Madhya Pradesh, the central state of India has always been a busy transit route. Be it armies from the North marching to the South to subjugate them or the soldiers from the South attacking the North to avenge their pride and to recoup what was snatched from them previously.
No wonder that the Madhya Pradesh has been a site of intense battles when the kings and their generals fought for supremacy. Many generals carved out their own territories; some by revolting to the kings of North and South whereas others by paying a regular tribute.
The densely forested landscape provided an easy escape to the runaway soldiers and princes who used it to recover and regroup.
Madhya Pradesh was an important trade route for merchants of the East reaching out to the Arabian Sea or the goods from North and South crisscrossing its territory. No wonder that the state had one of the biggest ancient trade towns in Ujjain.
In modern times, in my personal life, Madhya Pradesh has played the same role as a transit state. In student life, I traversed it in the trains while going from New Delhi to Solapur, Maharashtra for the graduation. In the work-life, I traversed it again while traveling to Mumbai via the famous Ratlam in trains.
When I started biking (motorcycling), and dreamed of seeing India by roads and spent 3-weeks exploring the southern states of Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, and Telangana, even then state of Madhya Pradesh played the role of a transit state. In my that trip to South India in March 2018, I spent 3 days crossing Madhya Pradesh; however, I did not take time to explore it as a tourist.
In fact, I never took out time to explore Madhya Pradesh despite having been on its land and in its air for so many numbers of times because always my destination laid somewhere beyond. However, I always acknowledged that I was missing an important chapter of Indian history, whenever I kept skipped Madhya Pradesh from my itinerary.
Therefore, in August 2019, when I was planning a motorcycle trip to extend my exploration of India by road, Madhya Pradesh was the first choice. I decided to spend 2 weeks in the state to explore the vast plains, the dense forests, the impregnable forts, the insurmountable hills and not to forget the numerous landscapes like waterfalls that Madhya Pradesh has to offer.
The trip started on August 28, 2019 and I ended up covering about 2,500 km over 11 days in my quest to understand this central province of India, its history, and its people.
Noida to Gwalior (Day 1)
Even though, the best time to ride is early morning when the air is cool and the Sun is kind; however, when starting a trip from home, I always take my own sweet time. Wake up at leisure, drop the kid to school, say a nice goodbye to family, and then rev up the bike and let it roll.
Today was no different. I ended up leaving home at about 10 AM.
Within a few minutes, we (my bike: Saarthi, and I) were on Noida-Greater Noida Expressway. However, there was no urge to hurry. There was a long ride lying ahead and I was sure that both the bike and biker would get to ride to their hearts’ fill.
Initial few hours of driving were spent to let the start of the journey sink in, to feel the gush of countryside wind, and to deep breathe the highway air.
It takes a couple of hours on the road for the mind to throw out the ever-present constricting feeling of the urban life and deeply feel the on-road freedom of a traveller. Moreover, when that moment arrives, the mind relaxes with not a single worry in the world and the traveller becomes open to accept what the journey has to offer to her. The sheer joy of letting the life roll on its own slope and take what comes across as your destiny feels immensely liberating.
With Saarthi carrying me along, my mind shut down for any worrisome thoughts and the eyes looking at the horizon afar, I did not realize how fast we were covering the distance.
I had lunch at one of the roadside restaurants on the expressway. There are many of them almost at each of the toll plazas. I ordered a “thali”, which is an assortment of many dishes including vegetables, daal (pulses), curd, bread, rice, pickle, and a sweet. Nowadays, whenever I travel, I prefer to order a thali if it is available in the menu. This is because; the thali provides me the best opportunity to taste most of the local dishes of the area in a single meal.
For snacks, I carry dry fruits with me. I prefer a mix of almonds and raisins. Usually, I buy 250g of almonds and 500g of raisins and mix them. It has proved to be a very tasty and healthy snack for my travels.
Now, whenever, I am traveling, I do not have to look for restaurants for short breaks. I can halt wherever I can find a place under the shade to relax. I can rest under a tree in the fields, at a bus stop in a small village, and my personal favourite at the railing of bridges over streams or canals. At any place, I can eat some dry fruits, relax my body, and see the local people going about their ways.
The travel breaks at offbeat locations take my trip further deep into the people. On many occasions, someone from a nearby village would come and start a conversation with me. The breaks at these roadside locations refresh both my body and the mind.
After lunch, I put on the knee guards that I was carrying with me. On my previous rides, I had never used knee or elbow guards. From a safety gear perspective, I used to wear only a helmet. In addition, I believe that one’s driving style is the best protective gear. I always remember a saying in Marathi that I had read on my road trips in Maharashtra, “Manacha Brake Uttam Brake”. It means that if you control your mind/heart on the road that is the best brake. Indicating that control on the over speeding habit and not getting excited if someone overtakes you, giving others the right of way to go ahead first may serve you better for safety on the road.
However, on this trip, I had brought the knee guards to see if I like them. Let me tell you in advance that later on, I found them uncomfortable, and constantly interfering with the drive comfort. I wore them only on the first day, and thereafter, whenever I drove in the rains when there was a high probability of skidding on the road. For the remaining trip, I preferred to wear only the helmet.
Soon, we reached Agra, and it was time to leave the expressway and enter the city traffic.
When I completed the drive on the expressway and then the ring road, then I missed my way. Instead of taking a right turn towards the Agra city, cross it, and then continuing to Gwalior, I took a wrong turn to the left. However, within a few minutes, I realised that I am on a different path. This was not looking like the route that I had taken on my previous trip to South India when I had travelled via Agra and Gwalior.
I stopped and started Google Maps. It immediately directed me to take a U-turn. Nowadays, we are heavily dependent on technology to guide us.
While I was setting the route on the Google Map, I noticed that the front number plate of the bike was tilted. It seemed that one of the screws of the number plate was gone and now, it was hitting the windshield. However, soon enough, after rectifying my path towards Gwalior, I found a mechanic who within a few minutes fixed the number plate.
Now, while we were crossing the Agra city, the path seemed familiar. I noticed myself smiling at the road. It was as if Saarthi and I were saying “hello” to the road. I had crossed the same route a year and a half back, when I had started on my journey to South India in March 2018.
The highway from Agra to Gwalior had more traffic than the Yamuna expressway. We (Saarthi and I) crossed from Uttar Pradesh into Madhya Pradesh and soon, we were greeted by the mighty Chambal River.
Chambal ravines after Dholpur is the first sight a traveller gets of the Beehad that once was home to some of the most famous bandits. One cannot help but halt before the bridge over the river and appreciate the ruggedness of this terrain.
The sharp slopes of the ravines (beehad) and the treacherous tracks between them provided perfect hideouts to the dacoits while proving nemesis of the law-enforcers. The bridge over the river Chambal is the place to appreciate it.
I was experiencing it for the second time. Therefore, I kept my stay here short and did not click any photographs today. However, let me show you some of the pic from my previous journey to South India in March 2018 through this stretch.
It was August and the monsoon was still on. The clouds were the permanent company but until now, there was no rain. However, the day’s draught ended soon and I faced my first rain of the trip in Morena, a couple of kilometers ahead.
I stopped under a foot over bridge and put on the rain suit. However, considering the dependence on technology nowadays, taking care of only yourself is not sufficient. I had a mobile phone fixed on the handlebar of the bike to guide me on the path. I had to put a polythene cover over the phone as well.
Now, armed with a rain-suit both for me and the guiding-phone, I was prepared to face whatever Mother Nature had to offer to me, and Saarthi & I moved ahead on our path.
