Travel to Gwalior, Jhansi and Orchha

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Travel to Gwalior, Jhansi and Orchha

By Sanjeev Nayyar & Aparna Sharma December 2008

The trip was a dream come true. Our travel schedule was –


  1. Day 1 Gwalior.

  2. Day 2 Jhansi & Orchha.

  3. Day 3 Orchha.

  4. Day 4 Khajuraho.

  5. Day 5 travel to Chitrakoot and stay.

  6. Day 6 Chitrakoot and travel to Prayag.

  7. Day 7 Prayag +Vindhya Vasini temple + travel to Kashi, Sarnath.

  8. Day 8 Varanasi, left for Delhi by 7pm Shiv Ganga express.

This piece was written in 2008 and edited in 2017.


1. GWALIOR

We took the Shatabdhi Express that left Delhi at 6.25am. It goes via Agra, Gwalior, and Jhansi to Bhopal. It took about 2 hours to reach Agra and one hour thereafter to Gwalior. Till Agra it goes at 150kmper hour and thereafter at 125kmp.


Travelling by this train was a pleasure. It has these huge windows through which we got an excellent view of the countryside. The A/C Chair Car was very comfortable with ample space to stretch our legs. The waiters were smartly dressed in a Sherwani with red safas (Rajasthani style pagdis). We were served breakfast on the train. You could choose between omlet sandwich, cutlets or parathas. Our compartment was full of foreigners most of whom got off at Agra. We met a group of American doctors from Rock Island. They were here to attend medical camps in Delhi and Hyderabad. They were taking a morning evening trip to Agra.

We reached Gwalior by about 9.45 am and went to the M.P. Tourism guest house Tansen. It is a five minute drive from the station, fare is Rs 20/. Sensing that we were tourist the auto driver Shri Tomer offered to show us around the city for Rs 250/. In hindsight a bit steep but he seemed to be a reasonable person.

We left Tansen at about 10.30 am. Our first stop was the Viraswan Mandir or Surya Temple. It was built by G D Birla and Mahadevi Birla. The foundation stone was laid by the Maharaja of Gwalior and Congress leader Madhavrao Scindia on 16/1/1984 (completed in 1988). The temple is made in red sandstone and has a garden all around it. It is inspired by the Sun Temple Konarak Puri Orissa. It has beautifully carved horses and a wheel on either side of the temple as you can see in the pictures. We found the environs very peaceful. Met a number of school children who had come to offer their prayers.
Our next stop was Tansens Tomb. This is situated in the main market. This place has two main monuments. One is the tomb is Mohammad Ghaus who was Akbar’s Guru. Tansen was born by his blessings. The local Maulvi told us that Tansen was born of Hindu Brahmin parents Laxmi Bai and Makhand Pandey in Bahat village. When he was about 16 the Shiv Temple jhukh gaya by his singing.
Tansens tomb was built in the 16th century a.d. He was one of the nine gems of the Mughal Emperor Akbar. There is a tamarind (imli) tree near the tomb (see picture), the leaves of which were chewed continuously by the singer to have a sweet voice. The tomb is built on a rectangular platform with a pillared gallery in the center of which lies the tomb (see picture). There is a huge garden around the monument.

From here we went to the Chatri of Maharani Laxmi Bai of Jhansi. This monument marks the site of the cremation of the illustrious and heroic Rani of Jhansi who fell in the battle of Esepoy of 1857-58. Born is Varanasi on 15/11/1835 she died at Gwalior on 18/6/1858. There is a Jyot (oil lamp) that is lit through out the day. In the middle of a small pond stands an icon of the Rani of Jhansi on a horse with a child tied behind her back. My wife studied at the Maharani of Jhansi College in Bhopal. So visiting the monument was special for her.

