ORCHHA, MADHYA PRADESH, INDIA. Sunday 1 April, 2012.
We were collected by Mr Barun at the crack of dawn and taken to Agra Station for our second train ride to Jhansi. We had again reduced our luggage to a couple of backpacks and Mr Barun was going to take our large cases on to Delhi. The journey took 2 hours 40 minutes and we were met again by a local agent and introduced to our guide.
We then drove through the countryside out of Uttar Pradesh (where Jhansi is located) into Madhya Pradesh. The journey took about 3 hours. Today was the last day of a major Hindu festival, and as we approached Orchha we were caught in a huge stationary throng of people, two wheelers, three wheelers, bikes, carts and everything else under the sun. We waited for about 15 minutes without moving at all so our driver got out to see what was happening. On his return he advised our guide that if we wanted to visit Orchha it would be quicker to walk.
We got out of the car and walked the 2 km in over 40 degrees heat. The heat was bad enough, but
the throngs of people all pushing and shoving with two wheelers bashing into your calves and horns blaring all the time, it was extremely unpleasant and uncomfortable. The stench of vehicle fumes was very strong and caused us both to cough and splutter and struggle for breath and at the same time we had to watch our feet so as not to tread in do dos of any kind - man or beast! We made it to a police barrier just ouside of the town where the traffic was stopped but the people were allowed through. We passed the celebrations with dancers and brightly coloured horses and tractors and made it to the entrance of the semi ruined former capital of the Bundela Rajas.
We would probably have given up on this if it hadn't been described as an 'architectural gem' and listed at number 11 of things to see in the whole of India in our guide book. On M's insistance we went to the nearby Sheesh Mahal Hotel for a sit down and to make use of their (very very skanky) facilities before we embarked on the tour.
Orchha means 'hidden place' and it certainly lives
up to its name being located in a tangle of forest south east of Jhansi on the edge of the River Betwa. It is a medieval fortified town which is now deserted but has temples, derelict palaces and other buildings to explore. A lot of it is covered in weeds and the sandstone is crumbling. The village, through which we had just walked, is clustered around the foot of these exotic ruins.
After being pursued by Sultans from various capitals around central India, the Bundela Dynasty finally settled at the former Malwan fort of Orchha in the 15th Century. We could see that at that time the fortifications were obviously magnificent. They were started by Raja Rudra Pratap who came to an unfortunate demise in 1531 while trying to wrestle a cow from the clutches of a tiger! (Why? - well we guess it was because it was a Holy Cow!). Work only continued because of the goodwill of his mighty neighbours, the Mughals. After 1627 relations with the Muhguls rapidly deteriorated, and the Bundelas fled Orchha for the safety of Tikamgarh. The magnificent monuments have been deserted ever since.
Our guide was a Post Doctorate Fellow in
Historical Architecture from Warwick University and was extremely knowledgeable. If we hadn't been so knackered we would have appreciated him much more than we did. He showed us around and explained in great detail about the significance of the architecture. One of the gates was guarded on both sides by two sandstone elsphants. The tusks were missing and our guide explained that they were made of ivory, solid gold and silver. The location of only one of them is known - it is now in the V&A museum in London.
Throughout the tour we were followed around by crowds of local youths who just stood and stared open mouthed at us. It was very disconcerting. "Am I wearing my green head today?" M asked D. our guide informed us that most of them had never seen a white face before except on the TV. In Inda the lighter you are, the more beautiful you are considered to be. So we were like Holywood Superstars with our pale English complexions.
One of the best things in the whole complex is a temple where the original wall paintings can be seen, most of them still maintaining their original colours as
they were well protected from the sun. It is also one of the few places where it is possible to see all 9 incarnations Vishnu from number one the fish to number 9 Buddha. We now know all of them and can bore you all to death - but that is for another time. Outside some of the facades still have their original blue tiles. It would have looked fantastic in its heyday.
After finishing our tour of the complex we waited in the village for our driver to make it through the traffic jam. After about 15 minutes, and much to our relief, he pulled up and we climbed inside. The air conditioning felt wonderful. We drove on towards Khajuraho which was our destination for the night. This should have taken around 3 hours but took over 4 as we got caught in a hold up in the next village caused by the same celebrations as in Orchha. We took a detour around the village which was very interesting - we really got to see village life.
We arrived at Khajuraho and dropped our guide off before being taken to our hotel. This was the ultimate luxury
- a Taj hotel. There was a massive pool, a restaurant, bar, spa. The room was fantastic with a bathroom with a transparent window with an electric blind if you wanted some privacy. We had arrived too late to avail ourselves of the pool facilities, so just had dinner, watched some TV and went to bed.
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