Wednesday, February 27, 2008

all the way to khajuraho

6 o’clock, Friday the 22nd of December 2007.
i and sambit started driving towards NH-2. It took us a few hours to reach agra and leave it far behind in a jiffy as we headed for gwalior. near dholpur we got stuck as an entire little village had gathered on the highway to performing the namaaz as it was the Eid-ul-Zuha. spend almost an hour relaxing in the sun. as it was a bit warmer than delhi and much pleasant. kept driving down the NH-3 as we moved towards gwalior which must be around 130kms from agra, and the roads were excellent and hardly any traffic. no constructions on the sides of the road, no traffic signals, no jams just the road to be cruised on. The farms we were passing were mostly of mustard. as we neared gwalior the terrain started changing it was no more flat as near agra but small hills started appearing. we could see a small railway track by the side of the road. yet to see a smaller track, must have been the personal railways of the king of gwalior at some point of time. we had no plans of entering the gwalior city, preferred to take the by-pass instead. jhansi must be another 90kms drive, roads were narrowing down, so was the traffic becoming sparse. It was more than an hour past noon, hunger pangs had started interfering with the pleasure of driving. We knew about an MP Tourism’s tourist motel in datiya. stopped there almost for an hour had an excellent lunch of dal-roti, along with our lunch we constantly kept admiring the datiya fort next to a moat.

as time was running past we gave a short visit to the pitambari mandir in datiya, grabbed some laddu from the shop outside the mandir and back on the road to orchha via jhansi.

From a distance one could see orchha approaching as the spires of the temple are way too tall for anything else to hide them. never seen a place like this, straight out of some book which I must have read as a child. As sambit states “the temples of orchha are straight out of the amarchitra katha”.

reached orchha at around 3 o’clock, looked around for a hotel and checked-in in the Betwa Retreat run by the MP tourism people. we got a decent tent for around 1000 rupees/night inclusive of breakfast. It had attached loo and a/c fitted (that was a bit too much to my mind). We dumped our bags and took a short walk towards the tikamgarh forest across the river betwa next to our lodge.

The water level was extremely low and we could very well see the river bed at places. on crossing the bridge one can see a mirror reflection of the cenotaphs near the river. luckily the water level was low and very static, betwa served as a perfect mirror for the beautiful cenotaphs to flaunt themselves. we were in awe of the sight. It seemed to have taken us back a couple of centuries a the least. People were mostly wearing dhoti and kurta’s, cycle still being their main mode of transport. Well surely my father had lived that kind of a childhood. But for me it was something out of 50’s movie. As we walked back the naked bridge (it didn’t have any kind of railings or anything) we could see the setting sun giving an orange glow to the medieval architecture. We paid a short visit to the Ram Raja Mandir, walked around the mandir complex full of life, the locals worship Rama as their King and not just a mythical God. Had a hot glass of milk in the nearby market. It seemed to be a nice mix of a small village market and a tourist attraction. One can easily find out shops selling Korean, Lebanese, Chinese and Italian food. In the same complex you can get the halwai i.e. the original Indian sweetshop selling some of the best peddas and laddus, the peddas in orchha are far better than the over hyped mathura ka pedda.

Its was around 8 in the evening by now, we thought of returning to the mandir and have a look at the arti. All we could see was a crowd gathered in the mandir courtyard and shouting-God knows what! Hope God does know what they were shouting. There was no point wasting in the temple. We pushed of to take another walk and back to our hotel. Time to start a drinking session and intellectualise about the state of Indian villages and small towns. As expected the conversation drifted towards the plight of value system in todays society. By now we were a couple of drinks down and wondering what these bunch of villagers doing on our hotel terrace sitting on the ground in one corner all equipped with harmonium, ektara and another couple of basic musical instruments. In a while we realized they were here to perform some folksongs for the hotel guest in the open air restaurant. We got the privilege to be their sole audience for a while, and get a closer look at their music and dance. We came to know that they are the “bards of bundelkhand” and that’s the way history had been kept alive, a word of mouth phenomenon from guru to shishya. It was an interesting evening as they sung in the local dialect, one of the guys kept translating things into hindi from time to time. Atleast gave us enough dope to talk about.

