Mukeesh has been with me for the last 5 days, driving me around in his Indica since my arrival in Delhi. He's been very patient, obliging, and opens the door for me as if I'm a Viceroy in the days of the British Raj. For spoiling me with such great service, I tipped him well as he bids me goodbye at the train station in Agra early this morning.
I'm on my way to Orchha, a small village in the state of Madhya Pradesh. Onboard the Bhopal Shatabdi - India's fastest intercity train - I was seated next to Rajat, a young computer engineer on his way to Bhopal. It's less than 3 hours to my destination but my time was spent talking to this well-educated Delhiite on topics from India's poorest whom he claims "think from their stomachs" to India's divisive politics and their upcoming election.
Sangam, a lanky 20-year-old, picked me up at the train station in Jhansi. He drove for 20 kilometers on a rural road to Orchha past wheat fields ripe for harvest and water buffaloes neck-deep in a mud bath. This is India at its most tranquil (reminds me of Sagada in its state of calmness in the 90's).
Brijj has upgraded my hotel which really made me happy. Amar Mahal Hotel, sitting on a small hill above the village, feels like a well-kept old mansion and my room overlooks the sandstone chhatris or cenotaphs along the surprisingly clean Betwa river. This is my best hotel room in India. Lunch here was also very good: Tandoori chicken and Jeera rice made me so full I was afraid my afternoon siesta will make me feel bloated. Sangam picked me up at 3 PM for the sightseeing. Orchha is so small I could cover everything before sunset.
Orchha - literally meaning "hidden place" - was founded in 1531 and became the capital of Bundela kings until 1738. What they left behind is an astounding Mughal heritage sites comprising weathered palaces like the Raj Mahal and Jahangir Mahal, temples like Lakshminarayan Mandir and Chaturbhuj Mandir, and the 14 sandstone cenotaphs visible from my hotel room.
I greatly hope the Indian government continues to protect these treasures as they're not included (yet) in the UNESCO's world heritage list. At the Raj Mahal, an old man opened one padlocked room for me to view impressive murals on a royal bed chamber. Why padlocked? "Only for tourrrist, sirrr. Indians make wrriting on walls. Verrry bad."
I checked the main village and the shops here sell excellent locally-made bags destined for bigger cities (where they're sold at more expensive prices). One shopkeeper asked me: "You travelling with Intrepid?" Apparently, this adventure tour company I previously traveled with stops by here on its North Indian itineraries. I stepped out of the store laden with bags. The total cost? Only 1100 Rupees for 5 bags! ($22) So much for traveling light now.