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.
Rani Lakshmibai of Jhansi, one of the leaders of the 1857 Indian Mutiny
I’d never heard of Orchha before I arrived in India, but people kept raving about it, and it was described as a “must see”. Since it fitted nicely into the route from Khajuraho to Jhansi and Gwalior, I decided to stop off and see what all the fuss was about.
Selfie from Jahangir Mahal, showing Raj Mahal in the background and Chaturbhuj Temple in the far distance, Orchha
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.
Cattle with painted horns turn the lever which brings up water from the well behind
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.
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.