A Travellerspoint blog

Arrival at Bandhavgarh

Thursday 21st October

A 7am start on our drive to Bandhavgarh. Our journey is unexpectedly extended when a road is blocked by a group of villagers, apparently protesting about a murder which had occurred there the previous day. Jagdish said the police were on their way, and they could be here in 1 hour, 2 hours, 3 hours, who knows. So we find an alternative route.

We arrive at our resort, Tiger’s Den, to a very friendly welcome. We have been upgraded yet again to an immaculate Junior Suite.
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Sarah develops a migraine and so Jake and I go on the afternoon safari in Zone 2 on our own. We see no tigers but still enjoy the tranquil forest and see chital, sambar, wild boar, langurs and macaques, together with numerous birds.
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We all end the day with an enormous meal and a few beers.

Posted by Timbob 08:58 Archived in India Comments (0)

Khajuraho

Wednesday 20th October

After breakfast we drive the short distance to the Western Group Khajuraho Temples. Built starting in the 10th Century, these exquisitely carved temples are the most impressive we have seen in India.

They are best known for their extremely explicit erotic carvings, but in fact these make up only a very small portion of the decoration. The rest of the sculptures are of a variety of Hindu religious images and scenes from everyday life.
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The craftsmanship and overall architecture is of outstanding quality and whole area has a wonderfully serene atmosphere.
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We leave the Western Group and are assailed by hawkers, which somewhat spoils the atmosphere. This is one of the downsides of becoming a World Heritage Site in India, the only other places where we have come across such persistent salesmen.

The Eastern Group of Temples is, by comparison, a bit of a disappointment. Only one major temple remains in its original state and is interesting because it is a Jain rather than Hindu temple, but the carvings are similar to those at the Western Group.

The remaining temples have had their elaborate sculptures covered in white plaster, some quite recently, by Jains establishing them as active temples.

We have a pleasant lunch at the Paradise restaurant, overlooking a small water tank and walk back to the hotel.

After a quick afternoon swim and a game of wiff waff (the original name for table tennis!!), the heavens open and we are confined to the hotel by a violent storm, bar a quick dash to the ATM by cycle rickshaw.

Posted by Timbob 08:51 Archived in India Comments (1)

Drive to Khajuraho

Tuesday 19th October

We have a leisurely start and drive on much better roads to Khajuraho where we spend the afternoon relaxing at the Taj Chandela.

Posted by Timbob 08:48 Archived in India Comments (1)

Orchha and the Bengalu

Monday 18th October

A 3 hour bumpy ride to Orchha on very poor roads. A new road is evidently being built, which is supposed to be complete in 2012, so the journey will eventually improve.

We stop briefly to take photographs of the magnificent and massive Bundelkand palace at Datia, but we do not have time to explore.

We arrive at our hotel in Orchha, the Sheesh Mahal Palace. This is the smaller of three palaces all adjacent to each other in Orchha. We are shown to our room, the Maharaja Suite, which is one of the most memorable hotel rooms you will ever see. It has spectacular views all round, is beautifully decorated and the piece de la resistance is a toilet jutting out from the side of the palace, some 30 metres or more above the ground, with 180 degree views through clear glass, when seated!! It has to be seen to be believed.

Jake and I leave Sarah to rest, after a bland MP Tourism lunch, to explore Orchha with our guide.

Our tour round the huge Bundelkhand palaces, the Lakshmi Temple and the magical riverside chattris, is slightly spoiled by the guide, who goes into excruciating detail about every painting and room. He did his best, but this is the problem with guides: occasionally just too much information.

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The wildlife highlight of the day are large numbers of both Egyptian and Indian Vultures. Our guide tells us that they are attracted to the river, partly because the holy Betwa river is the site of many cremations and the left over body parts keep the vultures full!

It’s a pity we’re not staying longer in Orchha, it seems a quiet and clean town, which would be fun to explore further.

We have a relaxing dinner sitting on our own palatial terrace, with moonlit views of the Jehangir Palace. We are entertained as we eat by the occasional appearance of a large furry animal which looks like a cross between a cat and a mongoose. The local name for it is something like Bengalu, but later research determines it to be a Palm Civet or Toddy Cat.

Posted by Timbob 08:46 Archived in India Comments (0)

Dussehra in Gwalior

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.

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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.

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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.

Posted by Timbob 08:40 Archived in India Comments (0)

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