The soaring sandstone walls of the Taragarh fort stand guard over the present city of Bundi. From its ramparts one has a clear view of the surrounding mountains, the blue houses and the black kites soaring above the city, riding the thermals and waiting to swoop down on unsuspecting prey.
Once you enter the fortress through the lofty Hati Pol (Elephant Gate), it is but a study in contrast. The construction started in 1354 and the present structure is but an agglomeration of the various palaces built thereafter by the rulers of Bundi. While most of these individual palaces are in dire need of repair (thanks to the litigation among the surviving members of the royal family), some have been taken over by the Archaeological Survey of India and given a fresh lease of life.
Whatever be the state of preservation, the palaces in Taragarh have one thing in common – frescos. These paintings follow the Bundi style of miniature art. While the other kingdom of Rajputana like Amber, Mewar and Marwar were heavily influenced by Mughal Miniature art, the painters of Bundi borrowed elements from the miniature art forms of Deccan, thus giving rise to a unique style. The bright colours of Bundi miniatures and frescos are derived from minerals, vegetables, precious stones, as well as pure silver and gold. The paintings deal with both secular and religious themes. They also showcase the physical beauty of the Hadoti region, the rivers, the dense forests, dramatic night skies and feature ‘a distinctive way of depicting water by light swirls against a dark background, and vivid movement’. Bundi miniatures emphasized on hunting, court scenes, festivals, processions, life of nobles, lovers, animals, birds and scenes from Lord Krishna’s life.
Apart from Chitrashala (discussed later), a rich collection of paintings can be found on the walls and ceilings of Badal Mahal (Palace of Clouds). Occupying some of the highest rooms in the Taragarh Fort, it is said that during the monsoons, the low hanging rain clouds would actually float through the courtyards of the Badal Mahal. Almost tucked away in a corner and accessed by narrow flight of stairs, Badal Mahal once served as the zenana or the women’s quarters, housing the harem of the then ruler Rao Bhoj. Women then had no access to the outside wall except what they could see through the latticed windows. The paintings on the walls and ceilings of Badal Mahal, depicting battle formations, rural life, fantastic beasts and heavenly creatures and even scenes from a royal darbar might have served as a portal to the outside world for the ladies. A strange, gilded prison.
The centerpiece of Badal Mahal is definitely the ceiling of its topmost chamber. Sometimes referred to as Rajasthan’s Sistine Chapel, the mural on the ceiling depicts, in painstaking detail, the raas leela of Krishna.
For the next collection of Bundi miniatures, head over to the Chitrashala. Previously known as Ummed Mahal after Maharaja Ummed Singh, this section of the fort was taken over by the Archaeological Survey of India, restored and preserved. If you find yourself here, please avoid flash photography.
The walls of Chitrashala come alive with the life and exploits of the kings and queens of Bundi. Along with the royals, Lord Krishna can also be seen playing his flute, gamboling on meadows with his gopis and getting up to all sorts of cosmic mischief. Most of the paintings you see here were done between 1773 and 1821. The artists of Chitrashala, and indeed of Bundi had their own standard of depicting feminine beauty. Women are portrayed with small round faces, receding foreheads, prominent noses and full cheeks. The royal ladies of chitrashala are shown wearing a transparent Jama over pyjamas. Featured prominently on most paintings is a background comprising of lush landscapes painted in vibrant colors. These compositions, massed with a variety of trees and floral creepers, ponds with lotus flowers in the foreground, fish and birds form a distinguishing feature of the Bundi style.
It is said that the existing tradition of creating miniatures was given a boost in 1605 by the sudden arrival of three master painters from Chunar, near Varanasi. These painters were a gift from emperor Akbar, in return for Bundi’s obedience. These painters who had previously worked only on palm leaf manuscripts changed their idiom by painting frescoes like those at Badal Mahal and Chitrashala. This zeal soon spread through the city, across classes and through time. Even today, a graffiti on the roads of Bundi usually borrows from city’s historic miniature style.
Rajasthan is, in all probability, one of the most visited states in India – both by domestic, as well as International tourists. It has been this way for decades. Given this context, to think that in this oft-visited state still lies a corner that is still relatively unexplored and untouched by the tourism industry, is well, incredible.
