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Old 18th April 2024, 21:23   #1
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Exploring North Bundelkhand in a Scorpio

To our visible and invisible guardians...

The sun sets behind the royal Bundela chattris (taken from the east bank of Betwa)

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I will not write a descriptive travelogue because ABHI_1512, Travelmania & Rakutty have already done a wonderful job. Please do read their posts on Bundelkhand - it's very informative. What I will do instead is give a summary of the places and my point of view. I have stressed a bit more on Chanderi as I did not find much information about Chanderi on team-bhp.

Places where we stayed
  • Nagpur: Le Meridien next to NH44, very convenient if one is traveling along NH44, no need to enter the city just continue from there the next morning.
  • Orchha: MPT Betwa Retreat (just like MPT Narmada Resort, Maheshwar or MPT Gateway Retreat, Sanchi). Highly recommended.
  • Gwalior: MPT Tansen Residency (like MPT Kshipra Residency, Ujjain). Recommeded.
  • Agra: Taj Hotel (near Taj Mahal east gate). Highly recommended.
  • Chanderi: MPT Kila Kothi which is atop a hill next to the Kirti Durg. Highly recommended.
Places where we ate
  • Orchha: Kachori and Jalebi around Raja Ram Mandir
  • Jhansi: Narayan Chaat Bhandar, Sharma Sweets (all in the cantonment area)
  • Gwalior: JMB Sweets, Bahadura Sweets, Kwality Restaurant (try their chicken bharta, the manager told me that every weekend they supply over 250 chicken bharta plates to the Scindia School hostel parties in the Gwalior fort area, Scindia School is like Doon School - just for the elites), SS Kachoriwala. Do visit the Lashkar area (old Gwalior) for lip smacking bedhai kachoris (made only in the mornings) and sweets. Dont miss Bahadura Sweets (and they still do business in cash only).
  • Agra: Chaat street in Sadar Bazaar for chaats and kulfis, Deviram (the old Rakabganj shop)
Rivers crossed (from south to north)
Krishna, Godavari, Wainganga, Kanhan, Narmada, Betwa, Yamuna

Plateaus touched
Malwa & Bundelkhand

Vehicle: Mahindra Scorpio (2019 model)
Kms travelled: ~4500 kms

Trip plan

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Summary
At times I wonder if north Bundelkhand soil has received more rainfall or human blood. Kirti Durg in Chanderi and the Gwalior Fort in Gwalior saw a massive massacres and a mass johar like Chittor. I wonder how can the monument of love be commissioned at the time when the world witnessed the worst famine in human history, nearly double the number of Bengal famine died of starvation in Central India, that too five hundred years back. This region was also the hot seat in 1857 and the jury's out on whether it was just an unified uprising, kingdoms protecting their interests or truly the first war of independence. Finally how adeptly the horrors of patricide, fatricide and genocide were hidden behind the exquisite pachamkari and grandeur sandstone and marble monuments.

Most of the major rivers we crossed were barren, with bed rock visible, probably water is being saved in the reservoirs for the coming summer. Late spring and early summer ensured blue skies, cool breeze in the shades and less fellow travelers. In most of the places we visited, baring Agra, we were the only ones. The highways were empty, so were the hotels were we stayed and the toll booths had no queues. There was palash and simul flowers all over the route as well as in the places we visited.

The places that we visited was Orchha, Jhansi, Gwalior, Mitaoli & Padavli in Morena, Agra & Fatehpur Sikri and Chanderi. I dont think we spared any monument, palace or fort on the way. We had to skip the Chambal sanctuary and river safari in Morena (managed by MP Forest Department) because the river had dried up in some places and the boats could not take us deep into the ravines (which they call Beehad or Vir Bhoomi - the land of the rebels). Further, the chances of seeing water skimmers (which they call pacheera locally) was less. There's a fantastic account of Chambal in Bangla called "Abhishapta Chambal" by Tarun Bhaduri (Jaya Bachchan's father), he met the rebels to write this book and this was the time when Chambal was in the news for the wrong reasons.

While crossing the Chambal river bridge (on NH44) we noticed several shops selling white kalakand at Rs.200/kg; cheap and very tasty. Do try it.
Around 20 kms ahead is Dholpur in RJ which is famous for its red sandstone. The red sandstone of Red Fort, Agra Fort and even Kashi Vishwanath corridor came from Dholpur. .

