Mumbai, Jaipur, Delhi, Agra. We have been traveling India’s well-worn tourist trail. Until now. Our itinerary includes some intriguing, out-of-the-way stops: the small town of Orchha, followed by two days of boating down the Ganges.
Orchha, often fought-over in the 1500s and 1600s, is now best known for its Mughal structures. The Mughal emperors celebrated their control of most of the Indian subcontinent by designing some really cool buildings (the Taj Mahal among them).
We toured the fort that dominates one end of town. It is actually two connected palaces- the somewhat plain Raj Mahal and the more ornate Jahangir Mahal- with sweeping views of the surrounding countryside. In the afternoon, we toured a factory that makes paper from scrap cotton. It’s part of an effort to create jobs for locals, though we had to wonder how successful it is. The workers who weren’t demonstrating the process for us pretty much stood around or yelled at each other the whole time.
That evening, we were invited into a local woman’s home for an Indian cooking class. It started well, with the preparation of tea and explanations of ingredients, but then things got, well, boring as we sat in relative silence watching her prepare dishes. As a personal chef, Karen has taught many a cooking class and knows how to keep things interesting (prepare some ingredients ahead of time, keep up a lively conversation, etc.). This one wasn’t quite up to her standards. At least we got to eat the food at the end, and it was delicious.
The next day, we had a day off in Orchha, which left us scratching our heads. We had already spent a day and a half here- what more was there to do? I ventured over to the cenotaphs honoring a handful of Budela Kings. There was a tourist there, walking around with his son, but when I showed up he snapped to attention and turned out to be the guard. He checked my ticket and let me in. After exploring the chhatries and playing paparazzi to the resident vultures, I exited to find the guard long gone and the front gate closed. I let myself out.
Besides that, we couldn’t find much to do. Several people in our group agreed that we would rather have spent an extra day in Delhi or Agra. Karen summed up our malaise when, sitting on Orchha’s main street, she said, “If the world comes to an end, it’s going to look something like this.”
We needed to re-energize, to wake up… so we took an 8-hour overnight train ride. Some people swear by the overnight train or bus (“No need to book a hotel room!”), and while I’m not usually a fan, I slept well this time around.
Arriving in Allahabad, we transferred by car to one of the more romantic-sounding items on our itinerary: boating on the Ganges. Floating in the wakes of kings. I guess. Our guide unceremoniously plopped us into three boats, with no explanation of, well, why we were boating on the Ganges. Is this area historically significant? Is there anything special we should look for on shore? One person in the group asked Navin these questions, but got no answer. So we read our books. The three boats hooked up for lunch- an impressive variety of Indian food prepared while afloat.
We camped for a night on a patch of desert, tossing and turning on thin mattress pads. The next day, more aimless drifting.
Both stops- an ancient town and a sacred river- sounded romantic. While both had their interesting moments, both went on a bit too long.