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Published: January 4th 2020
Beautiful tourquoise tiles still on the exterior
Hariom was waiting downstairs for us at 10.00am as arranged, today we’re heading to Gwalior Fort.
The fort complex includes several temples, palaces and water tanks. The palaces here include Man Singh Palace, the Gujari Mahal, the Jahangir Mahal, the Shah Jahan Mahal and the Karan Mahal. The fort lies on an area of three square kilometres on a huge hill in the centre of Gwalior, and has two entrance gates. The pedestrian entrance is called the Elephant Gate (Hathi Pul) with a long winding ramp leading up from the city, and the western approach for vehicles has two gates, one called Urwai Gate and the other called Badalgarh Gate.
Much of the fort is occupied by the prestigious private Scindia School for Indian nobility, so is off limits for visitors. We approached the ticket office opposite Man Singh Palace and paid R300 for our first ticket which gave us admittance to Man Singh Palace, Chaturbhuj Temple, Teli Ka Mandir, and the twin temples of Sasbahu.
The imperial-style Man Singh Palace, built by Tomar ruler Man Singh between 1486 and 1516, is definitely one of India's more quirkily decorated monuments: its colourful exterior tilework includes a frieze of
Man Singh Palace - Gwalior Fort
Note the row of yellow duck tiles
yellow ducks and mosaics of elephants, crocodiles and tigers in blue, yellow and green! Hence its alternative identity of Chit Mandir (Painted Palace). Man Singh, a connoisseur of the arts, would surely be delighted to know that his creation is now considered the only intact pre-Mughal palace in India.
It was definitely the jewel in the crown of Gwalior Fort and the only one of the palaces worth visiting, I thought. All the others are in ruins, full of litter, and I personally found them uninteresting. A separate ticket had to be purchased (R200) to see them.
I asked the guide we hired about the Assi Khamba Baoli (stepwell) which I had read was located in front of Man Singh Palace, which we couldn't find. They sounded very impressive, a circular stepwell with 80 pillars at ground level, would be hard to miss. He screwed up his face and was very unhelpful, I don't think he knew what I was referring to. So we didn't see them. Another google search when we return to our hotel and I found a 2018 article stating they were closed off, that the steps to them had been plastered over, gates locked,
so no one could go there, the area now closed. We did see a security guard with a rifle at the location I now know them to be, and Ginny commented at the time, that it was unusual to see an armed security guard. They must be in a very dilipated and unsafe condition which is rather sad, they would be exceptional if restored.
Chatubhuj Temple is a tiny Hindu temple excavated from the rock face, and is just 3.7m in length. It’s famous for having the earliest known inscription in the world of ‘O’ being used to mean zero, dating back a mere 1500 years, inscribed in ancient text on the walls. The only text we could find was across the lintel above the door. The temple is located half way down the pedestrian access entrance.
Sasbahu Temples were located over a kilometre away, though still within the fort complex, so we got Hariom to drive us there. Said to be one of the most exquisite specimens of temple architecture in India, they were well worth a visit. Every inch is hand carved, from the facade to the inner sanctum. They are 11th century twin temples, consisting
of a smaller and larger temple together.
Teli Ka Mandir's claim to fame is that it's the oldest and tallest monument inside the fort, dated between the 8th and 9th century. It's an unusual Hindu temple, as it has a rectangular sanctum instead of the typical square one.
After leaving the fort we stopped to see some of the Gopachal Jain Monuments which comprises of around 1500 idols carved into the hill the fort is built on. There are five clusters of them around the hill, we stopped at Urwai Gate and saw the ones there only. As they are all similar, we didn't feel the need to see them all. There are huge, larger than life sculptures down to 15cm high ones.
After returning to the hotel, we headed out to explore the streets behind the hotel and found dozens of motorcycle repair shops, not really what we were looking for. The air reeked of motor oil and we got lots of odd looks from workers, probably wondering what we were doing in their domain.
We returned to our room, had dinner in the hotel restaurant and readied ourselves to move onto Orchha in the
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