Monday, 30 March 2015

Orchha - Pranpur - Chanderi

We thought we were headed for a quiet Holi getaway to Madhya Pradesh. Orchha-Pranpur-Chanderi. We anticipated the grandeur of the Orchha palaces and a restful Holi in the mango orchards. But were completely unprepared for the breadth and depth of experience that Travel Another India and Gouthami curated for us.

Four days and a flood of stories, sights and encounters. Sample some:

-        A guest house walled in by mango trees, designed and managed by farmers, village scientists and community-tourism entrepreneurs. The Amraee quickly made us their own. It has swept all awards possible for responsible rural tourism. The Bundeli thaali served on Holi swept us into a minor culinary exploration.

-          A day-long tour of Chanderi (one must spend three to fully immerse in the stories of its 300+ historical monuments). My favourite was the walk through Sadar Bazaar - an ancient market frequented by Khilji rulers and Mughal royals and chronicled by Ibn Batuta.

At its prime, the Bazaar was a three-tier retail hotspot - the lowest tier of shops for customers on foot, a second level for consumers on horseback, and the highest storey for royal shoppers on elephant back. The same goods were sold at three different price tags for the three customer segments. A super example of inclusive commerce!

-       A drive through sandstone quarries to the 1000-year old Nanoun caves. We spotted crocodiles sunbathing on the banks of the river Urvashi. And witnessed the chronicling of life through cave paintings from the chalcolithic age. Across the banks, not far away, lay burial grounds from the Mesolithic age.
Cave Paintings in Nanoun
River Urvashi had crocodiles on its banks!
 -    A walk across Asia's largest earthen dam that submerged 85 villages (all re-settled in Chanderi) and temples and palaces of the 14th and 15th century. When the waters of the Betwa recede in June, the submerged monuments re-emerge, with paintings on their walls still undiminished. Massive flocks of migratory birds conference on the lakes of this dam. You need to be here at sunset.
Sunset from the Rajghat Dam
-          Lunch in the balcony of a 13th century royal hunting lodge, ensconced in the winding ghats and forest's of Katighati. The verandah flanks out into a massive lake with boatmen plying iron boats. Here, Babur's troops had taken shelter for months and planned their strategy of attack on Chanderi. Here, we ate guava curry, and fish freshly fried on the banks of the lake.
Lake of the Royal Hunting Lodge

14th Century Royal Hunting Lodge
View from the Lunch Table

-          Conversations with metal workers, potters and weavers. A family of metalworkers invited us into their home in Pranpur and walked us through the intricacies of their practice - a forgotten metal art form, which has probably not been documented. Mud over wax moulds through which molten metal is poured and baked in earthen ovens. The two layered mould is then cooled and cracked open to produce intricate metal jewellery. Do not contest the prices fixed by the village tourism council for this master craftsperson’s wares. Because you pay not just for the product, but for an art form that may disappear in the next decade of your life.
The Charkha in Pranpur

Weaving the Chanderi fabric in Pranpur

-          And finally the showstopper- an impulsive plunge into the flowing, rocky pools of the river Betwa with Surendra bhai and his daughters, who are part of Friends of Orchha - a network of village home stays in Orchha. The extended frolicking in the cold waters delayed us by several hours to the next spot on our map. But did we care?

Betwa River in Orchha
The oxygen that breathed colour and life into our trip was the indomitable Kallebhai. A school drop-out, self-taught, barefoot historian, who has published four books on the history of Chanderi, and is at the forefront of working with UNESCO to have his town declared as a World Heritage City. If not for anything else, visit Chanderi to just hear his story of life entrepreneurship.

Oh! And we did play Holi under the mango trees. And purchased a Chanderi stole or two. Thank you Travel Another India for this largess.

Manisha Gupta
March 2015
The Mango Orchard at Amraee Guest House

Doorway of the Jama Masjid in Chanderi - the designs continue to inspire the weavers!

My favourite- children of the 1000-year old village, nestled among stone quarries, play holi with adandon and chase us with cowdung balls in their hands

Rajpal - the farmer-scientist- inventor with three patents to his name. He manages the Amraee guest house out of his passion and love for the region he was born in. Not often is he photo-bombed by guests.

100-year old mud home in Orchha

An ancient metal pot discovered by the Archeological Survey of India. Displayed in an open museum at the Raja-Rani palace in Chanderi.

Baodi or step-well in Chanderi

Frescoes in the palace in Orchha

Jahangir Palace, Orchha

Jama Masjid, Chanderi

Mango blooms, Amraee Guest House, Pranpur

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