Our next stop was the Jai Vilas Palace. It was built by Maharaja Jiwaji Rao in 1874 at a cost of Rs 99 lakhs. The architect was an Italian Michael Filose. Parts of the palace were converted into a Museum in 1964.
The entry fee is nominal. On the payment of Rs 30/ we got a guide to show us around, a sensible decision indeed. Prior to entering the main palace is a smaller palace where the current Maharaja resides. You enter a huge courtyard and are greeted by a canon as you will see in the picture. The Museum showcases arms used by the Marathas, their palanquins, their homes and furniture, swimming pool and so on. The original 15kgs Dhal or shield used by the Rani of Jhansi is kept there (see picture).
A must see are the palace’s Chandeliers in the Durbar Hall. On the ground floor there is a huge dining hall with the world famous silver train with cut glass wagons which served guests as it tugged around on miniature rails on the tables (see picture). In the centre is a huge red chandelier 1000 kgs 100 bulbs (see picture). As you come to the Durbar Hall on the first floor you see two huge Belgian chandeliers each of which is 3500 kgs 250 bulbs. These were purchased in Paris and assembled here. It is said that ten elephants stood on the roof of the Durbar Hall to check if the ceiling could take the load. 560kgs of gold were melted and used in the Durbar Hall (Diwan-e-Khas). The ceiling and walls are very well designed with some intricate work.
Do see the Palace. Keep 2-3 hours for this.

After lunch we proceeded towards the Gwalior Fort. Please note that there are two ways of reaching the fort. One is through the Gwalior Gate on the east (auto takes you there and you walk to the fort say a km climb i.e. the route we took) or you take an auto to the base point from where you can hire a Taxi (app Rs 250/) that takes you to the fort. It is quite a steep road that is flanked by statues of Jain tirthankaras carved into the rock face.

We reached the Fort around 3ish. By the time we walked up, found a guide it got 4ish by which time it started getting a bit dark (went early November) so did not get very good pictures. We saw the fort, temples and visited Gurudwara. After that we sat in the open air theatre waiting for the Light and Sound show to start. Gwalior by night looked very nice from fort top. The L&S show gets over by about 8.30 pm so be sure you have a vehicle to take you to the city or hitch a ride as we did. For a good guide call Jagdish 9926229607. The fort is very clean and well maintained.
Since I wanted to click pictures reached the fort at 7am the next morning. I was happy to see a number of locals who had come for morning walk. Clicked pictures and reached hotel Tansen by 9am.
Gwalior needs a day and half to see well, a day could be a bit rushed.
Things to see in the fort are Man Singh Palace, museum next to it, Gurjari Mahal, Sas Bahu ka Mandir, Teli ka Mandir and attend Light and Sound Show. There is Jahangir/Shahjahan Mahal etc but they are in ruins.

Though major portions of the Fort were built in the 15th century, references to this gigantic complex can be traced to 425 a.d. Older than the city is the Suraj Kund within the fort walls, the original pond where Suraj Pal was cured by the Maharishi Gwalpa. According to tradition Suraj Sen or Surajpal a Rajput chieftain who suffered from leprosy was out hunting and became separated from his followers. Climbing to the summit of the cliff he met an ascetic Maharishi Gwalpa who gave the thirsty chief water from the tank near his hut. To his surprise Surajpal was cured of his disease and in return asked the Rishi for a boon. He was told to enlarge and beautify the tank and build a fortress on the hill which is why it is called Gopachal. On the western side of the Suraj Kund stand two modern shrines one sacred to Shiva and another to Surya.

The earliest historical mention of the fort is found in an inscription on a sun temple i.e. 525 a.d. A total of 110 kings ruled over it spread over five dynasties i.e. Kachhawaha Rajputa, Tomar, Lodhi, Mughal and Scindia (association started in 1777). It is situated on the Gopachal mountain. The outer wall of the fort stands two miles in length, 35 feet high. The fort wall has a 10 km radius. It has eight tanks, six palaces and six temples. This imposing structure inspired Mughal King Babur to describe it ‘the pearl amongst the fortresses of Hind’. The Scindia School is inside the fort.
Caption 1 Gwalior Fort
The Man Singh Palace is one of the finest examples of Hindu architecture. It was built by Tomar king Man Singh Tomar in 1508. It is approached by a steep ramp and has six fortified gateways (i.e. the way we walked up). There a total of 4 storeys on the palace of which 2 storeys are underground. The plan on the third storey consists of two courtyards and various rooms supported by different decorated pillars and brackets. There are Jhulaghar, Kesar Kunda and Phansighar below this storey. The palace is decorated with beautiful paintings, glazed tiles of various colors, different figures like human beings, ducks, elephants, peacocks, lions, plantain trees and attractive pillared domes. The palace is built on the outer wall of the fort raised over the cliff at about 300 feet from the ground level. Vast chambers with fine stone greens were once the music halls and behind these screens ladies would learn music.

