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Old 23rd January 2009, 09:51   #16
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Great pics and write-up. The sun-set pics are awesome. Waiting for more.
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Old 23rd January 2009, 19:37   #17
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Hai Architect,

Great going, nice pictures (the sunset one really rocks) and a good start to the travalogue. Looking forward to the rest of the story and phots.

Reminds me of my trip in Nov/Dec to Khajuraho and ride around there, I did not go to Orcha, looks great in your photos.

I always thought it would be possible to do a day drive from Delhi to Khajuraho, you just prove it's possible. With a SUV, probably you could have done it faster, specially where you had to go off road or bulldoze otheres off the road

Please write some more story, I know it takes a lot of time and effort, but gives details to us.

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Old 24th January 2009, 01:17   #18
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Default Part Two

Part Two

I have a habit of not eating where I am staying if I can help it. One can sample various restaurants in the place. And who wants to stay cooped up for meals in the same hotel? We had been rapidly shedding layers ever since we crossed Agra, such was the heat in Gwalior and Jhansi. However, Khajuraho had a pleasant breeze with a slight hint of chill when we stepped out of the hotel at around nine. There are three or four restaurants that face the Western Group Temple complex. While the food may not be the best, but the view definitely is.

When we reached the Blue Sky Restaurant, we realised that (a) we had come when most people had left after dinner and that (b) despite the lateness of the hour, the table on the machan on top of the tree with the best view of the temples was still occupied. We sat and chatted about this and that, bridging the six-year age gap between us by common links—alumni from the same college and employees / interns of the same firm. The three hours of sleep the night before, the fourteen hours of driving, the nippy breeze and the silent temples staring at us in their floodlit spendour all came together and I must say this was one of the best beers and the best dinners of my life.

Next morning I was up by eight, but by the time we were both ready and out of the room, it was nearly ten-thirty. Breakfast was a quick affair on the rooftop of the hotel. We rented bicycles at a seemingly cheap rate of twenty rupees per day and bought a basic guide map. We were all set to view the Eastern Group of Temples, which has of half-a-dozen sites within an eight kilometre round trip. Perfect cycling distance, we thought.

Nature has its own way of telling you that your cardiovascular capabilities are reducing. Suddenly cycling was not as easy as it used to about a decade ago (time just flies, doesn’t it?). Cursing my laziness and inability to muster enough will-power to exercise, we reached the first temple.

So much has been written and said about the architecture of Khajuraho, that it seems to superfluous to describe it again. These temples will not leave you speechless with their grandeur, or astonished with sights. It is not the kind of beauty that comes across as a surprise. It is the kind of subtle, sublime beauty that gets into you as you see more and more of it. In this age of short attention spans and two-minute noodles, it is like being transported into some other age. Outwardly, everything seems ordinary and a typical temple looks like over-carved stone building. As you look closer, the realisations happen in the same sublime manner.

These temples are placed in such a way that each temple has its own distinct identity, but their spires are always in view of each other in the Eastern Group. The Western Group is a complex of temples located close to each other but still distinct. Each temple has its own plinth of granite with the later temples having more decorative work on the plinths as well. Above the plinth, one stands and tries to debate whether it is the proportion or the beautiful carvings that make it more beautiful.

Each and every temple has carvings which have their own stories. They are at various levels on the structure and depending on the distance from the viewer’s eye, the scale of the carvings is decided. As you move away from the temple, the carvings blend harmoniously into the overall form of the spires and walls, reinforcing the proportions.

At the end of the day, I realised that this place is a testimonial to the heights that Indian craftsmanship had attained before the advent of the Occidentals into our country. It was created at a time when Art was not created in studios of famous artists or in art schools and hung in museums or rich people’s houses. It was created when Art was present in everyday life, created for the people, by thousands of artisans chiselling away. It is easy to think of one master artist, but difficult to imagine thousands of them working together to create these temples. A comparison of the sculptor working on these temples with a modern-day construction worker is pointless, ludicrous.

More than once during the day, I stopped, stared and marvelled. Not just at the lions who seemed to be stylised and morphed, still totally alive in their ferocity. Not just at the maidens with billowy curves, with one foot placed ahead of the other, as if wanting to step out of the frame. What values, what discipline, what sensitivity, what crystallisation of aesthetic knowledge, what commitment, what dedication and what sheer excellence lies in these edifices!

