A praise for paintings

A praise for paintings
I’m standing at the edge of a road overlooking a sea of blue buildings. The sight unfolding in front of me is ethereal. Beautiful blue-painted buildings, an old temple complex and many architectural details make me trigger-happy with my camera. I’m at Bundi, a small town in Rajasthan known for its miniature paintings and the 14th-century Taragarh Fort that houses what can easily be called the best example of traditional murals and frescoes in the country. Situated about 35 km from Kota, Bundi is mostly off the tourist map.

Rise to power
The drive to Bundi is scenic, and the area, surrounded by the Aravalli hills, makes for a picturesque sight. At the Bundi Palace, I meet with guide Keshav Bhati, who, at 72, navigates the steep ramparts like a professional as I pant while climbing the steep path.

He tells me that Bundi came to the forefront in the 12th century. The palace has several buildings inside its precincts — Hathi Pol, Diwan-e-Aam, Chattar Mahal, Phool Mahal and Badal Mahal.

The ornate Hathi Pol is the entrance to Garh Palace, and two trumpeting elephants on either side of an arch-shaped door welcome you.

It’s said that Chauhan nobles from Ajmer fought and got control over the Bundi area from the Mina and Bhil tribes, and made it their capital, Hadoti.

Collaborative art
Bundi has a history of loyalty with the Mughals too. The highlight of the palace is the Chitrasala, a picture gallery in Ummed Mahal built by Rao Ummed Singh. The walls have themed illustrations in bright blue and green colours, which, according to the guide, signify both Hindu and Muslim artists working together.

The themes reflect both Mughal and Mewar styles, and include Lord Krishna lifting Mount Govardhan, Lord Rama’s marriage procession, musical melodies, love stories, court processions etc.

All human figures are painted white and red; blue, black and yellow are used for traditional dresses. These paintings have inspired an annual art event called ‘Chitrashaala’ that’s put together by Bengaluru-based fashion designer Deepika Govind and her husband Ashish Vohra.

If you want to trek to Taragarh Fort, you can continue from here. Bundi is known as the city of stepwells and is said to have over 50. Today, most of them are not well-maintained. Interestingly, Bundi has an association with Rudyard Kipling. He stayed here for inspiration to pen the masterpiece Kim.

At the centre of the city is the Nawal Sagar, a square artificial lake with several islets, and a temple dedicated to Varuna, the God of Oceans, is partially submerged in the middle of the lake.

Sukh Mahal, a cream-coloured palace on the bank of Jait Sagar Lake, is where Rudyard Kipling stayed, and has a living area and dining hall on the lower level and two bedrooms on the next level. From here, the views of the lake are stunning.

The Sar Bagh, an enclosed compound, has several marble cenotaphs commemorating members of the royal family. If you love history and architectural sights, head to the Chaurasi Khambon ki Chhatri, a marquee supported by 84 pillars that was built in 1683 by Rao Anirudh Singh. Another stop here is the Shikar Burj, a building that Rajputana kings used for hunting escapades. It has a temple and is inhabited by monkeys now.

Go for the lanes
The best way to soak in the local culture of the place is to walk around the streets, especially the one opposite the palace where you will meet local artists who demonstrate the fine art of miniature paintings. I met with a national award-winning artist who was commissioned to design the cover of a travel book. There are several other artists from whom you can buy samples of the art painted on old stamp-papers and postcards, which make for excellent souvenirs. You can also buy a range of Rajasthan craft items here, gem stone jewellery being a speciality of the region.

Do not forget to sample some authentic Rajasthani food ­— try the local papad ki sabzi (a curry made with papad and gravy), kadhi (a liquid curd and gram flour preparation) and alu ki sabzi (potato vegetable).

In all, Bundi’s charm lies in the fact that it’s off the tourist track and has many secrets that you can discover at your own pace.

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