3 Nov 2013
Diwali Mubarak! Happy Diwali! The Festival of Lights.
We start after breakfast with another 4 hour drive to Bundi on roads of the standard we had previously come to expect. There is a better road to Bundi but it is 2 hours longer. Our driver is very good and drives slowly over the bumps, uses his horn sparingly and slows down or swerves appropriately for mongoose, squirrels and piglets as well as the usual cows, buffalo and dogs. We have lovely Indian music playing in the background.
It is Sunday as well as Diwali so the streets are full of people buying and selling sweets and decorations. We see men sparkling up their tractors; a decorated herd of buffalo and generally everyone cleaning things and relaxing. People have been preparing for weeks already: painting their houses, cleaning up and decorating with lights. If they can afford it they will also buy new clothes.
On the way we stop in the middle of nowhere for a chai break. Ladies pee in the bushes on one side of the road and men on the other. We are served Masala chai under the tree on woven beds/benches.
In Bundi our hotel is again lovely: a minor palace with a central courtyard garden. Our rooms open out onto this and lunch is served in the restaurant on the roof. We pre-order as it will take a while. Eke and I share half a banana pancake and half a chocolate/coconut one. The rooms are basic but adequate – the beds are comfortable and there is hot water – we are easily pleased these days!
At 3.00 we meet our new local guide Yogi and set off via tuk-tuk to see the main Bundi palace. We stop on the highway for a spectacular view of the city: there is a massive fort on the top of the hill above a beautiful 12th century palace. Bundi has about 90,000 people and is often called the mini blue city after Jodpur. We learn that the blue colour is lime wash mixed with indigo which helps keep houses cool and repels mosquitoes. There is a beautiful lake in the foreground. We cross a bridge and walk up a paved driveway of stones that are okay until the elephant boarding platform and after that they are smooth, polished and very slippery – a very good way to keep out invaders. Above us is an intricately carved elephant gate that never got used by elephants! It is a small but beautiful palace which is now famous for its paintings (the Bundi school of art) from the 17th and 18th centuries that are still in remarkable condition with vivid colour. There are the familiar places for the wives and concubines to relax unwatched (except by the King) and to peep out at what is happening in the rest of the palace (not a life for me).
We head back down the slippery slope for a walk through the old town. It is always interesting to meet the locals this way. Shops, temple, markets and people are all in a festive mood. Shops are closing early because people want to be with their families. We stopped at one of the 7 large step wells in Bundi. The well is fed by ground water, is very deep and is the size of a large swimming pool. There are steps going down every side as in earlier times this was the local water supply. Eke buys herself a cheap watch on the way back and once back at the hotel discovers that you get what you pay for – only the second hand was working!
Back at the hotel we prepare for a surprise evening that Naveen has organised for us for Diwali. A courtyard has been set up with a dining table, candles around the garden and a brazier. We sit with our drinks – I share a bottle of Sula Cabernet Shiraz with Naveen. There is a beautiful coloured Rangouli floral design made with coloured powders to welcome us in. We stood around it and wished each other Happy Diwali. Naveen had planned to have a prayer ceremony but couldn’t organise it in time. He gives us dried fruits and nuts (he didn’t think the traditional sweets were safe for us) and we give him some little gifts (I had a NZ key ring and bookmark) as some compensation for missing this time with his family.
We are treated to an amazing fireworks display – Naveen has organised some sparklers and safe fireworks for us but we get to share those all around the neighbourhood. The son of the owner also lives in part of the hotel and comes down to wish us Happy Diwali and shares their fireworks with us too. It is a relief to have some visual delights to go with the sonic boom of crackers that has been going on all day. We feel very touched to be part of their special celebrations.
Some are a bit overwhelmed by the noise and smoke so we move indoors for dinner (and another bottle of wine). I also discovered how much the guides work behind the scenes for us: apparently the Palace should have been closed this afternoon for Diwali but Naveen has arranged for it to be held open for us; at Ranthambhore I had been booked on a different safari and he had made sure that we were all together.
For this and other similar tours see:
Peregrine Adventures (Comfort tours)
Geckos Adventures (for 18 to 30s)
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