210km (130 miles) S of Jaipur; 279km (173 miles) SE of Udaipur; 438km (272 miles) SW of Agra

If you have a few extra days, then the small town of Bundi, established in 1241, is worth considering, not least to view the architectural magnificence of a palace and fort that clings to the cliff above the town. The lack of modernization (although arguably not a benefit to its residents) and presence of temples, cenotaphs, and step wells, as well as its renowned school of miniature paintings (arguably the best-value paintings in Rajasthan) are a further boon. Approached through a long, winding gorge, the town is protected by the embracing Aravalli Hills, topped by Taragarh Fort (which interestingly has no Mughal design influences), and eclipsed only by the new telecom tower ironically shaped as a Mughal minaret. Its narrow streets, with tiny cupboardlike shops raised a yard or more above street level to avoid the monsoon floods, are pretty much unchanged for centuries, but the community has lost much of its naïve charm and cleanliness that so delighted us when we first discovered it a decade ago. If you're looking for a more untouched village experience, we recommend you visit the one near Shahpura Bagh.

Garh Palace (described by Rudyard Kipling as "the work of goblins" and one of the few examples of pure Rajput style) is still Bundi's chief attraction and while the Palace's exterior is astounding, much of the interior is falling apart; nevertheless, entry to some areas (with spectacular views of the blue-tinged town below) is allowed (entry Rs 60, Rs 50 camera, Rs 100 video; dawn-dusk) and makes for fascinating, hassle-free exploration. The labyrinthine network of rooms, chambers, balconies, and nooks and crannies turns up a good number of surprises, including murals in various states of faded elegance. Above the main part of the palace, you can also visit the arcaded Chitra Shala, which is decorated with many of the fine murals in the miniature style the town is famous for (free entry; dawn-dusk). Chitra Shala alone is worth the steep walk up to the imposing gates, as are the views of the town -- much of it painted the same blue seen in the more famous "blue city" of Jodhpur. For an even better vantage point, keep ascending the rough path that leads up to Taragarh (not necessarily to the top), for a great sense of peace (you're unlikely to encounter anyone, bar the Hanuman langur monkeys and a lone goat herder) and superb photo-ops of the town. Back down in town, take a few minutes to visit Raniji-ki-Baori (the state's most impressive step well), which lies in a small park in the center of town; it dates from the 17th century and features ornately carved gates, pillars, and friezes.


Note: There is absolutely no need to waste time with the stuffy Moti Mahal Museum of rotting taxidermied animals and Bundi family portraits.

Sights farther afield, like Sukh Mahal, a summer palace where Kipling wrote Kim, are best explored with Haveli Braj Bhushanjee's picnic and sightseeing tour, or with the expert guide Om Prakash Kuki. Closer to town (2km/1 1/4 miles) are the Royal Cenotaphs (Shaar Bagh), which are way better than Jaisalmer's and reputed to be the best in India -- ask the caretaker for the key. This can also be arranged through Bundi Haveli.