Sunday Oct 16, 2005 - day 17 - Orchha - Kathy: 173 photos, Bob: 149 photos

            Today is the first day Kathy and I are on our own entirely.  It’s a little scary because now we’re used to OAT holding our hands through each day.  Now we have cut the tethers and are flying free.

            We got up early and met Duni in the lobby of the hotel.  He took us to the train station and bid us farewell.  We took the train to Gwalior, which is twice as far south as Agra.

            At the Gwalior train station, we met our local guide, Suresh and our driver, and off we went.  After talking with Suresh, we decided to drive to the town of Orchha, which is two hours away.  Kathy had read about several things to see there.

            We drove for two hours, passing the time by asking Suresh question after question.  One of the attractions was a huge collection of seventy-seven Jain temples, so naturally we started asking him more questions about Jainism.  We asked him so many that he probably thought we were religious fanatics and wanted to convert!  So we had to explain that we wanted to know about all religions, and he relaxed a bit.

            Suresh also gave us new Hindi words.  The word “Yes” in Hindi sounds like “Han” pronounced like you’re about to say “Honda.”  The word “No” in Hindi sounds like “Na Hee” but most people slur it into a simple “Nee.”  I’m not sure of the spelling.  I know that our OAT guide, Sujay, told us these things, but of course we forgot them.  We also learned the Hindi word for “Pen” and it sounds (to me) like “Column.”  It’s probably Kalhem or something like that, but hey, who’s counting?

            We arrived at the Jain temples.  It turns out that only sixty-six of the temples are left, because I think some have been destroyed long ago.  We were joined by a Jain guy from the temple who was happy to tell us all about the monastery and answer all our questions.  He wasn’t a monk.  Probably just some Jain guy who is the caretaker of the place.  Slowly, the four of us walked up the hill of the monastery taking photos of all the temples in the blazing sun.  They weren’t all Jain temples either.  It turns out that at least one is Buddhist, and one is even Tibetan Buddhist, dedicated to the Dalai Lama.




            At the top of the hill, we went inside a big temple and found a statue that had been carved into solid granite, which is very difficult to carve, rather than the more common sandstone structures we’ve seen in the past.

            Back down the hill, we saw a woman with a small fleet of donkeys loaded up with bags of ordinary sand.

She was taking the sand to the construction site of the new temple that was being built at the top of the hill, but now she was delayed.  It seems that one of her donkeys did his business on the sidewalk of the monastery and she was busy scooping up the dung with her bare hands.  Kinda makes you want to wash your hands after shaking hands with somebody, doesn’t it?

            As we walked back down the hill, the Jain guy explained that this monastic order was the branch (discussed earlier in this travelogue) who walked around completely naked.  Apparently, only the male monks of that order did this.  The female monks wore just enough to not tempt the men, and the normal Jain people still wore clothes, had children normally, and so on.

            As we got closer to the living quarters, the guy gave us stern warnings that the monks lead a very hard life–by their own choice–and we shouldn’t get emotional about it.  Apparently some Americans he has done this for have become emotional and started to cry at the scene.  Then the guy took us into the living area so we could see some completely naked monks.  We walked into the building and no one was there.  The caretaker was genuinely disappointed.  He started walking up some stairs trying to find us a naked monk, but Kathy and I just walked away.  We insisted that we didn’t need to see the naked monks, and making a spectacle out of this would be disrespectful of their faith, and we wanted to respect their beliefs.

            Onward we went to a beautiful palace.

This place was absolutely fantastic, and we took lots of photos in awe. 





The palace was different.  The occupants were obviously Hindu rather than Islamic, and their art showed, even though they tried to copy the Islamic palaces of the Moghuls we had seen earlier in the trip.  This was bigger than most of the forts and palaces we had seen with OAT, and we wondered why OAT didn’t take us there.

            This was actually a complex of forts and palaces and we went from fort to fort taking lots of photos both inside and out.  The surrounding area was absolutely fabulous.

We progressed from the biggest palace to the smaller ones, all within a small area.

            After the fort, we stopped at a small restaurant at the bottom of the hill.  We ordered some Chicken Makhani, also known as butter chicken, and prepared for our first Indian meal outside the bland, confining tourist buffets we’ve had in the past.  Much to our dismay, the waiter arrived carrying a dish of the blandest food imaginable.  This was basically tomato soup with some chicken thrown in.  I was so disappointed that I sent it back and told him to add spices.  He didn’t quite understand my English, so I said, “Add Garam Masala.  Add cinnamon.  Add spices!”  He pointed at the pepper shaker and said, “Garam Masala.”  I said, “No, this is not garam masala, this is black pepper” and I sent him away.  After a few minutes, he came back and set the plate down again.  This time it was marginally better.  They had added some spices, but it was still baby food to me.  Obviously I made a big mistake: I forgot to tell the guy how spicy I like my food.

            We drove down to a nearby river just in time to see the sunset wash the landscape with a rich golden glow. 


There were special markers across the river that marked the cremation sites of big shots, kinda like a burial site or mausoleum without the body.  They were very pretty silhouetted against the setting sun. 

Nearby, some people were celebrating and singing songs of praise to Durga, the goddess who was associated with the festival I mentioned earlier.


Soon the full moon was out and we could see people relaxing in the river.

            We drove three hours in the dark back to Gwalior where we are staying.  Our guide tried very hard to talk us into starting tomorrow at 11:00am, but Kathy got angry when she heard that.  She started having words with him until he agreed to meet 9:30am.

            We went back to the hotel for the evening.  For dinner, the hotel offered two choices: a buffet and an up-scale restaurant.  Having had our fill of mediocre buffets, we naturally chose the restaurant.  We ordered Chicken Tikka Masala, along with Kashmiri Naan bread, Special rice, and a special fish dish.  This time I told the waiter, “We are not typical Americans.  We like spices.  We want this food to be spicy for Americans, but not spicy for Indians.”

            After waiting several minutes, they produced our food, and it was the best Indian food I have had in my life.  It was rich and flavorful, spicy and tasty.  It was spicy enough that our lips were burning long after we were done, but not so hot that I couldn’t eat it.  It was simply wonderful.