It was late in the afternoon when we reached Gwalior. I left the highway and took the road towards the city. The moment I left the highway, the road became pothole-ridden. It was in the same bad shape that I had encountered more than a year back. On the way, I saw the hotels where I had enquired about a room on the previous trip. Soon, I crossed the hotel where I had stayed during that trip. All the memories of the previous trip were moving in front of my eyes. It was a pleasant and nostalgic feeling.
However, this time, instead of the outskirts of the city, I had plans to stay in the center of the city near the Fort.
On this trip, I had decided to explore Oyo as a medium to book my stay wherever it was available. This is because, on the Oyo app, I could see that in almost all the cities on my itinerary, Oyo had many hotel options near the sites that I wanted to visit. In addition, the charges for the room in the Oyo app with amenities like AC, hot water etc. (about ₹500-600/-) were lower than what I usually paid for non-AC rooms (₹700-800/-) on my solo bike trips. Therefore, I thought of trying out Oyo and experience first-hand all the media hype (positive as well as negative) about this Indian unicorn.
I booked a hotel near the east side of the Gwalior Fort using the Oyo app. The app showed the tariff of about ₹550/- for an AC room, which seemed great value for the money. To be safe, I opted for the option to pay at the hotel instead of paying to Oyo in advance so that if there is any issue at the hotel regarding the booking, then I do not have to worry about a refund.
However, at the hotel, the check-in experience was smooth. The receptionist simply accepted the payment without any qualms about the supposedly low tariff for an AC room.
The hotel was a budget lodge where it was obvious that new investment had been made in the infrastructure like the room ACs, Oyo-branded bed sheets, pillows, toiletries etc. It looked like Oyo would have offered them an opportunity of additional business using its online customer base, if they invest to make their hotel a bit better for the travellers.
Anyways, whatever be the underlying business and investment dynamics; I had got a comfortable room. Now, I lied down to relax for some time. I had plans to visit the fort in the evening and experience the light & sound show.
After taking a bit of rest, I started for the fort. Reaching the fort from the eastern side involves a long walk on a steep slope, crossing five gates.
I parked my bike near the first gate and started my climb to the fort. The walk was very long and the slope was very steep. It was getting dark and the time for light & sound show was near. I had to hurry. However, the steep track seemed endless. I was panting before I had reached half the way.
Finally, after a few small breaks on the way, I reached the fort on the top. It was surprisingly very dark there and I had to use the flashlight of the phone to find someone to guide me to the location of the light & sound show and the ticket window. Soon, a security guard (SIS) approached me and guided me to the canteen/refreshments shop located at the other gate of the fort, which also served as the ticket window for the show.
I was relieved to find out that I had reached in time and the show was yet to start. Moreover, the presence of professional security guards gave me a positive sign that the fort must be in good condition of maintenance. In fact, I have seen that most of the historical monuments in India, which are under the control of the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI), are well maintained with professional security guards, mostly SIS, taking care of the security.
After taking the ticket, I came to the viewing gallery. The moment I reached there, my entire fatigue went away. There it was, entire Gwalior city sparkling in the lights spread across in front of me.
The viewing gallery for the light & sound show was an open auditorium where the steps served as a sitting area. It was a nice location open to the sky with a cool breeze. A perfect relaxing location after the long tiring climb to the fort.
After a few minutes, the show started. The narrator briefed the story of the saint Gwalipa after whom the city is named Gwalior. The show detailed the history of the city and the fort including its role in the Indian independence struggle.
The light work on the fort during the show was magnificent. I noticed that the fort is grand with its palaces containing colourful paintings on the walls. These paintings shined majestically when the light fell on them in the dark.
The light & sound show was without a doubt one of the best that I ever saw. However, it would have been even better if the attendees had followed the instruction of not talking loudly on the phone calls and not using the flashlight during the show.
Nevertheless, after learning mythology and the history from the narration in the show, I spent some more time at the fort looking over the city sprawling across the plains below. For sure, a few centuries back, its inhabitants would have stood at the same place and looked at these plains. Instead of friends, they would have seen the camps of the armies preparing to attack the fort and take their lives. History is brutal!
Before I left, I asked for references for any tourist guide from the security guards and the canteen. However, no one had the mobile phone number of any guide. Everyone told me that usually, the guide would be present at the fort in the morning even at 6 AM when the fort complex opens.
After getting the information that I needed, I walked my way back on the long slope. This time, I was descending and the walk was relaxing.
I had thought of buying fruits and milk on my way back to the hotel, for dinner. During my travels, in a day, I prefer to have one full meal (a thali) and then take fruits and milk for dinner. In between, if I feel hungry, then I always have dry fruits with me. I have found that this diet keeps me fit and healthy in my travels.
The hotel was near a crossroad and a fruit market was across the road. Therefore, getting fruits was easy; however, I faced a lot of difficulty in getting the pasteurized packets of milk. I asked many people about any such shop and kept following their instructions. The result, I walked almost one kilometer along one road, came back, and then walked one more kilometer along another road. I asked almost all the general stores, all the paanwalas, and whom not; however, I could not get what I wanted, a packet of Amul or similar milk.
I have faced such challenges on my trips whenever I had attempted to get milk outside the north Indian states. I had the same experience in many of the states in South India. It seems that people consume lesser milk; therefore, the milk is supplied to the shops once in the morning, which is finished by the afternoon. Therefore, whenever, I searched for milk in the evening, I had to return empty-handed.
Readers from North Indian states, especially Punjab and Haryana would understand that milk is an essential part of the diet. It is healthy and very nutritious. Nevertheless, when I returned to the hotel, I asked the hotel staff about the milk and they could get it for me.
Gwalior to Jhansi (Day 2)
Yesterday evening, I had only seen the Gwalior fort as a part of the light & sound show. However, today morning, I had the plans to revisit it and explore it with the help of a guide. The historical monuments are usually open on sunrise and in addition, I wished to spend some time at the fort in the cool morning breeze. Moreover, yesterday, on the fort, I had received information that the tour guides are usually present at the fort early in the morning. Therefore, I reached the fort early in the morning (at 6 AM).
Instead of the east gate, today, I decided to go to the west gate of the fort because I could take Saarthi up to the fort hill on the west side. The fort is spread across a few kilometers and having a personal vehicle is a great help to explore it.
I reached the fort; however, there was no tour guide. I decided to wait for some time and ask from some of the locals around the place if anyone had the contact number of the guide. Apart from me, there were some morning walk goers, one person sitting in the parking lodge, one auto-rickshaw driver, and a person standing near a closed tea stall. However, none of them had the contact number of the guide. Everyone told me the same thing; the guide should be here soon.
Now, I had no other option but to wait for the guide. Therefore, I decided to roam around and explore the place myself for some time. The area was a good location for a morning walk and many people were taking a full benefit of it.
The fort was quite a sight with all its beautiful colours mesmerising you.
After spending about one hour, when I came back to the gates, there was still no sign of any guide. I had already waited for an hour; therefore, I was looking for any alternatives. The man in the parking area was still there. I asked him if he could show me the place around. He agreed to help me. He told me that for a fee, he could tell me about the places to look in the fort; however, I would have to visit the fort alone and he would not accompany me. I politely declined the offer, as I could get much more information about the fort online for free.
Nevertheless, at about 8 AM, an auto-rickshaw arrived at the gates with some passengers. The driver noticed me asking around for the guide. He had the contact number of one and immediately called him. Finally, after waiting for two hours at the fort, I could talk to a guide. The guide said that he would come at 9 AM. This was because he was with another tourist group until late yesterday and needed some rest before he started the work today.
