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Old 24th October 2021, 16:29   #1
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Default Bundelkhand Chronicles - Chasing History and Wildlife from Calcutta

It’s been a while since we last embarked on a long holiday. The Durga Puja holidays were knocking on the doors and it was time to chalk out some plans. The Covid situation and the fight to overcome the dreaded virus is still underway. The Vaccines are a little solace and after talking to relevant authorities, I decided to revive my pre-Covid era plan of visiting the Kumaon hills. Now, the plan for Kumaon has been on the boil for the last three years and yet, every time it has hit a roadblock for some thing or the other.

This time, just as I was on the verge of making the final plan, two things propped up. The first was that the weather gods were acting up strange and some upper hill roads got landslides near Munshiyari and with forecasts for some more rains kind of made me jittery and secondly, some friends also got involved in the plan. So instead of planning for Kumaon, my plan got altered and a new plan was made involving the Bundelkhand part of the princely state of Madhya Pradesh.

Now, Madhya Pradesh, for the better part is known for the major jungles like Bandhavgarh, Kanha and Pench as well as waterfalls like Dhuandhaar and the likes. It’s the Bundelkhand part that enticed me more, besides there will always be time for the next sojourn anyways. Accordingly, after few days of brainstorming and talk with the officials of MP Tourism here in Calcutta, the final plan looked somewhat like this-

Calcutta-Lucknow (1 night)
Lucknow-Gwalior (1 night)
Gwalior- Orchaa (2 nights)
Orchaa- Khajuraho (1 night)
Khajuraho- Panna (2 nights)
Panna- Varanasi (2 nights)
Varanasi- Calcutta.

This plan involved some tweaks and since it was going to be a convoy of cars, some route planning was needed since it was going to be a really long drive for two of my friends. Let me introducť the compatriots for this journey:

Car 1 (Hyundai Creta)- Mr and Mrs AG with their kid and Mr HS with his kid.

Car 2 (Ford Ecosport)- Mr and Mrs SS with their two kids.

Car 3 (Ford Ecosport)- Mr and Mrs ABHI_1512.

All the hotel bookings for the places in MP were done through the Calcutta office of MP Tourism. The officials were very professional and helped us through every little query of ours. We all were double vaccinated and took due precautions while travelling. Although, as can be seen from the pictures here after, not many people were wearing masks as we moved from one state to another. The hotel staff though all throughout were seen wearing masks and were seen disinfecting surface contaminants. Okay, let’s start with some pictures before the eventual start of the log.

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Old 25th October 2021, 17:41   #2
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So the D day came and it was a Friday, the 8th of October. Everyone was excited and were eagerly looking forward to the evening after the usual office hours. Finally, two of the cars started at around 8.30 in the evening from Calcutta. I was the last one to start at around 10 in the night from home. Two of the cars made good progress until they were sucked into a huge traffic jam near Dankuni. They finally reached Hindustan Dhaba and waited for us there.

Mrs AG had warned us beforehand about the jam but somehow I couldn’t avoid it. But it didn’t take that long and finally we also met with the rest of the convoy at Hindustan Dhaba. A quick dinner after, we all started with renewed vigour at midnight.

The road passing through Asansol was little bad at parts since it rained heavily in those parts few days back. Flooding at happened at NH 19 and we all could see the damages. Progress was little slow and we all picked up pace after crossing Dhanbad.

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Mr SS is the fastest amongst us and he made sure it remained that way when he just blasted past everyone else. He has this unique ability to leave all behind through sheer pace. It was around Sherghati that we encountered some dense fog and which resulted in some watchful driving and putting back Mr SS back into the fold. We halted for our breakfast at a familiar place near Aurangabad. This place has been my breakfast stop since long and provides good food and washroom facilities.

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This place serves delightful paranthas and that’s wholesome to the core. Recharging over the breakfast and little chit chats after, I was somehow worried about Dehri-on-Sone and the infamous traffic jams.

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In the meanwhile, BHPian Travelmania was also on the same route that night and as I enquired about his whereabouts, he gladly messaged me that he was about to reach Varanasi. Firstly thought he was joking, but soon after, as I was crossing the dreaded bridge near Dehri, I realised it was a complete breeze.

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This is how the bridge looked in the morning and it was completely devoid of any traffic. We all made some good progress, but with kids around, we always had to stop every now and then. It was around 1 in the afternoon that we finally stopped for lunch at the outskirts of Varanasi, right on the highway.