With these thoughts, we cycled through the various sites of the Eastern Group. On the way back from the Chaturbhuj Temple, we stopped at the river and sat with our feet in the water. There was lunch to be had and the Western Group of Temples was still unseen. On top of that, the Railway Station of Khajuraho was being inaugurated that particular day by Lalu Prasad Yadav. We were sure he would visit the temples after the inauguration.

Lunch was a sorry affair from the point of view of food, as there were vew few dishes available. We had arrived for lunch when everybody else had finished theirs. The second half of the day was spent in the Western Group of temples. As the complex was being closed down, we made our way outside and did some shopping at the local Mrignayani Emporium. The evening was spent in watching the Sound and Light show—neither a disappointment nor very spellbinding.

The treat of the day was watching my friend bargain over a brass statue. If the shopkeeper were to be believed, my friend bought the item at a price cheaper than that of plain brass metal itself, forget about the craftsmanship!

Last edited by architect : 24th January 2009 at 01:20.
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Old 24th January 2009, 01:33   #19
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Working on Part Three.

Hope to have it up by Saturday Night.

Thanks Narayan, Bubby, phamilyman, akroy, amip, unni.ak, ramkya1, nuttynair, needforspeed88. Will take time to "process" other pictures, basically reduce them down to a size less than 1 MB each.
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Old 24th January 2009, 05:20   #20
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Tried IrfanView? 1mb download. Open it, press B for batch mode. Select advanced JPEG options, resize each image's short side to 600 (ie 800x600) - in JPEG options, set output quality at 75 or such.
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Old 25th January 2009, 13:18   #21
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Default Part Three

At a quarter to seven in the morning, as we started off towards Orchha, I realised that NH-75 was devoid of oncoming traffic to a large extent. Add to it the sharper reflexes of the early morning, and we covered 180 kms in 2 hours and 45 minutes—good timing for an undivided road where oncoming traffic invariably forces you off it. Never before have I managed to drive with such concentration and pleasure.

Orchha has captivating natural beauty, the kind that grows on you. It is true that the Palace complex, the temples, the chhatris are splendid examples of architecture, but it is the river that is the soul of this place. The bridge across the river is a modern addition, but its location couldn’t have been better had the Bundela kings placed it themselves. It affords excellent views of the chhatris as well as parts of the palace complex. This is what we observed as we reached the Betwa Retreat and parked our car there.

Our tents would be available only at noon. We sampled the buffet breakfast at the Betwa Retreat and set off towards Taragram, back in the direction we had come from. Taragram is promoted by Development Alternatives and is essentially about putting technology to use in creating sustainable development. Within the small Taragram complex, all the electricity required is generated in a smoke-free generation system using fast-growing local wood and bark collected by the tribals. They have a large hand-made paper production unit and food processing unit as well. There is a casting yard for ferro-cement shells and tiles. Their latest initiative is Radio Bundelkhand, a local FM radio station that is entirely focussed on local issues and community matters, having a range covering just a few villages. After taking a tour of the place, thanks to the contacts given by my friend, we set off for Orchha again.

Our first stop was the chhatris, magnificent structures built to mark the place of the last rites of the kings. With their symmetrical bases and tall spires set within a classically laid out courtyard, every arch and every window reinforces the symmetry of the complex. The views of the fields, the forested hills and the river lend superb atmosphere to the place, as if the buildings were built not to overpower, but to pay homage to the natural beauty. These are places where one can sit for hours, looking out at the river.

The walk from the chhatris to the palace complex reminded us of lunch. The restaurant was on the first floor. As had become a habit through the entire trip, we reached when almost everybody had finished lunch. More than half the items in the menu were not available. We also strongly suspected that the person taking the orders was the same as the person doing the cooking, serving, waiting and making the bill. With all the delay in the one-man show of a restaurant, we managed to reach the palace by three o’ clock.

I did not want to miss the precious daylight hours for photography, especially the river. For the first time in my life, I hired a guide who promised to show us the palace complex “within 45 minutes”. He started with his education and upbringing in Orchha and moved on to the population figures for Orchha town. No time constraint could deviate him from playing his “tape” from end to end. Maximum we could do was to fast-forward him through some “tracks”. He insisted on explaining everything to us in English, while we politely told him Hindi was perfectly good for us.