Below: The iconic Shergarh fort from NH44 with the ravines embracing it. The fort is in a very bad shape, slowly time will eat it away as many parts of the fort is collapsing but one gets a very good view of the ravines from the top. The Chambal ravines are literally eating up the land, many villages have been abandoned and farming is non-existent. At present the government is trying to build dams on the land to stop the soil erosion by rain and the controversial Betwa-Ken linking project is in the offing. The ravine soil feels like the moon land soil of Lamayuru, it's just that Lamyuru does not get any rain and not many stay there.

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Throughout the trip I drove very carefully and drove fast only if the road conditions were good. On a sad note, while crossing Kurnool we saw a dead man lying on the road with his face covered with a jute bag and his bike lying next to him. And road kills too - langurs, monkeys and a buffalo. Whenever I saw animals on the road I slowed down, even if they were standing in one place. It's not only MP, cattle were there in MH and UP too.

While coming back to Bangalore we bought some fresh fruits from the farmers of Anantpur district, they are local farm produce. And what makes these people extraordinary is that they were selling it standing in the sun without any umbrella. The temperature that time was anywhere between 40-41 degree centigrade.

BLR-NAG-BLR route: Refer to my post in the Bangalore Nagpur route queries page. This leg was slow dancing in a burning room.

Orchha
I liked Orchha very much. We took an MPT registered guide for the whole day and keep in mind that the ASI ticket that one buys at Orchha fort is valid for all the monuments in Orchha. Bundelkhand is incomplete without Orchha.
  • Dont miss the special kalakand of Orchha (Rs.300/kg) which is also offered to Raja Ramji.
  • Dont miss the evening aarti at Raja Ramji Temple, he gets a gun salute from the MP police every day.
  • Dont miss the exotic frescos in the Orchha fort and the Laxmi Temple, I have not seen such detailed frescos anywhere in India. They have contemporary themes like the Brits attacking the local kings, 1857 revolt scenes, royal loyalists hobnobbing and drinking wine with the East India Company sahibs and religious scenes from puranas and Ramayana. Orchha school of murals is a must see.
I wont repeat the pictures which have been published in the other Bundelkhand blogs; and one good news is that the Rai Praveen Mahal (a poetess and love interest of many) is undergoing restoration now.

Below: Ceiling and wall frescos in Orchha fort and Laxmi Temple.

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Below: This one is iconic, showing an elephant made of 12 women symbolizing woman-power.

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Below: This style is called Sgrafitto technique and Orchha is the only place in India where's it's found. One will find this style in cutlery and building design in Italy, Spain and Portugal.

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Below: Scenes from 1857 (the fort shown here is the Jhansi fort)

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Below: The loyal royals of the East India Company (right side), I am not going to mention who they are...

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Below: Scenes from mythology...

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Below: Chaturbhuj Temple and the royal chattris are lit up after dark everyday.

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Below: My friend from Mandu who traveled all the way from the Kalahari via Khorasan to Mandu. Locals believe it is the kalpataaru which came out from the samudra manthaan. I tried telling a priest sitting there it's origin and how it came to India, he was disgusted with my version of distorting the kalpataaru into a baobab tree.

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Below: The iconic kalakand of Orchha...

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The Jhansi fort wore a haunted and desolate look, that day we were the only visible souls in the fort other than a few locals.

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Gwalior
Dont miss Mitaoli & Padavli in Morena, it's a beautiful place, and the roads from Gwalior are very good. We hired an MPT registered guide to 2 days - one day for Gwalior city tour, and the next day for Mitaoli & Padavli.

Some of the world's best chandeliers produced in Murano can be found in the palaces of India (especially in the palaces of the 21 gun salute club of the Brits).
If you ever visit Venice, take a water bus to the Murano island to see how these best glassworks are made. The glass factories in Murano allows visitors for 4 Euros per person. In Jai Vilas palace you will find some massive chandeliers of Murano. I think Jai Vilas is the most opulent palace of India.

The turks and the mughals desperately wanted the Gwalior fort as a military outpost. None of the Turki sultans or mughal badshaahs ever stayed here, it was only the Tomar kings who lived here before the turks and mughals invaded.

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Overall MP Tourism guide quality is good. They know what they are saying and are well trained by the Tourism Department of India and MP.