You would ask me why did I wait for so long for a guide and not roam around the place on my own. Anyway, I had the access to the information about the fort and its key features, and sites from Lonely Planet India Guide and Wikipedia. Therefore, I could see the fort myself. However, my experience has been that a tourist guide brings an entirely different and a lively feeling to the sightseeing experience. The way in which they bring the history alive by way of their descriptions, demonstrations, and enactments standing at the site cannot be matched by a self-tour. After all my experience of visiting multiple historical monuments, I believe that if a knowledgeable and registered guide is available, then I prefer to hire him. Most of the time, they justify their cost by the value they add to your sightseeing experience.
I still had about one hour to spend. I purchased the entry ticket and got some pamphlets about the fort from the ASI outlet. I could spend this time reading more about the fort and its history.
Finally, at 9 AM, the guide arrived and we could start the tour of the fort.
Gwalior Fort has held an important position in Indian history due to its strategic location in the North-South trade route. Nearness to Delhi/Agra meant that the big powers of North India always attacked it first, in case Gwalior showed any resistance. As a result, most of the time, the rulers of Gwalior had cordial relations with the powers in Delhi.
Even in the first independence struggle of 1857, the rulers of Gwalior sided with the British; however, their army revolted against them. It was outside Gwalior fort that the famous final battle took place between the Rani of Jhansi with her son on her back and the British. The British took over the fort and crushed the first independence struggle.
The fort has a number of palaces, a few of them, like Man Mandir place, beautifully painted with colours with geometric designs.
The Man Mandir Palace is very elaborate containing multiple stories where one has to descend to reach other sections. These lower stories were primarily designed with a swimming pool to provide relief from the heat. They were connected with each other with channels/tubes in the walls that were used to communicate from one storey to another without the need to walk the stairs. The guide did an entertaining enactment of the communication through these tubes.
The Moghuls and the British used these lower sections of the fort as prisons, torture houses, and hanging rooms.
The Gwalior Fort has a long history of being used as a prison for high profile prisoners. Mughal King Jahangir imprisoned the Sikh Guru Hargobind at Gwalior Fort. The day of release of Guru Hargobind from Gwalior Fort is celebrated as Bandi Chhor Divas.
While visiting these lower sections of Man Mahal Mandir palace, a visitor cannot help but imagine that at these very pillars, many prisoners would have been tied and tortured. History is indeed very brutal.
After spending some time in the lower sections of the fort, we came out of the Man Mandir Palace. I was surprised to notice that during the time we were inside, many couples have arrived at the fort and were buying tickets at the ASI counter. The guide intimated me that the other section of the fort was about to open now and it is a couples’ paradise.
We spent some more time exploring the nearby structures like the multi-pillared hall, which provided a very nice shaded and airy relaxing place.
However, soon we realised that we were proving to be a disturbance to the couples sitting at different places. By now, we had covered most of the sites around the main fort building and therefore, we decided to explore the other key monuments spread over this almost 5 km long plateau.
We visited the Sasbahu temples, which are two temples in a single compound that are said to be similar to Central American Mayan temples.
The Sas (mother-in-law) temple is grander and is dedicated to Lord Vishnu.
However, it is the nearby Bahu (daughter-in-law) temple, which has a better location at the edge of the plateau.
One can see many of the key places of Gwalior city like the royal family palace, the cricket stadium etc. from this temple.
The next attraction that the guide led me to was Teli Ka Mandir. This temple is one of the oldest parts of the fort complex and has a history of destruction.
This temple was first devoted to Lord Vishnu but it was later destroyed by invading armies. Later on, it was resurrected as a Shiva temple.
After this elaborate tour around the fort hill and the famous private Scindia School, I thanked the guide for his help and started on my way back to the hotel.
On my way back from the fort, I spent some time exploring the momentous rock-cut Jain monuments depicting statues of Tirthankaras along the road.
These monuments are carved out of the hill alongside the road to the fort.
With a fulfilling visit to the fort, I prepared to check out from the hotel and head to my destination of the day, Jhansi. However, a pleasant surprise awaited me. I got a call from one of my old friends (my graduation batchmate) who was working in the medical college in Datia.
Datia is on the route to Jhansi from Gwalior and I got a wonderful chance to meet an old friend after more than a decade. Old college memories rekindled that too sitting in a medical college. The trip was proving to be a very pleasant one.
I had travelled on Gwalior to Jhansi route in March 2018 on my way to Tamil Nadu. However, then, I had found the road to be in very bad shape. It was full of potholes and numerous off-road diversions. However, this time, the road was in a much better condition.
I had booked my stay for two nights at Jhansi via the Oyo app. Enthused by the satisfactory experience at Gwalior, I thought of using the option to make an online advance payment to Oyo as it offered a further discount on the listed price of the hotel. However, it turned out to be my mistake.
The distance of Jhansi from Gwalior is not much (about 100 km). Therefore, even after meeting my friend at Datia on the way, I could reach Jhansi in the early afternoon. There was no difficulty in locating the hotel due to precise location guidance by Google Maps.
I walked to the hotel reception and told the person who was the owner of the hotel about my booking. The hotel owner very apologetically intimated me that he cannot offer me a room. I was surprised and asked him the reason for it. Then, the owner narrated his sorrow story.
The hotel owner told me that Oyo had not paid him his dues for more than 2 months and now, about ₹1.5 lac was pending. He said that even after multiple requests and escalations, he is not able to get his money. Therefore, now, he has started to decline bookings via Oyo. I asked him then why he is still accepting bookings via the Oyo app. Now, I had another revelation. The hotel owner told me that he had no control over his listing at the Oyo app. In fact, he said that he had already requested Oyo to remove his hotel from the Oyo app as the entire experience of the customers booking his hotel via the app and then being denied a room at the hotel was leading to a bad experience for the customers. However, despite his requests and multiple escalations to the senior management of Oyo, his hotel was still listed as “available” at the Oyo app.
I asked him about what are my options now. He asked me to call the Oyo customer care and request for shifting the booking to a nearby hotel that was still accepting bookings via Oyo. I did the same and Oyo shifted my booking to the nearby hotel.
The next hotel was a bigger hotel than the one I had booked earlier and therefore, it had a higher room tariff. The customer care of Oyo had shifted my booking to the new hotel based on no extra cost to me. Therefore, Oyo was to bear the difference in the tariff of the two hotels.
When I reached the next hotel, it was an opportunity to learn the experience of another hotel owner with Oyo. The hotel manager seated me in the waiting lounge and told me that on the phone, Oyo had promised him a tariff of ₹X per night. However, the confirmation email from Oyo mentioned only about ₹0.8X. He requested me if I could call the Oyo customer care once more and ask them to revise the tariff that the new hotel was going to receive.
I called the Oyo customer care who agreed to send an email to this hotel with the revised tariff of ₹X per night. Soon, the hotel manager told me that the new email had come; however, it still mentioned a tariff of ₹0.9X. The hotel manager was frustrated; nevertheless, he checked me in.
I was surprised at the way Oyo was dealing with the hotels. After all, if you agree to something on the phone; however, in the email, you change the terms without prior intimation, then it reduces the trust between the parties.
Anyway, I had reached Jhansi safely, checked into the hotel, and still had a few hours left during the day to visit the Jhansi fort.
Jhansi Fort is a beautiful one, which is well maintained by the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI).
The fort is clean and has beautiful gardens inside.
While roaming over the fort walls, a visitor notices that the fort has multiple layers of protective walls and it is said that the moat of the fort was filled with crocodiles.
Soon, one comes across the place where Rani of Jhansi had jumped from the fort wall on a horse with her adopted son when the British had attacked the fort.
The beautiful gardens and the cleanliness in the fort make it a good place to spend some time. I spent the evening sitting on the fort wall, enjoying the cool evening breeze looking at the city sprawling across.
I found a supermarket on my way to the hotel. Therefore, today, getting fruits and milk for dinner was easy.
I had covered two forts in one day, today, and tomorrow, I had the plans to visit Orchha (about 20 km away), which used to be the capital of Bundelkhand.
