garh Palace spills picturesquely down the hillside, This palace is Bandies – and Rajasthan’s jewel. Lieutenant Colonel James Tod, (1782-1835), the British Political Agent and author of the authoritative Annals and Antiquities of Rajasthan, wrote that “the coup doeil of the castellated palace of Boondi, from whichever side you approach it, is the most striking in India”.
The state of Bundi was founded in 1341 by Rao Deva of the “fire-born” Hada Chauhan Rajput clan, and the massive, square Taragarh Fort dates to his reign. Work on the palace began in the 16th century, and it was added to by successive rulers over the next 200 years, at different levels on the hillside. Unlike most other palaces in Rajasthan, there is very little Mughal influence in its architecture. The Garh Palace represents a rare example of the pure Rajput style, with curved roofs topping pavilions and kiosks, a profusion of temple columns and ornamental brackets, and typically Rajput motifs such as elephants and lotus flowers. Unusually, the palace is not built of the sandstone favoured by most other Rajput kingdoms, but of a hard, green-tinged serpentine stone, quarried locally. This stone, unlike sandstone, does not lend itself to fine carving. Instead, Garh Palace was embellished by superb paintings. The palace is entered through the imposing Hatlila Pole(“Elephant Gateway”), flanked by two towers and topped by a pair of huge painted elephants. The most spectacular parts of the palace are the Chattar Mahal (built in 1660), and the Chltrashala, an arcaded gallery (built between 1748 and 1770) overlooking a hanging garden. The murals in these are regarded as among the finest examples of Rajput painting.
The themes they cover include scenes from the Radha-Krishna legend, religious ceremonies, hunting scenes and other princely amusements. The colours are predominantly blue and green, with touches of deep red and yellow. In the middle of the town is the Naval Sagar Lake, with a little temple on an island in its centre, The fort and palace reflected in the lake make an enchanting sight.
Bundi has over 50 stepwells, of which the most beautiful is the 46-m (151-ft) deep Raniki- Baori, also in the centre off town. Built in the 17th century, it is strikingly similar to Adalaj Vav in Gujarat with richly decorated archways and sculptures of Vishnu’s ten avatars. Situated at the northern edge of the town is the 18thcentury Sukh Niwas Mahal. a romantic summer palace overlooking Jait Sagar Lake. Standing at the opposite end of the lake are the royal cenotaphs, and at its western edge is an elegant hunting tower, the Shikar Bur.
ENVIRONS: Bijolia, 50 km (31 miles) southwest of Bundi, on the road to Chittorgarh, has a group of three beautiful 13thcentury temples, dedicated to Shiva. Menal, lying 20 km (12 miles) further along the same road is a delightful wooded spot with 11th-century temples standing near a gorge. Tonk, 113 km (70 miles) north of Bundi, was once the capital of the only Muslim princely state in Rajasthan. Founded in the early 19thcentury, its main attraction is the splendid Sunehri Kothi (“Golden Mansion”) within the palace complex, every inch of its interior covered with gold leaf, lacquerwork, moulded stucco and striking mitiorwork . Stained-glass windows bathe this opulent hall in glowing colours. Tonk’s Arabic and Persian Research Institute has rare, illuminated medieval Islamic manuscripts.