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Pushkar to Bundi

A Friendly family and fantastic forts

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Pushkar 03/02/10 to 03/04/10

It was a quick 2 hour bus ride from Jaipur to Ajmer, the point where we would switch buses to Pushkar. Once in Ajmer we found it was easy to get a bus to Pushkar and even refused the first bus as it was already too full for us to sit. Meghan was perfectly content to sit on her bag in the aisle but I did not want to press my luck and told her that I wanted to wait for the next bus. She relented, and dragged her bag off of the overcrowded bus and onto the next one were I would be more comfortable. We let a hotel tout who was on the bus sell us on a place to stay and had a ride waiting at the bus stop when we arrived in Pushkar. It turned out to be nice enough and a little removed from the busy tourist strip by the “lake”. Pushkar is the smallest town we have visited in India so far at just over 14,000 people and it had a small town feel to it. The big draw is the holy lake that attracts pilgrims and foreigners alike, as well as an annual Camel Fair. We missed the Camel fair but saw the fair grounds were over 200,000 people and 50,000 camels arrive each year! Steamboat Springs, Colorado were we lived prior to this trip is about the same size as Pushkar and feels like it is bursting at the seams when we have 15,000 visitors on the busy winter holidays. I could not imagine what 250,000 people and camels would do to Pushkar! Currently the lake is dry due to problems with an “infection” in the water a few year years back. The lake was dredged and drained and left to refill with monsoon rain. The last few monsoon seasons have been poor and everyone is hoping this monsoon will fill the lake. Regardless, the 52 bathing ghats encircling the dirt patch was beautiful, to see it filled with water and the accompanying the reflection would have been quite a sight. Once refilled holy water from the Ganga will be brought and poured into the lake to make the waters holy again . We spent 2 short days in Pushkar and unfortunately Meghan was inflicted with another bought of the stomach sickness. We spent the morning together in the shade of a gazebo above one of the bathing Ghats before she retired to the room with fever to rest. I decided to get out and stretch my legs and went for a good walk that lead me out of town and up to a temple that stood atop a 750 foot hill. On my climb I came across and old women on the steep staircase cut into the rocks. She reached her hand out to me and I helped her to her feet. She had a hunched back and could not stand up straight yet she sped up the steep hillside past a couple of out of breath foreign tourists who were younger than I! I really had to push it hard to pass her and was amazed by the strength in her old legs. From my elevated vantage point I could see the town, surrounding hills, farmland, and arid desert stretching out to the north. I stayed to watch the sun set before returning to the room and turning in.

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Bathing Ghats surrounding the empty lake
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Pushkar Palace, Bathing Ghat, and dry lakebed
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More street cow action
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Pushkar from above
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One must embrace the Pushkar rules and regulations… just not in public.

Bundi - 03/04/10 to 03/07/10

Set beneath an imposing fort the sky blue Brahmin homes and narrow lanes of Bundi set a picture perfect postcard scene from the window of our bus as we rounded one final corner and into town. A long, hot, and often bumpy ride through small towns packed with character, and characters, brought us to this lovely town. We had to search for a rickshaw at the bus station to bring us into town, a very unusual event when compared to the persistent presence of rickshaw drivers everywhere else we have been. We asked to go to an old Haveli, a traditional Rajasthani home, that we found lavishly decorated with Indian antiques and art. It was absolutely beautiful and just outside our price range at $20 a night! We decided to go sit outside in the shade for a bit to discuss the pros and cons of a budget busting room and to inquire about other nearby accommodation. While I was searching out other options Meghan was approached by a young man who recommended the Palace View Home stay. When I came back from viewing rather uninspiring rooms I agreed to let the young man lead me to the guest house. We turned up a narrow lane and worked our way up alleyways and over crumbling staircases away from the main road. As feelings that I was being taken for a ride started brewing we stopped and knocked on the door of an rather ordinary looking home. I was greeted by Sema and her two daughters. She showed me a well appointed room in her small home with two windows looking directly at the impressive Bundi Palace. The genuinely friendly and trustworthy feeling radiating from these three women was heart warming and I decided immediately that this was the place for us to stay.