Madhya Pradesh, for sure, has a lot of history, and the multitude of monuments living today speak volumes about it.
Jhansi – Orchha – Jhansi (Day 3)
The small drive to Orchha in the morning was a pleasant one. It is a small town on the banks of Betwa River and the road to the town is well paved with lush green vegetation along the sides. This was a bikers dream come true.
Orchha used to be the capital of this region, called Bundelkhand at its peak. The ruling family was Rajput. The town has a rich history and as a result, it has many monuments. I had planned to hire a tour guide to show me around different sites.
Tourists usually start their tour of Orchha at the palace complex because the ticket window of ASI is located here. This is the place where you get the tour guide. Considering the good things that I had heard about Orchha and its monuments, I expected to see a rush of tourists and the guides. However, on the contrary, I found only 3-4 people.
A tour guide approached and told me that it was a lean season. I was the first tourist for him after a gap of three days. I felt sorry for the guide; however, at the same time felt happy for me that I would be able to see the monuments peacefully without the noisy crowds pushing me around.
One of the most impressive monuments in Orchha is the Jahangir Mahal. The story behind this palace is interesting. It is said that the mother of Jahangir, Jodhabai, and the mother of the Bundel King, Bir Singh Deo were sisters. Therefore, when Jahangir was not at good terms with his father, Akbar, then he came to Bundelkhand and the King Bir Singh Deo kept him safe from the soldiers of the Mughal army. This created a strong bond between Bir Singh Deo and Jahangir.
Later, when Jahangir became the Mughal King, then Bir Singh Deo invited him to visit Orchha. To host the Mughal King, he created a special palace, which became famous as Jahangir Palace. The palace is grand with a beautiful swimming pool in the central courtyard.
The Jahangir Palace has a massive door with some great carvings.
The courtyard in the palace was very spacious and impressive with imposing structures all around. I was told that every on the wall all around the courtyard, there used to earthen lamps lit to lighten up the entire compound. It would have been a majestic view.
The swimming pool in the middle of the courtyard must have provided for a great relaxing arena.
The Betwa River flows very near to the Jahangir Palace. It is a great view of the river from the palace. The cool breeze from the river must have provided a very pleasant stay to any visitor.
However, it is said that Jahangir visited Orchha and stayed here only for one night. Post that the building could not get any other renowned visitor. Moreover, the son of Bir Singh Deo rebelled against the son of Jahangir, Shah Jahan, who sent his army to Bundelkhand and finished their rule.
The palace of the King of Bundelkhand, Raj Palace, next to the Jahangir Mahal is equally beautiful. The palace had many rooms around a courtyard.
The palace had very impressive paintwork on its roofs. It was one of the most beautiful artwork, which I had seen in the monuments visited until now.
In addition, one painting on the wall of the king’s bedroom was unique. This painting showed an elephant. However, on a closer look, one could see that it had the paintings of the queens, which were put together in the shape of the elephant.
The guide told me an interesting story about the royal dancer of Orchha, Rai Praveen. She was very beautiful, and a very good poet. When Mughal Akbar heard about her, then he called for her to his court. The king of Bundelkhand was not a position to defy Akbar. Therefore, Rai Praveen had to go to Akbar’s court. However, she was very shrewd. She told Akbar that she is impure and is already a used property of Bundelkhand, and whoever uses her again would show that he is a person of low repute. Apparently, Akbar got the message and sent her back to Bundelkhand.
Pleased by her presence of mind, the Bundel king made a palace for her that is known as Rai Praveen Mahal.
After seeing the monuments at the palace complex, we moved ahead to see the temples at Orchha. Among the temples, I found the Lakshmi Temple very impressive with the beautiful mural paintings.
Later on, we visited the most famous part of Orchha, the cenotaphs (chhatris). These are monuments made in the memory of the king after his death. The size of a cenotaph is related to the length of his reign.
One of the best things that I liked about the monuments in Madhya Pradesh is that these are very well kept with lots of greenery in the form of well-curated gardens and cleanliness around the monuments. Gwalior fort, Jhansi Fort, and Orchha cenotaphs were all very pleasant sites to visit due to the upkeep.
At the cenotaphs, the guided tour was over and I said thanks to the guide. However, before he left, I asked him for a recommendation for any restaurant for lunch.
Whenever I visit a new place, I always ask the guide or the locals about food recommendations. I have found that the best local restaurants in small towns are usually hidden among the huge billboards of other rich hotels and often they go unnoticed to the first time traveller. Many times, the restaurants where the locals eat are found in the narrow lanes without any advertisements.
The guide provided me the reference to a restaurant. I thought of spending some time at the cenotaphs and then go to the town for lunch.
As I mentioned earlier, the recommendations of locals are usually small restaurants; however, my experience has been that these small restaurants never disappoint you on the quality of food. At Orchha too, the recommended restaurant was a small one. Finding the hotel proved difficult. I had to ask multiple people about its location. It turned out that I had crossed it multiple times without realising that I had already reached the restaurant.
Finally, I found it. The restaurant was a small place run by a family that cooked and served food themselves. The thali cost me ₹70/- and it was tasty and fulfilling.
After having lunch, I came back to the bank of River Betwa near the cenotaphs. It was a lively environment. Many sadhus were taking a rest on the riverside. Many children taking a bath in the river.
After resting for a while at the banks of River Betwa, I rode back to Jhansi on the pleasant roads cutting across the beautiful green landscape. The plan now was to drive to Khajuraho tomorrow, which was a long drive.
I usually prefer to fill the petrol in the evening so that I do not have to start looking for fuel pumps the moment I start my drive the next morning. If the petrol tank is full when you start the day, then you can focus on the ride. It provides peace of mind.
The nearest petrol pump to the hotel was in a busy market. I was happy as I could buy fresh fruits as well as dry fruits alongside. You would remember that I keep a mix of almonds and raisins with me to eat as snacks. Finding the fruits was easy; however, once again finding the milk proved difficult. I had to run at least a couple of kilometers in the crowded lanes. However, still, I could not find any shop that had pasteurized milk. I was tired and decided to return to the hotel. Near the hotel, I noticed that a grocery shop was visible at some distance. Apprehensive about facing another failed attempt, I visited the shop and was pleasantly surprised to know that milk was indeed available. Finding milk, at least in the evening, in the states outside north India is difficult.
Now, it was time to relax and recuperate after a tiring day of long walks. With stocked up supplies, I looked forward to the drive to Khajuraho.
Jhansi to Khajuraho – Raneh Falls (Day 4)
I had decided to stay in Khajuraho for two nights. One full day for the numerous temples and the rest of the time to visit nearby attractions.
As I had plenty of time at hand, therefore, I drove to Khajuraho at a leisurely pace. Saarthi was enjoying the ride until now because the roads were well paved; however, from Jhansi to Khajuraho, we found that most of the distance of 180 km was under construction.
The Jhansi-Khajuraho road four-laning project was underway and as a result, many sections of the road were dug up. At one place, the bridge over a rivulet was broken and it seemed now vehicle can go across. However, soon, we could see some locals crossing the stretch by riding over some of the roughest of the off-road patches. Saarthi has been my trusted companion that has never said no to any challenge that I have put it to. This section proved a breeze as it was much easier than Saarthi’s capabilities. Soon, we moved ahead on our way.
Once again, I had used the Oyo app to make bookings for Khajuraho. It was turning out to be a good way to understand the perspective of hotel owners in the Oyo network.
When I reached Khajuraho, I was prepared to listen to the painful story of another hotel owner and Oyo did not disappoint me. The hotel owner, even though he was denying me a room; was profusely apologizing for it.
