Having arrived at Jhansi railway station by the 12050, Gatimaan Express -- recently demoted to the status of the second fastest train of the Indian Railways, rushing clickety-clack at the top speed of 160 kmph at times, with a really smart and confident looking lady loco pilot at the controls, we were immediately struck by the lack of sensible signage at this important junction. Luckily, our taxi driver was aware of this aspect of arrival on the separate terminating platform for the Gatimaan, and guided us over phone for a rendezvous at what is known as the Trimurti Gate pick-up and drop spot.
Jhansi is one of the few railway stations, actually the only one of the hundreds I have gone to so far in India in my life, where a fee of anything between Rs30 and 50 rupees is collected without a receipt from people being picked up or dropped in a motor vehicle. If you do not wish to pay this, you are supposed to disembark about 500 metres away.
In addition, a person looking like a junkie sitting under an umbrella asked me if I was an Indian or a foreigner, and then demanded to see my voter's identity card.
This, again, has never happened to me before - but then again, probably because of the way I carry myself, or the brightly coloured socks I was wearing, I have been asked this question about my nationality multiple times by people trying to skim a "foreigner ticket" surcharge from me at ticketed and non-ticketed monuments.
(The man under the umbrella tried to explain to me that Trimurti Gate at Jhansi railway station was a ticketed monument. This was my introduction to the Indian Railways at Jhansi after a near perfect journey in the Gatimaan from Hazrat Nizamuddin in Delhi to Jhansi, my knowledge base about life having been enhanced by co-passenger ex-Minister, ex-CEC, ex-IAS, and son of army officer, M.S. Gill, who now farms at nearby Shivpuri. One long RTI query and half-a-dozen public grievances at the PGPortal website have emerged from just this one railway station.
The drive from Jhansi railway station to our hotel in Orchha, the Riverside Bundelkhand booked by us at a fantastically low rate through MakeMyTrip, was pleasant and smooth. There is a State border between Jhansi and Orchha but "setting" keeps everybody happy between what are essentially twin cities. Orchha's decline after the arrival of the British and Jhansi's growth was also because of the way the railway lines were laid through Jhansi instead of Orchha, which in turn made Jhansi into a huge British colonial military garrison town while Orchha decayed - which was in a way lucky, because the really old temples in and around Orchha survived due to sheer negligence. Even the Mughals did not knock them down, and that's another interesting story.
It is important to point out here that the main temples in Orchha date back to the 15th and 16th centuries, the ones lost in the forests nearby date back to the 6th century, and there are archaeological digs from even earlier popping up every now and then. As a matter of fact, I learnt more about these old temples from the astronomical, time, space, cosmological and civil construction point of view from a Chinese tourist quietly doing his research in the jungles, using online maps, and a seafarer friend who was also present and knew more about the technological aspects of old temples than I did, as he had also researched Angkor Wat along the same lines.
It is very interesting to identify similar basics of temple construction in complexes as far apart in time and space as Angkor Wat, Madurai and now Orchha. If this subject interests readers, then I will suggest you either go to Orchha and head for the Chaturbhuj Temple, go up a few floors to a spot under the dome, take your mobile phone out, put on and recalibrate the inbuilt compass, place it on the ground as dead centre under the dome roof as you can, and then check the four cardinal points -- true North, East, South and West, and look through the windows, check out what you see in perfect alignment.
After that, tip the fine young guard nearby who will open some locked doors for you, climb up an exact 67 steps to the highest point, and repeat. Each step, by the way, is about one metre high so it takes a lot of effort to climb them. Knowledge does not come easy to seekers.
That done, wait for the night to see the Belt of Orion march across in the clear night sky, and then work out why the old Chaturbhuj temple has seven spires of varying diameters, heights, and proportions.
(To be continued)