I had been to Bundi and Jhalawar in Rajasthan several years ago,in 2008. A few things might have changed since then,but I’m pretty sure these areas are still as untouristy and beautiful as they were before. IMO, a stay in Bundi is among the best “India experiences” you can get. A small,quiet town, with a beautiful,atmospheric castle and palace looming over it, and completely surrounded by mountains. An unbeatable setting. Jhalawar too is a gem, an old old city which has seen less development,so going here is like stepping back in time, especially the walled city of Jhalarpatan.
My trip started with Jhalawar, reached there from Mumbai by train(train to Ramganj Mandi and a bus thereafter). Stayed at the Purvaj Hotel,had an excellent meal(typical north indian home made stuff) and proceeded towards Jhalarpatan,a walled,old city by an “six seater rickshaw”. Every part of town amazed me, I had been to Rajasthan before, but this was a little different. A lot of havelis(mnsions) decorated from the outside, plenty of well maintained temples, loads of local markets and a good walking environment( it’s difficult to walk on old city streets anywhere else in Rajasthan,or even in India). One of the temple had a beautiful aarti(a prayer ceremony,filled with high energy singing). I covered almost all the temples listed in guidebooks, using an autorickshaw. Among all the temples, the Shantinath Jain temple and the Sun Temple were special. So with a very good impression of the town, I headed back to Jhalawar, had a good dinner again and went to sleep.
I headed to the Gagron Fort. Now this is a very unique fort, it’s a Jal-Vana Durga, which means it’s protected by both forests and water. It was a big-big fort, with great views over the river and forests that protected it. And make sure you cross the small bridge over to get brilliant views of the fort itself. Came back to Jhalawar(7kms), had a good breakfast(poha-jalebi and kachori), I really haven’t had better poha as well kachoris,ever. This was a small,popular place near the Jhalawar fort,about 5 minutes away from Purvaj Hotel. A stroll around the old town was very very rewarding, met quite a few good,friendly people, who were curious why I had picked Jhalawar of all places. I already had the answer. It was a little like a unhurried,calm version of Old Delhi,perhaps,atmospheric yet calm.
So after spending a day in Jhalawar, I headed for Bundi by bus,changing at Kota. When you’re in Bundi’s old town,you know you are in a different place. A little like Jhalawar,calm,quiet, old havelis and houses, shops selling samosas and kachoris. Just that Bundi had many homestays. I stayed at the RN Haveli. This was one of the best homestay experiences I’ve had in India till date(except maybe in Ladakh or Kumaon). A nice room with a partial view of the Fort, excellent home cooked meals(ask Mammaji to make dal dhoklas,dal bati,peru(guava) chutney, baingan bharta for you).
So I spent the next 2.5 days exploring the town, it’s fort and palaces. You need to go up the fort once in the morning(really early),once at sunset and you need to see it once from a little distance at night,when it’s all lit up. The fort and palace both were very interesting, typical of Rajasthan, but with a much nicer setting of high hills everywhere. The most interesting buildings in Bundi was the 84-pillared cenotaph (best seen at night,when lit up) and the Baodi, Raniji ki Baodi(a step well). I also took a tip to the Royal cenotaphs a few kilometers away(by bicycle). The lake and hills were very pretty. The views of the blue painted town from up the hill were very pretty.
Bundi is also the place to buy miniature paintings,I bought quite a few,and they were at a substantially lower price than Udaipur or Jodhpur. So after days of golden sunrises and sunsets, good home cooked rajasthani food, getting pampered at the homestay, I returned. Now for someone who wishes to have a look at how Indians live, I really cant think of a better place, less touristy and unhurried. And then you have good homestays too.
Just a little info,
RN Haveli(Bundi): +917475120098
There are many other guesthouses too in Bundi,many of which would be good.
Purvaj Hotel(Jhalawar): 07432231355
English can be a little problem in Jhalawar,but in any case I would go for Purvaj Hotel than some soulless RTDC or business kind of hotel.
Bundi is easily accessible from Udaipur as well as Jaipur by train and bus(you may require a change at Kota). From Mumbai or Delhi too, you can change at Kota for Bundi,and at Ramganj Mandi for Jhalawar, from where you’ll get buses. Bundi and Jhalawar are much cheaper than the rest of Rajasthan.