This post has been a long time coming. I made this trip in August, and I am writing about this now, at the end of October.
I was wondering whether I should classify it as "Car Travel" or "Solo Travel", because it fits into both. In the end, I decided on "Solo Travel", because it was me, my camera gear, and my Duster on the road.
This was a week I spent in the heart of India, in Bundelkhand. This is a region that was known for bandits, dacoits and highway robbers until 20 years ago, and when I was driving through some of the ravines, I was wondering if some of them existed. These days, in India, dacoity is more organised, with politicians and various mafias joining hands below the table.
Anyway, the first stop was Jhansi, which was 420 km away. I had estimated 10 hours, and this is what it took. The drive between Delhi and Agra is almost like driving through a long, dirty urban sprawl and you don't get a sense of the country side. That happens when you cross Agra, and drive past Gwalior to Jhansi. The road past Gwalior becomes a bit narrow and more and more cows are found on the road.
Jhansi is not known for it's hotels, and the one I was staying in had bed bugs. Fantastic location, though. Jhansi is known as the Gateway to Bundelkhand. It's known for the rather majestic fort, built by the kings of Orccha, and for Lakshmi Bai, Queen of Jhansi. She is one of the most remarkable women in Indian history, and with her death, the Great Indian Mutiny of 1857 died.
It was a hot and humid day, and by the time the mid day sun was at the peak, I was flat on my back, drained. Yet, I had the energy to make the short 30 km to Orccha. By the afternoon, the weather had turned, and it started to pour. Pour it did, so much so that I could barely see where I was going. Great little hotel on the banks of the Betwa River. Yet, this is not a great time to visit, if you don't like creepy-crawly insects.
Orccha is known for its cenotaphs and it's magnificent palace. Like many Indian towns, the town itself is squalid. The Indian rulers of old were not known for building institutions and enriching people.
The sky was grey and the river was in spate. That was the end of any dreams of shooting the cenotaphs from across the river. I stood on the banks of the river, amongst the shit of the people bathing by the river side, to shoot the waters. The things we do for a good photo sometimes amaze me.
I left Orccha in the afternoon for the 6 hour drive to Khajuraho. I took 6 hours only because I kept stopping for photographs. Else, you can do it in 4. The countryside started to change even more, and the wild breath of the country air was in my lungs. So very far from Delhi, and I was in a different world.
Khajuraho is interesting enough. The main temples are the Western group of temples, however, it seems you need to start from the Southern group. My only suggestion – don't see them all in one stretch. Take a break. Watching panel after panel of erotic sculpture can get weary.
I don't have photos here, but what really caught my imagination, was the magnificent Raneh Falls at the Ken Gharial Nature Reserve. Now this is fantastic. The river was earlier called the Karunavati River. This was a mouthful for the Brits, and so they renamed it the Ken River.
This is beautiful but dangerous, so the forest officers only allow you to visit a few 'view points'.
Day Five, and I headed for the wild and beautiful Kalinjar Fort en route to Chitrakoot. I saw some awesome falls on the way, and then Kalinjar. The road starts to break, and I was in the real, rural heartland. The people are violent, and I turned a meek driver. The Kalinjar Fort is an old, old fort. This is where Sher Shah Suri died. It's beautiful.
Chitrakoot is a small, squalid,dirty and holy towns. Most holy towns of India are dirty and squalid. The Lord Ram spent some time here, and Hanuman cooled his tail here after burning Lanka. People pray by the river side, and swim in the waters where Sita bathed during their exile.
And then, the drive back began. Back to Jhansi and back to Delhi.
Back to the urban sprawl, and back to the reality of day to day life.