India Travel Journal: Madhya Pradesh

> Return to Delhi

24-12-2011 With a slight delay, due to offloading the luggage of two unwanted passengers, our flight takes off around eleven thirty. We're being well taken care off by KLM and think a direct flight like this is heavenly; in no time we're there. In Delhi it's already late however, because of the four hours and thirty minutes time difference. Peter at Indira Ghandi Airport DelhiAt the airport we're surprised to find out the entire place has een carpeted and there's even some sort of electronic advertising. Like our neighbour in the plane said to us: "up to international standards now". Unfortunately we're too late to take the metro, as the trains run only until elevenish, but the same man in the plane told us to buy a ticket from the "Government prepaid taxi booth", just outside the arrival hall, but still inside the airport. Now we don't have to negotiate a price right away and it's much cheaper compared to buying tickets at the "prepaid taxis" outside.
By one a.m. we're at the hotel and it seems like a good plan to dive straight into our bed, as we've been planning to leave around eight tomorrow. Due to India we have to postpone the sleeping part a bit however: a buzzing mosquito, people chatting downstairs, the removal of rubble from the construction site right behind our room, a second buzzing mosquito and yes... finally, around three thirty, it seems to be possible to sleep.

> Ambassador to Orccha

25-12-2011 Just before eight Surender's waiting downstairs for us. A nice driver, who doesn't speak much English, but who did bring his Ambassador. After some quick shopping to take with us en route we sit down in the back, like a real Maharadia and Maharani. The AmbassadorIt all goes really smooth on a luxury holiday like this, surely have to do that more often. Once more we notice that, despite it's a dirty metropolis, there's so much green in Delhi. Even the slums we're passing are surrounded by green trees and bushes.
As soon as we leave Delhi we know we're finally back in the real India: drivers are using their horns constantly, we see cows and dogs wandering everywhere and beautiful saris add a bit of colour to the dusty landscapes, many times dotted with wonderful, old trees. Pretty soon Surender finds it time for lunch. We're dropped at one of the typical luxurious tourist restaurants at the socalled "highway". Yeah right, we're not having any food here! We don't want to spend a week paying too much for tasteless tourist food, just because he'll get free food then. So we wait for him to finish his lunch and ask a couple of hours later, as soon as we are hungry, to stop at a local restaurant. "Yes, but here very spicy food." Uhm... yes please! We point at what we'd like to eat and only then have we really arrived in India: under the prying eyes of the entire Indian clientele, we eat two plates of delicious food with real chapattis. Yum.
The journey to Orchha turns out to take a bit longer than expected, partially due to bad road conditions of the final stretch. Fortunately construction work is in progress and at some places the new highway is almost completed. It's dark for quite a while when we arrive and after a quick diner we get into our bed. Once more India's teasing us, where it comes to sleeping, but luckily the earplugs stop most of the electronically amplified prayers of the tenple and the mozzy net the mosquitos.

Jehangir Mahal in Orccha Langur in Jehangir Mahal in Orccha

26-12-2011 After a quiet morning walk to the river, in the calm and rural Orccha, we enjoy a breakfast of delicious pakoras at a street stall. Now we have enough energy to visit both palaces elevated above the village. Both of them are gorgeous! We enjoy ourselves at Jehangir Mahal, not just with the wonderful towers and vistas, but also with the langurs, chasing each other on the palace rooftops. From one of the balconies at the side we have an amazing view over the foggy landscape and more ancient monuments: Raj mahal and Chaturbhuj temple. After we had some paratas for lunch we stroll through the area of the temples, which are plentyful in Orccha. At the entrance of the largest there's a man with a five-legged cow, decorated like a true saint and even provided with a jacket. The market near the temples is a colourful collection of stalls with offerings, bangles, souvenirs, vegetables and fruit. When walking to a nearby village a little later, more ancient temples are looming behind every corner. A great sight against the foggy background. In this time of the year it's never very clear in Northern India and at night temperatures are dropping quite a bit. Like today, once more making us get into bed early.

> Khajuraho

27-12-2011 After a last breakfast near the busiest junction in town we move on to Khajuraho. Road conditions are worsening and it's a dusty trip without much other traffic, especially the last part. From time to time we share the road with buffaloes and oxen, some of them pulling wooden carts, on their way to farmland. We arrive by midafternoon and we've just got some time to check out some of the Southern temples. Jain Temples Khajuraho Those are wonderfully detailed and are situated on the outskirts of the old village of Khajuraho. In this old village we stroll around as well, and we see women in colourful saris sitting on their tresholds, washing clothes zt the well or collecting water and whisper to their kids to yell "hello" at the tourists. The older kids don't need to be encouraged for the latter and some of them even expand their greeting into "helloschoolpen" and "hellomoney". The environments of the village are superb in the late afternoon light. Beautiful old trees, waterbuffaloes, temples, waterwells and dirt roads with people returning home, walking or on a bicycle or some even on a motorbike, sometimes carrying a schoolbag on their back, farming equipment in their hands, or large branches on their heads, for the fire of tonight.