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Satkar Dhaba was good but the service was slow. It didn’t help that the kids were little bit more hungry. They were expecting some fancy Chinese dishes but finally had to be contend with the usual Nans and tarkas and some chicken. The adults were more inclined to reach Lucknow as soon as possible to gorge on some kababs and biryanis. Lunch over, we started for Lucknow with the hope to reach well before the dinner time.

Crossing the Handia toll and Allahabad bypass, we left NH2 and proceeded towards Rai Bareli. The road became two laned and the surface was not so good at places. In the meanwhile, stopped for some sunset shots at an obscure place on the highway.

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The sunset looked lovely and with the background that the place provided, everyone went click happy. Soon, there was a scenario of an almost perfect setting occurred and the result looked like the picture below.

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Some glorious pictures aside, the stop also was the final one before reaching Lucknow. There were some nasty potholes on the way and nearby Raibareli and those kind of, made the progress little slow. Nevertheless, after an eventful drive, it was Mr SS who entered Lucknow around 8 in the evening and rest of the cars entered around 8.30 or so.

Our booking was at Hotel Golden Tulip, Hussaingunj and even before the check in, we proceeded to the famous eatery Dastarkhwan. Now, there was a reason for the hurry, I was to leave Lucknow the next day for Gwalior and didn’t want to miss out gorging on some fabulous food that the place is known for. Reached Dastarkhwan and it was teeming with people. I went inside and there was a long waiting list. Just went to the manager and told him that we were driving all the way from Calcutta and that we need to attended first. The manager was considerate and asked us to wait for some time before he could get the tables ready. It was an agonising twenty minutes wait amidst the tandoor kababs and the heavenly air. Once inside, everyone went crazy, managed some pictures before they vanished. Must tell you all, the Shahi-Tukda was just insanely made and just the right dessert it was. Our entire fatigue went up with the Galaoutis and the Roganjoshes.

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Sumptuous dinner over and we checked in the hotel and went into a deep slumber. The actual holiday mood was just setting in and it was me, who was to move to Gwalior. I have been to Lucknow before but the rest of the members wanted to explore Lucknow since it was the first time for all of them.

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Old 25th October 2021, 20:47   #3
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Fresh morning at Lucknow and the mood was upbeat, at least it was for me. Woke up early and had a walk around the hotel area. Golden Tulip is located very nearby to the heart of the city, in fact it is located just adjacent to the Hussaingunj Metro Station. Clicked some pictures around the almost empty streets in the morning, looked surreal.

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A little walk around the area, it was time for the hearty breakfast. The rest of the cast took it little relaxed after the long drive and assembled slowly at the breakfast table. We were to move to Gwalior today while the rest of the members would join me at Gwalior the next day.

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The breakfast buffet spread at the hotel was very good with a variety of options. The quality of food was also very good along with the service. Having stayed at the Gomti Nagar part of the city earlier, I would happily stay at this property whenever I drop at Lucknow next. After the breakfast, it was time to say good byes to friends before meeting them again at Gwalior.

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After departing from the hotel, I was at another famous food stop at Lucknow, just in the hope of picking some Galoutis from Tunday Kababi. Accordingly, parked the car at the heart of Aminabad after talking to the policeman posted at the Police beat. But apparently, it was too early for the kababs and we had to abandon the plan to pick some.

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Now, Gwalior can be reached through two routes mainly from Lucknow. One route goes through Etawah and passes through Bhind before reaching Gwalior. Another one is through Agra and uses the magnificent Agra-Lucknow Expressway before passing through Morena and touching Gwalior. Both the routes had almost equivalent travel time and hence, my choice was clear


It had to be the Agra-Lucknow Expressway and that is what I took finally. Nothing new to write about the expressway except the fact that it does gets boring at some point of time driving in a straight line. After an uneventful drive through the expressway and some pictures taken en route, I finally reached Agra and had a little detour through interior villages before touching NH 44(Agra-Mumbai road) due to the ongoing work on the highway.

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After touching the NH 44, it became little cumbersome to drive. The road passes through busy little towns and also being the border between UP and Rajasthan, it presented problems of trucks being parked at random places as well. The situation improved once we crossed into MP but then, the dreaded cow menace started showing up.

The road passes through some interesting places. Prominent among them is the famous Chambal river and the stories of ravines come up to the mind. The road also passes through the famous SHERGARH FORT situated at Dholpur. The fort can be seen from the road itself. It was built by the great Shershah Suri and was used by him as well.

