• Katy Rigg

B is for Bundi: Brilliantly blue and beautiful beaming smiles

Wednesday 10th August 2016

B is for Bundi. Brilliantly blue and beautiful beaming smiles!

On Monday, the rain came. Thick and fast and heavy. We watched it from the window of our train heading East to Kota, still in Rajasthan, but thankfully it had eased by the time we arrived. As we drove from Kota to Bundi, we saw what it had left in its wake - saturated rice fields and flooded freeways, bringing the traffic to a standstill. Broken damns created waterfalls over what used to be roads. Many homes were underwater, the levels reaching up to their washing lines where some old clothes were still strewn. Rickshaws and cars, for once, drove tentatively, unsure where the huge pot holes in the road might now be, and people waded through calf-deep water, saris hitched up to their knees.

The drive from Kota to Bundi took well over an hour and we were glad to be in a car and not a rickshaw this time. As we headed away from the most flooded area, the roads became drier but more bumpy and the driver had to swerve left and right to avoid the mounds and holes, as well as the cows, who seemed to rule these mean streets with fearless abandon. The road took us through countryside and truck stops, but very little other civilisation, and we shared that same knowing look when we arrived at what we thought was Bundi and it seemed to be a shanty town in the middle of nowhere.

We were wrong to be discouraged! For when the driver carried on a few more miles up the hill, we stopped to take a photo of the real Bundi - the beautiful blue city in the valley below. Needless to say, this little gem is very off the beaten track but we fell in love with it within the first few minutes and kicked ourselves for only booking to stay for one night.

Its charming winding streets don't stretch very far, but walking around on that first evening, we found charming little shops and golden shrines, murals dedicated to Gods and Goddesses and statues of elephants and horses. People sat peacefully outside their shops or on their doorsteps, watching the passers by, and smiled warmly as we passed, nodding a hello and asking where we were from. We found a roof top bar - The Ben 10 Cafe - and sat and had a beer overlooking the hills, watching as more dark clouds rolled our way.

In the morning, we met Antim outside our hotel, a rickshaw driver who offered to take us on a day tour to see the sites in and around Bundi. For once, this was an excellent decision, and he spent the next four hours driving us from monument to monument, to see old water towers, temples, dilapidated palaces, a pottery farm, a waterfall and Kipling House, where the final chapter of The Jungle Book was apparently written. Over a cup of chai, he told us about his home life and the hard times his family have shared. He worked in chai shops from a young age - since his father died - and missed his chance to go to school. He speaks Rajasthani but has picked up a good level of spoken English from working with tourists. He rents his rickshaw for 400 rupees a day, and has to pay the rent no matter the custom that's come his way. In these brutal monsoon months, business is slow. The rent for his home that he shares with his wife, mother, two brothers, daughter and soon to be newborn, is 4000 rupees a month. They also have to pay 1500 rupees a month for the two younger brothers' education, which he insists they should have because he knows how hard it is to go without. A humbling encounter for us both that left us a little lost for words.

As a thank you for a brilliant day, we invited him for lunch at the Tom and Jerry Cafe (roads haven't quite taken off here and yet British cartoons definitely have!), which was actually decorated inside as Pink Floyd's 'The Wall' album cover. Playing a mixture of sixties rock and roll and Bollywood music, we couldn't help but feel that the theme was rather slap dash.

That morning, driving up into the Rajasthani hills, we felt like we could be in a movie - speeding along on the wild and bumpy track, Bhangra music blaring from the rickshaw, our hair blowing wildly across our hot skin, the sun peeking through the clouds. As we passed people on the track - children playing in the river, women carrying reeds along the road, old men sat pensively on their porch - they stared at us, at first with a curious disbelief, and then broke into huge, genuine beams when we smiled or waved. It turns out that smiling, as well as 'selfie', is a universal language too.

Highlight: Looking out from the old palace across a beautiful sea of blue houses.

Low point: Having to leave after only one night!

Next stop: South to Mumbai on an overnight sleeper.

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