India (8) – Agra to Orchha
There’s been a recurring theme to the last few days, and it was repeated today – forts! Spectacular as they are, they are beginning to blend a little into one, and when we sat down at the end of today, we had a hard time remembering anything at all about the first fort of the day. Truly, we are becoming a little forted-out.
Anyway, I’m getting ahead of myself. We left Agra this morning for the 240km drive down to Orchha where we’d be spending the night. The morning took us as far as Gwalior, a city named after the holy man Gwalipa. We picked up the guide for our (yes, you guessed it) fort tour at a hotel, and took advantage of the 5 minute delay to pick up the hotel’s free wi-fi from the car… just long enough to download the emails, and most importantly blog comments.
Gwalior is quite a large city, and therefore yet again a driving eye-opener. The bonus traffic item this time was a train line which runs through the middle of the narrow streets. The line was originally set up by one maharaja or another to take him out to his hunting lodge, but is now heavily used by the locals. We were luckily enough to see the train coming through, an interesting experience, as all the traffic had to shuffle to one side, to let the train through. There was a level crossing, but it didn’t actually cover the train tracks!
The fort itself was at the top of a ‘very zigzagfully’ road, and housed not only the palace, but a school and a couple temples. It was interesting enough, with the highlights being the green/yellow/blue decorations on the outside walls, and two octagonal chambers in the basements, one was the queens’ (all 8 of them) ‘swinging room’ (and later, the hanging room, when the fort was used as a prison), and the other was the queens’ bathing room.
On the way back down the hill from the fort, we stopped to take a closer look at the statues carved into the rocks. They look a little like Buddha’s but are actually Jain statues. Unfortunately many of the statues had been defaced (by the moghuls, if I have it correctly), although some were restored by the British (or Britishers, as told by the guide).
Lunch was taken in the same hotel where we met the guide. The food itself was rather uninspiring, again a buffet with too much emphasis on the western, but we made good use of the wi-fi and updated our blogs whilst eating. Granny would have been horrified at our manners!
Ever since Agra or thereabouts, the roads have been plastered with advertisements for both schools and tutors. Some with some quite inventive study topics, such as the physics tutor offering lessons in ‘thermodynamics and strongth of materials’. I’ve been surprised to see so many children, even in the poorer areas wearing immaculate (very English looking) school uniforms. Our guide this morning explained that the public schools not only offer free tuition, but also provide books, bags and uniforms to the children.
In the afternoon we continued on to Orchha along a road which was being repaired. Short stretches of fresh tarmac, alternated with rather longer stretches of bone jarring gravel. Finally arriving in Orchha we were hot and tired and ready for the hotel. Alas, Major had other plans for us, and took us up to the fort for a visit. I was quite pleased to hear that this visit would be guideless, but of course it didn’t work out that way. Before we knew it we’d been accosted by a guide and availed of his services. He was keen, appeared to be knowledgeable, but was totally incomprehensible!
Having purchased our tickets, we confusingly left the fort and headed to the other side of town to visit the Laxmi temple, which was arguably more interesting than the fort itself, as it was decorated with fantastic paintings. Back again at the fort, some more paintings, and the typical meeting halls and palaces. No idea how many wives this chappy had – none of us could understand the guide.
The highlight was a walk around the top of the fort, giving a good view over the town and surrounding countryside as the sun was setting. Finally, onto our hotel, and a much needed dip in the pool, before the mosquitoes drove us out. Dinner, yet another buffet, was expensive (two/three times restaurant prices) and again a let-down, especially the rather bizarre deep-fried paneer which was served chinese style. Not a good combination!
apologies for the small number of photos – taken a whi;le to get working internet, and what we have now is painfully slow