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The Chambal river is part of the folklore and there is nothing new to be said about it. Just that, I remember some famous lines from the movie Paan Singh Tomar-

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I was deeply moved by the movie and it was surreal to think that I was passing through the same Morena area from where the great man hailed from.

My initial plan was to visit the Chambal sanctuary en route but it was getting close to late evening and it was too late for the rendezvous. So, I decided to move into Gwalior and check in at the hotel directly. My place of stay at Gwalior was Tansen Residency run by MP tourism, it was located on the heart of the city with ample parking space.

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Reached the hotel by the evening and was soon back on the road in search of a good cafeteria. Our search ended at a nice and snappy place named BISTRO 57. The place had a snazzy vibe and food was good too, just that it was all vegetarian and we couldn’t stay there for long

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Spending some quality time there, we went searching for Gwalior Fort to see it under the lights. Asked around and with the help of GMaps, finally landed up on the Killa gate side. This is the back side of the Fort and the Archeological Museum is situated here. Some roaming around and clicks after, we were back at the hotel.

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Old 26th October 2021, 06:58   #4
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Gwalior is a city which is seeped in history. The whole city still reverberates with the Scindhia name. The Scindhias are omnipresent all over the city. We had the whole day to explore the city before the rest of the gang touched base and from then, we all had to move towards Orchaa.

Quick breakfast after, we decided to visit a place which is about an hourís drive from the city. Mitaoli, Padavali and the Bateshwar group of temples are the hidden gems around the city of Gwalior.

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Mitaoli or the Chausath Yogini Temple is a special place in the context of present day India. According to inscriptions, the temple was built by the Kachchhapaghata King Devapala. The temple is believed to be a venue for providing education in astrology and mathematics based on the transit of sun.
The temple is a declared national monument and assumes special significance since the present day Indian Parliament building is said to have been based on this temple.

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The temple is situated on a hillock and there are around 100-110 steps to climb up to the entrance. The temple is a glowing example of the architecture from previous years and is fabulous to just look at.

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There is a marked parking spot as well and the area is well kept by the ASI. No ticket is required to see the place and locals keep visiting to offer puja to the deity inside. All the chambers inside the temple complex now have ShivaLingas instead of the 64 Yogini images. Apparently, some kind of modifications happened which resulted in this replacement.

Mitaoli was a fabulous experience and next up was another wonder named the Bateshwar group of temples. According to Madhya Pradesh directorate of Archeology, this group of 200 temples were built during the reign of Gurjara-Pratihara dynasty. The temples as they now appear have been reconstructed in a project started by ASI in 2005. It was under the supervision of a certain Mr K K Muhammad, where almost 60 temples were reconstructed. The guys manning the place now are all praise for the man and credit him for the present day site. They also say that it is after his retirement that the place hasnít seen any new development.

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The sandstone temples are dedicated to Shiva, Vishnu and Shakti- the three major forces within Hinduism. Spread over almost 25 acres, the temples are surrounded by lush green forest. The National bird of India is found in abundance here and can be seen frolicking around. Famous dacoit Nirbhay Singh Gujjar and his gang helped the ASI in restoration of the temple complex.

Just a stoneís throw away from Bateshwar is another little gem- Padavali. The Padavali fortress was built in the 18th century by the Jat Ranas rulers of Dhaulpur. Most of the fortress is in ruins now but the main entrance has intricate details carved in stone. The ceiling and the pillars have hindu mythology written all over. Also, the Rasa and Kama postures found mainly in Khajuraho temples have been said to be taken inspiration from the artworks here. Guarded by a Lion and Lioness, there is temple inside the fort as well to worship lord Shiva.

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These three places are not much frequented by tourists and thatís a blessing in disguise. The places still retain their original charm. In fact, we two were the only ones present in each of the places. The absence of usual humdrum of people made for a eerie silence, we literally had to search for the gateman at Padavali to enter the complex. Here is the lioness of my life flanked by the stone structures of the fort

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Old 26th October 2021, 12:14   #5
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First half of the morning at Gwalior was spent gloriously well. One set of friendís were directly on their way to Gwalior from Lucknow and another set went to see the Taj Mahal at Agra and were supposed to meet us at Gwalior in the evening.

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Meanwhile we returned back to the hotel and had our lunch. Mr and Mrs AG were to meet us directly at Gwalior Fort and they were on the mark. Checked out of the hotel and went straight to the fort. Some places like Jai Vilas Mahal couldnít be explored since it was closed on Monday and hence, Gwalior will remain in the future list of travel again. Besides, the food stops are yet to be fully explored anyways.