In the 16th century when the fort was captured by the Mughals it was used as a state prison. One of the Shiv temples i.e. full of pillars was converted into a prison. Underground is the Jauhar Pond where per Rajput tradition the ranis committed mass sati after their consorts were defeated in battle.

The most famous king Raja Mansingh Tomar had eight Rajput wives. He married Mrignayani, a Gurjar lady. After he wooed and won her she demanded that he build for her a separate palace with a constant water supply from the River Rai (her village). So Man Singh made the 15th century Gurjari Mahal (at the foothill of the fort) for her. The outer structure of the Mahal has survived while the interior is converted into an Archaeological Museum (houses rare (antiquities). It is open from 10 am to 5pm.
Also visit the Sas Bahu ka temple and Teli ka Mandir. The latter is a 9th century edifice, towering 100 feet high. This is a Pratihara Vishnu mandir. The shape of the roof is distinctly Dravidian while decorative embellishments have the typically Indo-Aryan characteristics of North India. The former temple is dedicated to Lord Vishnu (measures 102 by 74 feet) built in the 11th century by Raja Mahipal. In the 17th century 350 statues were destroyed by Aurangzeb. Also see the Telikhama temple that made by Raja Padampal in the 9th century is app 1200 years old.
Another landmark is the Gurudwara Data Bandhi Chhod built in the memory of the 6th Sikh Guru Hargobind Singh who was imprisoned by Mughal Emperor Jahangir for two years and three months. At the time of his release he wanted 52 Hindu Kings, who were his fellow prisoners, released with him. Jehangir was impressed and agreed.
MP Tourism runs a Sound and Light show in Hindi and English. Amitabh Bachchan narrates the story of Gwalior.

This piece is based on inputs from the MP Tourism booklet, a book on Gwalior by Vijay Singh Chauhan, our Guides words and personal experiences.

To see pictures of

1. Gwalior Fort http://www.esamskriti.com/photo-detail/Gwalior-Fort.aspx

2. Gwalior City http://www.esamskriti.com/photo-detail/Gwalior-City.aspx

Chapter 2

2. JHANSI

We had originally planned to drive down from Gwalior to Jhansi, a distance of some 100 kms. We were advised to take the Shatabhdi instead. It took only one hour against 2-3 by road. Since Jhansi is in Uttar Pradesh going by road means crossing states means additional cost for car owner and us.


We reached Jhansi by about 11ish and were surprised to see bus loads of foreigners at the station. We were told that Khajuraho is 4 hours from Jhansi so what a number of tourists do is to take the Shatabdi from Delhi to Jhansi (4 hours) and a luxury bus thereafter. As we got out of the station auto rickshaw owners were all over us. We will take you to Jhansi fort and Orcha (our next stop some 19kms from Jhansi) for Rs 600/ 500/ 800/. After waiting for a while we got someone for Rs 250/.
Since Jhansi is the hometown of the hockey wizard Dhyanchand we asked the auto guy if there was a memorial or museum in his name. Unfortunately there was none. Enroute to the Jhansi Fort we saw a Rani ki Jhansi ka Museum. We were greeted by a huge statue of Rani on her horse, an icon of her husband Maharaj Gangadhar Rao. Besides stories of the Rani there was a section on Bundeli Paintings.

“The Bundeli paintings are marked by their exuberance, verve and dynamism-attributes which reach us through a myriad of red, ochre, blue, green, yellow and grey colors and offer a fascinating glimpse of the multifaceted world of thoughts and beliefs that went on to define the various aspects of Bundeli culture. Over dominantly religious in nature, the themes include the life stories of Rama and Krishna as well as Puranic tales and imageries.

