Today’s guest post comes from one of my favourite travel bloggers Wandering Earl
Chaotic and intense.
These are two words that seem to wind up in almost every description of India, and rightfully so, as during the two and a half years that I’ve now spent traveling around the subcontinent, I’ve only experienced a small handful of moments that could be described as anything close to peaceful.
But of course that’s the allure of India and without that chaos and intensity, an adventure to this country simply wouldn’t be as life-changing as is normally the case.
However, on the other hand, India also wouldn’t be India without the constant surprises that she so consistently throws in the path of every traveler who dares to venture inside its borders.
A random recommendation: Bundi
Back in 2007, moments before boarding a flight from JFK airport in New York City to Mumbai for my 7th visit to India, I received a text message from a friend.
The message was short and simply said: “Met someone today who also loves India, he said go to Bundi.”
Fourteen hours later I arrived in Mumbai, where I met up with two other friends with whom I planned to travel for a month. And during that first evening together, we realized that, apart from spending a few days in Mumbai, we had no idea where else we would visit.
This is most likely why nobody objected when I randomly suggested we travel to Bundi, which, apart from the text message I had received, I had never heard of. In fact, none of us had heard of Bundi in India before and none of us even knew where it was located within this vast country.
But two days later, after doing a quick five minutes of research about Bundi on the internet, we boarded the Firozpur-Janata Express at Mumbai’s insanely crowded Mumbai Central train station.
We were bound for Kota, the closest transportation hub to Bundi, which we now knew was situated on the eastern edge of the culturally-rich state of Rajasthan. Nineteen hours later we arrived.
Bundi: Not a typical Indian town
To put it simply, we ended up spending 10 days in Bundi, finding it harder and harder to leave as the days passed. It took barely an hour for us all to become far too captivated by Bundi’s unlike-any-other-place-in-India charm to even consider heading somewhere else.
Chaotic and intense do not apply in this town, with words such as tranquil, laid-back, enchanting and extraordinary much more appropriate instead.
Picture a large desert hill, with a small town nestled into its base, a town with hundreds of narrow lanes creating a maze of homes, shops and temples, most of which are painted a mesmerizing shade of pastel blue (a sign of royalty). From almost any vantage point, the impressive Bundi Palace looms overhead from
From almost any vantage point, the impressive Bundi Palace looms overhead from its location halfway up the hill, representing one of the most well-preserved palaces I’d ever seen in India. Glance even further towards the sky and your eyes will meet the grand Taragarh Fortress, whose ancient outer walls line the entire summit of the hill, encompassing various hilltop shrines that are still used by locals to make daily offerings to the Hindu gods.
Glance even further towards the sky and your eyes will meet the grand Taragarh Fortress, whose ancient outer walls line the entire summit of the hill, encompassing various hilltop shrines that are still used by locals to make daily offerings to the Hindu gods.
A short 30-minute walk up the hill brings you straight to the fortress, where one can climb onto the top of the fortress wall. From here, the never-ending view is addicting, especially before sunset when the colorful town below appears as majestic as those found in the wildest of fairy-tales.
Bundi’s population, which consists of an interesting mix of Hindus, Muslims and Jains, all of whom live in complete harmony, are clearly proud of the peaceful atmosphere they’ve created.
Smiling locals, many of whom extend their hand in greeting to all strangers who pass them by, are the norm and two minutes will rarely pass without a group of children leading you off for a personal tour of their neighborhood.
Incredibly, the usual fears associated with traveling in India – pickpockets, being ripped off, endless scams – are nothing to worry about at all here. The biggest problem travelers face in Bundi is the potential lack of sleep due to being invited to participate in one of the frequent, all-night religious ceremonies that take place in the streets.
And if you tire from all of the celebrations, chances are you’ll have a cheerful room to return to as Bundi offers a small, but sufficient variety of excellent budget accommodation, typically in buildings full of history and character.
As a result, it’s quite easy to understand why the handful of other travelers I met during my visit all ended up re-arranging their itineraries in order to accommodate a much longer stay in Bundi than they had originally planned.
Beyond the town of Bundi
One morning, a few days into our stay, my friends and I decided to test the surrounding area, to see if the countryside beyond Bundi had a similar, serene feel to it.
We hired a rickshaw for the day, paying 300 rupees ($7 USD) to a driver who we somehow convinced to hand us his keys and stay at home while we drove his rickshaw, even though none of us had ever driven a rickshaw at any point in our lives.
Sure, we ended up having to pull ourselves out of small roadside ditches on a few occasions and we were nearly run over by the occasional truck or camel cart, but apart from those minor challenges, we ended up discovering a region of India that not only lived up to the high expectations set by Bundi, but that very few travelers have a chance to explore.
From the kindest, most generous local villagers (especially this tea stall owner in the photo whom I will never forget) to the ever-changing landscape of sparkling lakes, stretches of desert, lush forest and impressive karst formations, we found ourselves increasingly enthralled by the region with every passing kilometer.
After nine hours of exploring, we eventually returned to Bundi, barely able to contain our excitement over the day’s excursion. And that night, during dinner at a local rooftop restaurant, the three of us began contemplating whether or not we should move to Bundi for good.
Of course, that was mostly talk, but we carried on eating our meals, drinking our beers and talking about Bundi well into the night, barely even noticing the frequent power outages that darkened this sleepy community.
I simply didn’t want to leave that rooftop, as any time that I find myself sitting in the middle of a peaceful town built for royalty, at the foot of a palace, under the protection of a fortress and surrounded by the golden desert, I am as happy a traveler as can be.
And the fact that this location was in the middle of chaotic and intense India made my experience here even more rewarding.
More Resources for India
Check out these helpful travel guides:
- Lonely Planet Discover India (Travel Guide)
- Enjoying India: The Essential Handbook
- Places to stay in Bundi, India
Bio: Earl left home in 1999 for a 3-month backpacking trip that has still yet to end. Addicted to the first-hand education that world travel provides, he focuses on the human interactions and lessons learned along the way, while trying to prove that a life of extended travel is not some crazy fantasy