Orchha, on the way to Agra (28 December 2013)
A car arrived in the morning to take me to Orchha. It was going to be a long car ride of about 3 to 4 hours to get there. The driver happened to be sick. So was I. The previous morning I had woken up with a bad stomach and sore throat. Later I started having fever and then I came to the realisation that the sore throat was a result of tonsillitis. That was not good. I was only halfway through my trip.
The fever however could be controlled with paracetamol and that allowed me to enjoy the ride. It was as usual foggy. However that did not make the scenery along the way any less pretty. In fact the fogginess in the morning somehow added a quietness to the countryside that was soothing to me in my state of health.
We arrived in Orchha in time for lunch at a local hotel. Not that I had any appetite at all that day, but I force fed myself anyway since I still wanted to follow the itinerary for that day.
There were a couple of cenotaphs in town just outside the hotel that looked pretty interesting and I wondered why they were not included in my tour.
I managed to have a look at them on my own from outside the wall. Someone who looked like a local guide did not seem very pleased however when he spotted me enjoying the cenotaphs that way. He asked if I had a ticket and I said that I was waiting for my guide. He left me alone after that reply but I was on my way back to the hotel anyway.
I was glad when it was finally time to start my real tour of the day. We arrived late at the Orchha Fort however because I could not find the driver. Eventually I found him sleeping in the car. I suppose I could have gone to the car earlier to look for him but for some reason I kept believing that that was someone else’s car. It was my desperation that finally made me check out that car and then I found him.
We arrived at the fort gate more than 40 min past the appointed time. Luckily my guide did not look displeased. But I had lost more than 40 minutes of my time at the fort. My agent in Singapore had commented that Orchha was interesting and I had looked forward to this visit since I had never heard of the place before. I am able to say wholeheartedly that the complex of fort and palace was gorgeous. And that made me feel worse about losing all that precious time.
Despite the rather plan exterior of the fort, some of its rooms were surprisingly stunning. Nevertheless, the murals in these rooms could definitely use some restoration work.
My guide was a man passionate about his hometown and its history, and I think quite religious too. Throughout the tour, when not talking, he was singing this Hindu hymn. At one point, for some reason we started talking about tigers. I mentioned that Singapore used to have tigers but every single one had been killed long ago. He seemed a little upset that so many lives had been killed so seemingly indiscriminately. I would like to see him trying to survive in Orchha town with tigers on the loose. But then again I doubt that he knew how small, crowded and urbanised the island of Singapore really was.
I was brought to the top floor of the fort and a spectacular view awaited me up there. That was also when I found out that Orchha had more than just the fort and palace and the cenotaphs. I wish the tour had allowed me an entire day in Orchha and not a mere stopover of a few hours only to see the fort complex.
I asked my guide why Orchha was not better publicised. He did not know why exactly except that the town was nowhere on the government’s priority list. There was a slight tone of hopelessness in his reply but at the same time he seemed to prefer that Orchha not go the way of Delhi or Agra. I have to agree that Orchha would lose its charm if it became a tourist magnet.
Since I had a train to catch, and I was late for my fort visit, I had to rush through the palace. This was quite a shame since it was also an amazing building. I am sure my guide could have told me so much more about the palace.
While visiting the palace, I learnt a little more about my guide. Besides being passionate and religious, he also had quite a fiery temper. Someone had spilt some water on the ground at the palace courtyard and he got quite mad about it. He practically railed at the local visitors who were present at the time and demanded to know who had done it. That felt a little scary and kept me on my toes a little bit. But I think he got so mad mainly because he felt that his fellow countrymen simply did not care much about the protection of the country’s monuments. I suppose that was a very good reason to get so angry.
Time flies when I am enjoying myself and this was the case during my visit of Orchha. I left the town promising myself that I would feedback to my Singapore agent that more time should be allocated to Orchha in future itineraries.
I was driven to Jhansi to catch my night train to Agra. The train station in Jhansi was quite a sight to behold. Although the station was merely an ageing and uninspired concrete and steel affair, it was what went on in there that fascinated me.
As expected the station was crowded. The crowd however did not consist only of human beings. A cow came rambling in at one point and I wondered if it expected to find sweet grass on the railway track. And speaking of the railway track, I noticed that it was full of life. Little things were darting around everywhere and it took me a while to realise that those little things were rats. There was like an entire city of them down there. The rats were however also on the platforms scuttling about between people’s legs. I gave myself a big pat on the back for having the foresight to use a backpack on this trip and no matter how tired I got and heavy the backpack felt it stayed on my person.
I was booked on a first class coach. It was not a lonely 2-hour journey as there were two couples, one American and one Australian, on board with me that I could talk to. We shared our experiences in India and found that our itineraries were by and large similar. We had for instance all visited Orchha that day before coming to Jhansi to catch the train to Agra. In fact I had noticed the American couple at the Orchha hotel during lunch. A waiter at the restaurant had wiped a dish with his bare hand before giving it to the American guy. I felt obliged to share my observation with him, to his horror.
Some light refreshments were served on board but I felt that I had to be careful with them remembering how I had suffered the effects of Delhi Belly the day before and my stomach could not have been as strong as I had hoped. My fellow tourists on board were even more careful as they declined most of the refreshments offered to them. I wiped down the utensils given to me quite thoroughly with antiseptic wet wipes. That however affected the flavour of the soup served to me tremendously as it tasted quite medicinal after that. But no matter, I was going to Agra!