The Bundel Kalam as the Bundeli School of paintings is commonly known as impresses everyone through its artistic beauty which is maintained in almost all the subjects under view.
The features of the Bundela regime permeate through many of the paintings of Orchha & Datia. It is noteworthy that this is much more evident in the paintings of Lord Rama where his kindly attributes are displayed in opulent style. Keshav Das’s ‘Rasikpriya’ and ‘Kavipriya’ and ‘Matiram’s Rasraj’ were translated into visuals through both wall paintings and miniatures. The Datia Kalam boasts of a wide repertoire of miniatures based on Devkavi’s ‘Ashtayam’ and ‘Bihari Satsai’. The Bundeli miniatures are also distinct from the accepted styles of Mughal and Rajput art forms in having more elaborate scenes from the Ramayana as well as in the imparting of local flavor in the context of musical details and natural ambience.” Writing in museum. For more see pictures on site.
Our next stop was Rani Mahal one of the residences of the Rani of Jhansi (RJ). The palace has a small number of rooms. Visit the Durbar Hall that is painted in brilliant colors with floral and fauna designs. The ground floor of the Mahal contains stone sculptures from nearby areas like Madanpur, Dudhai and Chandpur. See picture.
Lastly we reached the famous Fort. It was built by Raja Bir Deo in 1613, with concentric walls, 5.5-9 m high and ten gates. The fort is not an imposing structure with high walls or on a great height so the first site was a letdown of sorts but that was more than made up when we walked around the fort. Before you enter the fort some artisans have used statutes to create a mock battle showing the British bribing their way to the town. See pictures of board and the icons.

There is a site map as you enter the fort. Please see:




  1. Kadak Bijli Cannon – this was the biggest canon operated by Gulan Gaus Khan.

  2. Ganesh Temple – RJ used to worship here regularly.


  3. Bhavani Shankar Canon – This was operated by lady gunner Moti Bai.

  4. Baradari – in this place Raja Raghunath Rao entertained himself by dance and music of the dancer Gajra bai.

  5. Shahar Darwaza – this is the entrance that leads to the city now closed.

  6. Samadhiyan – the collective monument of the martyrs in war.

  7. Panch Mahal- RJ lived with her husband Raja Gangadhar Rao. After his death she lived in the city Rani Mahal referred to above.

  8. Jumping Spot – when the Britishers surrounded the fort the RJ with her adopted son jumped with the horse and moved towards Kalpi.

  9. Kal Kothri – was full of darkness. This was the place where freedom fighters considered dangerous by the British were kept.

  10. Hanging Tower – where the British hanged people.

  11. Amod Garden – RJ visited the place with her friends.

  12. Shiv Temple – is where RJ offered prayers daily.

Normal guide charges are Rs 50/. I think the ticket seller at the counter sensed we were from Mumbai and said Rs 100/. The guide did an excellent job so did not mind paying.


See the Panch Mahal. When you see it from a distance it looks like it is 2 storeys but from the rear you see it is 5. Also see the Jumping spot. It looks like Rani of Jhansi jumped atleast 30-40 feet.

Jhansi was earlier known as Balwantnagar. Foundation for fort was laid in 1602 by Maharaja of Orchha Raja Bir Deo and completed in 1613. Rani of Jhansi father was Morpant Tamkar and mother Bhagirathi Bai. They hailed from Vai village of district Satara in modern day’s Maharashtra. On 4/6/1858 she jumped from the fort wall and headed towards Kalpi/Gwalior. She was born in Varanasi. Her pet name was Manu. In 1853 her husband died. Her horse’s name was Badal.

Kadak bijli canon was not used when the British attacked Jhansi because if used it would destroy Kalmosar temple on hill that seemed quite a distance. This great canon of Gangadhar Rao’s period is still visible in the eastern side of the rampart. It used to lighten from its nozzle at the time of operation which is curved like a lion’s mouth and as such it received this name. Gulam Gaus Khan terrorized enemies with this. Its total measurement is 5.5 mt by 1.8 mt and having a diameter of .60 metres.
Bhawani Shankar Cannon is placed in North South direction having a crocodile face design in its front portion and the lateral portion is designed like a elephants face. Total measurement is 5 mt by .60 mt with a diameter of .52m. Just in the middle of the cannon is an inscription of 4 lines that tells us the name of CB Shanker the name of Guru Jairam dated 1781. This was not used when the British attacked Jhansi because if used it would destroy Kalmosar temple on hill that seemed quite a distance.

