Bundi is a truly incredible town and probably my favourite place in all of India. It’s a normally tranquil place, lost in time, and is made up of row after row of painted blue houses sitting around a lake of striking green water, the middle of which is occupied by an extravagant pavilion carved from a single piece of stone. The sun slants low over the land, painting the town in orange and pink as hundreds of monkeys, big black langurs and red-assed baboons retreat in packs from the town to the star fortress overlooking the lake. Many of the towns people stand on their rooftops, slingshots and sticks to hand, to keep the monkeys from attempting a last minute raid. Monkeys in Bundi are a big problem…
A giant stone wall encircles the town as far as the eye can see and, looking up, I spot the magnificently ornate palace facade peering out of the encroaching darkness. Monkeys swing from rock to rock, charging up the cliff, clambering over the walls, conquering the fort and palace in one swift attack. It is quite a sight and I sit with Alex, my brother and rickshaw race co-pilot and smoke a joint upon the roof of our $3 guesthouse. It has been a stressful day and we make the decision to reward ourselves the next day with some much needed chill time.
I look at the brightly patterned blotter tabs and cut them in half; no point in overdoing it. A wise man once said LSD can help open the mind, strengthen the soul and question the impossible.
The hippie trail brought a tide of wanderers looking for answers, for purpose, for a promised land of spiritual wonderment and lazy stoner days. Many of these early backpackers started their adventures in Turkey, hitchhiking or travelling by public transport up through Iran and Lebanon in search of hash and hedonism. The hippies penetrated Afghanistan, overwhelmed by the warm welcomes and strong marijuana. Many travelled down to Pakistan, heading into the mountains of Hunza and Chitral. Almost all of them eventually found themselves facing the ocean upon the giant subcontinent of India.
Along the trail, hippie communities popped up providing a place of rest and networking, where explorers could share travel tips and get absolutely blazed in a friendly, long-haired, environment. The hippies were well known for their party tendencies and many experimented with LSD, a mind-altering substance offering entire new worlds just waiting to be explored. The hippie influence grew and, slowly but surely, LSD somehow spilt over into fringe society in India itself, maintaining its roots in the hippie, and now, backpacker community…
For myself, experimenting with LSD in my early twenties was a life changing experience. I found that psychedelics provided me with a clear space in which to analyse and to explore; a space where I could question what I was doing with my life, form new ambitions and let go of past transgressions. LSD reinforced my sense of what was worth doing, and what wasn’t. It was crucial in the final push to abandon a traditional career path and to fully embrace a nomadic lifestyle.
No doubt I have some readers who are under the impression that all drugs are the devil’s work but I’m going to try to avoid getting into a debate here. Instead, I’m simply going to tell a story…
The clouds danced across the sky, offering small patches of glorious shade from the crackling sun. Looking up, the stone path snaked higher and higher away from the town, smooth steps baking in the heat, moving at the edges of my peripheral vision. We ploughed onwards, keen to simply get to the top and explore Bundi fort, one of the most impressive, and least visited, forts in all of Asia.
We passed the palace, quiet apart from a lonely gardener, and rested in the shade of a small tree growing around a small shrine to Ganesh. The palace is truly mesmerising – it is perfectly preserved and boasts some of the most intricate balconies, windows and carvings in all of Rajasthan. Watching it glitter and dance in the midday sun was like stepping back in time. The stones upon which we sat, ancient and smooth from many pairs of buttocks, flowed into the land as if they were made of liquid. I watched a bird singing from the battlements, my mind wandered and I remembered the first time I came to India, on a one way flight, nearly nine years ago… India is a strange, mesmerising, place.
We headed past the palace and slowly followed the winding path higher up the hill until we reached one of Rajasthan’s famous ‘elephant proof’ gates; iron spikes fixed at the exact height of a head butting elephant. In the gate, a monkey-sized hole offered a way to enter the fort…
I bowed low and crept through the splintered opening, birthing myself into the fort, crouching like a monkey, a demon, a warrior, an explorer. A cool wind whispered to me across the battlements bidding me to enter, to see what I could find.
I passed smashed stone tablets with incomprehensible runes and headed towards a gargantuan domed building wrapped in thorns. One entrance was partially free of twisting foliage and I stepped in, the walls were alive with frescoes depicting wars and weddings, gods and men. In the centre of the room, draped in an orange robe, a three pointed trident, the weapon of choice for Shiva, the God of destruction, pointed into the sky. I crept up a twisting flight of stairs and found myself looking upon the face of some unknown deity, a God with whom I was not familiar. Thorns wrapped their way around his body, he breathed, green stone shimmering in the heat, eyes gazing into the distance.
Bundi fort is one of the most atmospheric places I have ever been. Best of all, almost nobody goes to Bundi fort meaning that you have it all to yourself…
Well, sort of.
The fort was long ago overrun by the monkey hordes and, whilst exploring the inner courtyards, checking out the carved swimming pools and bathing rooms, the army barracks and temple section, we would hear the occasional noise and see the occasional monkey.
We explored cautiously, aware that monkey attacks are common in India and that people are killed every year by big troops of aggressive baboons and langurs. Turning one corner, we startled a big red-assed baboon who turned, snarling, his face a mishmash of expressions and flowing psychedelic patterns, and lunged towards us. We held our ground, clapping loudly and snarling ourselves until he turned and retreated, angry and afraid, into the shadows.