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Met up with Mr and Mrs AG and without any delay, we all went on exploring the magnificent Gwalior Fort. They already had arranged for a guide and he was all ready to take us through the tour.

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The history of Gwalior Fort is immensely valuable in the Indian context and the number of rulers and the number of wars fought over it, is simply mind boggling. In fact, the number of executions inside the fort and the stories of Johar make the place historically very significant. The glorious past makes the present even more magnificent and the stories surrounding the fort. Just looking at the huge forts and structures makes us realise how glorious our history was.

One thing glaring is that the Gwalior Fort is under the ASI and is neatly maintained while the area behind the Gwalior Fort is maintained by the State Archeological society and is in dire need of maintenance. Of course, things like writing on the walls is a menace that needs to stopped as soon as possible. We, sadly, donít know how to preserve our heritage, certainly not yet !

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Places like the Karn Mahal, Vikram Mahal, Johar Kund are in dire need of maintenance and these heritage structures are needed to be preserved. The state government should place some more importance to these historical structures and monuments.

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On the way back from the fort, we saw the Sidhachal Jain rock cuts as well.

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A good three hours was spent in exploring the Gwalior Fort and the adjacent areas. We made our way down from the fort and stopped for some refreshing tea at the base.

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Started for Orchaa in the evening around 5 and reached by around 8.30 after a leisurely drive. The road surface was fantastic throughout with occasional potholes and diversions here and there due to construction of flyovers. All three cars reached Orchaa one after another and were parked for the night at MPT Betwa Retreat.

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Old 26th October 2021, 16:05   #6
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Orchaa is a hidden gem in Madhya Pradesh. Not many travel to this tiny little place but the historical significance of the place is immense. Orchaa was founded in the 16th Century AD by the Bundela Rajput chief Rudra Pratap Singh, who became the first king of Orchaa. The tiny little town is also famous for Ram Raja Temple- the only temple in the whole world where Lord Ram is both hailed as a god as well as a king.

Our stay at Orchaa, the MPT Betwa Retreat is a heritage property just beside the Betwa River. The famed cenotaphs of Orchaa are just two minutes of walk away from the property and the Orchaa Bird Sanctuary is just across the river. Some pictures:

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Woke up early and took a stroll nearby upto the ghats of Betwa river. The almost empty ghat was reverberating with religious songs being sung by a sadhu with handful of people listening to him. It was a surreal feeling, being able to blend in and listening to the hymnes. Walking around the cenotaphs and getting to know the history was itself a nice feeling. Total of fifteen cenotaphs line the Betwa river. Having worked up a good appetite, it was time for the breakfast and the subsequent exploration of the place beckoned.

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The various moods of the lone Sadhu singing Ramcharit manas:

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The cenotaphs were looking gorgeous under the morning sun and I took my sweet time clicking the pictures. Incidentally, all the monuments like Chaturbhuj temple, Raja Mahal, Jahangir Mahal, Laxmi Narayan Temple, the Cenotaphs can be visited through one single ticket. So, it should be taken care that one ticket is valid for all the monuments across Orchaa. The tickets can be bought from the Orchaa Fort complex.

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Every monument barring the Laxmi Narayan Temple is just within 100 metres from the town central. In the meanwhile, rest of the members of the trip made a quick dash to Jhansi to see the Jhansi Fort. We two decided to explore the Raja Mahal and Jahangir Mahal at Orchaa. Raja Mahal and the Jahangir Mahal together make the Orchaa Fort. The fort consists of many connected buildings which were built at different times.

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Jahangir Mahal- as the name suggests was built for Jahangir as a tribute to him and apparently it took 22 years to make. Jahangir Mahal is a specimen of Mughal Architecture but was built by Rajput kings of Orchaa since mother of Jahangir was a Rajput. According to local folklore, Jahangir only got to spend a night at this magnificent palace since he had to move back for some urgent work.

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Raja Mahal is another beautiful monument and dotted with beautiful artwork all over. The views from both the palaces are superlative and one can see the cenotaphs as well as Chaturbhuj Temple from both of them.

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It is here inside the Raja Mahal that I met fellow BHPian AJ-got-BHP from Calcutta. He was with his family and we had a little conversation going while getting soaked under the heat of the sun. We were so much under the sun that we forgot to take a picture. Nevertheless, I somehow made up for it by clicking his newly acquired Jeep Compass from the top of Jahangir Mahal while he was about to leave the compound.