We spent about two hours in the fort and were truly inspired. It took about 40 minutes to reach Orcha. Since we were happy with his service we paid him Rs 300/. We told him that were he more sporting we would have given him Rs 350/. Note that autos have to pay a road tax of Rs 20-30 since they cross from Jhansi in Uttar Pradesh to Orchha in Madhya Pradesh.


To see pics of Jhansi Fort http://www.esamskriti.com/photo-detail/Jhansi-Fort.aspx

3. ORCHHA

We took a 9.30am Shatabhdi from Gwalior to Jhansi, reached at 10.30am, spent a couple of hours seeing the Fort and then took an auto to Orchha to reach by 2.30ish. The distance from Jhansi to Orchha is about 19kms. There was something likeable about the town as we drove through it. Could it be the lay out, clean cemented roads or well equipped shops? It looked like a very compact town.

We headed straight for the MP Tourism bungalow Betwa Retreat. The hotel overlooks the Betwa River and offers tents, cottages and heritage rooms. After checking into our Tent we had a really tasty meal. Food+service was excellent all through our stay. The hotel manager Sanjay Malhotra was very helpful. Since it was Diwali time his wife was busy making a Rangoli in the hotel garden.
The main market has restaurants that serve Italian, Israeli and Indian food. Orchha attracts a number of foreigners; Indians are fewer to come by.
While wifey relaxed I began to discover the place. There is a small bridge across the river that takes you to a wildlife sanctuary. I walked back to the market place and visited the palace hotel Sheesh Mahal. Except for the suite none of the other rooms were impressive. I returned in an hour after which wifey and me went to the Ram Raja Temple (Mandir).
The Ram Raja Temple also within the fort was originally a palace but turned into a temple with its soaring spires and palatial architecture. According to tradition Rani Ganesh Kunwari, wife of Madhukar Shah brought the icon from Ayodhya to Orchha to install it in the temple. It was kept temporarily in the palace. When the icon had to be shifted to the temple it was impossible to move it. It is the only temple in the country where Ram is worshipped as King because of the icon of God in the palace. We spent an hour there and attended the aarti. The place is full of insects at night so be sure you cover yourself fully.
We had dinner at one of the roadside restaurants in the main market which I must say was neither tasty nor value for money. Places to see are Chhatris (cenotaphs), Chaturbhuj Temple, Orchha Fort complex, Ram Mandir and Laxmi Narayan temple.

The next morning we went River Rafting on the Betwa river at 7am. For Rs 1200/ MP Tourism take you for a one hour trip that starts from the Retreat, goes through three rapids and you end up about 4 kms from the hotel. While rafting we got an excellent view of Orchha’s chatris, temples and fort. The raft guides provided us with an excellent commentary on Orchha and gave us simple tips on rafting. The hotel serves you with tea and snacks at the end of the trip.

As we got into the raft we saw a number of villagers cooking food on the river side. On inquiry we were told that come Diwali people from far and near reach Orchha in bus loads and visit the Ram Raja Mandir. They were found in large number at the Chaturbhuj Mandir where they perform a peacock dance. With peacock feathers in their hands they perform in a unique way. They cook on the river side and sleep in the bus.
We returned to the hotel and had nice Gobi parathas for breakfast. After that we first went to the Chhatris that are on the river banks. The Chhatris or cenotaphs the memorial of the Bundels is situated near the Kanchan Ghat present a wonderful site. In a way they symbolize the beauty of Orchha. We spent an hour playing around with water. Loved it. Very relaxing to put your feet in cold water. Do not forget to walk on the river bridge around sunset and see how beautiful they look against the backdrop of the setting sun.
Next we went to the Chathurbuj Temple. The temple is reached by a flight of steps and was built by Madhukar Shah for his queen Kunwari. According to tradition the icon of Lord Ram was to be kept here permanently. It is because the icon could not be removed from the Ram Raja Mandir that this temple could not be used for that purpose.
A tall shikhara (spire) rises over the sanctum. This is an amazing and huge structure. To go on the top of the temple you need to go through very narrow steps that are best climbed with the help of a local guide. From there you get an amazing view of Orchha, its fort, chatris and temples. I saw a Pandit performing pooja for a new car. Here again saw a number of locals performing the peacock dance.