Agra & Fatehpur Sikri
Mind the traffic, traffic signals are rarely followed across all sections of the society - so even it's green signal be careful! Explore Sadar Bazaar eateries - it offers some excellent choices at reasonable rates. Agra circuit attracts a lot of phirangis, so negotiate hard on everything.
This circuit is always busy so I bought the monuments' tickets online from ASI Agra Circle website. Agra is much better now compared to what it was 6 years back, women are much safe (especially solo travelers) and the city has got a facelift (in terms cleanliness and security). Let's not talk about Yamuna's pollution.

I read that the Taj Mahal's chief architect Ahmed Lahori had studied Akbar's fort in Sikandra for the minarets, Humayun's Tomb in Delhi for the dome design and Itmad-ud-Daulah's pachamkari for the stone inlay work. Influences from all these three can be found in the Taj Mahal design. In one of the evenings we

Below: Akbar's Tomb in Sikandra right on NH19

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Below: Itmad-ud-Daulah's Tomb on the west bank of Yamuna

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Below: The final product from Ustad Ahmed Lahori

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Below: In Fatehpur Sikri where Tansen sang in the dias in the middle of the pond.

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Overall the quality of guides in UP did not meet my expectation.
In Jhansi, our guide was a security guard moonlighting as a tourist guide, even bizzare, we hired him knowing he will speak rubbish.

Chanderi
This place reminded me of Mandu. Chanderi is in the intersection of Malwa and Bundelkhand plateau and one can see the Malwa plateau distinctly. It's a small sleepy town famous for its sarees. Most of the saree shops are wholesalers and suppliers, we met the supplier of Chanderi sarees to Priya Gopal Bishoi (Gariahat) too! If you are visiting north Bundelkhand do spend a couple of nights here, it's a birders' paradise too.

Kirti Durg has the samadhi of Baiju Bawra (Baijnath Mishra) and we were fortunate to see the tombs of India's two greatest vocalists - Baiju Bawra at Chanderi and Tansen at Gwalior. It's unfortunate to see how the elites have hijacked classical music (both Hindustani & Western) today whether they understand it or not. Some 40 years back I got some of the finest insights on Chopin and Amjad Ali Khan from a second hand book seller in College Street, Kolkata, I doubt whether that man would ever be able to afford the concerts in the consulates of Kolkata.

Like Gwalior fort, Chanderi was viewed by the turks and mughals as a military outpost watching over Malwa and Bunderlkhand, both for trade and military campaigns. None of the monarchs stayed there. Before the invaders the Hindu kings stayed here and they were mainly vassals of the Rajput kings of Mewar. Do visit Chanderi if you are visiting Bundelkhand, like Orchha this is a must and we feel happy to have added this to our route.

Most of the monuments in Chanderi are in very bad shape, I have a feeling that some of them will collapse within the next decade unless ASI or the MP government restores it. I don't think they will last for the next 20 years.

Below: The Malwa plateau visible in the horizon from the Kirti Durg hill


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Below: Inside Koshak Mahal

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From one of the windows in the 3rd floor of Koshak Mahal. One can see the MP state highway 10 which goes to Ashoknagar to the west and joins Lalitpur to the east, this is the route we took to join the NH44 from Lalitpur.

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Below: The Chanderi fort, also known as Kirti Durg

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Below: The main palace complex inside the fort.

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The main entrance to the fort known as Khuni Darwaza (below) is now the back entrance of the fort leading to the town.

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Below: A view from the Kati Ghati, it's a pathway that was cut through a hill to welcome the Sultan of Malwa. This place offers magnificent rustic view.

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Below: Inside Shehzadi ki Rauza, it's a tomb of a princess who committed suicide. The open dome, like Pantheon in Rome, with the arches makes it one of the most beautiful places in Chanderi. This place is next to the farm fields, and one has to walk next to an open drain to reach it.

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The iconic Bada Mahal, which once served as a gate to the Chanderi fort. This is the emblem of MP State Handloom (called Mriganayanee). Mriganayanee, the person, was the wife of Raja Man Singh Tomar of Gwalior. As she was a Gujjar, and the raja made a separate mahal for her, that's why it's called Gujjari Mahal (which is now a museum in the Gwalior fort complex).

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Finally, there's nothing like home and the best way to realise it is to stay away from it for a while. It was time to return home with our friend...

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Last edited by scorched_earth : 19th April 2024 at 18:11.
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Old 20th April 2024, 08:09   #2
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re: Exploring North Bundelkhand in a Scorpio

Thread moved out from the Assembly Line. Thanks for sharing!
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Old 20th April 2024, 11:16   #3
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Re: Exploring North Bundelkhand in a Scorpio

Excellent writing and I enjoyed reading through the travelogue along with the pictures. This area is high on my list of places to visit.

