Madhya Pradesh: Travel Secrets from the Heart of India

After a long journey from Agra finally, we reach Gwalior in Madhya Pradesh. Here the public transport par excellence is the rickshaws. Everything is part of the trip and after overcoming these events and meeting the needs of sleep and hunger one looks back and enjoys remembering the people and the strange stories of the road. After visiting the Gwalior fort we started to walk through the streets near the fort.

I enjoy watching the little shops, dodging motorcycles and rickshaws. We stay in the waiting room of the bus station, along with some Chileans, until 6:30 p.m. when we took the bus to Khajuraho. In Khajuraho, the bus station is next to the town and you can walk to the hotels. We took the opportunity to approach the bus station where you can buy train tickets and bought two tickets for the next day to Orchha for Rs 120 per person, second class without air conditioning as the journey will last around 5 hours.

We stayed at the guesthouse, very close to the temple complex, for 400 rupees. We leave the backpacks and go to see the temples although the best time to visit them is usually at dawn because there are good light and fewer people. We rented some bikes and we went to see the East and southern temples.

We thought that those temples were scattered and the bicycle would be useful to move from one to another, but the truth is that it is a compact set that is seen right away. So you can walk, or better in a rickshaw for the same price as renting the bike. It is a set of few Jain temples, but not as interesting or as well preserved as those of the West group.

Next door is the old town of Khajuraho, with its mud houses painted white and turquoise blue. We got lost with the bike through the narrow streets of the picturesque town. In one of the houses, we stopped because we heard music and they invited us to enter. It was a group of women of all ages singing and celebrating the birth of a baby in the family. They told us that the party usually lasts about 5 or 6 days.

They invited us to tea. We thought about going around with the bicycle around but it started to rain. So we returned the bikes and ended the visit to the temples of Khajuraho. In the evening, we went to dinner at the restaurant, with a terrace in front of the temples and the prices are normal. In the morning we booked a table with good views because while you dine you can contemplate the light and sound show that there is every day at 6:30 p.m. We take a lassi.

The next day, we get up to see the sunrise over the temples. In the morning we visited the temples of the West group which are the most impressive of the whole complex. Khajuraho acquired its greatest splendor between 950 and 1050 when these great temples were built by the Chandela dynasty. With the foreign invasions, the chandeliers left the temples and the jungle took over them.

In 1838 they were discovered by a British officer. They are a magnificent example of Indo-Aryan architecture. The erotic sculptures have given it worldwide fame, giving special importance to women and sex. Stone figures of apsaras (celestial nymphs) appear nude and in different poses, and also carvings of women and men representing different positions of the Kamasutra.

The precincts of the most important Khajuraho temples are quite small. The truth is that the whole is seen right away. There are beautiful, elaborate temples, with good sculptures carved in the stone, with famous sculptures in sexual postures and with tall buildings emulating Mount Kailash, the abode of the gods.

But in our opinion, there are many temples similar to these in India. We do not understand how they have given this fame so much because it seems that if you come to India you have to see them. Well, no, we believe that these temples can be dispensable, and only if you get lost is worth a visit. Could it be that we have already seen many temples?

We did not find any reason to stay longer in Khajuraho. Our next destination will be Orchha so at 08:30 we take a rickshaw that takes us to the Khajuraho train station for 100 rupees. We get on the train in the sleeper class without air conditioning that will leave at 09:30 to Orchha. We arrived at the Orchha train around 2:00 p.m. The normal thing is to stop at Jhansi (about 15 kilometers from Orchha), but this train stopped at the Orchha station, and we got off here (not all trains stop). Anyway, we had to take a rickshaw for 50 rupees since the station is on the outskirts of town.

With the rickshaw, we saw several lodgings and we stayed in the guesthouse. This guesthouse located in a quiet area of the town is barely 4 months old. It was very good and very clean. They left us for a good room for 400 rupees. Orchha is a pretty quiet town with a landscape dotted with palaces. If you walk a little you can see many temples, which are many in ruins and are used by local people to live or to keep their livestock.