He told me that his payments for last eight months are pending at Oyo’s end. The amount that Oyo had to pay him had crossed multiple lacs now. He said that almost all the hotels in Khajuraho that had initially tied up with Oyo were now protesting against Oyo.
I asked him if Oyo is not paying him the money, then why he is not getting out of the contract. Why his hotel is still listed on the Oyo app and why a large billboard of Oyo is still displayed outside his hotel.
The hotel owner told me about his fears of the legal disputes. He said that he is just waiting for the contract period to get over in a few months. He feared that if he gets out of the contract, then Oyo might start legal proceedings against him. Oyo is a big company and he is a small hotel owner. As per him, he stood no chance of winning against a large corporation like Oyo.
He told me that he had lost all hopes of getting his eight months’ worth of money from Oyo. He could only use the inventory, toiletries etc. provided by Oyo to his hotel to recover some of the money.
Now, I could understand the plight of hotel owners of the Oyo network. Imagine a situation where a guest had paid online in advance to Oyo and then he stays that their hotel. Obviously, the guest is going to go away from the hotel without paying anything for the room charges. Now, imagine that the hotel owner does not get any money from Oyo as well, which had been the case with many hotels that I had come across. For the hotel owner, it becomes a situation where he is providing a free charity service. Guests come to stay at his hotel; he has to serve them, take care of them, listen to all their complaints, and in the end; the hotel does not get any money either from the guest or from Oyo. Obviously, this cannot sustain for long and I as a traveller and a customer of Oyo was seeing the effects all around.
I felt sorry for the hotel owner and called the Oyo customer care for a shift to another hotel, which they did.
The new hotel owner had a different story to tell. He said that as a rule, he offers room to the guests at the price offered by Oyo; however, he takes cash payment from all the guests even if they have paid in advance to Oyo. In turn, he asks the guests to update a “denied check-in” in their Oyo app so that the guest gets a refund of the advance money paid to Oyo.
He told me that he does it because this is the only way for him to get some money for the guests staying in his hotel. If he does not do it, then he may never get the money that is due to him. By now, it was getting clear that there are severe problems that hotel owners face in terms of getting payments from Oyo.
Finally, I got settled in the hotel room. It was afternoon and we had many hours to spare. As a result, I decided to visit Raneh Falls, about 25 km away, in the evening.
I ordered lunch, a thali, at the hotel and lied down to rest for some time before riding to the falls.
Raneh Falls is the area where Ken River forms deep gorges on its path. It is deep inside the forest and the drive to the falls is very pleasant.
The canyon at Raneh is about 100ft deep, is about 5km long, and presents a formidable phenomenon of millions of gallons of water forcefully passing through the narrow gorges with mist of water soaking the visitors.
The walking area near the canyon was fenced with concrete steps formed over the boulders. It is an area where every year, a few visitors lose their lives due to carelessness. As a result, all the time, a few members of the village committee are present at the falls to caution the tourists about being careful and walking only on the demarcated path and not to be over-adventurous. “Visiting the falls is great but one needs to go back home as well”.
I was told that a visitor can appreciate this fall more when the water is low. This is because, in a low water level, one can appreciate the depth of the canyon. During high monsoon, when there is lots of water in the river, then the gorges are submerged and the falls seem like a normal river flowing through some boulders.
I spent some time at the falls enjoying the evening breeze. At the falls, I met an auto-rickshaw driver from Khajuraho who connected me to one of his known “registered” tourist guide who would take me around Khajuraho the next day.
It was late by the time I reached Khajuraho and the time for light & sound show at the temples was over. I decided to give luck a chance tomorrow as the light & sound show stands automatically cancelled if it rains and this year, the monsoon was continuously getting prolonged.
On my way to the hotel, I found a fruit market and could get some fruits easily. However, none of the nearby shops had milk. I had to travel a few kilometers to a milk dairy to get pasteurized milk. Almost at every place, it had been a long search for milk in the evening. However, until now, I am able to get it every day.
At the hotel, I washed my clothes for the first time on this trip. I was going to stay in Khajuraho for the next day. Therefore, the clothes would dry during the day when I am out sightseeing.
The space on a bike is limited. Every little bit of space counts. One has to carry essential spare parts, tools, puncture kit, and air pump, which take the most space. Then, there are guidebooks, a laptop, multiple chargers, a power bank, spare gloves, and knee guard etc., which take the remaining space. Therefore, in the end, the clothes are the first thing that is cut down to reduce the size of the luggage. It is advised to either keep buying clothes on long bike rides; use them and throw them. Alternatively, keep washing your clothes every few days.
In addition, at many hotels, either the laundry service is unavailable or it is unreliable especially in the current rainy season. Therefore, I preferred to wash my clothes.
Khajuraho (Day 5)
Khajuraho is a monumental historical site, which is very far away from any other historical site. Its far-flung location is said to have worked in its favour because the marauding armies destroying the temples could not locate it. As a result, the beautiful temples created by Chandela Kings about 1,000 years ago survived the waves of destruction that other temples across India faced.
Khajuraho has many groups of temples and it takes many hours for a guided tour. A few registered guides do justice to one’s visit to the city whereas many unregistered guides pester the tourists. One of the locals told me that nowadays, most of the youngsters in the town spend more time chasing tourists rather than studies.
It is said that the city had about 85 temples, which were later claimed by the forest, and still about 25 of the temples remain.
I started the guided tour early in the morning when the tourist flow was low.
The temples were grand and the efforts of the sculptors in carving out intricate details on the stone were evident. Out of the many temples in the “western group”, two temples stand out.
The Kandariya Mahadev Temple:
And Lakshmana Temple:
Like other historical sites of Madhya Pradesh, the temples of Khajuraho are also well maintained with a lot of cleanliness.
After spending a couple of hours at the western group of temples, we moved to the eastern group of temples where there are Jain temples.
The Jain temples are live and many devotees stay in the compound to follow their religious rituals. It was lunchtime when we visited these temples and the guide stress that I observe the rituals followed by the devotees during eating.
The Jain devotees paid unwavering attention to the path where they walk to avoid stepping over any living organism even a small insect. I was told that if they step on any insect by mistake, then they go back without having lunch that day. Similarly, while serving food, every potion was fully checked to see that there is no living organism in it.
I was seeing nonviolence being followed to the extreme and it was humbling.
Later on, we visited the southern group of temples, which has another beautiful temple Duladeo temple.
Duladeo temple also is well kept with clean and a beautiful garden.
Lion has always mesmerised humankind with its power and fearlessness. No wonder that the man wants to fight the lion to prove his strength and superiority. On many occasions, we find that Kings take fighting and defeating the lion as the ultimate sign of strength and invincibility.
In Khajuraho, there were statues showing man fighting with a lion.
This reminded me of another such statue in Belur in Karnataka, which served as the state symbol of Hoyasala dynasty.
When a person visits Khajuraho, then he cannot help but imagine how these sites would have looked at the peak of temple construction activity in 950-1,050 CE. Thousands of works cutting stones with chisel and hammer, the continuous sound of metal hitting the stone, and chipping it, shaping it. The sculptors checking and rechecking their hard work to ensure that it meets the high standards of the architect.
Without a doubt, it would have taken a super-human effort by thousands of sculptors to create what Khajuraho is.
A visitor is moved when she sees the fitting tribute to the sculptor of Khajuraho, the moment she enters the city, a sculpture of the sculptor creating a sculpture.
I spent almost the entire day at Khajuraho temples and the guide kept on sharing his knowledge for hours. It turned out that Khajuraho is much more than mere explicit work of art. It is a momentous effort by the King and his men to depict the way society lived about 1,000 years ago.
After we finished the tour of the city late in the afternoon, I could only think about the rest.
In the evening, I visited the western group of temples again for the administration conducts a light & sound show at the temples.