28-12-2011 After these few first nights we remember: India is never turning off. At one thirty we were woken up by Indian guests, who came to their rooms and until at least three a.m. they were chatting and laughing in the corridors. Next the entire restaurant needed to be cleaned, right above our heads and since Peters stomach doesn't really appreciate last night's Thali we haven't had too much sleep... again.
So we take it easy today and just visit the small archeological museum, before we rest a bit and go for the major tourist attraction of Khajuraho: the Kama Sutra temples to the West of the village. The temples are nice and detailed, but still we're a bit disappointed by the number of temples and their size. Probably we're just spoiled at Bagan, Siem Reap, Hampi and Pattadakal.

> Gwalior

29-12-2011 The sun barely penetrated the fog on a day like this, in midwinter, when we leave Khajuraho around nine. Woman makes matrasses at the roadsideWe've already done the road we follow in the opposite direction and once again we see dusty villages, where time seems to stand still like forever. Women clean their shiny pots and pans, collect water at the pump and sweep their courtyards, while the men open their shops, where they fix tires or repair trucks, weld and hammer, make mattrasses or carve stone. Some women are also working in these harsh conditions at the roadside, inhaling the swirling dust of passing trucks and buses all day long.
For the rest the landscape is pretty boring, lots of farming land and sometimes a few trees and bushes. Thank God there is some vegetation here and there, as Yvonne is waiting for a sanitary stop in the backseat, while we're driving a road full of bumps and potholes, not very favorable with a full bladder; and Surender doesn't succeed in finding a toilet at this remote part of the road. Shocked he's watching Yvonne disappear into the bushes at a local path and until she comes into sight again he keeps looking in his mirror with a worried look.
The sun has sunk quite a lot when we finally reach the bustle of Gwalior Gwalior FortUnfortunately Peter's still not very hungry after his Thali-experience, so Yvonne's forced to eat almost all of the delicious Indian food by herself.

30-12-2011 The Gwalior fort is high on a hill and does show some resemblance to the magnificent fortress of Jodhpur. What is unique here are the blue and yellow tiles on the outside, a pretty sight. We don't find the interior very special however and we move on to the other temples on this same hill. The appearance of the temples and the extraordinary view down compete to get our attention. On our way back down we pass a couple of huge, rock hewn images of Jain teachers, whose size is not at all inferior to the Buddhas we once saw in China, but who aren't all that nicely detailed. What a job, to carve such giants from stone.
Down in the city we drive to the Jai Vilas Palace and Scindia Museum, where the wealthiest family of the entire area once used to live. The chandeliers in the dining hall are huge and the model railway on the tables, used to serve drinks and cigars for the guests, is rather bizarre. Jai Vilas Palace and Scindia MuseumWhen we've set eyes on all the wealth here, we're headed to Agra, where we'll spend a night in a homestay. We enjoy a quiet night of sleep in a residential area, just away from the main road, something to remember for our next visit. When opening the tap we doubt whether we believe what we're seeing: it looks like there's coke coming out; we've never seen water this brown in India and after a necessary shower we don't have the feeling to be very clean. When we are forced to take a bicycle rickshaw to the ATM at the station, we realize that over the last week we haven't been too much aware of the real poverty of India, as we were driven around on the backseat of our Ambassador. This man is barely wearing any clothes between all the holes and is so eager to earn some money, that he would have taken us even for just one Rupee. At the station we see entire families out in the cold, under some blankets, while all the own is assembled in the gutter. Some of them try to stay a bit warm in the cold winter night with a campfire. This journey by car was kind of special, but offers a complete different view on the country. You're seeing more, but also less.

> back to Pushkar

31-12-2011 This final day of the year is also the last day of our roundtrip, ending in Pushkar. Unfortunately our taxi only takes us as far as Jaipur, a trip of approximately five hours, of which two in dense fog. Our windshield is getting all wet because of it and makes the visability even less. Peter mentions it, because he finds it dangerous, so Surender decides to stop in the middle of the highway, to clean the windshield with a newspaper, as the wipers probably don't work. This can only happen in Incredible India. A couple of hours later, when driving in the centre of Jaipur and the fog has vanished, Surender switches on the wipers, now functioning perfectly. Why? Perhaps to have us sitting in the back, full of surprise about this country, for the last time?
When arriving at the Jaipur bus station we have to struggle in and out of two more buses with way too much luggage, as we're still carrying all the stuff for Shakti with us. By the end of the afternoon we're there and we first get to our regular hotel, to next visit several acquaintances, but there's more about that in another journal.

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