A stone path links the Ram Raja Temple to the Lakshminarayana Temple which fuses elements of fort architecture in temple moulds. The interiors contain some of the most exquisite murals and walls of the Bundela School of painting. It has paintings depicting scenes from the Ramayan & Mahabharat, fight by Rani of Jhansi, Krishna Bhagwan ki leela. It was built on an elevation and on a rectangular plan by Veer Singh Deo in 1622 and renovated by Prithvi Singh in 1793.

Came back for lunch and then headed for the Orchha Fort complex. It is a huge palace fort with multiple mahals/rooms. After that we came to the hotel. Spent the evening on the hotel terrace which overlooks the Betwa river.
Orchha is famous for its Bundela School of Painting. The fort and Laxmi Narayan mandir have their walls and ceilings exquisitely painted. A four arched bridge leads to the fort complex on the island. The Jahangir Mahal which was built by Bir Singh Deo in the early part of the 17th century to mark the visit of Mughal king Jahangir is an important monument in the fort. The 70m square palace has a small interior courtyard with a central fountain around which are apartments and terraces in three storeys. A dome caps each corner bastion. Windows and terraces over the Betwa river. Within the fort are numerous shrines, memorials and monuments. The architecture is a blend of traditional Hindu and elaborate Mughal.
Raj Mahal, the second palace in the fort is well known for its murals depicting religious themes. The deeply religious Madhukar Shah built it in between 1554 and 1591. It's plain exterior, a solid single block crowned by chhatris (umbrella like memorial cenotaphs). In the Janana chamber is a huge courtyard that overlooked the Queens rooms and where I saw an enterprising guide dancing with Italian tourists.
Rai Praveen Mahal was built for the beautiful paramour of Raja Indramani (1672 to 76) who was a poetess and musician. She was a superb dancer and singer. Jahangir wanted to marry her but she refused.
Shahid Smarak which commemorates freedom fighter Chandrashekhar Azad who lived in Orchha in 1926-27 now houses a library and museum.

We left for Khajuraho the next morning at 6am. To hire a taxi call JP Sen at 9425342418. We hired his Indigo and were very happy.

History:

Orchha is a medieval city built during the 16th century by Bundel Rajput Chieftain Rudrapratap. The successor of Rudrapratap, Bir Singh Deo developed this city during the 17th century. The word Orchha means ‘hidden’ and verily the town stands for it. It is indeed a beautiful town i.e. hidden from most Indians.


Blood, war and sacrifice are the keywords to describe the Rajput Bundela dynasty that ruled over Orchha for over two centuries starting 1531AD. The word Bundela means, ‘the offerer of the drops (of blood)’. Sacrifice is the very essence of Bundela life and the Rajput history amplifies this fact.
Bir Singh Deo the ruler of Orchha from 1605-27 got into serious trouble with Akbar when he as associated with Jahangir. Things changed when Jahangir became governor in 1605. In 1606 Jahangir visited Orchha. Till 1627 the Bundelas had good relations with the Mughals. In 1627 Bir Singh revolted against Shahjahen but was defeated. In 1783 the Bundelas shifted their capital from Orchha to Tikamgarh (from where Uma Bharati fought and lost the 2008 assembly election).
The best time to visit Orchha is October to March. We went end October when days were sunny but evenings had a slight nipp in the air. Keep atleast one and a half if not two days for Orchha.
We loved Orchha and strongly recommend you visit. Hired a vehicle and headed to Khajuraho i.e. about a three hour drive.
This is based on inputs from a book published by Mittal Publications, MP Tourism booklet and our own experiences.

To see pictures of

1. Orchha http://www.esamskriti.com/photo-detail/Orchha.aspx


2. Bundela Paintings http://www.esamskriti.com/photo-detail/Bundela-Paintings.aspx


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