iDemythify | Experiencing Benevolence In Bundelkhand [1/3]

This post is Part 1 of 3 on my solo travel experience in Madhya Pradesh... because there's more to travel than the guidebooks 

She looked back at me and asked, “What will you eat then?”

A little over a fortnight ago I had a post go live recounting experiences of the good Samaritans I’d had the privilege of encountering [Read: Invisible Samaritans Along The Road]. As I reflect over my travels around India, it’s these individuals who make wanting to step out of comforts we’ve come to associate with words like ‘home’ a higher order calling. 

The following post is a recount of my experiences in Madhya Pradesh. And to complete the story I seemed to have started to narrate, let me rewind a little bit.. 

Background story
Travelling solo to Madhya Pradesh (MP) just happened without too much of a conscious effort. I’d helped a friend chalk his MP itinerary some months ago and decided to put it to use for me. For starters, I’d never ever traveled to the state before. And besides knowing that it is the second largest state in India after Rajasthan, I also knew that it is a land of rich heritage and biodiversity. 
What specifically though? I was about to find out. 

Jahangir Mahal, Orccha

Laxminarayan Temple, Orccha

But I was apprehensive and concerned – about my own safety. This was well turning out into a solo travel trip and I for the first time since the solo travel bug kicked in would be embarking on a journey that was directed northwards – which popular media has made synonymous with ‘unsafe’. As much as friends around want to accompany me around it, seldom if ever, materialized. 

So here I was determined to make this trip. It was those exact same notions around ‘unsafeness’ that I’ve been striving to ‘de-myth-ify’ since I first took to solo travel. So why would I back down this time!

Laxminarayan Temple, Orccha 

View from the top - Laxminarayan Temple, Orccha
Planning solo travel
The exhilaration that comes from chalking out an itinerary – first, based on your own gut and then by looking up itineraries of other travellers, having conversations with homestay/guesthouse/hotel folks you reach out to for accommodation purposes or even fellow traveler friends who have a thing for the offbeat (read: does not involve air travel followed by aircon vehicle pick and drop) – is what overtakes my mind completely. 
It’s a strange sense of restlessness that I liken to what makes a surfer ride the waves! 

But not only was I more northward bound than any of my earlier solo trips, as it turns out I was embarking on a multi-destination trip for the first time ever too! The places being zeroed down were – Orchha, Khajuraho and Pranpur/Chander – I was going to Bundelkhand. And I was going to have each of these 3 places as a base over the 7ish days I’d be on the road – not a one go-to destination that I’d dock myself at. 

Chaturbhuj Temple, Orccha

View of Raja Ram Mandir from Chaturbhuj Temple, Orccha
“So what’s special about these places you’re headed off to?” I got asked repeatedly. Nothing seemingly unusual except that I’d had a string of monastery destinations – Ladakh, Bhutan and Spiti in almost quick succession interspersed with places where nature took my breath away – Coorg, Kutch, Gokarna, rural Maharashtra – over the past couple of months. So, palaces, forts and temples were a welcome change. Little did I know then that it would be more than just that!

Now however unlike most itineraries (including my friend’s), the most preferred route whether coming in from Delhi or anywhere else is to start with Pranpur/Chanderi 
then head towards Orchha (via Jhansi) 
before concluding the trip at Khajuraho that has excellent route connectivity via rail and air to Delhi (for Mumbai one needs to get to Satna). 
I however was defying the ‘prescribed route’. How typical of me!

Laxminarayan Temple, Orchha

View from the top - Laxminarayan Temple, Orchha

Jahangir Mahal, Orchha

Finding my way to the top - Chaturbhuj Temple, Orchha
If you’ve been following my blogposts you will know how integral homestays are to my trips. That’s how Google brought me to ‘Friends of Orchha’. And that’s how I met Asha.
Well we haven’t met per se. But my email interactions with her over those weeks of planning not only helped me in heaps to figure out Orchha but even the rest of my itinerary. So I was evidently disappointed when just a few days before I’d leave for Madhya Pradesh, I learnt from her that she was currently not in Orchha so we wouldn’t meet – I’d come to appreciate the ease with which she was able to provide me with inputs (replying promptly to my every email) and guidance even though she was miles away from the place being discussed.

Ganj Homestay - Friends of Orchha
About ‘Friends of Orchha’ and another friend 
Friends of Orchha is a registered NGO which aims at providing sustainable livelihood founded by Asha D'Souza and Louk Vreeswijk, an Indo/Swiss - Dutch couple, who moved from Geneva to Orchha in 2006. Asha, was born in Madhya Pradesh. She is a sociologist with several years of international experience in the management of development projects. Louk is an anthropologist and documentary film-maker with a keen interest in Indian arts, crafts and culture. They now live in Almora but continue to look after the home-stay and are in daily contact with the staff in Orchha - Ashok Rajak who receives the guests and Deepchand Valmiki who does the house-keeping of the home-stay.

Warm cozy interiors - Friends of Orchha

More on the another friend and the journey from Orchha to Khajuraho in my next post

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