Nothing to do the town had gone to sleep longtime back I guess. High time we retire too.

As planned we go out for an early morning walk in the Tikamgarh Forest Reserve area. It looks as if the forest is in a perpetual autumn state. No water from the last 3 years or so had lest the entire forest dry.

After a while we decided to walk back to our hotel for a the complimentary breakfast. After the breakfast we walk up to the laxmi mandir. That’s the highest structure to be seen around, and an undoubted beauty. Inside we met the keeper or maybe the cleaner, whosoever he was, was a great help as he showed us around the temple and took us up the spires showing us some awesome views of the town. this temple must be one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever seen from outside as well from inside. Not much too see inside but lot to remember.

A short walk takes us through the market and to the palace. The palace is in two parts, one is the “Jehangir Mahal”. Built by Raja Bir Singh Ju Deo in the 17th century in honour of the visit of Emperor Jehangir to Orchha. The other part was built earlier by Madhukar Shah and known as the “Raj Mahal”.
The view from the terrace of Jehangir Mahal is stunning, a 360 degree view of the town can be seen. Surely that’s the way the king used to keep a watch on his state. The Laxmi Temple can be seen from the terrace. And one cant miss out the single axis on which the two structures had been constructed i.e a line runs through the exact centre of the Jehangir Mahal and the Laxni Temple. Well that’s not all to be seen in the mahal, in the lower floors there are some beautiful paintings on the walls (Indian frescoes). The rooms are generally kept closed to preserve the frescoes (but the guards are nice and helpful). We were bound to go back to the hotel and check-out as we planned to leave for Khajuraho in a while. Time was short so we could not spend much time in the Raj Mahal, just had a general look around the palace, a part of which had been converted into a hotel.

Back to the hotel. A quick shower. Packing up our bags. Paying the hotel bills. Tipping the bell boy. All this in a jiffy. And a start our journey to Khajuraho. No, its not so easy to leave the town without paying our homage to Munna Acharya, we halt at Munna Acharya’s shop to have our early lunch as we have a long drive ahead of us. Plump old Munna Acharya is happy playing with his grandson as his subordinates keep filling the doona’s (bowls made of leaves of sal tree, extremely eco-friendly). We have loads of poori’s, aalo sabzi and raita. The treat is bottomless quantity of food just for 10 bucks. Are they kidding, how can they survive is it a social service. Hat’s off to Munna Acharya, we head towards Khajuraho with a happy tummy.

A nice drive, a narrow road almost no traffic at all, a few bottles of water, a hot winter, dry forests and the narrow road takes us to Khajuraho. Before entering the small town one is hit by road signs pointing towards a list of five-star hotels, an airport. No doubt that you are entering a tourist hot-spot. We cross all the big hotels and start looking for a cheaper accommodation. At around 2:30 we checkin at Hotel Payal managed by M.P. Tourism. Nice clean rooms for a decent price, but available only for a night. Dumped our bags and took a short walk to the temple complex. It was a pleasure to know that the main temple complex also known as the Western Temple Complex is so close to our hotel, later we figured out everything was so close to each other in the town. Basically the town is built around temple complexes. I think its over hyped about the erotic art, but talk about art and architecture it’s a marvel. It’s not a piece of art but an inspiration in itself. Few of the good old healthy temples are more than a thousand years old, its hard to believe but true. Who knows why the Chandela Rajputs picked up this site and built more than 80 great temples over a span of around century. But they did and thousand year later here am I admiring them.

what amused me the most was not just the execution of such temples but how did someone dare to conceptualise such a vision. It looks to be a dream which can’t be fulfilled, but someone did dare to dream it and fulfill it.