The same afternoon we arrived we got together with the couple of Portuguese we met on the train when we went to Khajuraho. We dedicated that afternoon to tour the river area, a very beautiful area. Here we found a few old buildings that we explored in all its corners. The buildings seemed abandoned, and because they had not received any kind of restoration they enjoyed a special charm. We went up its stairs to the highest floors. We thought it was incredible the architectural wealth that this town has. We enjoyed the beauty of these buildings with the beautiful light that the sunset offered us.

The next day we visited the main palaces. We arrived early, they open at 08:00 hours, and for a long time, we were alone. It may be interesting to have a guide to tell you all the history of this place. But what is really nice is to lose yourself in the corridors of the buildings, up the narrow stairs and look through their numerous balconies in silence, heading to where you want without having to stand at each corner and pay attention to an explanation. This place invites you to imagine the life that was here a few centuries ago, a life of luxury, art, perhaps extravagances.

Most of the groups that come to Orchha only see the Raj Mahal Palace, Jahangir Mahal, the Chaturbhuj temple and perhaps the Lakshmi Narayan temple (the temple of Lakshmi). But it is worth spending a few days here and walking around to make an idea of ​grandeur in this old capital of the Bundela clan and visit the many buildings that are still standing and the temples that are far from the center that few people explore.

The center of this small town has a lot of colors. Near the bazaar is the Ram Raja temple, where locals make long queues to leave offerings and recite their prayers. The temple is dedicated to Rama and is the only temple in the country where Rama is worshiped as if he were a king.

It is interesting to visit the Phool Bagh, which is very close to the bazaar. It consists of old gardens surrounded by buildings that we assume would be old houses. In the center of the gardens, there is a small sanctuary. The place supposes a small haven of peace in this small town, that although small it is inevitable to hear continuous beeps of the vehicles that pass through it.

Our next destination will be the Bandhavgarh National Park. It is best to go by train as the buses are slow. So we asked in several Orchha agencies about train tickets. All the agencies told us that in the only train that had seats was the train at 3:30 p.m. They told us prices from 190 rupees to 350 rupees per person, and also had to pay a commission of Rs. 75 per person.

As we knew there were trains every hour we decided to go the next day on our own to the train station and take the ticket there directly. It seemed strange to us that there was no availability. The journey is only 5 or 6 hours. So we did not mind going in the lowest category, and if there were no seats left, we would go by bus. In India, with patience, you can get anywhere.

We take the train to go to the Bandhavgarh National Park. The train arrives. We take an autorickshaw that takes us to the hotel, to rest a few hours before catching at 11:00h the bus to Tala, which is the access to the National Park.

In Tala, we stayed at the hotel with bathroom but without hot water. They are bungalows around a common area. In the hotel, we hired a safari of double entry to the park to have more possibilities to see tigers, including the entry to the park, the guide, and the jeep. The jeep can be shared to make it cheaper, but we did not find anyone and we were alone.

Bandhavgarh NP has a population of 50-56 tigers. It is the park with the highest density of tigers in India and where the chances of seeing them are greater (even so it is quite difficult to see them). There are also 22 leopards.

That same afternoon we ventured into the park. There are only two times a day to get in at 6:15 am and 2:15 p.m. We were lucky because we saw a lot of animals: deer of different species, wild boars, peacocks, langur monkeys, jackals, and tigers! We could not believe it, the first time we entered and see 1 tigress with 4 cubs. We saw them thanks to the alarm call by deer and monkeys when there is a tiger nearby. Despite being about 20m away and between the trees, we were astonished seeing them. We met people who had entered 3 or 4 times and had not seen any, so we felt lucky.

The next day, we went back in at 6:15 am but we did not see as many animals as the day before and neither did tigers. As it was very early, we had to warm up because it was quite cold.

We went to the top of a hill where the statue of Vishnu lies at the foot of a small pond, where they say that in summer the tigers drink water and bathe. When leaving the park we were consoled by the poster in which a tiger says: Maybe you have not seen me, but do not be disappointed because I have seen you.

