Sunday 17th October
Breakfasted at the Taj. Everyone too full to eat much.
Today we explore Gwalior. Suresh, our guide, meets us and first explains that the Jas Vilas Palace of the Maharaja of Gwalior is closed for the day, due the Dussehra Festival that day.
We drive to the Palace, anticipating a view from the outside, but with a few well placed calls and even better placed rupees, we were in!!
It is a late 19th century palace, almost entirely European in character. Most impressive was the huge Durbah Hall, with two of the world’s largest chandeliers. Each consisting of 3.5 tonnes of Belgian crystal.
The previous Maharaja had been a railway fanatic and had whimsically assembled a model train on one of his huge dining tables, to deliver drinks and cigars to his guests after dinner.
Our drive to the Gwalior fort showed Dussehra in full flow. This festival is the culmination of 10 (I think) days of festivities celebrating the culmination of the Indian epic, the Ramayana. During the daytime the goddess Durga is carried shoulder high down to the rivers to be immersed and this is accompanied by firecrackers being thrown left, right and centre and the dyeing of anything that moves. We saw many painted cows and donkey, some with quite elaborate patterns. Dussehra also seemed to be an excuse for Rajputs to parade very rowdily many of them openly carrying guns. Whether this was legally allowed or just overlooked was never made clear.
Gwalior Fort is a fortified town perched on precipitous cliffs overlooking the town. The 16th Century Palace is a rare example in North India of pure Indian architecture with no discernable Islamic influence. It’s beauty is more than a match for anything we saw in Rajasthan, with brightly coloured tiles on the outside walls and elaborate carvings. The inside is inevitably home to thousands of bats.
Also in the Fort is an exquisitely carved 10th Century Vishnu temple of very high quality and as we walked down from the fort we could view Jain carvings made into the cliff face ranging in size from a few inches up to a very imposing 18 metre high carving of a Jain prophet standing.
Our final stop in Gwalior is an early Islamic mausoleum for one of Akbar’s favourites. It is also the site of a small mausoleum to the famous musician Tansen. The main structure is huge and elaborate and grounds are well maintained and peaceful. They are also home to a large number of mongooses, which proves quite an excitement for Sarah.
After a brief rest at the hotel it is off to the Dussehra festival. We travel to Thitupur at 8pm and are greeted by the site of a huge crowd of thousands surrounding three 15 metre effigies of the bad guys from the Ramayana. Ravan, the evil King of Lanka and his two henchmen.
The evening consists of hundreds of fireworks being let off, which gradually get more and more intense (as does the crowd) until the appointed climax when actors playing Rama and Hanuman set fire to each effigy one by one, finishing with Ravan, each of which has been stuffed with straw and firecrackers and thus erupt into a short intense inferno. In our immediate vicinity we prove almost as much of an attraction as the fireworks and we have a pleasant chat with several students.
After Ravan has burned, the crowd then surge for the exit. We are carried along rather alarmingly and it seems to me that things are getting a little out of control, so we manage to slip to the edge of the crowd and wait for things to settle down. We then leave in a more leisurely manner.
What an exiting evening.