After a day spent trekking in and around the cenotaphs, floating on the river in a paddle boat with wife and boatman, we walked across to the main Ram Rajya temple and then walked back to our hotel as the sounds of the evening aarti receded in the background.
This temple is a new construction, has a pair of ancient cannons at its entry gate, is blessed with a gun salute provided by the Uttar Pradesh police during the day and the evening aarti is certainly vibrant - and has big NO PHOTOGRAPHY signs all over. I had to use all my charm to be permitted to take that one photograph you see with the cannon, the temple guard, and the main entry to the Ram Rajya Temple.
The cenotaphs, a full day’s engagement as I mentioned, look much better at sunset. The official closing time is 5pm. Motivation works if you want to meander around as the shadows lengthen. Plus the ghat near the river becomes interesting - local musicians often gather there for impromptu concerts, or on demand. Ask around. There is great mystery unfolding here when the sun sets.
Next morning, after a filter coffee by the river and breakfast, we checked out of the Riverside Bundelkhand, and decided to spend the rest of the day in Jhansi. In our original plans we had allowed a full day there, before catching the Shatabdi back. Big mistakes, plural.
The famous Jhansi Fort, maintained by ASI and Central government, is full of surly employees and security guards with nothing better to do than to try and force me to admit that I was a foreigner. Brightly coloured socks again. A documentary show which is part of the ticket price, I am informed by another surly gentleman, is available on YouTube. Allow 30 minutes here for a badly maintained property, which could and should otherwise have a more prideful place in our history as the Red Fort.
Next on the agenda is the Jhansi Museum. This one put me off right away. Big banners celebrating Jhansi ki Rani, fair enough, but do they have to mention "Mutiny of 1857" all over the place too? "First Battle of Independence" is what it is. Operated by the State government, this one is dusty, and kind of haphazard. Also, the ladies toilet was locked, and nobody knew who had the key because "Madam was absent". Suggestion offered was that a security guard would stand outside the gentlemen’s toilet if ladies wanted to use the facility.
And finally, the Shatabdi from Bhopal towards New Delhi via Jhansi is not at all anywhere close to the Gatimaan Express in all respects - and we opted for the later Shatabdi because we assumed that Jhansi was worth a full day.
Which is a pity, because the Fort could do with much better signage explaining things, and the Museum likewise. The First War of Independence, for example, has never been explained to us properly in our history and perception management - which is, that it was a pan-India movement, and involved heavy co-ordination as well as logistics to push the British from all over to take refuge across the Ganga towards Roorkee and Dehradun and Delhi. Instead, both the Fort and the Museum in Jhansi tend to glorify the British, which might have been acceptable at one time, but now, in 2019?
With nothing else to do in Jhansi, we grabbed a bite at a surprisingly pleasant "Bakers Factory" in Jhansi, good satisfying cannelloni and packed a pizza as back-up for the Shatabdi ride ahead. And with 3 hours still to kill, decided to check out the "Herbal Garden", which even our otherwise well informed driver did not know about. In Jhansi Cantonment, it will come up on your map, otherwise ask any of the many military people around.
This was the high point of our trip to Jhansi and we shall recommend it to everybody headed that way. The back story here is that this was a 50 acre or so patch of cantonment board land being eyed by the land-grabber lobby, so it was rapidly developed by the resident military formations into a huge bio-diversity park with sculptures made from military scrap. The horticulturists there are keen to explain things in the precise military way, the bio-toilet in the park is clean and unlocked, the signage and stories are well laid out, and most of all - the place is safe from leering security. Sure, there are eyes over the whole park, but they are not intrusive. Open to all, free, and a big salute to the people who thought it up and then made it happen.
We then headed for Jhansi railway station and all the scams that it provides us with, including the parking lot. It’s not much better on the platform, we have seen much cleaner ones. The executive lounge for passengers travelling in executive class or 1AC has become an enclosure for VIPs only. The waiting room is filthy. The platform for our train is announced 6 minutes before arrival, which leaves many, especially foreign tourists, running around in panic. And finally, as the Bhopal Shatabdi wheezes in, the thousands of birds above the uncovered platform decide it is time for their evening rituals, so some passengers get blessed with bird droppings as a parting gift.
Overall, Orchha is certainly a must-do if your interests extend to trying to decipher old temples as providers of open source technology, and also as an example of the genuine honesty and innocence that comes out of Bundelkhand. Unlike in many other tourist towns in India, for example, all the shops were operated by local people including women. They are honest, and that means a lot if you go with family. Jhansi, on the other hand, is like my report card from school - "can do better if tries".