Before selling the tickets for the show, a condition was laid out clearly that if it rains during the show, then the show automatically stands cancelled. Therefore, we entered the temple compound praying for the mercy of the Rain God.
The light & sound show was good with insightful narration by “Amitabh Bachchan” and mesmerising effects by the light work on these grand temples.
Now, after spending two days at Khajuraho and about 5 days in the north and eastern Madhya Pradesh, I was ready to head for central and southern Madhya Pradesh.
The next day’s destination was Sanchi.
Khajuraho to Sanchi (Vidisha) (day 6)
The day was spent traveling from Khajuraho to Vidisha (the major town near Sanchi) about 325 km away.
The route today traversed the Vindhyachal range of mountains and as a result, Saarthi and I drove through numerous forests, hills, and grasslands. The monsoon season had ensured that nature was at its very best and all the terrain was lush green.
The near-perfect, well laid out tarmac road was a treat to the biker inside me. The drive was very refreshing, which took away all the worries of the world.
The lunch, a thali that I had in a highway restaurant just a few kilometers before Sagar was very delicious.
We reached Vidisha in the evening. I had booked a hotel using the Oyo app. However, I did not make any online advance payment. Therefore, the hotel owner was ok to offer me the room. I made the payment to the hotel manager at the time of check-in itself. I could appreciate that he was happy that he was getting money for the service unlike other Oyo hotels that I had come across, which faced difficulties in getting the money that was due to them.
The hotel in fact was a banquet hall on the highway on the outskirts of Vidisha. I had booked it because it was very near to the Sanchi Stupas (7 km).
I could notice that a tie-up with Oyo has led to an up-gradation of these banquet halls, and budget hotels. As a result, these budget hotels now offer a satisfactory stay experience at least for solo bike travellers like me. I may not prefer these hotels when I travel with my family. However, for my solo trips, they seem perfectly fine. Actually, these are a great value for the money.
I had chosen to stay on the outskirts of Vidisha because I planned to visit the Stupas at Sanchi after sunset to attend the light & sound show. Madhya Pradesh govt has ensured that almost all its famous tourist sites conduct a light & sound show, which adds a unique experience for the visitors. I had enjoyed these shows at Gwalior fort and Khajuraho temples and I wished to see it at Sanchi as well.
After checking in, I took some time to do the regular cleaning and lubrication of the chain of the bike. Cleaning of the chain is a mandatory activity that a biker has to do after every 500 km. If the cleaning & lubrication is not done regularly, then the chain might break leaving the biker stranded midway. I had faced this situation once on my trip from Mumbai to Ladakh in 2012 when the chain of my bike broke during the night drive. I lost the chain on the highway. In addition, I was stuck in a small roadside town for the night before I could get a new chain installed on the bike in the morning. Since then I have made it a point to always take good care of the chain of my bike.
However, as soon as I finished the maintenance of the bike, the Rain God who was kind enough to spare us during this trip until now started showing us his fury. It rained heavily in the evening and kept on raining throughout the night. With the light & sound show out of the question, Saarthi & I called it a day and rested to recover from the tiredness of the entire day’s drive.
The next day was going to be an important one because I had decided to visit two important UNESCO World Heritage sites. The first, the Buddhist Stupas of Sanchi, and the second, prehistoric rock cave paintings in Bhimbetka.
The excitement of the upcoming day was making sleep hard to come by.
The hotel did not have an in-house restaurant service. However, it had many highway-dhabas next doors. Therefore, they provided the service to deliver food in the room. The food was average and spicy.
Sanchi to Bhimbetka (Day 7)
It was still raining when I woke up. However, there was no point in sitting in the hotel room waiting out the rain when you know that the monsoon rain can last very long.
As the historical monuments are usually open from sunrise to sunset, therefore, I put up my raincoat and headed for the Sanchi stupas right at 6 AM. When I reached the stupas, after 15 minutes, it was still raining but the ticket window was open.
With no tourist guide in the sight, I asked for the references from the staff at the ticket window. I was promptly given the mobile number of one who agreed to come and show me around even in the rain. In fact, from now onwards, rain would be my constant companion in this trip where I would do most of the remaining sightseeing in the rains with a raincoat on.
Sanchi has many Buddhist monuments and temples; however, the main site has three large stupas.
The Stupa 1 is the Great Stupa and is the largest among all the three.
Sanchi has been a famous Buddhist site for more than 2,000 years and it has served as a learning centre for the students of Buddhism to stay and practice the religion. As a result, we find a large monastery at the site with small rooms, which served as hostels with very basic amenities for the students.
The stupas contain the relics/remains of Buddha or some of their prominent disciples.
The stupa 2, a little smaller one, is a little far away for which one needs to walk through the vegetation. However, the stupa has many stone carvings on the walls around it, which give good messages about Buddha and life in general.
The stupa 3, also smaller than stupa 1, has an interesting history. The British opened it and took its relics to London. However, these were returned in 1952.
Like all other sites I had visited in this trip, Sanchi Stupas were also very well maintained with beautifully curated gardens. It was a pleasant experience to move around the monuments and the nearby temples in the morning mist with light drizzle.
One of the benefits of having a tourist guide is that even if you are travelling solo, you constantly have someone with you who can click your pics at the monuments. In addition, the guides are usually, the best composers of the photographs. They precisely know from which locations one would get the best composition of the monuments. Moreover, with their humorous nature, they keep the mood lively all the time.
Another benefit of having a tourist guide is that they help you understand the meaning behind each of the stone carvings, and the sculptures. Moreover, the stupas at Sanchi were full of stone carvings telling stories of Buddha’s life. Many carvings depicted Buddha only by way of the symbols. Having a guide with you, helps you appreciate all the hard work done by the sculptors, hundreds of years back, to convey a message to the humankind. The guide helps you understand that message.
At one of the temples in the complex, the guide showed me a monolithic Buddha statue whose head was broken. The statue was made from a single piece of stone. He asked me to focus on the carvings behind the head of the Buddha. I could appreciate that if the head on the status were present, then it would have been extremely difficult to do such carvings behind the head of the statue with the rudimentary tools available to humankind hundreds of years ago.
The temples with in the complex had many other statues of Buddha, many of which were damaged over time but some are still in very good shape.
After spending a couple of hours at the Sanchi Stupas and thanking the guide for taking me around even in the rain, I returned to the hotel in Vidisha to start for the next phase of the journey.
I had decided to stay at Bhojpur, a small village about 85 km from Vidisha. I had planned to make it the base to visit the Bhojeshwar temple in Bhojpur and then visit the Bhimbetka rock shelters about 25 km from Bhojpur.
It rained heavily when Saarthi and I were on our way to Bhojpur. This is a small village away from the main highways and these interior roads were broken as well as submerged due to heavy rains in this season.
We reached Bhojpur around noon. I had booked the hotel using Oyo. The hotel manager cited his inability to accommodate me. The reasons were the same; Oyo books the hotel at a very low price, and then it does not make payments on time. The hotel had broken its ties with Oyo from its end many months back; however, it was still listed on Oyo app as ‘available for booking’. As a result, the hotel was facing a tough time turning the customers away. I could see that the hotel was trying to recover the maximum value out of the inventory provided by Oyo as almost all the hotel staff was moving around wearing Oyo branded t-shirts.
Bhojpur is a small village with only a few hotels. Therefore, I decided to explore stay options in the next town, Obaidullaganj, about 15 km away towards Bhimbetka. Obaidullaganj is a small town, which promised a lot more options to stay in. I found the phone numbers of a few hotels in Obaidullaganj and called them. Finally, I finalized a hotel and started riding towards Obaidullaganj.