The kingdoms of Jaipur, Mewar (centered around Chittorgarh and Udaipur ) and Marwar (Jodhpur) were bigger, richer and almost incessantly at war – either with each other or some invading foe. Hadoti, with Bundi at its centre was tucked away in the corner, on the border with Malwa, away from the path of the invaders from the northwest.
What we now know as the region of Hadoti, started as a kingdom in the 12th century AD. It was, however, not destined to remain united. In 1631, the independent kingdom of Kota separated from Hadoti. The region was further split as Jhalawar became an independent state in 1838. So when Indian gained Independence, the three independent kingdoms of Bundi, Kota and Jhalawar joined the Indian Union.
The modern town of Bundi is yet to spill out of its medieval city walls. As a result, you are treated to a miraculously well preserved medieval town. Most of the hotels / guest houses are converted havelis, while the streets are lined with shops that have been functioning for close to half a millennia. All this, against the backdrop of the remarkable Taragarh Fortress – an impregnable statement in sandstone and granite growing like a beehive on the side of a mountain.
The charm of Bundi is very difficult to put in words. It is the result of a rather eclectic mix of rooftop cafes, blue houses, streets lined with medieval graffiti, farmers transporting milk in brass jars and a vibe that is distinctly wild and free.
It is perhaps this very charm that drew Kipling to Bundi. It is said that it was this town that inspired Kipling to write Kim. Rush to Bundi before the juggernaut that is commercial tourism steamrolls through the city’s incomparable vibes. Go there, take in everything, change nothing and, keep Bundi a secret wrapped in time. Above all, let’s not talk about Bundi, just like the first rule of Fight Club.
(Please click on any photograph to open the slideshow)
Bundi’s centerpiece – the sentient Taragarh fortress
Quintessentially Bundi – Fresco in a little lane
Guess who’s coming for dinner
Much like the town itself
Milk delivery, Bundi style
A temple ceiling
A medieval town crumbling in slow motion
Rani ji ki baoli. Spooky if you are the only one inside. In my case, spookiness was ruined by loud American tourists
Bhabai ki baori
Bhabai ki baori
Taragarh Fort is lit up at night.
One of the best way to spend an evening in Bundi is to stare at the illuminated fortress from one of the rooftop cafes
View of the town, palace and fortress from the highway
The TV tower sticks out as a massive eyesore
Bundi Palace and the Taragarh fort crowning it
Graffiti, Bundi style
Something Mehrangarh-ish about this
Hathi Pol. Obviously
The city stretches on into the fog
The medieval city, viewed through a medieval portal
The palace viewed from the path to Taragarh. Serious work getting there if you are fat. Like me.
From Bhim Burj, the highest point in Taragarh Fort. Views are spectacular
Mumbai could be very unsettling for someone who is used to life in Delhi. My first impression of Mumbai was marred by the nightmarish flight. It was the middle of August and i had added some leaves to the Independence day weekend and come to meet Anindita, who was working here for a media agency. The monsoons were hitting Mumbai with their full fury and we began to feel the effect as the plane began to begin its descent towards CSIA. I had a window seat from where i could see the wings of the plane and i could see them almost flapping up and down. Scared would be an understatement..,i hate flying with all my heart. Every time i need to travel on work, i try and go by train. In my mind i was waiting to hear the captain announce “Mayday!” anytime.
But then we landed and i headed out where Anindita was waiting for me with a broad grin on her face, which did calm me down a little. I was still a bit unsettled, though. But that was taken care of at the Vile Parle station from where we needed to catch a north-bound train to Borivili, where she stayed. So there was my first encounter with the legendary Mumbai suburban train. I finally managed to get into a first class compartment, luggage and all and stood there, sandwiched by people on all sides, Anindita nowhere to be seen. After Andheri, the crowd thinned a little and Anindita materialized magically from behind a fat Marwari aunty-jee. Phew!
This was in 2008 and i have been to Mumbai twice more and come back with more memories. All my trips to Mumbai have never been about exploring the city, although i always meant to. Its been about spending time with my best friend. And in between long walks on Carter Road, boat-rides to Elephanta, Chicken Peri Peri in Inorbit Mall in Malad or simply sitting on the embankment on Marine Drive, i did get a glimpse of the city. Sometimes i hate Mumbai because of the constant claustrophobia, the ever-present crowd and the way the weather reacted to my then long hair, but all said and done, it is also where some of my most important memories are. Some of these memories are good, and a couple of them, not so, but important they are, nonetheless.