Quote:
Originally Posted by scorched_earth View Post
.... Overall MP Tourism guide quality is good. They know what they are saying and are well trained by the Tourism Department of India and MP.
I had visited Mandu and Sanchi with family in 2019 and found the guides at both these locations very knowledgeable. Both the guides were graduates from the Devi Ahilya college in Indore!

Quote:
Originally Posted by scorched_earth View Post
....
Agra & Fatehpur Sikri
Mind the traffic, traffic signals are rarely followed across all sections of the society - so even it's green signal be careful!
Last month, I ended up in the by lanes of Agra thanks to gmap. The sheer random movement of people, animals and 2-wheelers was scary. Lost an hour before finally making it to the inner ring rd/yamuna exp way.

Quote:
Originally Posted by scorched_earth View Post
....
I read that the Taj Mahal's chief architect Ahmed Lahori had studied Akbar's fort in Sikandra for the minarets, Humayun's Tomb in Delhi for the dome design and Itmad-ud-Daulah's pachamkari for the stone inlay work.
Interestingly, the guides at Mandu claim (also mentioned on the MPT website) that one Ustaad Hamid from the board of architects (led by Ahmed Lahori) for Taj Mahal visited the Hoshang Shah's tomb in Mandu. It is claimed to be one the earliest all-marble tomb in India.
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Old 20th April 2024, 14:00   #4
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Re: Exploring North Bundelkhand in a Scorpio

Quote:
Originally Posted by subuiyer View Post
Excellent writing and I enjoyed reading through the travelogue along with the pictures. This area is high on my list of places to visit.



I had visited Mandu and Sanchi with family in 2019 and found the guides at both these locations very knowledgeable. Both the guides were graduates from the Devi Ahilya college in Indore!



Last month, I ended up in the by lanes of Agra thanks to gmap. The sheer random movement of people, animals and 2-wheelers was scary. Lost an hour before finally making it to the inner ring rd/yamuna exp way.



Interestingly, the guides at Mandu claim (also mentioned on the MPT website) that one Ustaad Hamid from the board of architects (led by Ahmed Lahori) for Taj Mahal visited the Hoshang Shah's tomb in Mandu. It is claimed to be one the earliest all-marble tomb in India.
Thank you for your appreciation and encouragement.

I strongly recommend do you this trip within the next decade because some of the beauty of the places are disappearing be it lack of maintenance or urbanisation.

You are right Ustaad Hamed had visited Hoshang Shah’s tomb to study the structure. It was the first marble tomb in India, for the Mughals the first marble tomb was Itmad-ul-Daulah commissioned by his daughter Noorjahan.
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Old 20th April 2024, 17:08   #5
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Re: Exploring North Bundelkhand in a Scorpio

Thanks for sharing the wonderful 'picturelogue' with us. It is indeed a sight to behold when you visit these magnificent monuments. A testament to our great history and culture.

I often say that the central India has so much history that you could spend a lifetime in awe listening to those valiant stories and visiting those places. That statement of yours "the land has apparently seen more blood than rain" is so apt.

The Orchha temple complex is a beautiful place and the sunsets around the Betwa river with those big boulders have always made for a great picture in the memory.

Thanks for listing some nice local eateries at each of these places, always great to taste the local specialities.

Thanks for sharing and wish you many more miles on the black beast - the Scorpio

Deb.
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Old 21st April 2024, 08:56   #6
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Re: Exploring North Bundelkhand in a Scorpio

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Originally Posted by justwheels View Post
Thanks for listing some nice local eateries at each of these places, always great to taste the local specialities.

Thanks for sharing and wish you many more miles on the black beast - the Scorpio

Deb.
Dear Deb, Many thanks for your appreciation and encouragement. Glad you liked my post.

I always prefer local eateries as that's the best way to discover the place through food.
East Bundelkhand (from Etawah till Kharuraho in the east) is also interesting, most of it comes under UP but the monuments are in very bad shape but the landscape is mind blowing.

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Old 21st April 2024, 09:10   #7
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Re: Exploring North Bundelkhand in a Scorpio

First and foremost, congratulations on a trip well done. Your travelogue has just the right anecdotes which make the whole log, an interesting piece of trivia. I have to travel to Gwalior again perhaps, just to eat at the places mentioned by you. Sampling the local flavours is one of the perks of a road trip and you have captured the essence perfectly.