However, the moment Saarthi & I started on our way to Obaidullaganj from Bhojpur; we realized that this journey was going to be tough. The 15 km that we drove on this route turned out to be the worst road we encountered on this entire trip.
At the same time, I felt lucky that the hotel at Bhojpur denied us accommodation. This is because had we stayed at Bhojpur and attempted to visit Bhimbetka in the evening, then we would have to cross this completely damaged pothole-ridden road twice and that too in the dark by the time we would have returned. It was a blessing in disguise that the hotel at Bhojpur denied us a room. As a result, we drove to Obaidullaganj. Now, we needed to cross this rough patch only once in full daylight and get to stay much nearer to the second main attraction for the day, the Bhimbetka rock shelters. However, as a trade-off, we had to skip a visit to the Bhojeshwar temple, which we could only see from the road alongside it.
We reached Obaidullaganj in the afternoon and after a couple of rest, I decided to head for the Bhimbetka rock shelters about 8 km away.
The late lunch that I had at a highway dhaba on way to Bhimbetka from Obaidullaganj, was very delicious.
The rock cave shelters at Bhimbetka are inside a forest and one has to take a detour of about a couple of kilometres from the main highway. It is a dense forest where there have been many animal sightings including tigers.
The drive was very pleasant with no fear of wild animals. This is because; my experience of visiting the sanctuaries and crossing the forest has indicated that the wild animals are shy and afraid of humans. It takes multiple attempts to go deep in the forest and sit near their habitat to see any wildcat that too involves a lot of luck. There is very little probability that one would come across a dangerous wild animal while crossing the forest from a regularly traded path.
At Bhimbetka, there was no official guide; however, I could convince one of the locals who worked with the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) to show me around and tell about the painting. He readily agreed and we were on our way.
The caves are well maintained…
..and the rock faces with paintings are fenced
There are hundreds of paintings on the rocks and many times, these have been repainted during subsequent times with many layers on top of earlier paintings. It is said that in one place there are 16 layers of paintings on top of each other.
However, a knowledgeable guide with a torch in hand can help you appreciate the key paintings with the underlying story and the message that they convey. Most of the paintings depicted the rituals of life like hunting, war, and social occasions like community dance.
Alongside the rock-face paintings, I appreciated the carefully chosen caves used as a sleeping ground by ancient people, on a higher level than the ground with narrow openings that could be blocked to safeguard from wild animals.
There were social meeting location with sitting place under the large boulders that served for social gatherings.
At times, the paintings were very high on the rocks that one wondered, how could the people reach there, and then keep working continuously for days/weeks to give shape to these pieces of art and what motivated them to do this.
After spending a couple of hours at the rock shelters and then visiting a temple in the jungle a couple of kilometers ahead, I came back to Obaidullaganj.
When I reached the hotel, then during a small conversation, the hotel owner told me excitedly that he is planning to join the Oyo network and list his hotel at the Oyo app. He told me that the inspection of his hotel by Oyo is over and within a few months when all the approvals from Oyo are received, then his hotel will become an Oyo hotel.
From my experience of listening to the plight of the hotel owners who had tied up with Oyo, I felt sorry for him. I told him all about my learning on this trip and told him to be cautious. I was surprised to see that the hotel owner knew about it. Actually, he had to. This is his business; he eats and breathes hotels day & night. He told me that one of his relatives who had tied up with Oyo was facing similar challenges. However, he was still looking forward to his tie-up with Oyo.
It was then, I realised that the sales team of Oyo is marvelous at its job. It sells a dream to the budget hotel owners. Therefore, new hotel owners keep falling for their pitch. It seemed to have become a vicious cycle where old hotels keep leaving due to payments and other issues whereas the new hotels keep on joining the network.
Nevertheless, as a customer, I find value when I stay at an Oyo network hotel. From my experience on this trip to Madhya Pradesh and on subsequent trips to Spiti Valley, Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh, and Orissa, I had learned that the key to benefiting from Oyo network is to book at such an Oyo hotel, which will not deny you check-in when you reach there. You cannot rely on the Oyo app to book hotels. This is because the Oyo app continues to show even those hotels that had stopped accepting bookings via Oyo long ago.
The best approach to book a hotel on the Oyo network is to call the customer care and ask them to make a booking on your behalf. On phone, they offer you the option of only those hotels, which would accept the booking. In addition, you may ask them to call the property manager at their end to confirm whether he would honour the booking. These steps have served me well to book value for money hotel accommodations at the Oyo network during my solo bike trips.
Nevertheless, at Obaidullaganj, I could see a hotel owner who was planning to go down a painful path with his eyes wide open.
The day was a busy day with visits to two key historic sites of Sanchi and Bhimbetka and some tough riding on pothole-ridden, completely broken, and submerged interior roads. Therefore, both Saarthi and I needed some rest.
I took a stroll near the hotel area to buy some fruits for dinner and dry fruits (almonds and raisins) for snacks.
The next day was to be spent driving from Obaidullaganj to Mandu, the capital of the Malwa region about 325 km away. Therefore, I hit the bed early with the excitement to see the western part of Madhya Pradesh and the famous Afghan architecture of Mandu in the coming days.
Obaidullaganj to Mandu (Day 8)
Today, the plan was to drive the whole day, therefore, Saarthi & I had an early start in the morning.
The route to Mandu involved going to Bhopal and Indore. However, the highway from Obaidullaganj to Bhopal, even though a part of the important Bhopal – Itarsi – Nagpur corridor, was not in perfect shape. The monsoon rains have played their full role to weaken the road, which coupled with the heavy traffic of trucks, ensured that Saarthi and I were fully covered with the splashes of mud by the time we entered Bhopal. We were lucky that the intermittent rain-washed the mud from both the bike and the biker.
We crossed Bhopal before the peak office-goer’s traffic started. Therefore, the ride across the city was fun, which involved a cool drive of many kilometres along the shores of the Bada Talab (Upper Lake). The lake had an imposing statue of Raja Bhoj, the King of the region who had founded this city.
The drive from Bhopal towards Mandu now involved driving on the Indore highway, which was multilane, well-paved having little traffic. Saarthi and I were going past the kilometre milestones without a single worry in mind and soon enough, we found that we were on the by-pass to the Indore city.
I took a break of about half an hour at a fuel pump where I rested and ate the dry fruits that I always carry with me now.
We reached near Indore around noon. Indore was not on my itinerary from a sightseeing perspective; however, I had heard a lot about the achievements of the city in the Swatch-Bharat Abhiyaan (the cleanliness drive). Therefore, for once, I thought of entering the city to experience it. However, then changed my mind and decided to continue to Mandu, which is a little hill station believed to be currently covered in the monsoon mist.
After a few kilometres of driving on the Indore-Nashik-Mumbai highway, I took a diversion and started driving on the interior country roads.
Today, my experience of driving on the country roads was in sharp contrast to yesterday’s experience in Bhojpur & Obaidullaganj. Today, the roads were well-paved, with nice greenery all around. I crossed little villages with children playing on the roadside. Waving at the kids and greeting the grown-ups, Saarthi and I neared Mandu.
Mandu has been a fort town with many natural defences. While approaching the city, the road takes the visitor through all those paths that the invading armies would have to cross in order to attack this rich city. One of the natural defences is the deep ravine, which can be crossed by the only bridge, which forms a good defending point against the approaching armies. Once the visitor crosses, the bridge, then she has to climb up the serpentine road crossing the narrow gates at right angles where it is not possible for the elephants to gain momentum and try to break the defences.
After many such gates, the visitor finally reaches the top of the plateau when a check post awaits him. Now, it houses village committee members monitoring the tourists entering the town whereas previously, ferocious armed soldiers ready to take the life of any hostile intruder guarded it.