I have always visited Mumbai at the same time of the year – the August 15 weekend. Being the heights of monsoons in Mumbai, i have always got bad light and as a result of which i have resorted to shooting in black and white with increased contrast and spiked ISO for the grainyness. At times, the sun did come out and i reverted immediately to colour!
We usually hang out at home in Borivili. Anindita likes to go to the movies so we usually average a movie a day while in Mumbai or when she comes to Delhi. The funniest part of the movie going experience in Mumbai is rising for the National Anthem. Works for a Manoj Kumar Movie but not so much for Singh is Kinng!
Sometimes in the evenings we would go to places by the sea to sit and talk. Carter road was nice but i liked Bandra Reclaimation (i think!) even better. Its like a promenade by the sea with a park that runs alongside. To your right is the Bandra-Worli Sea Link while in front of you, across the little bay is the constantly rising Worli skyline. A perfect place to sit and watch the sun go down. If any Mumbaikars are reading this and you happen to identify which place i am talking about, please do tell me because next time i am in Mumbai, i would like to go back there.
Last year when i went to Mumbai, Anindita took me to Carter Road, again in Bandra. Off the park by the road, a little strip composed of boulders juts out into the sea. We tried to walk right till the end of it, but it was broken at several places. We however, did make use of the ice-cream vendors loitering about the area.
In September 2008, Aamir had to go to Mumbai to meet ‘someone’ and since he had no other place to stay in Mumbai, decided to stay at Anindita’s.. and that gave me an idea. In the evening he was leaving for Mumbai, i asked him if it was okay for me to tag along. It was a Friday and all i had to do was call in sick on Saturday. So i bought my ticket in the same flight hardly two hours before the takeoff and in another three hours Anindita found both of us knocking on her door rather than just Aamir.
That weekend was a flurry of activity. Since i had come unplanned, Anindita had to go to the office the next day, while i stayed at home watching TV and cooking. In the evening, Anindita’s friend Ananya came over. I had gotten friendly with him during my last visit and he took me to a nearby restaurant where we feasted on some delicious Marathi mutton curry and biryani. Anindita came back at night and the next day Aamir, her and me roamed around the city and in the evening both of us left on the last flight to Delhi.
Other than this surprise trip, on both the other occasion, i had made it a point to go to Elephanta Island. Other than my personal interest in history and heritage, it was the hour long boat ride that attracted me the most. As you leave the Apollo Bunder and make your way through a large variety of ships of various sizes, the Bombay coastline recedes gradually to the distance and you see what you rarely do in Delhi – a skyline! I usually bribe the boatman to let me sit in the tiny triangular patch right in front of the boat where you can feel the sway the most.
The island slowly comes into view and in a few minutes the boat docks. It usually does so alongside another boat and you cross from one boat to another till you reach the jetty. The most fun thing about Elephanta Island is the tiny train that takes visitors from the jetty to the ticket office. When Anindita and I went there, we were hungry and went to a restaurant for lunch. Time flew by and before long the caves had started closing down. So basically, we went all the way on the boat, took the train from the jetty to the ticket office and then spent like three hours there, but never really saw any caves.
When the Portuguese were building their base in India, the island’s jetty used to be dominated by an enormous sculpture of an elephant; hence the name. Numerous attempts were made by the Portuguese to destroy the sculpture, until it was broken down in pieces. The fragments were later transported to the mainland and joined together. Today it can be seen in the Bhau Daji Lad museum in the suburban Byculla.
As i said already, the best part about Elephanta is the boat ride. In the evenings, when you take the boat back from the island towards Colaba, the sun is usually setting and a thousand other suns dance on the surface of the waves. Here are a couple of images i took on the trip back from Elephanta:
On one of the trips, Anindita had to be in office one day and i decided to walk around the fort. I was told that it would be deserted as it was Sunday. So i walked around. I started at VT and walked all across the Fort and the narrow bylanes and following the recommendation of a friend, had lunch at Jimmy Boy Cafe. I dont know if anyone would agree with me, but Fort did feel a bit like Kolkata, albeit better organised.