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Palace View from Palace View Home Stay and Palace View Home Stay View from Palace!
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Bundi’s Blue Rooftop’s

This turned out to be a real home stay in the best definition of the term. Sema and her husband Durga had only one room to rent and it was nearly half the size of their modest home. The rest consisted of a tiny kitchen, smaller than most American pantries and a small room that husband, wife, two daughters, and a son slept and lived in. This was all complemented nicely with the best rooftop in all of Bundi. We were the highest on the hill and had a commanding view of the Palace. After we put in a request for our dinner, and Durga returned from his shop nearby, we learned more about our hosts. Durga was an artist, he was a cheery and personal man with a contagious sense of humor and heart warming laugh that erupted after almost every statement! His shop was a stones through away at a desirable location just inside the palace gates. He had just started offering his front room to lucky travelers last summer and we were fortunate to have been brought to him as he does not advertise other than in his own shop. His Sister in-law prepared the food for us. She went to the market to buy the vegetables for our dishes as we ordered them. Side note, other than two or three meals with chicken we have been on a vegetarian diet since our arrival in India over three weeks ago. I have had exactly one glass of whisky and only one lonely beer. I did not expect it to be so easy to eat only vegetables and go with out alcohol but when it is not presented to you it is amazing how much you do not miss it. The parts of India we have visited have weird liquor laws and while most places can arrange for some hooch or a beer it is rarely on the menu or out in the open. Anyway, the food that was prepared fresh from market veggies were amazing. All other food is now ruined as I am sure this will not be duplicated for me if not just in taste than in my memory of the entire situation. Durga kept us entertained with his unmistakable charm as we passed the long wait while veggies were procured and flat breads were made from scratch. We sat on his rooftop, on the top of the city, before the impressive palace view, and ate great food and enjoyed pleasant conversation. This would set the tone for our stay in what is so far my favorite place in India.

Going back to the early 1600’s the Bundi Palace is built into a hillside with towering walls rising high above the town. An ancient series of cobblestone ramps lead to an huge gate adorned with two massive carved elephants raising there trunks together to form an archway to the inside.
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Elephant Gates

For many years this palace was left to the encroaching vegetation, bats, and resident monkeys but recently has been cleaned up and now is amongst Rajasthan’s finest. The whole place shows signs of its lengthy abandon but a few treasures still remain. This was part of the reason I liked it here so much. The fort and palace were a humble witness to an ancient time with little more than a dusting to reveal there faded glory. One room in the palace that we particularly enjoyed was filled with murals and paintings that had survived the years with out any protection of the elements. There were proof of some vandals but mostly remained for all to enjoy. The fact that this was not behind glass or monitored by some sort of security is so unique to me. I feel that if this had been in America it would have not lasted as long as it did with out protection or greater vandalism.

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Meghan studies some old art
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Old Murals delicately surviving the test of time

Working our way up the hillside to more areas of the palace we found more impressive art and interesting architecture.
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More Murals in the upper reaches of the palace
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Pillared Courtyard showing pilfered adornments
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Manicured garden in the fort
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Detail of an old door

In the afternoon we visited the vegetable market that provided our daily meals and found a relaxing public park to rest in the shade alongside a 46 meter deep step well that was built at the turn of the 17th century.