At 11:00 we took the bus back to Umaria and from there a train to Katni. As we had no reservation and the journey was only 1 hours, we bought the general ticket and we sat where we saw an empty seat. We want to take the night train that goes to Jalgaon, but we have no reservation. There are no free sleeper places and the train is 2 hours late. So we go to a hotel near the Katni station to rest and tomorrow we'll see.

Today we continue our efforts to buy train tickets for Jalgaon but it is impossible. There are no seats even with the emergency quota. Desperate, we take the first bus that goes to Jabalpur which is the other alternative we had.

Jabalpur is a city little traveled by tourists and the options of restaurants and accommodation are very local. We stayed in the hotel. It happened that on the same day there was a wedding ceremony at the hotel. In fact, they asked us if we wanted to join them, but we were so tired that we had to refuse their invitation. Afterward, we broke down because they made so much noise all night, that we could not sleep. It would have been better to be messing around all night.

In the end, we got a ticket to Jalgaon for tonight with the Emergency Quota. We also book online train tickets for the next few days so that we do not get the same thing again. We take advantage of what we have left of the day to rent an autorickshaw and go to the area of ​​the Marble Rocks that are 22 km from the city.

We go first to the Dhuandhar Waterfalls that pleasantly surprise us because they are impressive. The river carries a lot of water and is so clear that people go there to bathe and even drink it. A few meters away is the circular temple Chausath Yogini, with 64 statues of Yoginis (helpers of the goddess Kali).

We continue to the Marble Rocks where in a shared rowboat we crossed the 2km countercurrent within the gorges of the Narmada River. The walls of the gorge are limestone cliffs that resemble marble in white, brown and pink tones.

Finally, we stopped at Balancing Rock on our way to Jabalpur. In the surroundings of the city, the houses stand out from the dirt and the hustle and bustle of the streets due to the blue tone they are painted with.

Madhya Pradesh: Travel Secrets from the Heart of India

The night train from Jabalpur to Jalgaon goes more than 5 hours late and from 9:30 p.m. we wait at the station until 3:00 a.m. when it arrives. The train in India is desperate. After being 5 hours on the platform waiting for the train, arrived at 3:00 am in the morning, but the worst was what awaited us later. Our ticket was in sleeper class (because there were no seats in AC) and the compartment was full of people, many with tickets on the waiting list without confirmation and others without a ticket.

When we got to our bunk beds, we had to wake up several people who were sleeping in them and ask them to get up reluctantly. There were so many people that there was not a space for a pin. Those who were without seats in the corridors were talking all night. Those who had closer took advantage of the moments when we changed positions to sit on our bed, literally on top of us. So we stayed on guard all night, throwing them every time they invaded us.

In addition, we had to sleep on our backpacks, since in India you cannot lose sight of your luggage even for a moment. Even the locals carry their belongings tied with chains to the seats. Luckily, the train finally reached Jalgaon and the martyrdom was over. We leave behind our unforgettable travel companions.

We take an autorickshaw to the bus station. From Jalgaon, we took a bus to Burhanpur. From Burhanpur we go to the crossroads where the Omkareshwar train station is. From there, to make the remaining 12 kilometers, we took an autorickshaw shared for 20 rupees. We arrived at the village of Omkareshwar around 4 in the afternoon.

We stayed at the hostel for 350 rupees. Everyone told us the nearby guesthouse had very cheap rooms, from 100 rupees, but they were too basic. Although we used the guesthouse restaurant since the town did not offer many more options.

We are on a weekend and there are many who have come here to visit the temples and enjoy a refreshing swim in the sacred Narmada river. Omkareshwar is a quite religious place where Shiva has special relevance. In front of the town, there is an island where there are several temples, as well as a quite pleasant path that practically surrounds the whole island. You can cross the river using the many boats that are next to the ghats, or you can use some of two nearby high bridges.

