We slept in the Maharaja’s elephant stable! It hasn’t housed elephants in many years, and serves lately as a six-room guesthouse. I slept in one of the rooms that clearly held the animals in the past; it had a 20-foot high ceiling and a balcony area that must have held elephant food and bedding.
The stables were built into the wall of part of the fort/castle complex. Our host Raja says that his grandfather worked there for the maharaja and that the royal family still owns the structure. Raja and his family currently live there and run the guesthouse with the permission of the royal family.
We were in Bundi, a small town near Kota, where we had arrived by sleeper bus from Udaipur. Bundi is less touristy but still has things to see such as a fort, some beautiful countryside outside of town, and interesting markets and neighborhoods.
We had an unbelievable adventure with a local, self-taught archeologist named Kukki. He has spent the better part of the last four decades exploring Bundi’s countryside in search of traces of former civilizations. He started with an interest in ancient coins, became interested in cave paintings, and has had tremendous success in locating the latter- 99, including his latest discovery last month. He took us to his favorite site, which he found in 2003. We first walked across some desert scrubland, but different from other Rajasthan desert we had seen.
There were trampled, yellow traces of grass beneath our feet and he explained that it grows rapidly and green after the rains, which come in late June/early July. He showed us many things out there. We went to a sort of graffiti rock where Kukki ground red ochre stone, plentiful here, with water to make a paint and invited us to write and draw on the rock. I had heard of prehistoric people using this ochre and now we were doing the same! With just a stick, water, and this rock we had a strong rust color. We painted like people have done for millennia.
We walked further and saw termite paths in trees, a type of gum tree sap gathered and cooked by locals to make the kohl eye makeup they believe helps the eyes, rocks that had been overturned by sloth bears seeking ants in the night, missing bark on trees from porcupines feeding there, a stone used to make sparks for starting fires, a vulture, parakeets, monkeys. We were in the jungle, but in the off season. We walked over train tracks and met a family who works for India Rail out there, living in tents and getting their water brought in by tractor. We walked further and came to a rocky gorge we had seen in the distance from the road.
We admired the view from the lookout point- rock cliffs in various shades of red and brown, birds, a few trees growing out of the cliff. Then Kukki walked us around and down some rocks until we came to a large shelter provided by an overhanging rock. Here was his favorite discovery.
He relished telling us the stories of each of the paintings, for there were many and he said they came from different ages. He acted some of them out with us there under the ancient rock shelter. He told us of the oldest ones, pictures he had coaxed out of the walls by gently washing away the smoke blackened layer over them. There was a cow, still partly covered, and two antelopes back to back near a grid-type drawing that he said is a fishing net. Then was an African looking painting with a tiger and several people with raised arms trying to chase it away. A later picture, he said, showed people in clothes (the tiger one had naked humans) and was therefore newer. That one, Kukki said, showed a man with shaking legs trying to shoot an antelope with bow and arrow. Kukki said he was told in a dream by a shaman that these drawings were not sacred, but rather for education of the younger generation of hunter-gatherers. The shaky-leg man was to show how not to act when hunting; there was a straight-legged man with bow and arrow nearby, showing the proper attitude for hunting. I am not sure how his explanation relates to those of degreed archeologists, but Kukki says he has brought them to his sites attended conferences and otherwise interacted with academics- I bet they love Kukki. I have to check out his website, the Internet is so bad here, even nonexistent, so that will have to wait. But it was just so awesome to spend time with this dedicated enthusiast of prehistoric rock art. He is undoubtedly the local expert, and I am certain he will continue to find more sites in the future. I can’t say enough about how great of an experience this was. If we had more time, I would definitely want to see some of his other sites.
The day did not end with us walking back to the car and driving off, not yet. Kukki had another surprise for us, he said. We stopped to rest in the shade of a disused cement building that had abandoned squat toilets we could use. Then he led us to a gate, behind which was a staircase. Following the steps down, we came to a temple with a pipe issuing spring water. Further down was a gorgeous pond, on the other side of which was a rock cliff. This place is a waterfall- a tourist attraction we had seen photos of in town- nine months of the year and we could see some water trickling down. Some locals were bathing and there were many monkeys around when we arrived, but there was plenty of space and we found a corner to ourselves. We all jumped in, elated with the cool water after hiking in the desert. It was truly a magical spot, and I floated a little while looking at the blue sky and the sandy-colored cliffs.
One last thing Kukki showed us- and DH had seen these when he did some solo hiking near the fort earlier- was a step well. These are beautifully designed wells with different access levels to deal with fluctuating water levels. It is dry right now so all steps are visible- Gorgeous! The twins and DH climbed down there- not sure if they are in this photo.
Other than the Kukki adventure, we also walked around the market and saw people working on their crafts such as mattress-makers stuffing cotton into sort of large pillowcases. It was hot and we spent time indoors at a cafe and back at the elephant stables. After a few days we went to Sawai Madhopur, stay tuned for that tale…