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Rest of the gang soon joined us at the Jahangir Mahal and we had some pictures clicked as well.

Last edited by ABHI_1512 : 26th October 2021 at 17:49.
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Old 26th October 2021, 18:21   #7
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The exploration continued and after cooling off with some coolers and sandwiches at Sheesh Mahal restaurant which incidentally is run by MP tourism, we proceeded to the nearby Chaturbhuj Temple while the rest of the group started to go around the Raja Mahal. The Chaturbhuj temple is from the 9th century and is known for having one of the tallest vimanas amongst the Hindu temples.

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One thing that I must say here is that the amount of stairs one needs to take to reach the vantage points from all the monuments will make the knees call for some respite. Just an example and these are the simplest of stairs to the Chaturbhuj temple but the incline can be well gauged.

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Chaturbhuj temple is surely one of a kind and the story of its existence is even more fascinating. The queen of Orchaa Ganesh Kunwar built the Chaturbhuj temple and legend has it that she wanted to see the deity from the Raja Mahal itself and hence the heights of both the monuments are at the same level.

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The top view from the Chaturbhuj temple is simply brilliant. One can see the whole of Orchaa from atop. Even the Laxmi temple is clearly visible from the top. Here is a top view of the Ram Raja Temple which is just beside the Chaturbhuj temple. The square shaped temple looks majestic from the top.

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After some serious climbing through some really narrow passages and stairs, it was time for some frolic. The kids wanted a speed boat ride, even some adults were pretty excited. River rafting is also done on the Betwa river but due to less water, rafting was put on the back bencher. Instead, a speed boat ride was arranged and it was 10 minutes of to and fro across the banks. I decided to skip and enjoy the boat ride from the banks.

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Ram Lila was being held just on the banks of the river and beside the cenotaphs and it was truly a spectacle. I haven’t seen such elaborate arrangements involving a Ram Leela at such great lengths. Everything from the arrangement to the actors and the music was spot on. Some pictures:

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After spending some time at the Ram Leela, I quietly went to the Jahangir Mahal complex once again, just to soak in the lighted monument. Took Baahon along as well and had a little photo shoot going under the lights.

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We all came back to the resort after the full day excursion and were soon on the dinner table for some delectable food. Next day was the Mahastami as well as our check out from Orchaa. The ladies went all traditional and they went to offer Puja at the Durga Mandap just beside the Ram Raja temple.

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After the Puja offerings, it was time to check out of the resort and head towards Khajuraho- our next destination. But one more exquisite temple was left to be explored. We all headed out to see the Laxmi Narayan temple Orchaa.

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The Laxmi Narayan temple was built during the rule of Raja Bir Singh Deo and is dedicated to the goddess of wealth- Laxmi. The structure of the temple is an unique amalgamation of fort and temple architecture. Built with lime mortar and bricks, there were canon slots on the roof of the temple. The well preserved frescos portray an amalgamation of Mughal and Bundelkhandi art and the art carvings inside show the life of Lord Krishna. There is also a flagstone path to the Ram Raja temple from the Laxmi Narayan temple. The experience was fantastic and the beauty of the temple has to be seen to believe.

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Old 26th October 2021, 21:43   #8
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Orchaa was a wonderful experience which I have tried to put into words to my limited capabilities. Next up was another temple town and a World Heritage Site- Khajuraho. We left Orchaa around afternoon and quickly joined the highway.

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One tiny bit of information to share here is that the town of Orchaa doesn’t have any fuel bunk. It was quite strange since no where have I come across a town which doesn’t have a fuel bunk. Upon enquiring, the reason tumbled out. Orchaa is just around 15 kms from the nearest fuel bunk which is situated inside Uttar Pradesh. The cost of fuel is around ₹10 less than the prices of Madhya Pradesh and apparently this is the reason that no dealer wants to have a shop in Orchaa since no body will turn up to fill

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We reached Khajuraho just before the evening and straight away checked into MPT Payel Hotel situated very close to the Western Group of Temples. After having some snacks for the evening and some tea/coffee folks decided to go for the light and sound show at the Western group of Temples. To be frank, the light and sound show was a disappointment, with garish lights and mosquitos running wild, even the kids got bored. Only the booming baritone of Amitabh Bachchan was the saving grace, if I can say that !! We all went back to the hotel with the hope that the next morning would be much better.

