Overgrown Temples and Underground Beer

The morning it was time to leave Khajuraho, a pickup with a camping box built onto the back parked up outside Bella Italia, where we were enjoying one last espresso before we’d load up and hit the road. Maps on either side of the van told tales of our dream trip first across Europe, then the Stans and then overland into India. One from five years ago, one from now. This time they’d had to leave the car in India a while to fly home and now they had come back to drive an awesome route home, that would include Georgia. So jealous they did the Stans…twice! I gave them a few tips on where to go in Georgia. We had been there so long, it feels like we know it quite well!

Surprisingly slowly a crowd had formed. One of them being a huge red BMW bike, looking totally out of place in India. Its rider, a super nice German guy called Hubert had a quick chat with us about his trip and how he was dealing with repairs out here. Seems like he too had done a version of our dream trip from Europe heading east, arriving in India overland. Sadly we had to leave, and he was heading the other way, so we swapped tips on places to stay and see and he gave me his website details. (Sorry folks, it’s in German, but it has lots of really good pics!)

Around lunchtime we were finally ready to go. The ride was much easier than the road had been up to here and we got a chance to look around, spotting lots of little temples and curious ruins dotted around the green and yellow landscape of wheat and rapeseed fields.

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We arrived in Orchha in the late afternoon and settled into the first Hotel we checked out; clean-ish rooms arranged around a cute little courtyard at an ok price with the promise of WiFi and hot water. The WiFi never got fixed and thee hot water only materialized early in the morning as we left. Oh well, we were used to that kind of thing by now. There were plenty of rooftop restaurants that had WiFi and some would even serve a sneaky beer here or there at extortionate prices. This being quite a holy place to Hindus, drinking alcohol in public was strictly taboo. You quickly fill your glass and then hide the bottle on the floor so the cops down on the street won’t catch you out. Of course the gods in the little shrines over the counter were watching without complaint.

The fort is of course the masterpiece the town is famous for. Our guide book mentioned an entry fee of 250 rupees and opening times of 8am to 6pm. But we just walked in at half past five and no one asked for a ticket. We weren’t sure if that was because things had changed and entry is now free, they thought we were guests of the hotel that occupies part of the fort, or because it was too close to closing time to charge. We weren’t going to ask.

Some guys were busy with preservation work. They were mixing mortar the way it was done way back when these buildings were built. All ingredients are poured into a circular pit and the mixed by a stone wheel that is rolled around it. Only these guys used tractors, not oxen to pull the wheel round.

After that we bumped into a couple of tired looking men going home from their daily preservation work and then we were alone, exploring the crumbling ruins of mahals, temples and mansions and living quarters of the architects and workers of the main fort buildings. We roamed about till it got too dark to see anything.

Orchha has all the usual tourist shops and cafes as well as a small bazaar.

 

View of the Fort from Town

View of the Fort from Town

Shrines and temples are dotted all over town. Some small others huge and very unusual.

We bumbled about trying the horrendously sweet milk cake the town is famous for and came across a water tower. Climbing the banister-less stairs is scary, especially when a particularly strong gust of the warm breeze catches you out. But the views over the town, the river and the fort are amazing!

There is a narrow bridge across the river that only allows big vehicles across in one direction at the time. People swim in the river during the day. I went to dip my feet in, but Aidan got kidnapped by some annoying Indian tourists who first wanted a picture with him, and them followed him over to me and positioned themselves near me so they could take pictures that pretended I was hanging out with them. Grrrrrr….. so much for a peaceful refreshing little splash around.

I put my shoes back on and we escaped. A cold beer was beckoning back in town, but we still had a lot of time to kill till evening. Since we still weren’t sure about the ticket for the fort thing, we’d wait till sunset to explore the rest of it. The light is best for photos then anyways… So we crossed the bridge and went for a stroll along the quiet riverside, bumping into no-one except a cow and a few monkeys.

 

 

Everyone always says not to swim in any water but the sea in India, but the river was beckoning. The fast flowing water looked clear and I was just not going to think about any chemicals or dead cows up river. So I stripped down to all but my long T-shirt and jumped in. Splash! Soooooo nice and fresh at this hot noon 🙂 Aidan was gonna join, but then he remembered he was going commando and had no underpants to swim in. That’s what happens when you refuse to do your laundry when you’re supposed to.

That evening we returned to the fort and again no one challenged us for a ticket. Maybe it really is free now? There were a couple more ruins to explore, and then we followed the big stone wall that surrounds the entire fort. All gates are blocked off with stacked up thorny branches. Beyond are green wheat fields growing in a branch-off of the river that is reduced to small streams and pools during the dry season. Though you can hear the big river gushing over the rocks beyond a bank. Some people even live under tarps up there.

I wandered along the wall while Aidan explored along the ground. The views were amazing.

Then we found a gate in the wall, that was surprisingly open and watched a guy wash his clothes in the river.

On the corner the wall opened up into a viewing platform from which you could see the big river, the bridge, and parts of town with its big historic buildings beyond. Once again it got too dark to see, so we climbed over rocks and through the bushes pack to the path back into town.

The next day it was time to hit the road to Agra. As we loaded up the bikes outside the hotel, a woman loaded bricks onto her head to carry into the house next door, where they were renovating out back. She kept smiling at me and agreed when I asked to take a picture. Then the smile vanished and she asked for rupees instantly turning a friendly encounter into frustration. All too often do people here seem to mistake us for cash dispensers, rather than the fellow curious human beings we are.

Real shame! But this morning nothing was going to ruin my mood. The air was cool and Nila rode like a dream after the repair in Khajuraho. The roads were still quite empty and I had a chance to cruise along, enjoying the scenery – a rarity in India. Millions of little flies were buzzing around the air. I closed my visor so as to not catch them in my huge grin 🙂

One response to “Overgrown Temples and Underground Beer

  1. Pingback: Richtung Aufgehnder Sonne – Hubert Zurwesten | followingtarmac·

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