It was late afternoon when I reached Mandu. I checked in the hotel, which I had booked using Oyo. I relaxed and took a hot bath before I enquired from the hotel staff about a good tourist guide to help me around the town the next day.
I got the reference of a person who was working as a guide in Mandu for the last 15 years. I asked him to come as early as possible the next day. I specifically asked him to come prepared with rain gear because the next day, I was going to visit each and every monument of Mandu whether it rains or not.
I had the evening spare with me so I decided to head for the location of the light & sound show at Mandu. It was a little far from the hotel; however, I thought of walking in order to see the town on foot. After walking about an hour in the light drizzle, I reached the designated place to find that the team responsible for running the light & sound show was waiting for the rain to stop.
It seemed that I was the only tourist they had that evening for the show and coupled with the rain, they decided that they would have to cancel the show for the evening. I was disappointed but to lessen my frustration, the team offered me a lift to the town square so that I could reach my hotel early. I accepted the kind gesture and held their equipment while sitting on the pillion seat.
The drive was short and soon we reached the town square. I enquired from the local people about any good restaurant for dinner. They informed me that the hotel where I was staying has one of the good restaurants in Mandu. However, at the hotel, the staff told me that they would not be able to serve my favourite dish, the thali. This was because; they prepared thali only for a large order of more than 20 people. Anyway, I had to order a la carte; however, the food was average.
I was tired from the full-day drive from Obaidullaganj and then an hour-long walk in the evening. Moreover, I had to be ready for the long walks waiting for me tomorrow while I explore the numerous widely spread monuments of Mandu. Therefore, I retired for the day.
Mandu – Ujjain (Day 9)
Mandu was an important fort town in the Malwa region, which was a site for a constant tussle between different dynasties for supremacy. Over time, it came under the rule of Rajput, Delhi Sultanate (Alauddin Khalji), Mughals and Marathas. Every ruling dynasty had left its mark on the town with many monuments dedicated to each reign.
However, the most prominent ruler of Mandu was Baz Bahadur, a local governor. Many of the key monuments in the city belong to Baz Bahadur and his lover Roopmati.
Baz Bahadur had to leave the town when Mughal Akbar’s armies attacked the city. The Mughals Jahangir and Shah Jahan visited Mandu as a holiday retreat. However, later on, Marathas defeated the Mughals and took control of Mandu.
The most beautiful monument of Mandu is the Roopmati Pavilion, which is located at the far end of the town at the edge of the plateau. The misty morning was a perfect time to visit this beautiful location.
Roopmati Pavilion offers very beautiful views of the natural beauty all around. The clouds had descended in the valley.
Moreover, my guide was an interesting person who was an expert on using the panorama feature of the camera and creating interesting photos by making the subject move to different places while the panorama was being shot.
Some of the attempts by the photographer in my guide to compose his customer and the historical monument in the same frame. 🙂
Roopmati Pavilion was well maintained with a well-curated garden making the visitors’ stay a pleasant experience.
Nearby, there was Baz Bahadur Palace, which matched the colourful nature of its occupant. Baz Bahadur appreciated good music and therefore, many sections of the palace were built with good acoustic features and with specific requirements of musical performances.
The Baz Bahadur palace had a beautiful swimming pool.
After visiting these monuments (Rewa Kund group) at the far end of the town, we came back to the town and visited the monuments in the centre of the town (Village group), which were created by the Ghuri and Khilji dynasties.
Here, the most prominent site was the Jama Masjid, a beautiful mosque.
My tourist guide was always at work playing around with the panoramas in the camera.
Behind the Jama Masjid, there was another beautiful site, Hoshang Shah’s tomb, which is apparently the oldest marble mausoleum of India.
The tomb complex had a long pillared hall, which apparently served as a shelter for many people at times.
After spending some time at the Jama Masjid, Hoshang Shah’s tomb, and Ashrafi Mahal across the road (the village group of monuments), we moved on to the Royal Enclave group of monuments of the town.
As mentioned earlier, Mandu has been a very rich town at its peak, ruled by many dynasties; each of which left its mark on the town. These various groups of numerous monuments stood testimony to the rich heritage of Mandu.
The royal enclave was an equally beautiful area. The compound had many palaces built by Ghuri and Khilji dynasties around two water tanks.
The most famous of the monuments is the Jahaz Mahal built between the two tanks.
Further along the main water tank (Munja tank), is the Jal Mahal, which has many interesting features. The most impressive of the ones was the step-well in the palace where the guide showed me multiple steps going inside the water where the royal families used to relax.
Another key feature of the Jal Mahal was the Turkish bath where the royal family enjoyed a steam sauna. Composition of the photo: courtesy of the guide. He knew perfectly the angle of the camera that will give create a unique image at all the monuments.
Mandu was a revelation to me. It was a big historical site located at a very beautiful location on a plateau surrounded by a deep ravine and numerous hills. The place has many beautiful monuments; however, my awareness of this place was almost nil before this trip.
Getting a good guide was an even better incidence as he could show me around and tell in detail the history of each place, its uniqueness, its importance, and even the demonstrations of its key features. In the end, I paid him more than the agreed money. He deserved it.
I felt lucky that I could spare sufficient time on this trip to visit Mandu and explore it at leisure.
After starting the tour of Mandu early in the morning, it was almost noon by the time; I could good-bye to my guide. Nevertheless, I had sufficient time left in the day to reach Ujjain about 130 km from Mandu.
Soon, Saarthi and I left Mandu for Ujjain and reached there in the afternoon. Once again, I stayed in an Oyo network hotel.
Ujjain is one of the holy cities that have a very revered place in Hindu mythology. It is one of the 12 Jyotirlingas (naturally occurring Shiv Lingas). As a result, Ujjain as a city has very high religious stature and is a site for the famous Kumbh Mela occurring every 12 years at this place.
I decided to use this occasion to offer my prayers to Lord Shiva known as Lord Mahakaleshwar here in the evening. It was my luck that the queue was short and I could get the darshan of the Jyotirlinga without a long wait.
After paying tribute to Lord Shiva, I visited the Vikram Teela, an island in the Rudra Sagar Lake, which has the statue of King Vikramaditya of Ujjain with his nine scholars (navratna).
The island situated in the middle of the lake provides a nice location to spend some time sitting in peace while soaking in the enchanting atmosphere of Ujjain. I spent some time relaxing and ruminating over my journey, the events, the path, and its culmination today in the feet of Lord Shiva, the Mahakaleshwar.
After fulfilling my heart with the philosophical ruminations, I visited the Ram Ghat and touched the holy waters of Kshipra River in order to wash away my sins. As the trip was coming to an end, I believe God had brought me to the right place to relax, rejuvenate, and give the ultimate peace to the ever-wandering thoughts in the mind.
Now, washing your sins and forgetting about Saarthi is not justified. Therefore, in Ujjain, I found a shop and got Saarthi washed properly removing all the mud, the dust, and the stains born by it to support me in my journey. Saarthi has been my trusted companion in all my quests to know about our beautiful country; to explore it, to see it by road, to meet its people, and to understand what India actually is.
Even though the exploration of new places on this trip ended at Ram Ghat in Ujjain; however, Saarthi & I still had to cover about 800 km to reach home. We took about 2 days to cover this distance and stayed for a night at Gwalior mid-way (Day 10).
At Gwalior, I chose to stay in the same hotel, where I had stayed at the start of the journey on the first day. The hotel owners had forgotten me. For them, it was a new day and a new visitor.
It again reinforced my thoughts that we are a very small part of this world, and we have a short time to live on Mother Earth. It is best if we live this time doing what we love the most. At the end of the day, when the time comes to go, we should not have regrets that we did not do what we loved.
On the afternoon, of Sept 7, 2019 (Day11), I reached home to my beautiful family.