Travel To Gwalior, Jhansi And Orchha

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The trip was a dream come true. Our travel schedule was –
1. Day 1 Gwalior.
2. Day 2 Jhansi & Orchha.
3. Day 3 Orchha.
4. Day 4 Khajuraho.
5. Day 5 travel to Chitrakoot and stay.
6. Day 6 Chitrakoot and travel to Prayag.
7. Day 7 Prayag +Vindhya Vasini temple + travel to Kashi, Sarnath.
8. Day 8 Varanasi, left for Delhi by 7pm Shiv Ganga express.

This piece was written in 2008 and edited in 2017.

1. GWALIOR

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

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

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

We left Tansen at about 10.30 am. Our first stop was the Viraswan Mandir or Surya Temple. It was built by G D Birla and Mahadevi Birla. The foundation stone was laid by the Maharaja of Gwalior and Congress leader Madhavrao Scindia on 16/1/1984 (completed in 1988). The temple is made in red sandstone and has a garden all around it. It is inspired by the Sun Temple Konarak Puri Orissa. It has beautifully carved horses and a wheel on either side of the temple as you can see in the pictures. We found the environs very peaceful. Met a number of school children who had come to offer their prayers.

Our next stop was Tansens Tomb. This is situated in the main market. This place has two main monuments. One is the tomb is Mohammad Ghaus who was Akbar’s Guru. Tansen was born by his blessings. The local Maulvi told us that Tansen was born of Hindu Brahmin parents Laxmi Bai and Makhand Pandey in Bahat village. When he was about 16 the Shiv Temple jhukh gaya by his singing.

Tansens tomb was built in the 16th century a.d. He was one of the nine gems of the Mughal Emperor Akbar. There is a tamarind (imli) tree near the tomb (see picture), the leaves of which were chewed continuously by the singer to have a sweet voice. The tomb is built on a rectangular platform with a pillared gallery in the center of which lies the tomb (see picture). There is a huge garden around the monument.

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

Our next stop was the Jai Vilas Palace. It was built by Maharaja Jiwaji Rao in 1874 at a cost of Rs 99 lakhs. The architect was an Italian Michael Filose. Parts of the palace were converted into a Museum in 1964.

The entry fee is nominal. On the payment of Rs 30/ we got a guide to show us around, a sensible decision indeed. Prior to entering the main palace is a smaller palace where the current Maharaja resides. You enter a huge courtyard and are greeted by a canon as you will see in the picture. The Museum showcases arms used by the Marathas, their palanquins, their homes and furniture, swimming pool and so on. The original 15kgs Dhal or shield used by the Rani of Jhansi is kept there (see picture).

A must see are the palace’s Chandeliers in the Durbar Hall. On the ground floor there is a huge dining hall with the world famous silver train with cut glass wagons which served guests as it tugged around on miniature rails on the tables (see picture). In the centre is a huge red chandelier 1000 kgs 100 bulbs (see picture). As you come to the Durbar Hall on the first floor you see two huge Belgian chandeliers each of which is 3500 kgs 250 bulbs. These were purchased in Paris and assembled here. It is said that ten elephants stood on the roof of the Durbar Hall to check if the ceiling could take the load. 560kgs of gold were melted and used in the Durbar Hall (Diwan-e-Khas). The ceiling and walls are very well designed with some intricate work.

Do see the Palace. Keep 2-3 hours for this.

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

We reached the Fort around 3ish. By the time we walked up, found a guide it got 4ish by which time it started getting a bit dark (went early November) so did not get very good pictures. We saw the fort, temples and visited Gurudwara. After that we sat in the open air theatre waiting for the Light and Sound show to start. Gwalior by night looked very nice from fort top. The L&S show gets over by about 8.30 pm so be sure you have a vehicle to take you to the city or hitch a ride as we did. For a good guide call Jagdish 9926229607. The fort is very clean and well maintained.

Since I wanted to click pictures reached the fort at 7am the next morning. I was happy to see a number of locals who had come for morning walk. Clicked pictures and reached hotel Tansen by 9am.

Gwalior needs a day and half to see well, a day could be a bit rushed.

Things to see in the fort are Man Singh Palace, museum next to it, Gurjari Mahal, Sas Bahu ka Mandir, Teli ka Mandir and attend Light and Sound Show. There is Jahangir/Shahjahan Mahal etc but they are in ruins.

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

The earliest historical mention of the fort is found in an inscription on a sun temple i.e. 525 a.d. A total of 110 kings ruled over it spread over five dynasties i.e. Kachhawaha Rajputa, Tomar, Lodhi, Mughal and Scindia (association started in 1777). It is situated on the Gopachal mountain. The outer wall of the fort stands two miles in length, 35 feet high. The fort wall has a 10 km radius. It has eight tanks, six palaces and six temples. This imposing structure inspired Mughal King Babur to describe it ‘the pearl amongst the fortresses of Hind’. The Scindia School is inside the fort.


Gwalior Fort

The Man Singh Palace is one of the finest examples of Hindu architecture. It was built by Tomar king Man Singh Tomar in 1508. It is approached by a steep ramp and has six fortified gateways (i.e. the way we walked up). There a total of 4 storeys on the palace of which 2 storeys are underground. The plan on the third storey consists of two courtyards and various rooms supported by different decorated pillars and brackets. There are Jhulaghar, Kesar Kunda and Phansighar below this storey. The palace is decorated with beautiful paintings, glazed tiles of various colors, different figures like human beings, ducks, elephants, peacocks, lions, plantain trees and attractive pillared domes. The palace is built on the outer wall of the fort raised over the cliff at about 300 feet from the ground level. Vast chambers with fine stone greens were once the music halls and behind these screens ladies would learn music.

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

The most famous king Raja Mansingh Tomar had eight Rajput wives. He married Mrignayani, a Gurjar lady. After he wooed and won her she demanded that he build for her a separate palace with a constant water supply from the River Rai (her village). So Man Singh made the 15th century Gurjari Mahal (at the foothill of the fort) for her. The outer structure of the Mahal has survived while the interior is converted into an Archaeological Museum (houses rare (antiquities). It is open from 10 am to 5pm.

Also visit the Sas Bahu ka temple and Teli ka Mandir. The latter is a 9th century edifice, towering 100 feet high. This is a Pratihara Vishnu mandir. The shape of the roof is distinctly Dravidian while decorative embellishments have the typically Indo-Aryan characteristics of North India. The former temple is dedicated to Lord Vishnu (measures 102 by 74 feet) built in the 11th century by Raja Mahipal. In the 17th century 350 statues were destroyed by Aurangzeb. Also see the Telikhama temple that made by Raja Padampal in the 9th century is app 1200 years old.

Another landmark is the Gurudwara Data Bandhi Chhod built in the memory of the 6th Sikh Guru Hargobind Singh who was imprisoned by Mughal Emperor Jahangir for two years and three months. At the time of his release he wanted 52 Hindu Kings, who were his fellow prisoners, released with him. Jehangir was impressed and agreed.

MP Tourism runs a Sound and Light show in Hindi and English. Amitabh Bachchan narrates the story of Gwalior.

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

To see pictures of
1. Gwalior Fort
2. Gwalior City