Sunday, June 24, 2007

The work of goblins...

Jeypore Palace may be called the Versailles of India; Udaipur's House of State is dwarfed by the hills round it and the spread of the Pichola Lake; Jodhpur's House of strife, gray towers on red rock, is the work of giants, but the Palace of Bundi, even in broad daylight, is such a palace as men build for themselves in uneasy dreams-- the work of goblins rather than of men.
--Sir Rudyard Kipling

Like Pablo Neruda, Rudyard Kipling is a famous literary figure who I know nothing about, but whose path Sarah and I have now crossed while on our trip. And, while sipping our post-dinner beer on the roof top of our guesthouse and staring at the Palace of Bundi bathed in surreal orange light, it was not difficult to see why Kipling would suggest that it's architects had been something other than man.

The Palace of Bundi at night, or Hall of the Mountain King? You make the call.

The Palace of Bundi is the sort of fantastical palace cum fort that when you sit under it and look up, you can't help but think "why isn't this the most famous place in the world?" But, since Rajasthan seems to have more palaces and forts than it knows what to do with, the town of Bundi remains relatively undiscovered by the tourist crowds... especially in the sweltering hot days of June.

It was the sweltering hot weather, in fact, that kept us from waking up early and exploring the Palace which sat mere blocks from our guesthouse. We've noticed something about our stay in Rajasthan so far, every morning we say "let's get up early, before it gets hot, and do some sight seeing." Then, the next morning comes, my alarm goes off, and we just go on sleeping. I think the main problem is that it never cools off. It stays hot straight through the night. So, when it comes time to wake up, Sarah and I just find ourselves fitfully trying to sleep a little longer, under the delusion that the ancient fan creaking above us is doing anything to keep the furnace at bay.

Still, after waking, taking cold showers (another completely futile activity), and eating breakfast, we were on our way. The previous day, we'd befriended a man working at the corner shop and asked him to start putting bottled water in the freezer of his fridge for us (a trick we learned in Pushkar, to help keep it colder for longer). And, we were quite pleased to find out that he actually had. Greedily, we bought the water which (while not frozen) was blessedly cold.

Then we begin our hike up to the Palace. Surprisingly, unlike pretty much every other ancient architect we've encountered, the architects of the Palace didn't seem to be overly fond of stairs. Unfortunately, instead, they just made really steep stone-paved roads. By the time we reached the font gates, we had drank most of our water, and had worked up a good sweat.

The first portion of the Palace (we'd later learn) was the "Men's Section" where the Maharaja would live and see visiting diplomats and guests. It was filled with large courtyards, amazingly frescoed rooms (in the "Bundi Style") and small, ornately carved decks which looked out at the city spread below it.

The view from one of the balconies of the town of Bundi.

The next portion (slightly farther up the hill) was the Garden, or "women's section," where a kindly guard (or was it gardener?) showed us around, and explained some of the fresco's meaning. In addition, he showed us into several small chambers, with mirrored mosaics, that served the sleeping quarters for the Maharaja and his wife.

The peacceful garden in the Women's Section.

A fresco in the Bundi Style, from the "Women's Section." The fresco's in the Men's Section were hard to photograph because of the dim light (and the restriction on using a Flash) but were similar in style, if not content (the men's fresco's featured a lot more fighting).

Heading further up the hill, the road became rougher. It wound up past another view point to a series of smaller forts and "stepwells." Sarah and I remain a little foggy on the point of the stepwells. We do know that they became a bit of a status symbol for the elite, with each person trying to build larger and larger stepwells. Sarah mentioned that she thought she'd heard they were for catching extra rain water, in case of later droughts or sieges.

A view of the Palace from farther up the hill. Beyond it, you can see the man-made lake it looks out over.

A stepwell: Giant, staired pits in the ground, ending with a pool of water.

But, as we approached the upper level forts, we saw something else: Monkeys. In town, when we mentioned to people that we were going up to the Palace, most of them responded: "Ah! Very good! Just be sure to bring a stick to chase off the monkeys."

And now, at the top of the hill, we began to see them. The goblins from Kipling's quote. Making their way from a large tree and through a nearby gate. And, we had no stick. And the sticks lying on the ground around us were covered in fierce thorns.

So, instead, Sarah knelt and picked up a small rock, to throw in case they made trouble. Meanwhile, trying to be macho, I went around grabbing an armful of stones; presumably in case we were attacked by a small legion of monkeys. Carefully, we continued on.

As we picked our way around the walls and stepwells, we could see the monkeys peering down from their fort at us. And, as we made our way to a vantage point to try to get a view of the surrounding countryside, we noticed a large male monkey sitting in the shadows.

Faced with potential Death by Monkey-Business™ and with our reminaing water long since drank, we decided to retreat down the hill. At the base of the hill, our shopkeeper friend sold us another ice-cold bottle of water, along with a Fanta (which Sarah's brain is convinced is providing her with Vitamin C), and then made our way back to the safety of our guesthouse room and its over-worked fan.

As A Final Note: The town of Bundi still thinks that a dial-up modem connection is "State of the Art." As a result, it's physically painful to upload photos... so, if going forward, there are less photos in our entries: Blame Bundi.


Tim said...

I was curious about Tyler's Fanta comment and found that Fanta has a pretty fascinating history.
Also, Fanta in India apparently does not contain any real juice or ascorbic acid (i.e. Vitamin C), so it appears Tyler was right! (Though, Fanta orange does in some countries)

littlemonstercallum said...

I've only had a chance to glimpse through the photos for this entry but oh wow that castle is amazing! Hopefully I'll get time to read about it later tonight but in case I don't I just wanted to comment about it.

Sarah said...

Hi, Tim! I'll have to look at the history when we're back in the land of broadband, but yes, Fanta in India is sugar and bubbly water. But it has provided the placebo effect of Gatorade and OJ at the same time! And sometimes you just need something besides water....