Jhansi in Uttar Pradesh is only 112 kms from Gwalior. We concluded our site seeing and bade adieu to Gwalior after lunch. Driving on a decent road, as we neared Datia, a small town about 65 kilometers from Gwalior, we saw a tall structure, a palace, no less. Fascinated, we stopped by and went in. The seven storied palace, for some reason, has never been lived in. But we did see a Muslim grave on one of the upper floors. A blend of Rajput and Mughal styles of architecture, the entire stone palace is built without using iron. From no angle did it resemble the swastika we were told it was built as.
Paintings in Datia Palace
From Datia to Jhansi is a short hop of 30 minutes and we made it by 4pm. Right away we went to see the fort of the legendary queen, Rani Laxmi Bai, who fought the British during our first war of independence. As the forts go, it is a very small one, more like a fortress. But for its historical importance, being associated with Rani Laxmi Bai, one would not want to visit it.
Orcha, only 17 kilometers from Jhansi, is situated on the bank of river Betwa. We checked in at Betwa Retreat, run by MP Tourism. The cottages were well furnished, the staff helpful and courteous, and service excellent. We enjoyed a sumptuous dinner in the open by the swirling waters of the river.
Lord Ram is worshiped both, as a God and as a King in Orcha. The king only ruled in the name of Ram. The temple, Ram Raja Mandir, originally was a palace in which the queen lived. An ardent devotee of Ram, she was on pilgrimage to Ajodhya from where she decided to bring back His statue. The Lord agreed to come with her on the condition that he would not move from wherever she places Him on the ground. A message was hurriedly sent to the king to build a temple but it could not be completed before Ram and the queen arrived. The queen placed Him in her palace and started worshiping him. The temple was completed but, true to his word, Ram refused to move. The queen moved out her palace which was then converted into a temple.
Rani Mahal converted to Raja ram Mamdir
Although it does not find as high a mention in history as its much larger neighbor Jhansi, Orcha has more to offer to a tourist. One must visit the Ram Raja Mandir, Laxmi Narayan Mandir, Raja Mahal, the chhatris (cenotaphs) on the bank of river Betwa to glorify Orcha’s Bundela rulers and Jahangir Mahal. We were told that the last was built for Emperor Jahangir who stayed there as a guest of Raja Bir Singh Deo for only one night. This story is not plausible. More likely, an existing palace was renamed Jahangir Mahal after the emperor stayed there.
The domes of Jehangir Mahal
The cenotaphs at Orcha
The locals asked us to visit Rani Laxmi Bai Temple, a modest structure some distance from the town. We were told that the temple was built in the memory of the Rani of Jhansi soon after she was killed fighting the British in 1857-58. There are many paintings depicting battle scenes of the era which are said to be painted when the temple was constructed. The structure could be a hundred years or more old but the paintings appear to be of recent origin.
Painting in Laxmi Temple
A battle scene in Laxmi Temple
The ceiling of Laxmi Temple
The 175 kilometer drive on NH 39 was a pleasure and we made good time to reach Khajuraho on the 12th evening. Hotel Jhankar, also run by MP Tourism, was a far cry from Betwa Retreats. It was barely livable and the food not quite delicious.
The temples at Khajuraho were built over a period of about 100 years, from 950 CE to 1050 CE during the reign of Chandela Rajputs. Hundreds of artisans, sculptors and artists must have worked at a feverish pitch for more than a hundred years to build some 85 temples. Only 20 have survived the savagery of Muslim invaders and vagaries of nature. There are two groups of temples; Hindu temples and Jain temples. Famous for their erotic sculpture, the Kama sutra theme constitutes only about 10% of the total in Hindu temples. Nude human figures also appear in the Jain temples minus erotic content. These 1000 years old temples representing the glowing period of a prosperous Chandela dynasty are now a UNESCO World Heritage site.
Photographically, Khajuraho, and later Bandhavgarh National Park, was a disaster. We had run out of film roles in Orchha and the ones we purchased from a local Khajuraho vendor turned out to be duds. A pity. I promised myself to return and take photograph. The promise remains unfulfilled.