Bombay is too hyperactive for me. Everyone seems to be travelling all the time. From home to the station, from the station to catching a bus without any time to spare. I have seen women chopping vegetables on the the train so that they can get home and cook and get a few hours’ sleep before the next day begins at the same pace. I am not that ambitious a person. All i need to have is enough money to tank up my bike and my camera slung on my neck. Bombay does not make any sense to me, but then its my personal, honest opinion.
Sometimes, i did feel that i was travelling to Bombay to bring back memories that would sustain me till the time i came to Bombay next or Anindita came here. But i guess after some time, you need something more than memories… you need something that stays in the preset – with you. So Bombay, in a way is synonymous to distance, as far as i am concerned – a place where memories are made, the Chocolate Factory, if you will! Thinking about Bombay does make me feel nostalgic but at the same time makes me realise that there is more to life than nostalgia. There is life itself. Things change, as do people. I know i will go back to Bombay and when i do i just hope i stop manufacturing memories and just be in the moment, at one with the environment.
Work comes to the rescue once again. Just when i had started to settle down, began spending more and more time under the comfort of the razai, comes the trip to Burhanpur. I am sure, most of you, just like me, have not heard about the existence of such a town. Its only claim to fame, Parvati, my colleague tells me is that Isabgul is made here.
Geographically, Burhanpur is located on the banks of the Tapti, 180 kms south of Indore in Madhya Pradesh. Its location is such that it is surrounded by Maharashtra on three sides. Its a very sparsely populated part of the country. The landscape is arid with either sal forests of low shrubs. Every now and then there are chains of low hills which at some points create quite a few breathtaking montages.
22 kms northeast of Burhanpur, in the middle of dense forests, one particular hill rises more than 2,300 feet from bare ground. This hill protects within itself a number of perennial pools and the summit commands, on a clear day, a stunning horizon looking over hundreds of kilometers of the Nimar plains. The Farooqui rulers who reigned over the region before the Mughals, fortified the hill at three levels. The lowest level of fortifications was called the Malaigarh. Further up was Kamargarh, the second level of fortifications. Crowning it all was the unassailable Asirgarh.
Legend has it that this fort can never be conquered by force. When we went to the fort, we witnessed for ourselves the meaning of the word “impregnable”. Each level of fortification was a fort in itself. The walls run all around the hill and are riddled with sentry points at every nook and cranny. Not even a fly could have passed unnoticed. Then on top of it, to get to the king who would have been stationed at Asirgarh, you had to conquer not one but three forts.
Even the greatest of the Mughals – Akbar, had to face his match here. After six months of incessant warfare, he realised that he could not win the fort by direct millitary attack. The fort’s canons, stationed high on the hill were out of range for the Mughal guns but rained fire and brimstone on Akbar’s army. So he tried a different tactic. He retreated with his army just out of range of the Farooqui canons, surrounded the hill with his 5,00,000 men and laid a siege. within a year supplies of the garrisoned troops in the fort ran out and a mass surrender followed. As it transpired, the royal family along with a handful loyal and brave warriors had managed to escape through an unknown route and were never seen or heard from again.
Today, the fort can be accessed by a variety of routes. For those climbing with vehicles, it is advisable to use the old British road (yes, the British occupied it too). We had decided to take the car up as far as possible and then climb down later using the original paved pathway hacked on the surface of the hill by the Farooquis. You can gauge the height of the fort by the fact that the road from the base of the hill to the makeshift parking at the neck of the hill measures a full 7 kms.
The car stops at Kamargarh from where you proceed on foot to Asirgarh, which housed the citadel, the best of the soldiers, stables, a jami masjid and a temple.
One of the main attractions in the fort is the Jami Masjid. Perched on one edge of the cliff, the twin lofty minars can be spotted for miles around. While we were approaching Burhanpur in the train the minars could be seen from the window of the train. It is a mammoth structure built with black granite – a mark of Farooqui architecture. It looms large over you as you approach it. Of all the buildings in the fort, only the masjid and the temple have survived almost intact. Providential?