The truth is that we do not understand how there are so many boats since the bridges are really close. Although the bridges have probably been made recently and the boats are reluctant to disappear. From the bridges, we can already see the impressive dam that has been built near Omkareshwar. It is the second largest dam in the world, after a Chinese dam. With the dam, hydropower is generated, but during our stay in the town, the power cuts were continuous.

In the morning we cross the river by one of the high bridges. We reach the wide island and going up the 287 steps, we visit the 10th-century temple known as Gauri Somnath Temple. We saw a few sadhus by the temple, and most of the men have painted on their foreheads the three white stripes that symbolize respect for Shiva. Nearby is the huge statue of this God of 30 meters high in whose temple we found a few children who were sitting on the floor studying. But when they saw us they started to make nonsense and found a good excuse to leave the books.

Following the path, we pass the Sanyas Ashram and then we arrive at the temple with statues of elephants at its base known as Siddhanath Temple. From here we appreciate the enormous amplitude of the dam. After passing by some species of caves where we find some sadhus dozing, we reach the other bridge. From here we go to the white temple called Shri Omkar Mandhata, which must be a very venerated temple because we find many pilgrims leaving offerings and performing their songs.

They continually offer excursions on the river with the boats. We were not very clear about the route they took but we decided to try it. For 100 rupees they gave us a ride that did not last 15 minutes, of which 5 were used to fill the fuel tank, and did not even go near the dam area. In other words, it's not worth it at all.

We met a Canadian girl who had been living in this town for 6 years. She wore black robes and told us that she lived in one of the ashrams on the island. But we were surprised that we saw her dining in the guesthouse restaurant and we saw her again in the same guesthouse having breakfast in the morning.

This town is quite curious and you hardly see foreign tourists. Our next destination is Maheshwar and there are usually buses there every hour but tomorrow is a holiday. The Holi is celebrated, so there is only one bus that departs at 6 in the morning. So we will have to get up early.

We arrived in Maheshwar around 9:30 in the morning from Omkareshwar. We took a bus that was supposed to leave from Omkareshwar at 6 o'clock in the morning but left half an hour later. The driver stopped continuously for no apparent reason other than having a tea or chewing tobacco.

It was fun, I guess because we were not in a hurry. We were very struck by the fact that in this area buses stop a lot in sacred places, like small temples on the edge of the road, and leave offerings like flowers or incense. When we passed a bridge that crossed the sacred river Narmada the bus stopped and threw flowers into the water along with a small prayer.

The bus stopped us on the main road of Maheshwar. So we had to walk about 5 minutes to get to the area of ​​the fort where most of the accommodations are located.

To stay, we chose the rest house for 500 rupees in one of the rooms at the top. After breakfast we visited the fort and the ghats, but before we met some westerners who were having a pipe with the theme of Holi. They carried water pistols and filled their faces and colored clothes. This was only the beginning. Locals finished the job and we got wet and colored more. It was all fun. Many greeted with the intention of putting some color on our hands or face. The Holi is one of the most important celebrations in India and is done to welcome spring.

The previous night bonfires are lit all over the country to symbolize the burning of demons. Traditionally it is said that spring can cause cold and fever in the population. So throwing colored powder has a medicinal meaning since traditionally those powders were made with flowers and medicinal herbs prescribed by Ayurvedic doctors. Nowadays the colored powders that are bought on the street are artificial dyes and have nothing to do with those that were used in the past.

It is easy to see groups of men sharing a bottle with the drink called Thandai, which contains marijuana. Due to this festivity, most of the shops and restaurants are closed. We noticed that we asked in a hotel for a room. They showed us one. We liked it and we were going to keep it, but the man tells us that it would be from the next day since that day was Holi and the hotel closes.

When we crossed the walls of the fort and arrived at the ghats, we liked what we saw. It is a large area where people enjoy bathing in the Narmada River, which carried much more water than there was in the area of ​​Omkareshwar. The buildings and small temples that can be seen here are very well preserved, as well as the stone carvings and the numerous steps that are around. We also visited the palace, although it is not very spectacular, probably because the queen who lived there was quite austere and did not need grandiose buildings to do her job well.

