Gwalior to Khajuraho

Trip Start Mar 06, 2005
Trip End ??? ??, 2006

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Wednesday, June 8, 2005

Gwalior to Khajuraho

We changed our itinerary from the original plan and decided to head towards Khajuraho only stopping breifly in Gwalior on the way, rather than spending the night. We are now travelling in the province of Madhya Pradesh Indias geographical heartland. It has poor infratstucture, suffers from drought, but has the highest percentage of forest in India, and is a great place to drive through.... and the heat is just as seering!

Our journey to Gwalior was less than straight forward as we are again in territory that Happy has not driven in before, and frustratingly although we can see the fort standing proudly ontop of a massive hill right in front of us...we can't find the road that leads up to it! We cruise around the towns maze of unmade streets and everyone we ask (over 15 people) claims we are on the right road....but non lead upwards to the fort, after an hour and several "Oh my gods" from Happy we eventuallly stumble across the correct road.

Gwalior is in a great location a few hours from Agra . The ramshackle town spreads out from the foot of the 100 M high hill on top of which the fort is perched. The fort encloses the entire top of the hill with 10 meter high walls built on the edge of sheer cliffs over a distance of 3KM. There are numerous rock paintings and Jain sculptures adorning the cliffside as you drive up the winding road to the summit. Several Jain temples and a palace are to be found inside the fort itself, whos colourful history stretches back over 1,000 years.

The views from the ramparts over the flat plains below are magnificent and Gwalior is worth a visit just for this. We visited the Mahn Singh Palace a great looking structure with blue painted panels containing elephants and peacocks on its outer walls. There is a nearby Jain temple dating from the 11th century and we spent an interesting couple of hoirs wandering around.

Also ontop of the hill is a modern Sikkh temple which we were invited to visit by Happy...we were given the 'full tour' with explanations galore, about every aspect of the temple and its significance, we were offered a free meal but declined as time was pressing and we needed to move on if we were going to reach Khajuraho before dark. Then 'sods law' came into effect and about 2 hours down the road we had yet another puncture. Happy complained that in the previous 4 years driving he had only had 2 punctures and we had already had 5 on this trip alone! We happened to be near a roadside truck stop and so 'limped' in to have it repaired (the spare was also flat). This took a team of 10 to complete! Only one man carried out the repair but 9 others continually gave him advice on how to do it correctly, we stood back in the shade
and watched 'the farce' unfold...45 mins later we were on our way again, but there was now no way we would reach our destination before dark. I wasn't looking forward to travelling any distance on the roads at night. Especially the stretch from Agra towards Jhansi (on the way to Khajuraho) which has a reputation for modern day Banditry, cars have been stopped and their passengers robbed and even shot! A prospect we didnt fancy.

The drive to Khajuraho was fantastic as the afternoon wore on we passed over bridges spanning massive rivers through a selection of weird and wonderful countryside one minute dry barron lunar lanscapes the next tree lined lanes surrounded by hills reminiscent of an 'arrid france'. The road towards Khajuraho was designated as a 'National Highway' but was in reality no more than a single track part-made road, which was in the process of being widened. Our progress along it was slow as we had to continually wait for other 'traffic' to pass down the single track sections. The vast majority of visitors fly-in direct to Khajurahos small airport or catch the train to nearby Jhansi. This maybe simpler / quicker but you miss out on some fascinating scenery.

As the evening light softened it produced the most magical glow, creating a wonderful atmosphere, local farmers were making their way back home on foot carrying their implements or riding in a mixture of transport ranging from donkey to Ox carts. Loaded down with animal feed and produce of every description piled high. They trundled their way along our path in 'dribs and drabs' like Bucolic refugees, as we passed small hamlets and single farms dotted at the roadside. This is a remote area of India and there is no sizeable population centre for hundreds of miles, and it felt like it. We were literally in the middle of knowhere!
Its not the best place to have an accident so we were lucky (again) to narrowly miss a head-on collision (in the dark) with a large cow who suddenly lurched infront of us, we jammed on the brakes and swerved into a roadside field,... our hearts pounding, all we could see in the darkness was the resultant beige cloud of dust surrounding us, illuminated by our headlights. We 'laughed it off' pulled back onto the road and continued on our way.... a little more cautiously!
We eventually arrived at our hotel (the only guests ..again) after a 13 and 1/2 hour drive, very tired but excited about seeing the temples tomorrow.

The Jain temple complex in Khajuraho boasts some of the finest temple art in the world and exactly how and why they were constructed here remains a mystery.

All of the temples were built within 100 year period from around 950AD. Their size and complexity of construction are marvellous. The Stone carving famously depicts erotic images and scenes from Indian life over a millenium ago. Their remote location is probably responsible for their longevity, as they avoided the later Muslim onslought when many temples across India were all but destroyed.

The main group of temples stand in a modern day park with flower borders and lawns others are dotted about near the town itself about 1KM away. They are all incredible and yet another 'highlight of India'.
The day we visited was almost unbearably hot just standing out of the shade for a few mins left you drenched in sweat, even Happy complained about the heat and was forced to retire to some shade while we toured the site. It is difficult to to the temples justice and the phrase "a picture paints a thousand words" is true, so.. view our photos.

The town itself is small and we quickly walked round it stopping briefly to watch some women washing in the giant lotus pond set on the edge of the impressive sight, a sea of green leaves floating on even greener water!
That evening we visited an impromtu market set up on a nearby clearing, hundreds of people turned out to walk the lines of goods set out on the floor and simple tables. Most of the Veg we couldn't recognise so much so that it looked 'fake' it was so alien in apperance. The meat looked all too real with bits of animal carcass layed out everywhere, covered in dust and flies....yummy.

So far in India I had managd to stick to vegitarian food (a wise choice) although Jane cracked and had started to eat the occasional chicken curry. If you ever visit india do not eat the 'western food' ie Pizza, Pasta etc which is generally revolting and bears little or no resemblance to what you would expect. However after nearly a month of 'Curry' I was getting ready to try anything for a change! (more on food later).

Next stop is Orchha and Jhansi, and a pleasant surprise! post again soon Aubrey and Jane.
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