For the first weekend since we arrived in India both James and I were feeling fit and healthy, so we ventured to the mayhem of New Delhi Railway station and booked a train to Jhansi 5 ¾ hours away in the southerly direction. Our train left the station at 6:00am so we were up early and in our 2nd class carriage (much to James' disgust) just as the sun was rising. The journey was pleasant enough with comfortable seats, enough leg room and more food then we could eat. We were only expecting chai (tea) and perhaps a biscuit so we saved cold pizza (can you believe it Chris, cold pizza?!) to eat on the way. Oh how wrong we were, we were given food or drink almost every hour, and we had enough water bottles to last us for the weekend all included in the train price of £5! The train stopped at Agra and all the other foreigners got off, the train conductor couldn't believe we were staying on and we got a bit concerned that perhaps Orchha wasn't that good after all.
We got to Jhansi a little bit earlier than expected and got an auto (tuk tuk) to Orchha. It cost all of £2 for a bumpy 35 minute journey! It was so nice to be out of the city and enjoy some greenery, well when we weren't driving past the rubbish heaps along the side of the road. In the country there were even more cows just chilling out on the road and our auto driver had to slalom through a few herds which made us laugh. As we got closer to Orchha we could just see a part of the ruined fort protruding from the fields, it was a great sight and looked like something from an Indiana Jones movie. The town itself is relatively small and we drove all the way to the end of the road to our hotel for the night. We had been upgraded to an indoor room as opposed to the glamping camping we had booked-result. The hotel had a lovely pool with a view out to one of the ruins and the rooms were nice and clean.
Despite being a bit tired from our early morning we decided to explore the ruins and then planned to chill out by the pool on Sunday. We walked alongside the clean river of Betwa where we saw some of the locals, bathing and washing their clothes. We got to the palace and a local guide offered us a tour. He was honest and fair with the price (unlike the one in Nepal) so we decided to hire him for a couple of hours. His name was Sanjay and I immediately liked him, he was polite, friendly, informative and had a great smile. We learnt a lot about Hinduism and he was impressed with my memory of the Gods. I think I learnt some of the Gods with Mum at Bradfield, but I wasn't going to tell him of my prior knowledge. Both the palaces were beautiful but our favourite was Jahangir Palace which was built by the Maharajah for one of the powerful Mughals as a present and he only spent one night. It is known as the one night palace and is such an impressive building, what a waste. The architecture is a mix of Muslim, for the Mughal and Hindu, for the Maharajah. We took a lot of photos and I think when you see for yourself, everyone would agree that it is quite possibly the most ornate one night building in the world! After a great two hours exploring these two palaces and learning about another built by the Maharajah for his dancer mistress Sanjay offered to take us around all the temples in Orchha for a small fee. We decided we would as he also said he could provide us transport. We agreed on a price and when we got to the exit we saw him starting up a motorbike. We presumed he had an auto and didn't expect the three of us could fit on the back and if we could, would the bike be powerful enough to move with us all on. We did fit, just about, and the bike did manage to take the extra weight although up the hills it didn't sound too healthy! The journey was as fun as the rest of the tour and Sanjay knew most people in the town so they all waved and smiled at us. At the Laxmi temple there was a family with a young son and they asked for our photo with him. The poor boy did not like being held by James and wriggled and cried for his photo with a foreigner. His family, Sanjay and I laughed and then James tried to palm the boy off on me, as if that was going to calm him down. As soon as they had taken their photo we gave the boy back and he calmed down straight away. Maybe he had heard rumours that I wanted to take Yogesh home and he was next on the list! The temples around Orchha were nice but the best part about them was the views over the countryside and towards the palaces that seem to appear from nowhere. We stopped for a sly beer (well I had a Limca so I didn't fall off the bike) with Sanjay and talked about cricket and his family. He said we were a good couple because I was smart and James was funny, I am sure he has got this the wrong way round! Then we were off on our last stop, the cremation tombs of the Maharaja's, right next to our hotel. The gates were locked but luckily Sanjay knew the guard so we had a private tour of the great tombs. The tombs were good and James got some amazing pictures but we were more fascinated with the vultures that had made the area their home. There is a jungle just beyond the river and so the height of the tombs made a perfect viewing platform for the ugly birds. I told Sanjay that I didn't like vultures and he asked 'why? They are not dangerous, and I am not only your guide but also your bodyguard, I will protect you!' I said thanks and tried to explain I just thought they were ugly and wasn't actually scared of them! We said goodbye and thanks to Sanjay for a great day.
In the evening we walked into the town and back to the palace to eat. We had a lovely meal and we were served by a very sweet waiter. We had an embarrassing walk across the middle of the light and sound show that was starting as we crossed the open air stage, the workers held up a torch for us to follow which just highlighted us for everyone to see!
The next day we had until 4 to relax by the pool, we were the only ones to make use of the area until 3ish when the Indians must have thought it was cool enough to head outside. We played Marco Polo and I read 'Shantaram' in the blazing sun. It was nice to relax in the peace and tranquillity and enjoy the beautiful surroundings. We had a strange but nice lunch at the hotel and then, because I had made a pinky promise we had to stop off at Sonja's jewellery stall before we left. I bought a bracelet and got two free so Ellie will get a lovely present when we return! Our auto back to Jhansi station was quicker than we had anticipated so we had a wait on the platform for our train. We were kept entertained by the other passengers and the street children who performed weird and wonderful gymnastic routines for a few rupees. One generous young Indian girl bought a few of the children an ice cream but this soon turned into a feeding frenzy when all the children wanted one and they all chose the most expensive chocolate cone! She made their day and it was so nice to watch their faces light up. Our train arrived and we were in first class for the journey back, there is not much between the two just slightly more space and even more food. We had two dinners and lots of snacks so by the time we arrived in Delhi we could just about move from our seats.
Orchha is a beautiful town with amazing forts and temples we were pleased we had made the effort to get out of Delhi and enjoy India's countryside.