Built on a platform that is almost 8-10 m tall, the mosque built of huge blocks of granite gives off an air of solidness. So hard are its rocks that even time seems to have collided against it and stopped. Most of the mihrabs, both on the qibla as well as the north and south walls were once faced with intricate jaalis. Very few have survived.
You follow the road adjacent to the southern side of the structure and it winds left to lead you to the east-facing gateway to the mosque. You enter through three tall arches. You cannot help but feel dwarfed by the scale of the structure around you. The grand, lofty arches, the soaring pillars and the eerie silence – all add to the intrigue that is Asirgarh.
The minars rose against the backdrop of clear blue sky, dramatised even further by thin, wispy clouds. It could not have been any better!
The sanctuary of the mosque is composed of four isles of pillars topped by arched capitals – a hallmark of Farooiqui architecture.
If you ever go there, please remember that you can climb up the minars through the spiralling staircase in them. Avoid using the left minar as it is structurally weak. As we climbed up the right minar, we first stopped on the roof of the masjid. From the edge of the roof, it was a clear drop of 2,300+ feet. From a distance, as you can see in the following pics, it looks as if it were a platform suspended in mid-air.
The view from the top of the minar..well.. takes your breath away. You are so high up that your stomach begins to churn. You can see the fort down below and notice how it is a vantage point to keep an eye on the vast rolling plains all around you.
Also in the fort is a temple, built beside a baoli. By the looks of it, it seems that the temple was buile in the later half of the sixteenth century, roughly corresponding to the years of Akbar’s occupation. Local guides, however, will insist that the temple is over 5000 years old and was built by Ahwatthama of the Mahabharata. They will further claim that on many a moonless night the spectre of Ashwatthama can be seen walking odown the steps of the baoli to the temple. However incredulous it might sound, one must not take the words of the guides lightly, because had it not been for these fantastic stories they weave, my job..nay, history itself would have been rather drab.
The inside of the temple was dark, except for a thin light like sensation that helped us to make out the mouldings and the corners inside the shrine. A couple of long exposures revealed that the interiors of the temple were once painted.
From the temple we carried on with the walk along the ramparts. We were following the high outer walls of the fort and that ensured that we covered the entire complex in one huge circuitous route.
The primary reason why the fort came up on this hill was the presence of a number of natural and perennial sources of water – a key requirement in maintaining a garrison. The two talaos directly in front of the British barracks are known as Mama-Bhanja. Again, our guide, Sat Narayan ji came to the rescue and added an anecdote to these otherwise green water bodies. According to him, if any real life mama and bhanja go in for a dip in the waters of either of these talaos, they will never emerge alive. Sinister, very sinister!
Half a kilometre further from the twin talaos is a little cemetery for the British officers and their family members who died in the fort. We were surprised to find the earliest grave dating back to 1810.
From the cemetery, we went back to the gate which let us into the fort. As decided earlier, the car had gone down and would be waiting for us at the tea stall in the3 village down below. We would be walking down using the path that the Farooquis had built more than half a millennium earlier.
As we climbed down the pathway, which was largely a long staircase, we were thankful that we had taken the car on our way up. The steps were huge and even while descending, we were frequently feeling breathless (doesn’t say a lot about our fitness levels, either). With every turn in the road, the fort above our heads kept receding to the skies. The real sense of enormity and vertical distance was becoming more and more apparent.
Asirgarh was definitely the high-point of our Burhanpur trip. But my dear travellers, it is definitely not all that you see in Burhanpur. The city and its immediate environs are literally dotted with historical monuments small and big, taken care of and neglected. Watch out for a sample of the Burhani flavour in this space. Till then…
The cold is beginning to set in on Delhi. While the days are still warm, the evenings have this endearing way of reminding you that its time to enjoy Delhi to the fullest. Sadly, Sundays are all i have to soak in the warmth of the winters… load my mind with fresh memories to last me through the next summer. Yesterday, i woke up at 1 in the afternoon feeling rather cross with myself for having wasted almost a half of this precious 1 day i get to myself.
Saturday was lost in a haze of dust and smoke. The entire city lay shrouded with the depressive smog and i kept wishing that Sunday would be better. As soon as i woke up on Sunday, i rushed out of bed and stuck my head out of the window to look at the tiny patch of sky visible between the lane cramped with buildings. And i saw blue…however faint it was, blue nonetheless. It was time for me to head to Aadilabad. It is THE place for me in Delhi. I still remember the time in my second year when i stood on the ramparts of this deserted, overgrown fort and said to myself “God, i love Delhi”.
