Travel to Bundelkhand

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Bundelkhand Tourism

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Once upon a time, in the good old days, Bundelkhand was the name given to the place that was at the very heart and centre of India. Large chunks of land from Madhya Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh: Datia, Panna, Tikamgarh, Chattarpur and from the later Jhansi, Hamirpur, Jalaun and Banda combined to give this place its history and legend.

Of course, the right time to go there is in the monsoon when the parched earth has quenched its slaked throat and the lush foliage blooms. For here you will discover a treasure trove of our past. Wandering down memory lane you’ll come across abandoned cities, forgotten palaces, temples, mosques and much more. For history fiends, it’ll suffice to know about the traces of settlements dating back 2,000 TO 3,000 years ago —you’re right! — the times when Buddhism held sway to leave behind a legacy of art. They were followed by the Gupta rulers of the 4th and 5th centuries who had perfected the alchemy of turning stone into poetry...Time passed and the Moghuls began to leave their imprints on the sands. And in this region their architecture was to imbibe the twin elements of Rajput and Pathan disciplines.

So if you’re ready to take the plunge, its best to catch the Shatabdi Express, just like we did from the New Delhi railway station to Bhopal. As you lie back in relative comfort, en route you take in Agra, Gwalior and Jhansi in all of four-and-a-half-hours. I really hope you’re an early bird type and don’t mind the trains leaving at crack of dawn. The good news is, it does give you latitude to stretch your day.

Jhansi’s assured a permanent niche in the annals of the brave by a young queen who was to blaze a trail of glory. But like all tales, this too must start at the beginning. The attack on the richest city in Central India, on the fortress that was strong, not only by its natural but the resources of art; and its walls, which were built of granite, from 16 to 20 feet in thickness, were well embrasured for canon and loop-holed musketry while the place was defended by a garrison of 12,000 men, headed by a fearless Rani of Jhansi.

The year: 1853. Sir Huge Rose led the assault and gives a graphic description of the siege: “This was not affected without bloody, often hand-to-hand combats... The sowars, the bodyguard of the Rani, defended their stables, firing matchlocks and pistols from the windows and loop-holes, and cutting their tulwars (swords) from behind the doors. When driven in they retreated behind their horses, still firing, or fighting with theirswords in both hands, till they were shot or bayoneted, struggling even when dying on the ground to strike again. A party of them remained in a room off the stables,which were on fire, till they were half burned; their clothes on flames, they rushed out, hacking at their assailants, and guarding their heads with their shields.”

Such frantic deeds of resistance were multiplied over the streets and buildings of Jhansi before it was taken. Five thousand Indians lay dead of siege and storm.

She galloped on her grey steed to take refuge in the Gwalior fort and in a valiant last stand, she rode out dressed in male attire on a shimmering hot day of the 19th of June, reins in her mouth and sabres in both hands. Wounded by gunshots and swords, she became a martyr in the cause of India’s freedom. If you’re looking for a historical equivalent, perhaps it was Joan of Arc, the Maid of Orleans.

“The best man upon the side of the enemy was the woman found dead —the Rani of Jhansi,” exclaimed Sir Henry Rose. And defeat was accompanied by the loss of this brave leader. Yet perhaps such heroes never die. They are not born for defeat. They join the immortals and never really perish in the hearts of their people.

“This is where she leaped!” exclaims the old wizened guide, as if it were just yesterday. And the stones of Jhansi sing saga of bravery. Some folk are like that and they give us our todays by giving their tomorrows.

Ah! sunlight on a broken column! The swirl of Time, forgotten are the victors, only the brave live on forever. Past the flat below the fort, some 10 kilometres away towards the south lies Orcha, shrunk to a little village, but you cannot pass it by. The Rajmahal stands squarely atop parapets and open pavilions. Within you’ll encounter the wall paintings of folk art. The stone filigree work on delicate screens would allow the breezes to enter but subdue the harsh glare of the Indian summer.

Jehangir Mahal came up between 1605 and 1626 under the watchful care of Raja Bir Singh Deo, the one who built the Govind Mandir in Datia. He gifted it to Jehangir, who never really lived here but was used as a watering hole by his generals as they launched successive forays to the south. The 17th century fort was built as if by a French designer on an island on the Betva river. Sadly it lies in neglect and awaits its turn with patience and dignity.

A hundred kilometres from Jhansi is Devgarh and from here some 12 kilometres away to the east is the famous Dasavatara Temple, reputedly 1500 years old, a classic of the Gupta art with its tapering tower atop four portals perched above stone steps. Or you could go west from Jhansi to Shivpuri, the summer retreat of the kings of Gwalior, just fifty kilometres west. The silver sheen of its lake will wash away all tedium. Truly, an enchanted place where nature always triumphs over the machinations of man.

Rock-strewn Datia, just 26 kilometres from Jhansi looks like the bowling alley of the Gods where huge boulders lie scattered long after the Great Game is over. The height of glory was reached under the Bundela Rajput kings. Raja Bir Singh Deo whose seven-storeyed, palace, Govind Mandir is a marvel. Which other place can boast of 26 gates 16 courtyards and a staggering 440 rooms’

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