Maheshwar was the capital of the Malwa for a period of time, after which the capital was moved to Indore. The word Maheshwar in Hindi means Great God, an epithet of Shiva, and the locality appears in the accounts of the Mahabharata.

This town is a good place to rest and relax, but we only stayed one night. Our next destination would be Mandu, which is quite close. So the next day we will not get up early and take local buses.

We arrived at Mandu from Maheshwar. We took a bus that took us first to Damnoth (12 kilometers) for 15 rupees per person. There we took another bus to the Lunera junction (60 kilometers) for 30 rupees per person. And finally, at the crossroads, we took another bus that took us to Mandu (15 kilometers) for 15 rupees per person. We left Maheshwar around 10 o'clock in the morning and by 1:30 we were already in Mandu.

We stayed at the guesthouse for 300 rupees. They are pretty basic rooms around a courtyard and attached to a temple dedicated to Shiva. In the afternoon local people come to this temple to make their offerings. They do it in a very cheerful way and it is very sacred. In this town, there is not much to choose from in the theme of accommodation. There is a resort about two kilometers from the town.

Mandu is a good place to visit its forts, mosques and enjoy its tranquility. Between 1401 and 1561 Mandu was the capital of the Mughal empire of northern India. Then the capital was abandoned and now there is hardly a small town where you can visit numerous ruins in an area of ​​more than 10 kilometers long and 15 kilometers wide considered World Heritage.

At the time we arrived at Mandu it was very hot. So we ate something and took a walk around this small town that does not have much. We locate a place to rent bikes the next day. So from 6 in the morning, we can rent them for 50 rupees each. We take advantage of the day visiting the monuments that are located near the bus stop, entrance 100 rupees per person. It is the Central group with the Ashrafi Mahal or the Madrasa, the Jama Masjid, and the mausoleum or tomb of Hoshang Shah with its huge dome. Supposedly the architect of Shah Jahan came to Mandu to study the architecture of this tomb before to build the Taj Mahal.

The next day we wake up a little because the heat immediately gets stronger. At seven in the morning, we had rented the bikes and we were entering the group of monuments of the Royal Enclave, about 2 kilometers from the town. Entry to this group also costs Rs.100 per person. We were advised to arrive early to enjoy the beautiful morning light. It was true that it was a very pleasant time. We were alone and we liked this place very much.

The majesty of the buildings and the numerous ponds (now many without water) offer us an idea of ​​the incredible place that it should have been in its best times. We were able to see locals who came here to take drinking water from wells, in addition to using a nice pond to bathe. What a luxury to be able to bathe in a pond where formerly only the kings bathed,

Outside the entrance to this area, there are several restaurants. We had several refreshments because when we left, around 10 in the morning, it was already quite hot. Then we went to the group of Rewa Kund monuments, about 6 kilometers from the village. The best thing about this place is that from here there are good views of an immense plain full of crops.

The few buildings that look are not bad, but after seeing the Royal Enclave it barely impresses us. So if we have to choose between one group or another the first would be the Royal Enclave and then the central group. Between the village and the Rewa Kund group, we stopped at several monuments within what is called the Sagar Talao group, as it is close to Lake Sagar Talao, such as the Elephant Palace (Hathi Mahal) or the tomb of Darya Khan, among others.

We really enjoyed the bike ride as we were able to appreciate how the local people live. We stopped around some mud huts where we listened to disco music at the top. There we found many children dancing to the rhythm of the music and enjoyed the show with an old lady who did not stop laughing. We did not dare to dance with the children.

We only have about 20 days left to finish this trip and we will take it easy. And what better place to relax than Pushkar, in Rajasthan. We already know this place and we want to go back, so we go there.

To get to Pushkar we went first from Mandu to Indore by local bus, changing buses in Dhar. The night bus to Pushkar was to leave at 8:30 PM. So we spent the whole day in a modern shopping center that we found in Indore. Indore is a city with a lot of traffic, a lot of noise, a lot of heat. This shopping center was for us an oasis where we entered with a smile as big as a child's when they enter an amusement park.

