Sunday, October 23, 2011


I got down from the mountains with one priority: go someplace warm.  I'd originally intended to hang around up north for a while, making my way east through the mountains, but the way things work at the budget hotels around here you get like, one blanket on a thin hard mattress and that wasn't going to erase my memory of chattering the night away with icy feet in the Himalayas.

There's also a sort of general consensus that the far-north cities are "over".  I met a girl in Dharamsala who said she'd originally gone to Leh - a city even farther to the north, at a higher altitude, with more dramatic mountains - who left because Leh was "over."  And then, when I was in Manali, a lot of the shopkeepers and restauranteurs all said that they were only going to stay open for a few more days, because Manali was about to be "over".  More than one of them put it like this: "Now that Goa has started, Manali is over."

I thought this was pretty hilarious - this town is over! - but it's just a fact of the changing seasons: the northern hill stations are most popular when the weather down south is unbearably hot.  Now that the south is cooling down and winter is on its way to the mountains, the tourist season is winding down.  

So I decided to make my way to Khajuraho.  In order to do that, I took another all night bus south - my third all night bus, ugh - to Delhi, where I spent a few unpleasant hours in the massive, hectic New Delhi train station before catching a train to Gwalior.  I get pretty nervous when I'm moving from place to place because I know I'm at my most vulnerable, carrying all my valuables, weighted down, slow and uncertain. I got harassed a bit in the train station but the worst moment came towards the end, after I'd been wandering up and down the track for twenty minutes trying to figure out where my car would be once my train rolled into the station.  

I ran into a pair of British girls who were in the car right next to mine, so I decided to stick close to them.  But they had just arrived in the country and hadn't yet learned that it doesn't always pay to be friendly here.  This old dude, dressed in white with a big old beard and a toothy smile, started chatting up the British girls.  And they chatted back, cheerful and laughing and hand-gesturing all over the place.  This attracted attention, which is to say it attracted a crowd of male onlookers.  They surrounded us three deep, to the point where the British girls finally started to get nervous.  I'd been reading in my Kindle but I looked up, shooed all the men away (literally: I waved at them and said SHOO) and then abandoned the British girls, because that was not my idea of fun.

Anyhow.  The train was calm and pleasant.  I had a hard time figuring out where we were stopping and the other passengers in my car were really nice.  They noticed how nervous I got every time the train slowed down and finally they were like, "We'll tell you when we get to Gwalior!  We promise!"  And then they were like, "Ok, Gwalior in three stops," "Gwalior in two stops," "Get ready, it's the next stop." So that was nice.

I stayed in Gwalior long enough to rest up, see a couple of the major sights, and move on.  The city has a big hill fort, most of which is underground and infested by bats.  Thousands and thousands of bats.  It's a magnificent structure that has become very creepy and very, very smelly.  

For example.  Check out the photo on the left.  Once upon a time, it was a sumptuously decorated chamber where the maharajah's many wives whiled away the afternoons on swings that hung between those thick pillars.  Later, the room was converted into a prison and the hooks for the swings were used to string up prisoners.  Guess which use the room seems better suited to today?

The above-ground parts of the fort were easier to appreciate.

Here's a temple...

Some goats eating offerings at a shrine:

Me on one of the balconies, overlooking a small palace:

My other stop in Gwalior was the Jai Vilas Palace, basically a glorified storage facility for the family that owns it.  The "exhibits" are just things they don't use anymore, like a big baby stroller shaped like a swan, or a table and chair set carved of wood that's too heavy to use but too valuable to throw away.  My favorite thing was a miniature choo-choo train they'd laid out in their massive dining hall that carried bottles of champagne up and down the table.  Here's a picture of the biggest attraction, an assembly hall that contains two three-ton chandeliers!  And the largest hand-woven rug in Asia!  Cuz bigger is better!

I found the place about as wonderfully absurd as I'd hoped to, but I'm pretty sure that's not the effect the family is really going for by opening their home up as a "museum"

I think I'll save Orchha and Khajuraho (my favorite place in India so far) for later.  


Louisa Bacio said...

Such an adventure Erin. And, I can totally imagine you "shooing" the men away.

erica said...

jai vilas palace--amazing! wish i could go see it.

Melinda said...

that photo scares the crap out of me - it looks like you could just fall off the edge of that thing in a strong breeze.