Sunday, 22 March 2009

The Virgin Temple and the Tower of Vultures

There is one remarkable temple in Orccha, which I didn't show in my previous post. The Chaturbhuj Temple, which you can see in its full glory in the picture above. There are some curious circumstances surrounding this temple, chiefly the fact that it was never taken into use. Another thing, which attracted me to this particular temple was the main tower on the roof, which has become the home of a healthy colony of huge vultures. For these reason I spent an afternoon with Nitoli going to the roof of the temple watching the sunset vultures coming home for the night. A strange young local man helped us get to the roof and kept us company for the rest of the night (more about that later).

The light was quite tricky (thus the grainy picture quality), but I did manage a couple of vulture pictures. Here is one landing on a corner tower

Vulture silhouette on the main tower

The top of the main tower, coloured all white by the Vulture's droppings. At night the tower is filled with Vultures - in this picture I can count 7.

Vulture in flight over Orccha

According to the locals the temple, which was built in honour of the god Ram, was placed directly across the river from the palace bedroom of the local Rani, so she would be able to do her morning puja (prayer) through her window rather than having to get out of bed and walk the way. However Ram himself did not agree to this plan of convenience, so he spiled the Rani's plans. The idol, which was supposed to be put into the Chaturbhuj Temple, had been placed in a small temporary building next door, and when the workers tried to move it after the temple's completion Ram had made it impossible to move! So the smaller building next door became the active temple instead of Chaturburj and the Rani would have to walk to honour Ram just like everybody else. But the Vultures were happy to get the place to themselves.

Main hall of the virgin temple

Nitoli and our guide checking their phones on the roof of the temple. One of the windows in the background is the bedroom of the Rani, from where she was hoping to do her morning puja

The Ram Raja Temple, which became the permanent home for the Ram Idol, which couldn't be moved. Still in active use today (and presumably it's been expanded since those days)

Sunset over Orccha seen from the top of the temple

Sunday, 15 March 2009

Lost Temples and Palaces of Orccha

The temples of Orccha surrounded by the forest

Nitoli (aka Susanna) and I had wanted to go to the abandoned city of Orccha for years, and finally we managed to do so in our prolonged October weekend trip celebrating her birthday (yes, I know I am falling further and further behind). Why it had taken us so long to go here I don't know, since it's well connected to Delhi by very fast trains, but let me tell you right away that Orccha despite our expectations was no disappointment!

A couple of centuries ago this was a vibrant regional power centre, but for a variety of reasons the local residents left the city almost over night. Most of the city is long gone, but the temples and palaces - mainly on a river island citadel - have been left to their own devices and the jungle undergrowth was allowed to take over. Local villagers have now reclaimed some of the land and brought a bit of life back to the area, but Orccha still has a fanastic "lost world" feel to it. In many ways it reminded me of Hampi in South India, another of my favourite spots in India. All the people who just travel around the big metropols of India don't know what they're missing.

There is not horribly much to do in Orccha except to wander around the old palaces and temples and enjoy the peace and quiet of this forgotten corner of India. We even stayed in one of the major old palaces which has been converted by Madhya Pradesh Tourism into a basic, but very atmospheric hotel. In total we spent two days and nights there, but could easily have stayed a day or two more if we had the time.

In this first post from Orccha I will focus on the many different old buildings scattered around the landscape. More will come later.

Temples and wheat fields dominate the northern part of the citadel island, surrounded by the river Betwa

Nitoli leaving our palace hotel, the Sheesh Mahal

The main fort palace complex seen from the old stone bridge leading from the village to the island

Same complex seen from the village side. It looks very imposing from this angle.

Nitoli capturing a picture in one of the many grand palace courtyards

Most Indian palaces are today mere shadows of their richly ornamented past, as everything of value has been stripped by robbers, local warlords or even the new rulers, including the British. Here a few decorative tiles have survived.

Some decorative paintings have also made it

From the roof of Jehangir Mahal

Tourists and renovation workers cross paths in the courtyard

View from the roof of Jehangir Mahal towards old ruins in the middle of the undergrowth

The Mighty Jehangir Mahal seen from the outside

Sunday, 1 March 2009

Gwalior to Orccha (tribute to the train)

The Bhopal Shatabdi shooting its way through the landscape from Gwalior to Jhansi

We spent our last few hours in Gwalior taking in a few last sights, before continuing our journeys onwards towards the abandoned city of Orccha. To make this journey we took - as so often before - our favourite mode of transportation in India: The train.

India's Railways are allegedly the world's biggest employer with more than a million employees, and the network covers virtually the whole subcontinent. Travelling by Indian trains is not only a very comfortable alternative to the dangers and discomforts of travelling on the underdeveloped Indian highway system filled with aggressive and erratic drivers. But going by train in India is also an experience in it's own right.

The window of the Indian trains is also a window to rural India, showing brief snapshorts of a world largely untouched by increasing urban modernisation. I spent some time on the train standing in the open door trying to take a few pictures capturing a bit of this.

Another great thing is the fact that you always meet a lot of people on the train, and often end up talking to people you wouldn't normally engage in conversations.

Within a few hours we reached the station of Jhansi and took a rickshaw the last few kilometres to Orccha. More from Orccha will follow in next post.

A small palace which we randomly stumbled upon in Gwalior. If anyone knows the name of this place, please let me know in comments.

One of our last sights in Gwalior: The tomb of Afghan 16th Century prince Ghaus Mohammad

At the tomb of Ghaus Mohammad (or possibly a nearby tomb belonging toa musician called Tansen, not sure) people hang wedding invitations. The guest of honour won't make it in person of course, but perhaps in spirit?

A scene very familiar to those travelling in India by train: A station just before dusk (here it is in Delhi)

Chai-wallah stand open in the very early hours

Nitoli resting with a cup of chai on the train

Old man ploughing his field

One of our fellow passengers making faces

Workers digging for mud or some other material in an almost dried out riverbed

Two ladies making it home just before darkness falls

A hill full of stupas in front of the setting sun, seen from the train