It also had a cinema where they broadcast films in 3 dimensions. So we were encouraged to watch a movie. We were as hypnotized as it had been a while since we went to a movie theater. In the Indian cinemas, an intermission is there. People pass by offering us a menu so that we can consume something. So we ordered some macaroni thinking that this is something unimaginable in other parts of the world.

Soon we thought that this new cinema, recently opened, with clean chairs and a reclining system that worked perfectly, would lose all this splendor due to tomato or ice cream stains. They may soon forbid eating these types of meals inside the cinema. A few years ago we were surprised to be able to smoke inside the train or the bus, and now smoking is prohibited in any station or public place. Things are changing, although little by little.

We then head to the bus station. Our bus arrived punctually, but at night to the holy city of Ujjain. We took a cheap hotel without windows. At first, it is not important but when the night comes and we cannot sleep because of the noise of the intense traffic and loud horns of trucks and buses, we realize the mistake made.

Basically, next morning what we see in this city are temples and the devotion of the people. Ujjain, in the state of Madhya Pradesh, is part of one of the 7 holy cities of India. There is a very important celebration every 12 years called Kumbh Mela, where millions of people come to bathe in the sacred river Shipra. The temple of Mahakaleshwar is dedicated to Shiva.

The temple consists of an artificial cave in which one feels like an amusement park. In this cave, there are figures of meditating gurus, cows, monkeys. Then we pass to another U-shaped inner cave, in which the gods are exhibited in showcases.

Another temple is the one of Harsiddhi, in which two greasy towers stand out in front of the temple. In these towers, people scale and place oils or grease. Others throw flowers against the towers and the grease gets stuck down slowly. Then pick them up again and store them. Apparently, these towers are illuminated at certain times of the year with candles that people place on each tower's outgoing support. Of course, it was not this time either.

The temple has an image of the goddess Annapurna, and others of Ganesh completely painted with red lands. Apart from temples, in Ujjain, there is one of the important astronomical observatories in India. With rudimentary devices and strange constructions mediate the situation of the planets and other data. Ujjain is also located in a key place for this type of measurements since the Tropic of Cancer line passes almost above the city.

We approach the Ram Ghat where people gather at sunset to do their rituals. Many simply bathe and soak themselves well. Others, with the body in the water and the palms of the hands facing the face, recite their prayers. We saw an interesting act, that we could not know why, but it had to be some kind of initiation or step to another stage. A boy with a shaved head except for a ponytail in the neck was sitting on the floor while two people passed incense in front of him reciting verses, throwing flowers and repeating the same thing over and over again.

We move to the train station for our next journey to Bhopal. Although we have noticed a sharp decline in delays since our previous trip, the arrivals or departures of the train stations are truly bad.

In Bhopal, the capital of the state, we lodge in the guest house. It seemed that the city has come a long way since the disaster that occurred in Bhopal in 1984, and it is not surprising because it is something to forget. The main reason to come to Bhopal is to see the stupas of Sanchi. The Buddhist stupas were built 23 centuries ago during the time when Buddhism reigned in India. All around this region there are numerous vestiges of ancient temples such as the Udayagiri caves. To get to them we rented a couple of rudimentary bicycles.

During the dangerous road full of crazy trucks and buses that passed by us, the natives observed us surprised to see us pedaling through the small villages. The place itself is amazing, full of dense vegetation and large rivers where people and animals bathe in the ghat. The caves of Udayagiri is not exactly a tourist place. There is no entry fee or anything. The caretakers were very nice and opened the caves still without demolishing, for us.

In the rock of the mountain, these hollows are excavated in a cubic form where statues and figures of the gods are found. They are like little temples. In one of them is the phallic symbol of Shiva with the image of his wife Parvati. Later we see the great mosque of Bhopal, one of the largest in India. We went in the morning but we could not enter because there were hundreds of people. We then again head to the bus station for our next destination of Pushkar.

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