We left the beautiful Taj Mahal and the state of Uttar Pradesh behind as we entered Madhya Pradesh. At every state border we had to stop so our driver could hop out and pay the road taxes for that particular state. We realised we were no longer on the tourist trap at the border stop. There was no-one trying to sell us something, just a few curious faces stealing glimpses in our direction.
The road got progressively worse as we got closer to Gwalior. We sat in the dustiest traffic jam with cars going every which way, women shielding themselves from the dust with their saris and the road workers not looking particularly rushed to finish the job.
After a quick lunch we headed out sightseeing. There’s not that much to see in Gwalior, but it’s home to the tomb of Tansen and a very unique fort. Tansen was a Hindu composer-musician under the patronage of the Mughal Emperor Akbar. His raga compositions are still popular and people still perform it today. He is buried in Gwalior next to the tomb of his Sufi mentor, Muhammad Ghaus.
After our visit to the Muslim cemetery we made our way up to Gwalior Fort. Situated on a rocky hill overlooking the city, Gwalior Fort was originally built by the Tomara clan in the 8th century. Raja Man Singh Tomar improved the existing structure in the 1400s. Considered one of India’s most impenetrable forts, it was originally conquered by the Mughal emperors. The fort passed through many dynasties and eventually became under the control of the Scindias as a protectorate of the British (or Britishers as our guides called them).
It was quite hot but unlike at the forts we’ve visited before, we could actually venture into the rooms below the fort. The military no longer uses this fort as a base so we could explore the narrow, dark but cool passageways to underground rooms where the women of the court used to relax. It’s now home to the local colony of bats.
The heat of the day was really beating down on us as we made our way to the Hindu temples located on the other side of the plateau. It gave us our first glimpse of what to expect when we arrive at Khajuraho. The two temples are called Mother-in-law and Daughter, but are actually temples dedicated to Lord Vishnu. The temples were built in the 9th century. Naturally we immediately rushed up the stairs to enjoy the cool shade inside. Sadly most of the statues and human carvings have been defaced by the Mughals.
We got to enjoy the nice cool air-conditioning of the car for about a minute as we made our way to the next temple. Teli Ka Mandir is the oldest of the temples. The roof is built in the Dravidian (South Indian) style. The temple is covered in carvings of passionate couples, coiling snakes and river goddesses. Our guide told us that couples used to get married in the temple and often spent their first wedding night there. The carvings were meant to educate couples on married life.
During the Britishers (I’m sorry, I just love that name) rule, they used Teli Ka Mandir as a cafe. The idol that used to be housed inside the temple has disappeared centuries ago but people still remove their shoes before entering the temple.
We hopped back into the car to enjoy the air-conditioning. As we made our way down the hill we stopped to admire amazing carvings into the rock face. They are of Jain Thirtankars (saints). Some of the ones located higher up were lucky enough to be spared when the Mughals defaced the more easy to reach sculptures. They were carved between 1441 and 1474. The tallest one stands 17m high. It was incredibly hot, especially since there were no trees to provide shade, but well worth the climb up the stairs.
Later that night we returned to the fort to watch the sound and light show. Unfortunately it didn’t really cool down much. On the distant horizon there was a different kind of sound and light show, some thunder and lightning. The show lights up the fort while the Big B (Bollywood legend Amitabh Bachchan) tells you the history of the fort.
We had a relatively good night’s sleep despite the constant hooting and big party that was going on at a nearby property (thank you earplugs! Best thing we packed). Steve woke me up at 6 so I could get my daily fix of Bollywood. I also enjoyed some Krishna devotional songs on TV before we headed off to Orchha.