The dinner was taken early and everyone enjoyed the dinner. Just a stroll around the property after, everyone went to sleep.

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The early wake up call at Khajuraho was for a reason. We all were geared up to visit Raneh falls- a 30 minutes drive from Khajuraho. Now, Raneh Falls is wonderful during the rains and the falls is part of the Panna Wildlife range.

We got a little surprise very early in the morning when we reached the ticket counter of the Raneh Falls. Upon arrival, the gentleman at the counter gave the good news that from that very day, the prices of ticket including the vehicle have been reduced by 50% across many gates and Raneh falls under such discount. We were all happy to hear such a good news first thing in the morning

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Raneh falls looks splendid during and just after the rains. Although we didnít get to see the falls in full force, the views more than compensated for it. Raneh falls is unique in the sense that many types of rock are found amongst the gorges formed. In fact, some kind of volcanic eruptions created the gorges around.

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Another high point was the drive through inside the forest areas with Baahon. Though not much wildlife was seen, we could still manage to see a striped Hyena and some Sambhars as well. Some well spent time in the morning amidst the greens with some wonderful tarmac was truly wonderful. The kids enjoyed seeing wildlife from close quarters for the first time and were genuinely happy.

We returned from Raneh Falls just at the fag end of the breakfast time and had a sumptuous buffet at our disposal. Everyone had their fill and quickly got ready for the main attraction around Khajuraho- specially the western group of temples.

Khajuraho including the Western group of temples are Unesco declared Heritage site and have been maintained immaculately by ASI. The Khajuraho temples were built during the rule of Chandela dynasty. Most temples were built during the reign of Hindu kings and bear their stamp. The temples are famous for their Nagara style of architecture. Some pictures:


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After completing the whole complex, everyone was famished to the core. We found a nice cafe located just across the main gate of the Western group of temples. Aptly named Raja Cafe, the place offers finger licking food. Highly recommended.

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Old 27th October 2021, 00:32   #10
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Khajuraho was an experience in itself but then our next destination promised more. From the plethora of temples and forts, we were finally moving towards wildlife experience of Panna National Park. Panna is primarily known for its wildlife but it has got two famous temples too.

We started for Panna after having seen through the Western group of temples and having a nice lunch at Raja Cafe. Our stay at Panna was MPT Jungle camp Madla, which is just outside the Madla Gate of Panna National Park. The property was just 40 mins drive from Khajuraho just after crossing the Ken river.

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We checked in the hotel and soon after, we were on the way to Panna to see the Baldevji temple. Now Baldevji temple is unique. Very unique since the temple is inspired by Roman architecture and has a gothic feel about it. The temple consists of a large hall called Maha Mandapa with massive pillars and built on a raised platform.

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Since it was Dashami, the town of Panna was unusually high on traffic and the whole town was teeming with people all around. After a quick round of the Baldevji temple, we beat a hasty retreat since it was already past 8 in the night and we were to pass the ghat section again through the forest areas of Panna National Park. Without much drama, we finally ended up at Madla Jungle camp.

The camp looked beautiful and the property was very good with all the modern amenities. We had a lovely dinner and Mr HS ended his vegetarian streak of Navratri by gorging on a plateful of mutton. It was a sight to behold

Everyone went to sleep early since the call time for the morning Safari was at 5 and we slept with an anticipation for sure.

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Old 27th October 2021, 02:07   #11
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It was a call from the hotel which woke me up. The call time was at 5 in the morning and we needed to be at the Madla gate by 5.45. Most of us were half ready and the Safari car arrived by 5.15. All of us hurriedly got into the Gypsies according to the chart and by 5.40, we all were rearing to go. Oh, by the way, we had taken two safaris, one in the morning and another in the afternoon.

It was going to be the first time Safari experience for many of us and we were naturally excited. Although I was more happy to sit on the Maruti Gypsy 4X4 since it was the car in which I learnt to drive, back during the early nineties. Each Gypsy seated five along with the driver and the Guide. The Safari drive started after necessary verification of papers amidst the first rays of sun.

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The start of the Safari meant only one thing and everyone was hoping to see the famous tiger T- 151 which was on the prowl yesterday and the guides were talking amongst themselves to get to the vantage point. Nevertheless, this being a first time Safari for most of us, not everyone was that hopeful.

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The search for the elusive tiger started with plethora of Gypsies making a beeline after talking amongst themselves. It was getting too close a call with the drivers and the guides competing amongst themselves to reach to the vantage point first. And then suddenly, the calls started to reach our ears.