The baboon was the size of a big dog and that should have been our first warning, a group of these things could do some serious damage.
Unconcerned and keen to enjoy our much deserved chill day, we headed along the battlements, pausing frequently to soak in the vibrant watercolour views. We found the perfect place, perhaps twenty meters from the gate, sitting within a small tower to relax. We got out the portable speaker, opened a couple of bananas and passed a smoke backwards and forwards whilst we watched the sun slowly begin to fade over the lake below.
The view was simply striking and, for the first time in weeks, I felt properly relaxed. The green landscape below sparkled and writhed, a kaleidoscope of colours forming patterns as I sat pondering. Across from our position, I can make out other lonely pagodas within the hills, lost places known only to the locals. Bundi is an explorer’s wonderland… I sat thinking about Rudyard Kipling, who had spent a long time in Bundi writing his masterpiece Kim and how different Bundi must have been a hundred years ago.
I registered movement to my left and turned to look.
Ten or so, moving along the battlement walls towards us.
One of them was close, perhaps three meters away, I waved him off with my hand but he stared at me defiantly. Then he began to snarl, white teeth flashing in the last rays of the sun. I pointed the black faced langur out to Alex who reported that there was a troop of monkeys approaching from the other side. The bananas may have been a bad idea.
I looked at my watch and realised we had about five minutes before the daily monkey migration back to the fort began. We started to pack up our stuff, quickly. More monkeys moved along the battlements, our vantage point was only a couple of meters wide and was a one meter drop on one side and a twenty meter drop on the other. There was only one way down. A way that was currently blocked by monkeys.
I spotted three or four really big motherfuckers skulking towards the back of the horde and quickly came to the conclusion that we needed to move before we came into contact with one of the big ones. The little ones, vicious looking bastards, were getting bolder but would still startle if we moved towards them, for now.
Alex picked up a stick which looked like it would break upon impact and I palmed a brick, one shot to hopefully stop a charge. We dropped down onto the battlements and, back to back, chatting constantly as we planned our escape route, began to make our way down a ramp and towards the gate. Everywhere I looked, monkeys were pouring towards us. I estimated we were now utterly surrounded by about sixty monkeys, all of them curious to get into our backpack and steal any food we may have (we had abandoned the food at this point but it did not seem to put the monkeys off).
We made it to the gate just in time for a truly huge monkey to appear in the hole, the only way out of the fort. He sat there, snarling. Every time we moved towards him, he would start to rush us, only to retreat back to the hole. Behind us, more and more of the bigger monkeys were approaching, getting closer and bolder. I knew that I only had one shot with the brick and in a moment of desperation I figured we were going to HAVE to move the monkey in the hole, using force if necessary – the situation was vastly deteriorating and I had no doubt that in a few minutes we could be surrounded by hundreds of monkeys. Through the lens of LSD, the monkeys looked almost human and being amongst them was a truly strange experience.
We managed to remain calm, despite the gravity of the situation and we both briefly turned away from the hole – to double check there was no other way out.
In the mere seconds that we were looking away from the hole, the big monkey moved, perhaps reasoning that the hole, although a fine seat, was not worth fighting for. We turned, saw our chance and dived through the hole, rushing past twenty other monkeys on the other side and retreating to the safety of Ganesh’s shrine.
We sat there, panting and watched in awe and horror as two or three hundred monkeys migrated into the fort, most of them heading for the exact area we had been exploring, within the span of five minutes. Big, ugly baboons and black faced langurs, conquering the fort once more.
Chuckling at our close escape, we decided to Whatsapp my mystery friend about our close encounter.
Disclaimer: Drugs are illegal and can get you in sticky situations. I don’t condone drug use of any sort. If you intend to consume, please be safe. This article is not intended to persuade, but rather to inform.
Please also note that this account is entirely fictional and definitely did not happen…
BUNDI TRAVEL GUIDE
Getting to Bundi can be a real pain, there are no nearby rail links so you are pretty much limited to your own transport or travelling by local bus.
You could book buses through Redbus, a pretty reliable bus service in India or through Yatra.com, which is fairly reliable as well. You could also directly go to the bus station and take a local bus, but be warned these can be quite unreliable and maybe jam packed with locals so you might have to stand or sit really uncomfortably all through the journey.
The town is situated around a very chilled lake and there are plenty of backpacker friendly places to stay, I heartily recommend getting one of the top rooms, with massive stained glass windows overlooking Nawal Sagar Lake, at Lakeview Restaurant and Rooms – the best place to stay in Bundi.
Most backpackers come for the fort and stay for the chilled vibes and endless day trips into the surrounding area. You can easily hire a bicycle and explore for days; there are plenty of magnificent buildings, lost to the ravages of time, surrounding the town as well as some of India’s most impressive step wells, obscure temples and mighty battlements.
Taragah Fort, home to the monkey hordes, is one of the most impressive forts in all of India and, unlike many of the others, is not visited by many people so you will have it all to yourself.
If you are travelling into monkey territory, I strongly recommend taking a decent sized staff. I later found out that these can be rented near the entrance to the path that leads to the palace.
Rudyard Kipling’s house, a short distance from the main town, makes for a very chilled place to relax and watch over a green lake filled with lilies.
There are some cave paintings in the area but I was unable to find them.