Very few people are in fact aware of the presence of Aadilabad. Located on the other side of the road from Tughlaqabad, it can be reached by crossing the dust bowl, full at this time by youngsters enjoying a nice game of cricket. At first sight, it looks monstrous and overgrown…intimidating and foreboding to some…but for me, it is a place where i thrive. Thoughts fall into place, and i find myself in the ‘zone’ as i stand and stare from the high ground, across the plain on to the tomb of Ghiyasuddin Tughlaq and the epic backdrop of Tughlaqabad.
Aadilabad was borne out of the whims of Muhammad Bin Tughluq. After the death of his father Ghiyasuddin, he decided to build his own citadel. For this, he chose the hill directly facing Tughlaqabad, the fortress his father built. At that point of time in the middle of the 14th century, what is now the dust bowl, was a lake. He had his problems with his father, but now they lie in the eternal sleep under the same roof, exactly midway between the citadels they built.
You can take a bike up to the base of the hill and then proceed to climb over the rocks to reach the main entrance.
Tughlaqabad is built on a much larger scale, but lacks the appeal that Aadilabad carries. The absence of a road leading up to it, the creepers growing through the rocks, no names on the walls… alright, very few names on the walls, and most importantly, SILENCE – this is Aadilabad.
The Archaeological Survey of India is undertaking some renovation work on the fort. The workers on the projects live in these little hutments inside the outer walls of the fort. Funnily enough, go back 700 years and the same people would have lived in the same way (minus the plastic sheets), in the same part of the fort. The inner citadel was no place for squatters.
Squatters of a different kind.
The old, naked, disembowelled walls…How i love them!
Friend, bitch, reluctant partner in crime(s).
PS: Tughlaqabad walls in the background.
This is where i always sit!
Looking inwards into the fort. Where we are is a giant bastion. In front of us lies the ruins of a great palace. Still discernible are a large hall full of arches, a pillared hall, several chambers and the foundations of what can only be an elaborate hammam. At one point of time this was one of the finest palaces in the world. At least Ibn Batuta thought so!
This picture was taken from the bastion looking onto the squatters’ village. The kid was walking around in between the huts and stopped just short of a junction of two tracks left by passing livestock. The wild hedges, the littered garbage and the dusty kid made it look like life had been annihilated of the face of the planet and she is the lone survivor, surveying the remains of the day!
There is a method in madness, order in chaos, beauty in squalour and a hearth in front of a home.
The thing about plants is that they dont need an excuse to grow. I want to be a plant!
I have lost weight and i dont own a belt. So i put my hands in the pockets so that it does not fall down.
This side of the fort was less crowded. It was away from the road, the cricket-bat wielding crowd and the voices in my head. We sat here on a rock and stared at nothing. Yet we saw everything. Then suddenly a muezzin sang the Azaan. If somehow you minus the jhuggis outside the fort, the jets passing overhead and the distant honking of horns, you can actually go back in time. The fort would have been the same 3oo years back. So would have been the language, tune and appeal of the Azaan. All you need to do is block out the inconsequential, the mundane, the ephemeral.
Come with me… lets take a walk on the wild side!
Kids are always a joy to watch and photograph. The one on the right found the cricket ball in one of the thickets and that made his day! This frame, i think, defines friendship.
Then they turned back to look at Imroz and me.
When they saw the camera, they called out some names and out of nowhere more little boys materialised for a photo. …and i thought that the fort was deserted. Over the next half an hour, we became very good friends. The kid with the ball would even let us play ‘catch-catch’ with it. We parted after exchanging locations of secret hideouts in the fort and batting techniques.
Imroz has ugly hands.
One thing i hate about winters is the short days. I could have happily spent a couple more hours here. On one hand was the fading daylight and on the other was Imroz going on and on about how we are only wearing tee shirts and the later we leave the colder its going to get. What do i do with this guy?
Thats him stepping outside the fort. The field stretches ahead. Games are being wrapped up and goatherds return home with their flock. We would go back hime and wait for the monday to come and drive the blues away!