It’s impossible to write about my visits to the cities of Jhansi and Gwalior without first explaining the historical reasons why I would be interested in them. The first part of what follows is therefore a brief-ish and opinionated summary of what Wikipedia, that bastion of neutrality, calls the “Indian Rebellion of 1857“, but is traditionally known in British historiography as the Indian Mutiny. Feel free to skip it if you just want to read about me wandering around some forts.
The autorickshaw driver who’d taken me around Aurangabad to see that city’s underwhelming monuments offered to take me on a day trip to see Daulatabad Fort and Khuldabad, as well as Ellora Caves. The price was reasonable, and he seemed a pleasant enough chap – chatty, but not too pushy – so I accepted. Besides, it was a lot easier than trying to catch buses between all of the places.
I met Sulim at 0830 outside Ashish’s apartment. He’d turned up in a different autorickshaw from the one he’d had the previous day, a pimped-up model with padded pleather upholstery, a black/blue/yellow/purple paint job, and two Jaguar and two Chevrolet emblems attached to various places. On the way out of the estate he asked me if I liked music. Thinking he might put some classic Indian pop or Bollywood music on, I said yes. A few seconds later and thumping, screeching techno was blasting out of the massive stereo system at full volume. It was quite unpleasant, with my head right next to the speakers, and I don’t suppose the residents of the quiet estate enjoyed it much either. I told him to turn it off.
It was always going to be a long day, catching the 0600 train there in order to have time to see it and return to Udaipur for my overnight bus to Bombay. I just hoped that I hadn’t finally reached Fort Saturation Point and it would be a disappointing waste of energy.
Again, there was no need to worry. Chittaurgarh is great. Just look at this awesome picture, taken from a vantage point I didn’t bother going to.
It took about two hours for Jabar, my chauffeur and guide for the day, to drive us out to Kumbhalgarh. On the way we passed through the Aravalli region, where the scenery reminded me of California: hills of red-brown rock and scree, scattered trees, green irrigated fields in the valley. We passed the Banas River, and stopped to see a cattle-powered water wheel in action.
This was all reasonably interesting, but only a teaser for the main show, Kumbhalgarh. I was worried that after covering most of Rajasthan, I might be all forted out and unable to appreciate it, but I needn’t have worried. Kumbhalgarh is absolutely stonking.
It wasn’t the most auspicious introduction to a new city: I arrived in Udaipur on an uncomfortable nightbus, on which I’d been kept awake most of the night by a full bladder. I hadn’t found a couchsurfing host, and the recommended hotel had messed me around and eventually told me they were full, so I’d had to book a more expensive one down the road. Arriving at 7am, I’d had to wake up the duty manager who was asleep on a mattress in the foyer.
For several days before I travelled there, everyone had been telling me how beautiful Udaipur was. I’d been sceptical – I’ve seen a lot of places in India which are sort of beautiful, but ruined by filth and human activity – but eventually my expectations couldn’t help but be influenced by the repeated message.
The exciting thing about couchsurfing is that you never know what kind of experience you’ll have. It could be relaxing on an organic farm, teaching an English class, or debating philosophy with university students.
In Bikaner, it’s sitting in an illegal gambling den while ten Indian men drink cheap whisky, smoke, play cards and shout incomprehensibly for several hours.
If you’re excited to read my opinions on the tombs of Jaipur, I’m afraid you’re out of luck. Jaipur’s not a very tomby place. It’s more of a palacy, forty place. So here’s a quick look at some of those.
This isn’t really a palace at all, but an old haveli (a mansion composed of courtyards) converted into a hotel. It’s where we stayed in Jaipur. It was lovely. The courtyards are decorated with fresco painting and have trees and fountains. While we were there, the hotel was hosting an International Sufi Festival, and had performances of sufi music and dancing every evening.