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A very micro view of the large Bundi Vegetable market

Knowing how long dinner could take we place our order early and let Durga know that we were going to climb up above the palace to the old fort and watch the sunset before we would return to eat. We climbed up past the palace on the cobblestone ramps and further up past remains of old buildings and along the fort wall as it worked its way up the hillside. At this point we wished we were kicking down the cobblestones feeling groovy as Simon and Garfunkle would sing it but instead we were crawling up the cobblestones feeling sweaty! We switchback up an even steeper cobblestone ramp that was lined with thickets of thorn bushes that led up to the impenetrable entrance of the Taragarh or Star Fort. Dating back to 1354 this was an overgrown relic of a small town and palaces that laid within the protection of the double walls of the hilltop fort. Climbing through a small door within the huge second gate I felt like I was 10 years old again playing Indiana Jones in the woods behind my childhood home. There were no signs telling you what way to go, no entry fees, and no people around. It was just us and the fort.
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Bundi Fort from above
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Heading to the upper fort
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Thorn bushes that protected the entryway to the fort and penetrated the soles of my boots
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Sharp spikes on the first gate to discourage an army of charging Elephants

I left Meghan atop one of entry gate buildings and set off on a whistle stop tour of the large fort before the setting sun pushed it all into darkness. I found a lot more than expected and knew that a second trip was necessary, so I decided I would save the real investigation for a 2nd day. The sun settled into some low lying clouds depriving us of the romantic sunset over the Blue Brahman houses of Bundi and the illuminated fort so we went back down the cobblestone path to our rooftop perch before it got too dark.

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Meghan waits patiently above blue Bundi
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Forgotten Temple
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Fort wall and overgrown grounds
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Outside the Palace at Taragarh
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Looking down on Bundi

Back at the house Sema and the family along with Sema’s sister started a fire in a fire pan on the roof and cooked potato paranthas in a wok like pan over the open flame. (Parantha is a wheat flour like tortilla stuffed with yummys before cooked.) We all sat up on the roof together, the family all huddled around the fire helping out with the task at hand and Meghan and I watching on and we spent another evening enjoying the incredible food and watching the numerous monkeys climb all over the floodlit fort. I forgot to mention this but there were a lot of monkeys. In the mornings they would scamper across the rooftops to the palace were they would take to the shade in the numerous alcoves across the palace walls. At night they would come back out again and we could watch them climbing and playing all over their huge jungle gym. This was all quite entertaining and was kind of like our television for the nights we were there. Durga informed us that they were educated monkeys and would swipe your shoes or drying laundry and taunt you with your missing items until you fed them a Chapati (un stuffed wheat like tortilla)! In addition, meals taken on the roof top are served with a large stick, just is case a monkey gets too daring.

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Palace Monkeys
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Looking closely you can see them all over the Elephant gate

The next day we hired some push bikes and set out to do some exploring north of town. It was fun to get out but we did not see anything too memorable and mostly just enjoyed the more quiet countryside and bit of exercise that is missing from our current lives. Upon returning to Bundi Meghan went in for some R&R and I returned to the fort on the hill. Like the night before I entered the imposing gates and found myself alone. I would spend an hour exploring the 650 year old buildings and all their narrow passage ways, tight staircases, and empty courtyards alone. It was quite some time before a few other intrepid travelers crossed my path. I can not describe how much I enjoyed this. I was possessed with images of life in this time and as I wandered the abandoned buildings they came to life in my mind. I spent a good time up in the fort collecting long thorns in the soles of my shoes and exploring every inch of each decaying building before heading back down for our final meal with Durga and his family.

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A closer look inside the Taragarh
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Indy?
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Bundi Fort and the walls of the Taragarh above lit up at night

The next morning we would be up early and off to the “Venice of the East”, the romantic Rajasthan city of Udaipur.

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At 6:00 AM Durga was sharply dressed and ready to see us off.
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Sunrise on the Tracks, Bundi Train Station

Posted by pmunson 08:24 Archived in India

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Comments

Peter and Meghan,

I did not know you played Indiana Jones in our woods in Weston. All you need now is a whip. Your pictures and write up are great. You will have to publish them when you get home. Ever think of being a correspondant? I love reading them. Glad hou are having such a great time -- your inginuity and desire to explore and do the unusual has a lot to do with it.

love you two,

Dad and Mom too!!

by Dad

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