He was true to his word, and finished within exactly forty-five minutes. The camera had been equally busy all the time. Then we had the Chaturbhuj temple to “cover”. The dominance of this structure over the entire town of Orchha is undeniable; such is the sheer verticality and grandeur of this temple.

We reached the river by four-thirty, and I searched for a suitable spot amongst the rocks. A considerable amount of evasive measures had to be taken to avoid some human excreta drying on the rocks which lie on the opposite side of the palace. On top of it, there were remnants of picnics as well, plastic bags and bottles which are the bane of any tourist place in this country.

The unpleasantness of the surroundings drifted away with the sight of the brilliant blue waters of the Betwa flowing past the rocks. Each photograph taken was a delight, results from the basic point-n-shoot Canon notwithstanding. My friend was sitting mute and silent, staring at the water, the rocks and saying nothing. Not a garrulous person by any means, he spent almost two hours doing nothing except taking an occasional picture or two with his mobile phone. Towards sunset we moved to the point that faced the chhatris. Had I not planned this trip with photography as a major ambition, I would have probably succumbed to the atmosphere in the same way.

This is the favourite place for photographers in Orchha and there is every kind of equipment to be seen in action during sunset. I struck a conversation with an Australian tourist who was shooting with two DSLRs with different lenses. We got our sunset pictures and came back like two kids who have just had a satisfying cricket match and can’t decide whether they should be happy after the exhilaration or sad for the time having passed so quickly.

There was a huge Aarti at the temple next to the Chaturbhuj temple that I attended. Though it was not of the scale or intensity of the aarti at Har-ki-pauri, the people singing together in such numbers told me why collective worship is such a strong phenomenon in all religions. Even to the hardest cynic, so many voices chanting together create a bond, even with the people you have never seen before.

The day’s work over, we reached the same spot where we had sat a few hours ago. It was pitch dark. There was such a dramatic change in the atmosphere that we were suspecting if this was even the same bridge. There was only the sound of water and nothing else. Half an hour later, we reached the Betwa Retreat, late for dinner as usual. There was a group of musicians playing on the terrace and we had another very good dinner.

Except for the light filtering in from outside, there wasn’t much to differentiate the tent from a hotel room. I did enjoy the brightly-lit rooms during the daytime, though. The feeling of being under the sun is not provided by any hotel room.

The last morning of the trip was a fairly relaxed affair. We waited for the buffet breakfast to be served and having had our fill, set off for Delhi at about a quarter to nine. The going was great till we decided to take newly built by-pass at Jhansi. Thanks to some wonderfully accurate signage and co-operative villagers, we ended up inside a village whose road was just wide enough for us to pass. Further up, we found a tractor doing wheel-spin over a drain cut across the road. It was a tough decision to continue, but we did. It is credit to some deft manoeuvring on my part and plain carelessness on the tractor driver’s part that we crossed the drain without a hitch. Low-end torque is an absolute delight in a diesel engine, and nowhere did I appreciate it more than at that point.

It was great going till the outskirts of Agra. Just when I was planning to stop at the Mathura McDonald for lunch within an hour, we hit a mother of a traffic jam. The only saving grace was that we could shut off the engine and wait instead of inching forward. An hour and a half later, we decided to skip the bad road of the by-pass and try our luck by trying another route. It was a clear case of wrong decisions compounding each other. Thanks to some religious procession in Agra city, we reached Mathura McDonalds at a quarter to six, taking four hours to do fifty kilometres.

The drive back to Delhi on a Sunday evening is like a Road Rash scenario. Vehicles with different speeds, sizes and agility jostle their way through. Whether it’s the frustration of the holiday getting over or the sadness of having to face another Monday morning, I don’t know.

The only bright spot is the detour via Surajkund that I take instead of going through Badarpur. The forest cover is still present, although disappearing fast, the road is winding through the kikar jungle and the sloping walls of Tughlaqabad Fort and Ghiyas-ud-din Tughlaq’s tomb herald your arrival in great style.

It is small compensation for an absolutely brilliantly sunlit holiday amidst clear blue water and grand edifices, I agree. But it will suffice till the next drive, the next destination and the next travelogue.

The End.