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Meanwhile, I started to enjoy the beautiful topography of Panna. The topography is a splendid combination of plateaus, plunging gorges, vast expanses of teak forests and savannah grasslands. The plethora of gypsies were caught in this mad rush of who gets to see the tiger first. The sighting of T-151 the previous day had set the car among the pigeons. For the next 15 minutes or so, it was a cat and mouse game going on and we could literally see how a smart guide can navigate through the already laid out route and yet get the vantage points.

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The Panna Wildlife sanctuary is unique because of the Ken river passing through it. The overall bio diversity is rich and we could see why. The Gypsy rumbled on in pursuit of the elusive big cat. We spotted most of the more common species and had a tense moment waiting in a thick grove for the tiger to appear as alarm calls sounded all around us.

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The Painted Sandgrouse appeared out of no where and was quite a sight. The birds are masters of disguise and blended with the surroundings of the forests.

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And then, suddenly the within a span of a minute, our guide asked the driver of the Gypsy to turn and take the opposite end of the road. The tiger was on the prowl and we just had to be there to see it. As soon as we reached the supposed place where the tiger was slated to cross, we could already see some 10-15 gypsyís waiting. And so, after a tense 5-7 minutes wait, the Queen appeared and was going for the kill- unfortunately, it never posed for me !! Armed with a camera, I could only manage the stripes and not the smiles

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The sighting of T-151 and the subsequent sound of the kill that it made, was enough to make me come back for more. The majestic animal that it is, just vanishing into the thick grasslands in one swift motion was beautiful.

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Old 27th October 2021, 07:41   #12
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The morning and evening Safari was indeed a fabulous experience. The excitement of passing through a forest with certain eyes fixed on you is something one can only realise once you are inside the jungle. The palpable excitement is what makes the experience thrilling and exciting, both at the same time.

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There is a wonderful fall inside the jungle on the Hinauta plateau and is named Dundwa falls. We didnít find any water but the imagination of it was enough to see the beauty.

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Next day it was time for another destination- Varanasi. We all were quite overwhelmed by the experience of Panna and I, at least will come back for more. Before leaving Madla Jungle Camp, we had some pictures clicked of the respective vehicles.

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Next up was the mythical Pandav Falls which falls en route and is part of the Panna National Park. Here also, we had the benefit of reduced ticket prices. The Pandav falls is a perennial fall fed by a tributary of Ken river. The fall cascades down from a height of around 30 meters into a heart shaped pool. The area is surrounded by lush green forests and is spectacular to look at during the rainy season. There are caves overlooking the falls and the pool and it is said that Pandavas from the Mahabharata spent some time here during their exile.

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One can take the car inside the gates and upto the parking. From there, itís a walk of stairs to the base of the falls. The above picture is just inside the gates and I guess, came out well.

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Started around noon after visiting Pandav falls and the expected time of arrival at Varanasi was around 6.30 in the evening. The road was very good till Satna and some rough patches after, it was good till Rewa. The Rewa bypass work is undergoing and thatís why one still has to pass through Rewa town and little bad stretches here and there. Saw a beautiful fort en route near Satna.

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We are on our merry way when out of the blue moon, disaster struck. The Canyon Ridge Ecosport of Mr SS had his engine mount broken near a small place called Mangawan, some 200 kms from Varanasi. Have detailed the entire situation in another post here -

https://www.team-bhp.com/forum/india...ml#post5179232 (Ford India Exit - What should existing owners do? Worried about spare parts & support)


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Decided to send the kids and their motherís in the Creta driven by Mr AG to Varanasi. Meanwhile, me along with better half and Mr SS as well as Mr HS stayed put with the broke down car. It is after we got the towing van and alternate transport, that we all reached Varanasi in the dead of night. An eventful day coming to an end finally.

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Old 27th October 2021, 13:33   #13
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We checked in at Hotel Surya Kaiser Palace in the Cantonment area. Reaching Varanasi in the dead of night and we slept like a log since some of us were dog tired after yesterday’s episode. In the meanwhile, few amongst us along with the kids made a small trip to Sarnath through Uber but returned soon after not being able to take the Varanasi heat !!

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Oh, one more thing happened with the Creta. The car had one tyre developing a sidewall bulge and it was to be replaced under warranty. Mr AG and me went searching for a tyre shop which was recommended by the senior manager of the tyre brand. But the day being a Sunday, the shops around the town were closed. The manager then recommended us to go to Padao area which is just outside the Varanasi city and across the Ganges. It was a time consuming affair but ultimately was a sensible one since it didn’t make sense to travel 700 kms with a defective tyre and a smaller sized spare tyre !