Chanderi needs to be visited too, thanks for letting us readers know about the many unknown facets from the bygone era. And yes, guides here in India usually talk gibberish mix of history juxtaposed with their own fairytales. Pictures are amazing and I would have ideally liked to see some more pictures. But putting that aside, thanks for jotting down your experiences. Please keep travelling, the less explored places await their turn.

Regards,
Abhi.
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Old 21st April 2024, 09:13   #8
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Re: Exploring North Bundelkhand in a Scorpio

There are two interesting photos I forgot to upload.

Below: A female Ganesh, I have never seen this anywhere in India. This one is in the Padavli temple, there also a copy of this in the Sahashrabaahu temple in the Gwalior fort.

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Below: A scene from Rameshwaram showing the Rameshwaram Shivalingam.

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I was too tempted to write about the following thing,
- How the common man saw 1857 uprising and what did they go through?
- The changes done to the monuments/forts by the Brits after quelling the rebellion
- How Camus' The Rebel can be interpreted and applied to the rebels or dacoits of Chambal, or is the text even applicable?
- The source of the wealth of the royals and their smooth transition in democracy

I refrained myself and stuck to the Bhraman Sangi (travel companion) format,
- How to reach?
- Where to stay?
- What to eat?
- What to see and anything special about that place
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Old 21st April 2024, 09:25   #9
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Quote:
Originally Posted by ABHI_1512 View Post
First and foremost, congratulations on a trip well done. Your travelogue has just the right anecdotes which make the whole log, an interesting piece of trivia. I have to travel to Gwalior again perhaps, just to eat at the places mentioned by you. Sampling the local flavours is one of the perks of a road trip and you have captured the essence perfectly.

Chanderi needs to be visited too, thanks for letting us readers know about the many unknown facets from the bygone era. And yes, guides here in India usually talk gibberish mix of history juxtaposed with their own fairytales. Pictures are amazing and I would have ideally liked to see some more pictures. But putting that aside, thanks for jotting down your experiences. Please keep travelling, the less explored places await their turn.

Regards,
Abhi.
Dear Abhi,
Many thanks for your encouragement and your blog which inspired me to make this road trip.True, I should have uploaded some more pictures.

By the way, till you visit Gwalior again, if you want to get a taste of bhedai in Kolkata, try the Kalidogam Sweets (their old shop is in Central Avenue near Burrabazaar but they have opened a new outlet in Lake Market near Charuchandra College). Try the club kachori, it's small in size and tastes like the bhedai and rates are reasonable. They give aloo subzi and green chilly pickle with that too. I found that taste very similar to the bhadai's taste.
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Old 22nd April 2024, 21:07   #10
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Re: Exploring North Bundelkhand in a Scorpio

Very nice travelogue sir, Bundelkhand is a place I have crossed several times on my way up north but have not had the time to explore much. We did do a brief tour of the Jhansi fort which my daughter Joyee has written about in her Uttarakhand log, had thought of stopping by Orchha on our way back but didn't have the time.

Where did you stay at Fatehpur Sikri if I may ask, apologies if I have missed that. We had stayed at the UPTDC property right next door to the Sikri and it was a nice experience, away from the din.
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Old 22nd April 2024, 21:35   #11
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Very nice travelogue sir, Bundelkhand is a place I have crossed several times on my way up north but have not had the time to explore much. We did do a brief tour of the Jhansi fort which my daughter Joyee has written about in her Uttarakhand log, had thought of stopping by Orchha on our way back but didn't have the time.

Where did you stay at Fatehpur Sikri if I may ask, apologies if I have missed that. We had stayed at the UPTDC property right next door to the Sikri and it was a nice experience, away from the din.
Dear friend, many thanks for your appreciation and support. I do follow yours and Joyee's blogs, Joyee is a talented child, god bless her!

We didn't stay at Fatehpur Sikri, made a day trip from Agra as it's just an hours drive from Agra and on the way back saw Akbar's tomb in Sikandra on NH19. You should plan a tour to the north of Bundelkhand preferably in spring or early summer just for the palash and simul flowers.
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Old 22nd April 2024, 21:39   #12
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Exploring North Bundelkhand in a Scorpio-img_1532.jpeg

The female Ganesha figure in the Sahashrabaahu temple in the Gwalior fort...
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