For those interested in further details, I am attaching a PDF of the log files of the trip.
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File Type: pdf Log.pdf (153.5 KB, 406 views)
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Old 25th January 2009, 13:42   #22
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I guess I will end with a photograph of the car as well. This is also my avatar as of now!
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Old 25th January 2009, 14:03   #23
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Nice travelogue and great pics. Looks like you have loads of patience in writing your travelogue. Any other do's and don'ts and some details like room rent/day where to have food etc will be good. Your recommendations etc... It will help fellow t-bhpians.
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Old 25th January 2009, 22:21   #24
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OK, some more details I would like to add apart from the travelogue:

1. Khajuraho has accomodation for every budget. However, I was impressed by the MPTDC hotels, both Rahil and the other whose name I can't recollect as of now. Khajuraho has a number of four / five star hotels too. There is a huge amount of accomodation in the budget (Rs 500-1000) category. So if you are not too picky, I suppose you can land up without a booking.

2. In Orchha, MPTDC Sheesh Mahal seems to be the best place but it is on the expensive side. The MPTDC Betwa retreat, especially the tents at Rs 1,200/- in peak season, is excellent value for money. Service is decent and food is good if not outstanding. There is another place called the Orchha Resort, a private enterprise. Personally I feel the Orchha Resort has done more than its fair share in spoiling the waterfront and bringing its share of crass commercialism into the place. And I am yet to figure how they could build so close to protected structures given the ASI norms and rules.

3. I would suggest sticking to Indian food everywhere. There are exotic items in the menu everywhere, especially for the Japanese. But in my opinion, they are badly made. There is a German Bakery in Orchha, next to the entry to the Palace complex, which had decent confectionary.

4. Keep tabs on the toll by using a log book. They asked for a different amount while going back at a toll both on NH-75.

5. If you have a commercial vehicle (cab, yellow plate) this is the most expensive road trip. Here's the number of times you change State Borders and the sequence:
Delhi-Haryana-U.P.-Rajasthan-M.P.-U.P.-M.P. There is an alternate route via Etawah, but I think it's longer.

6. Now there is a Railway Station at Khajuraho, inaugurated on the day we were there which has a connection from Mahoba and soon a train from Delhi as well.

7. Orchha is hop-skip-and-jump from Jhansi, so taking the Bhopal Shatabdi is a better idea, from Delhi.

Last edited by architect : 25th January 2009 at 22:24.
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Old 10th March 2009, 23:01   #25
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Hi architect, My apologies for logging in to your travelogue a bit late in the day. Must compliment you on the way you have written. Lucid and helpful indeed! Have been planning on a trip down to Hyderabad sometime in May-June this year. Taking the shortest route is not of utmost importance; intent would be to see a bit of the countryside as well. Having been considering various route options. One of the options was Delhi - Agra - Gwalior - Jhansi (Orchha) - Khajuraho - Satna....link on to NH 7 and drive down along it to Hyderabad. Your experiences will provide very valuable information indeed. Shall get back to you for more details as my plan crystallises. Thanks again.
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Old 2nd October 2009, 10:31   #26
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Hi architect,

Recently we had gone to Orchha for a three day trip. I had got lots of useful information on the place and on the route from Delhi in this thread of yours. Your logbook was also very helpful. After coming back, I read your posts again and could appreciate them even more. Your description was really very precise. Thanks a lot.

Here are a few things that I would like to add about the state of things now.

1. This year MP has got very little rain, and as a result, Betwa is devoid of almost any water.

2. The roads in the Datia--Jhansi sector are still in a very pathetic shape.

3. If the Datia--Jhansi part is bad, the Agra bypass is worse. There were parts on this stretch where I had to stop, think about how to proceed so that I do not scrape the underbody of my car against the `road' surface. And there are four railway level-crossings on this bypass. In the end, you do not save any time, and your car undergoes a lot of torture. So I think one should time the journey appropriately and go right through Agra city if possible.

4. I saw quite a few cars without any number plates at all, both plying on the highway as well as parked on the roadside (This was between Agra and Orchha). And I am not talking about those assembled contraptions that are often used as people movers. I am talking about Swift D'zire, Indica, WagonR etc. This was really shocking.

5. We stayed at Betwa retreat cottages. We also went and had a look at some of the rooms (Room No 4, and the Maharani Suite) in Hotel Sheesh Mahal. What I felt is one could stay for a night at Sheesh Mahal for getting that unique feeling of staying in an old fort/palace at a reasonable rate. But for a longer stay and/or if one wants to stay close to nature, Betwa retreat is a much better place.
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