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Meanwhile, some pictures of the Sarnath area. The Stupa is just grand ever since it was made. When I visited the place back in the days, I was taken aback by the amount of gold stuck to the walls of the stupa.

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The team came back from Sarnath and we also had the the tyre fixed for the Creta. It was already lunch time and we decided to have lunch at an obscure place just opposite to Taj Ganges. The place is nothing fancy but the food that it serves is fabulously delicious. They serve the authentic Champaran Aahuna Mutton which is basically mutton cooked with simplest of spices in clay pots in slow fire. We all enjoyed to the fullest and the mutton tasted yumm paired with oven fresh tandoori rotis.

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It was going to be the last day of our holidays before the check out next morning and the return to base. Also, since the Canyon Ridge Ecosport was in repair mode in Allahabad, the SS family had to quickly arrange for the train tickets to return to Calcutta. They finally did manage to get the tickets. We only had the evening to explore the ghats and off we went in two autos. Assi ghat has gone for a little transformation since the last time I visited and now attracts large crowds during the aarti which was not the case earlier. Some pictures from the ghats.

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The ghats along the river are in a renovation spree it seemed. The garish lighting on some of the beautiful ghat structures was looking awful, at least to my eyes. The simplicity of the ghats is gone for good, even the boat ride to Dashashamedh Ghat was nothing short of a joy ride. While returning some of us had the famous Pahalwan Lassi. Some more exploration through the ghats was in the wish list but due to paucity of time, left it for some other time.


Next day morning, it was time for our return to Calcutta. We had a hearty breakfast at the hotel. The hotel Surya Palace is a fantastic stay and has ample parking spaces which is the main priority for us people who travel with their cars. SS family went to railway station and we started along with Creta for Calcutta. But how can one leave Varanasi without taking home some sweets. We went to Kacheri chowk and bought some sweets from the famed Rajyashree Sweets. Some of the best mithai I have tasted is from this shop.

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By the time we were done with everything (including a mid drive Zoom call) and the purchasing of sweets, we got sucked into the manic crazy traffic of Varanasi. It took us almost three hours to just get to the highway after crossing Mughalsarai. By the time, we were on the highway, it was touching 2 in the afternoon. We got going and without stopping further, floored the accelerator to get some momentum going. Took our lunch at a A1 Reliance food plaza en route and finally entered the Khalsa Dhaba at the outskirts of Dhanbad around 10.30pm for some coffee. Another surprise of a massive jam at Dankuni after, we were back to our homes at the early hours of Tuesday, just a day before the Laxmi Puja. An eventful road trip coming to a well deserved end.

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Old 27th October 2021, 18:23   #14
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A last hurrah from the whole team:

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Some points about the whole trip in a nutshell:

1. MP Tourism properties across Gwalior, Orchaa, Khajuraho and Panna were fantastic. The staff were super efficient as well as friendly who always took care of the interests of the guests. Full marks to them for everything.

2. The food menu across the properties of MPT is same and the taste rarely varied. The chefs at each of the places were considerate enough to alter the taste to suitability of kids and adults alike.

3. The Gulabjamuns at all the MPT properties somehow had hypotonic powers. We couldnít resist eating them every single night we stayed.

4. Golden Tulip at Lucknow and Surya Kaiser Palace at Varanasi are highly recommended just for the service and locational advantages. The rooms are great and amenities provided are more than sufficient for a comfortable stay.

5. The roads- specially in the Bihar part of NH2 continue to be poor compared to rest of NH2 and the stretch from Allahabad bypass to Rai Bareli had potholes lining up at many number of places and due attention should be given while driving. One good thing- the jams around Dehri-on-Sone are a thing of the past and has been confirmed by many BHPians travelling through the stretch on different days at different points of time.

6. Lucknow and Benaras continue to be the places where one can only go to satisfy the pangs of the stomach. The delicacies which the places offer have the power to pull a man back from dead !!

7. Last and most importantly, Madhya Pradesh is love and not for nothing, it is called the heart of India. Will surely be back to explore another side of it. Just that the roads need to be little clear of cows and buffalos.

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I apologize for the long post beforehand, I really hope I have not made the readers doze off. Until next time, stay safe and stay well, thanks for reading it through

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Old 28th October 2021, 06:12   #15
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