Wednesday Oct 12, 2005 - day 13 - Jhansi to Khajuraho - Kathy: 115 photos, Bob: 105 photos

            Today was pretty much just a travel day.  We got up very early, took a bus to the Agra train station.  It amazed me how people were down on the tracks, apparently picking up trash, just a minute or two before the train arrived.

We took the train for a couple hours to the town of Jhansi.  While on the train, I did some writing and then Kathy and I looked at our Taj Mahal photos.  After a few photos, some of our group started watching our photos.  Before long, many were watching over our shoulders.  It was fun.

            Eventually our train ride was over and we got on another bus.  We rode the bus to Orchha, which Sujay called “Temple Town.”  We had a really bland tourist lunch at a hotel and Kathy and I slipped out early to take some photos of the hotel grounds and surrounding temples.


            Perhaps one of the most interesting highlights of today was the festival.  There is currently a Hindu festival going on today for the goddess Durga.

Today is the ninth and final day.  So out in the streets, there are hundreds of people partying and having fun.

They are literally dancing in the streets, chanting, and throwing colored powder on each other. 

So some of the people have blue or purple hair from this powder, and you can tell they’re having lots of fun.

Others are wearing demon masks, representing the evil that Durga will vanquish, I imagine.

They are also parading their Durga statues in the backs of their trucks,

loaded with people too, in a kind of parade.

Sujay said that they are taking the goddess to the river where they will release her.  Apparently, they are made of clay, so the clay is dissolved and the goddess thereby is given to the holy river Ganges.  Then, at sundown, there is a big ceremony where they burn an effigy of evil.

            Our bus was stopped several times by these trucks full of revelers.   At one point, all traffic stopped completely for a long time, giving us a good chance to study what was happening.  In amazement, we witnessed one of the most unusual things I’ve seen.  This is how it was explained to me:  apparently, a certain man in the crowd had prayed to Durga to grant him a very big request, and he bribed the goddess saying that if his request was granted, he would make a big sacrifice:  he would have a ritual spear driven right through his cheek.  His ability and willingness to endure the pain was a sign of his devotion and thanks.  So as we stood on our stopped bus, we witnessed this guy having what looked like a dirty iron spear pushed through his open mouth and through his cheek!


            This was very graphic, and some people couldn’t bear to watch.  While it was happening, the man seemed to go into a deep hypnotic trance, or perhaps a deep mystical state.  At any rate, he did not flinch or show any signs of pain.  I just watched in amazement and hoped that he had gotten a tetanus shot.

Finally, after waiting a long time, Sujay got out and went to investigate why.  It turns out that the Minster of States had flown into town in her helicopter to pray at the temple.  This woman was a very high person in the Indian federal government; the equivalent of our Secretary of State.  An important person.  So the security forces had secured the area and stopped all traffic for her.  After about twenty minutes, the traffic started moving again, and we saw her helicopter sitting in a field nearby.   The traffic was detoured away from the temple where she was playing.

            Our bus drove to another temple area where we got out and took photos of the nearby fort, temple and street vendors.


            From Orchha, we took the bus farther and farther, and the roads got worse and worse.  Eventually we stopped for a tea and toilet break at a building in one particular village.  Kathy and I took lots of photos of the nearby village.  There was a cool old millstone outside, and you could also see the village people partying in the name of Durga.


            Then Sujay had a surprise for us.  He asked if we wanted to meet a real Raja, which is the word for King.  Of course we said yes.  So we met with this guy, and chatted with him a while.  He seemed like a very nice guy.  He had a small granddaughter at his side always.  On the wall, there was an official plaque from the Government of India that said he was officially granted the title of Raja, or king.  I took his photo when we were done.

            Back on the bus, Sujay explained the different kinds of kings to us.  It turns out there are four kinds of kings.  The first is a Thakur, a small king over five to ten villages.  The second is a Raja, a medium king over twenty-seven to fifty villages.  The third is a Maharaja, the king of a whole state.  The fourth is a Maharana, the King of Kings.

            So this guy we met was the king over twenty-seven to fifty surrounding villages.  In the past, this title meant a whole lot more, but now he doesn’t have as much power.  He still has a lot of influence though.  He can, for instance, command all the people of his twenty-seven villages to vote for a particular referendum.  That gives him a lot of pull.

            Back on the bus again, the roads kept getting worse and worse.  After a while, the blacktop was barely wide enough for one bus, and certainly not two lanes.  So whenever we had to pass a truck, we would just honk the horn and run him off the road!  Whenever we encountered an oncoming vehicle, truck, cow, oxcart or goat herds, we would go right off the road and onto the sand shoulder in order to pass.  We passed countless herds of cattle, bicycles, rickshaws, pedestrians, etc., in an amazing onslaught of traffic horror, but our bus driver somehow managed to drive through this, often with only a half-inch or a centimeter to spare between us and certain death.  Pretty soon, the sun went down and it became dark.  Let me tell you: huge black water-buffalo are nearly impossible to see in the pitch black of night especially walking on the blacktop.

            Kathy made a joke that the little stone signs with Hindi writing on them were not mile (or kilometer) markers at all, but really gravestones!  (Ignoring the fact that Hindus do not bury their dead, they cremate them.)  Sujay roared with laughter.

            When we got to the end of the day, I gave the driver five dollars and told him to get a good stiff drink, because I imagine his nerves were shot.  This was the most noisy, bumpy and nerve-wracking drive I’ve ever had, bar none.  Two of the people on our group–Leone and Dale–actually got sick because the road was so bumpy.  All in all, the driver should have earned a metal of honor for bravery and keeping us all safe under adverse conditions.  He deserved combat pay.

            At the end of this bumpy ride, we arrived in the city of Khajuraho, which is pronounced like “Koo-Jer-Ah-Ho.”