Many people travel to experience something new, and India is certainly a place to do that.
There was never a break from the new, no way to find the familiar, if even for a second.
When seeking to find a taste of home through a coffee shop cappuccino, I might get a milkshake to drink on a broken chair while staring out a dusty window.
If I wanted to retreat to a warm bed I might discover crusty stains on the hotel linens and a previous guest’s takeaway container under my bed.
Yes, I was in India without pause, both physically and mentally, for the duration of my three-week India trip.
The madness started as soon as my cab dropped me off in Old Delhi from the airport. Baggage in hand, I found myself dodging NASCAR-minded rickshaws and honking motorbikes, the fact I’d barely slept on the plane completely out the window with my heightened anxiety.
The cows (and their cow pies), the aggressive touts, the beggars, the red beetle nut spit on restaurant walls, seeing a woman sh*t on the train platform, being given “free” gestures of karma from locals who then demanded money, a pollution-induced fever; it was chaos and culture shock that welcomed me into India.
Chaos in Varanasi
Throughout the pandemonium traveling through Delhi, Varanasi, Agra and Jaipur, I was amazed by what I saw — one of the largest Hindu temples in India (Akshardham), the Taj Mahal, the burning of bodies and the washing away of sins on the Ganges River in Varanasi.
It was all so incredible.
Beyond the trash and decay, if you can just peel back some of the layers, there is an immense beauty to be seen.
But it’s certainly not an easy trip, and I found myself longing for any type of respite; for something that allowed me to breathe.
And just when I thought I might lose my mind, there came Bundi; which, even though I personally was in a group on this trip, is one of the best places in India for solo female travelers.
In fact, if you’re looking for a solo trip near Delhi, or at least relatively near, Bundi is a great choice.
India Travel Video
Before we dive further into Bundi travel, make sure to check out my India trip video:
Watch it above!
The video takes you on a journey through Delhi, Varanasi, Jaipur, Agra, Udaipur, Bundi and Goa.
I can’t take all — or really any of — the credit for discovering this surprising chill and non-touristy Bundi. The credit goes to my friend Derek of Wandering Earl Tours, who promised me a true Indian oasis.
As soon as I entered Dev Niwas Heritage Hotel, tucked quietly off Bundi’s main road, my entire energy changed.
The property is one of India’s historic “havelis” or “mansions” turned into a hotel, and features a fountain and flora-laced courtyard surrounded by three balcony-lined floors of guest rooms and a 4th-floor rooftop restaurant with gorgeous aerial Bundi views.
The streets were uncrowded enough that I could move my arms, shop owners invited me to peruse their wares with a smile, and there was cow dung only every 100 feet (as opposed to one). I was ready to explore.
A Royal Town
A bit about Bundi:
This used to be a royal town, which is interestingly why many of these buildings are painted a calming royal blue hue.
Home to palaces, forts, step-wells and remnants of past splendor, Chauhan rulers took over what we know today as Bundi in the 12th century, when it became the capital of their kingdom (called Hadoti). Bundi was loyal to the Mughals for most of the late 16th century and after, though they eventually pressured local rulers to split Bundi into Bundi and Kota, the start of Bundi’s decline, at least in terms of prestige.
I feel like Bundi has almost been forgotten, as many Indians and tourists alike have never heard of it, though there is currently a push by the tourism board to make it popular. There’s even a new “real” highway (National Highway 12)— with smooth roadway and cars driving the correct direction (most of the time) — connecting Jaipur and Bundi.
While it used to take over seven hours to get between these two cities, it now takes about two.
So, hint, hint, all the reason more to go!
By this point in the trip I’m craving some outdoor adventure, and Bundi, luckily, has a steep but rewarding hike to the top of Taragarh Fortress.
From my hotel I can see it snaking its way up from the town through the hillside like a stone spine, the golden domed Shiva Temple pagoda glimmering in the sunlight.
Despite being in a state of decay with lots of overgrown vegetation, the structure is the gem of the town with a rich history. Constructed in the 14th century, the site offers a beautiful — albeit weathering — example of Rajasthani architecture.
After my group and I pay the admission and enter through a large gate, the trek up begins — literally; it’s a steep and slippery climb ascending smooth cobbled stones.
The adjacent palace greets us with another gate, a grand elephant-carved entryway, as we make our way up what would be considered a switchback trail in the wilderness.
As we get higher the view of Bundi becomes more impressive, with lots of old fort windows through which to frame photos, as well as smaller holes through which I assume shots would have been fired.
I’m amazed by the size of the town, which feel so small when enveloped in its welcoming walls. It’s also beautiful the way the hillside slopes down to meet Bundi town, wrapping a large embrace around the buildings and large lake.
After about 20 minutes we come to another entryway, with a spiked door to the right that reminds me of something from medieval times.
The door has a small square opening to crawl through, behind which an Indian man carrying walking sticks greets us. Funny enough this man is actually the ticket seller for the fort; however, in India it’s common for locals to become on-the-spot entrepreneurs, and he begins walking with us as if we’d hired him to be our tour guide.
We politely decline a few times before he goes away, knowing that if we used his unwanted services we would have been expected to pay a random price at the end.
Tip: if you see this man tell him no thank you (or get the price up front), but do ask him for one of his walking sticks. These double as a device to shoo the many monkeys you’ll encounter away and are free to use.
And there are a lot of monkeys!
They apparently generally don’t bother you unless you have food, but it’s better to be safe than sorry. Also if one hisses at you or bares its teeth, walk quickly away. Oh, and don’t leave your phone or camera sitting anywhere. Monkeys can be cheeky and steal your stuff!
From there it’s another 15 or so minutes until we’re at the walls, which we climb up for absolutely amazing 360-degree views.
These walls wrap around the entire hilltop, featuring various shrines and discoveries to be made.
Note that while hiking you don’t need to be too concerned with which path you take to get to the top, as they all generally lead the same way and it’s pretty straightforward. Basically follow the wall.
You can also head toward the tall striking TV tower if you need another reference point.
My favorite attraction of the hike is the Lord Shiva Temple, a yellow structure with a sort of golden dome on top. The views from here are great, and it would be a lovely spot to come with a book to just let India’s magic wash over you.
While the view of Bundi is lovely, it’s also important to look the other way, toward Jait Sagar Lake. If you have good eyesight you may be able to make out waterfalls in the distance, as well as the small Sukh Mahal palace, where Rudyard Kipling apparently stayed to do some work on Kim.
I guess I’m not the only one who realized the calm inspiration of this place.
As I went near sunset I don’t get to explore the step-wells of the Bundi Fort; all guests need to be out by 5:30pm; however, this post by Thinking Particle gives some great information on these.
Refueling With Homemade Chai
After the hike I go to what is by far the best chai place of the entire trip, Krishna’s Chai.
The owner Krishna, a smiling Indian man born in Bundi, sits crossed legged as he pours milk into a pot to boil. Red flames dance as he individually breaks up the Masala Chai ingredients — ginger, cinnamon, cardamom and black pepper — before adding them to the pot. The entire drink is sprinkled — okay, doused — with sugar and served hot.
As I happily sip, holding the glass delicately as to not burn my fingers, I feel all the effects of Delhi’s pollution slipping away.
I take in the walls of murals made by global artists who have visited Bundi. There are books of old postcards and government documents adorned with Indian visuals and positive messages.
Honestly, the chai shop is worth the trip to Bundi in itself. Mix in the relaxing pace, scenic fort hike and lovely mansion hotel, and you’ve got what became my favorite destination along my route through Northern India.
And as the tourism board is working to make this a big tourist destination, I’d recommend visiting before the secret is out.
Bonus North India Travel Resources:
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