we spent the next few hours wandering in the western complex, till we got tired of walking. Took a break in a nearby restaurant had an extra late lunch. And back to our hotel. Come evening and we were ready for our second innings, another short walk to the western temple complex, and soon we will be sitting and enjoying the light and sound show narrating the history on bundela rajputs leading to the stoty of the temples. The lawns of the western complex were booming with the voice of amitabh bachchan as he narrated the story of the bundelas. The marriage of the lights and sound system seemed perfect as one could see the light traveling through the bushes in sync with the galloping of the horses. Almost an hour of commentary gave us a fair enough idea of why? What? How? Of khajuraho temples. A short walk around the town lead us to a local fair, where we found a sardar serving makke ki roti with sarsoon ka saag. No clue why we took fancy of having Punjabi food in MP, none the less the preparation was authentic. We left the fair. On our way back to the hotel we passed through some tourist offices, where we came to know about a nearby crocodile sanctuary. Well that’s where we should be tomorrow morning. Picked up a bottle of whisky and finished it along with our dinner at the hotel…

got up at 6:30 had to wait till 7:30 to get our complimentary breakfast of aloo-puri in the restaurant of our hotel. An hours drive through some villages to the ken ghariyal sanctuary. The forest was as dry as it could be so was the waterfall, just a little bit of water was trickling here and there. A bit disheartened were we, but things changed we got a good guide to show us around the sanctuary where deers and nilgaiys crossed our path several times. We were lucky to spot a ghariyal basking in the sun. well that was not the end our guide showed us something most unexpected. And surely that’s something we would have missed if the waterfall would have been overflowing. The rocky formation of the waterfall housed an extinct crater which must have erupted long long ago. The rocks around the crater where of five different varieties (it’s been a while and I have forgotten the names) and looked amazing under the blazing sun. leaving behind Ken Ghariyal Sanctuary we headed back to Khajuraho. Had to be there by lunch and shift out of the hotel. We were there on time. checked out of Payal Hotel, from there we moved to some stupid hotel which offered us the worlds worst service. We did not have much choice as most of the places were booked. And this was a cheap place to stay. The good part was that we where spending most of the time on the roads. Once again we dumped our stuff and back to the road using our guide books (we bought the previous day), we started our walk from the museum run by ASI, the museum was right across the road opposite the western complex and housed some sculptures which would have been a part of some of the temples in the past. Once again we walked back to the western complex spend a couple of hours, tried to hit on some pretty woman (managed to spend sometime walking around with her, and that’s all we could manage). Escaped the overfriendly American photographer. Time to have our lunch. A beer followed by some spicy and greasy Indian food.

Time is running out as its our last day in Khajuraho. Drove around the town looking at other temple complexes. The last one we visited was a solitary temple standing against a beautiful mauve sky. Its looked more like a painting. The silhouette of the temple stood brilliantly against the sky. There couldn’t have been a better way to end our visit to the temples. The scene was such I may never forget. Absolutely unreal it was, I guess I won’t be able to see something such again in my life. Drove back to the market near the western complex. Parked our car outside the hotel and walked around for a while. Trying to see and encapture as much as we can in the last few moment of the trip. Standing below an old banyan tree we could hear nothing but the chirping of hundreds of parrots, we couldn’t hear each other as the chirping of the birds coming back home was so loud. For almost fifteen minutes we stood there the sun had gone down by now the birds could not be seen, but the sound still as sharp as it was. A cup of tea at a nearby stall. A short walk here and there. A bit of window shopping. The rented bicycles being towed back on a trailer fitted to a scooter by the owner of the bicyle shop. Lots of things which we had never seen and may not see again. A small pizzeria on the terrace with a wood oven pizza. WOW! Such a thing would have been such a talked about restaurant in delhi social circuit. In khajuraho its just another eatery. Soon these little things ended up the beautiful day to start a new one. Early next morning before day-break we were on the highway. Breakfast in Orchha at Munna Acharya’s shop. Packed some peda’s and laddos for our long drive home.