India – Day 8 – Orchha – Chaturbhuj Temple and Rajni’s Cooking Class!

Day 8 was a good one. One of the best! We were able to have a more lazy schedule today, which was lovely considering our beautiful hotel. It was nice to have a little pampering. And sleeping in for once was also nice. It’s often a grueling schedule, as most days are travelling days. When they’re not travelling days, we wake up early to ensure we see everything there is to see. But today? Sleep in.

After check-out we headed back into town, back to the restaurant by the fort. The masala omelette was fantastic. As usual, the masala chai was also delicious.

 

 

My expectations for Orchha were minimal, only because I didn’t really know much about the town. The more we explored, however, the more it opened up to me. The more I opened up to it! It’s a jewel. The fort was incredible yesterday, but Chaturbhuj Temple today? Such an unexpected delight!

Chaturbhuj Temple. Orchha, India

After a rocky start inside the Chaturbhuj Temple gates, where someone insisted we needed tickets (luckily an older gentleman from the restaurant walked us to the temple and was down below awaiting our return. When we left the temple dejected and he asked us why, he practically stormed up the stairs and inside to yell at the ‘ticket taker’. We made it!), we managed to get inside.

Once inside, the delights that awaited us! A ‘guide’ quickly led us to an old stone stairway up a dark narrow path to the second floor. He knew every single good camera shot, every angle. He guided us around that level, pointing out the fort across the way through arched windows—showing us the perfect way to frame the shot. Every sight more incredible than the last. And then he’d take us up another level and another level still.

We’d take our shots and look around, thinking that was the top. But still another level. Soon there was nowhere else to go but the rooftop of this old beautiful temple that has stood for centuries looking very much like the architectural cousin of Angkor Watt. It was breathtaking. And we were on its roof.

Our ‘guide’, Manaju, suggested the four of us (I was with Karen, Tammy and Kylie from the G Adventures group) do a jumping shot together with the town and countryside as the backdrop. Seemed like an easy task, but with much laughter and jumping we realized it wasn’t quite as easy as it looked. But he was patient with us. He got the shot. I’ve a feeling Manaju always gets his shot. Not only did he know all the best views and photo frames and shots, he also knew how to take them. He knew our phones better than we did. He zoomed in and out, he went into extra camera options some of us didn’t even know about, and he knew which phone model would take the best shot in every situation.

AND…we jumped!

I call him a ‘guide’ in quotes because he’s not an official guide, but really… the town should hire that man officially. He was just a young guy, but he was suave, entertaining, joyful, proud of his relationship with the ancient temple, and as friendly and as helpful as can be. He deserves the tips he receives.

I will long remember that tour. The steps inside the narrow stone walls were scary to navigate. For me, it was difficult… as the steps were a good foot and a half apart. I cannot imagine being a much shorter person navigating them. Treacherous, to say the least. But with phone torches, and a lot of help from Manaju, we all made it up to the top and back to the bottom safely. Everything in between was pure magic!

After a little free time for shopping, we headed back to the hotel. The whole group pitched in to keep one room for the day and share it as a sort of home base. Somehow, it worked. As we were all on different schedules of exploration and/or relaxation, we all managed to have showers, chill out, etc.

For those of us who wanted to partake, G Adventures (I HIGHLY RECOMMEND G ADVENTURES!) arranged for an optional cooking class. Michael and I went and it turned out to be a high point of the trip so far. Rajni was the instructor’s name. She was lovely. She had prepared some of the ingredients ahead of time, chopping up onions and garlic and okra, etc. She went through every ingredient, being patient with those of us who are slow to write things down (yes, I’m talking about myself here!). I get lost in the numbers when people start reading out ingredients. I’m hopeless.

We watched while Rajni made the ever delicious masala chai, our (okay, MY) mouths watering as the sweet aroma filled the air about us. From there, as we sipped our delightful chai, she made eggplant curry and okra curry. She invited us to come up and assist throughout different parts of the preparation. Yes, I did. You bet your bottom dollar I was up there sitting cross-legged measuring out teaspoons of spices and dropping them into the oil in the wok. With each dump of the spoon another heady aroma wafted up into the air to tickle our tummies and entice our hunger to an even deeper level of desire.

Rajni then taught us how to make raita, chutney, and two kinds of bread. And yes, I was doing the math. I knew it would soon be time to eat!

It was the best meal I had thus far in all of my Indian wanderings. Eight days of devouring the lovely and incredible dishes of India and it was in Orchha I found food heaven. The best! IF YOU’RE EVER IN ORCHHA, BE SURE TO VISIT RAJNI! HERE’S HER TRIP ADVISOR PAGE. You’ll cherish the experience!

I did a first today. At the end of the meal, Rajni brought out a tray with individual dishes of tapioca for everyone. So, basically for 50+ years I have insisted tapioca was disgusting. Without having ever taken a single solitary bite. Or even smelling it. It was a texture thing. Some foods I can’t even imagine eating. Well, tapioca is, after all, rather delicious. I’m so glad I went into this insisting I would eat all the things!

Right now, as I write this, it is the end of day 8…actually after midnight so technically the beginning of day nine. I am on an overnight train, in a sleeping bunk almost touching the ceiling. Two people are below me on lower bunks and three are directly beside me and two are across the aisle facing long-ways probably with a great view of the bottoms of my questionably clean feet. We are shaking and rattling helplessly and I’m praying for a safe landing soon. We are on our way to the holy city of Varanasi and the Ganges! THE GANGES!

 

Welcome to India. It’s different than what I’m used to and it’s more beautiful than my wildest dreams. This is where I imagined being since I was a little boy. I know I won’t see him or his chocolate palace any time soon, but in this moment I’m thinking of Prince Pondicherry… wondering how he’s making out these days. He’s now but a ghost of my childhood. I love you, India…like I knew I would.

Day 7 – From Agra to Orchha, the Heartland of India

We took our first train today. Around three to four hours. I’m getting lost in this time concept thing. Ranny warned us so much about watching our belongings, I became overly nervous prior to boarding. It was fine. I keep forgetting that I’m already a confident tourist. I’m always aware of my belongings as it is. The train ride was a lovely trip with breakfast served. The omelette was wonderful… spicy with jalapeno.

From the station, we had to travel to Orchha in tuktuks.

We stopped at a paper recycling plant on the outskirts. We were told it was run to employ local women.

After picking up a couple journals for ourselves (yes, I know I’ll never write a word in mine…I never do), we hopped back into the tuktuks and completed our journey to Orchha Palace. This is the name of the hotel. We were to stay in a cheaper hotel closer to Orchha’s core, but it was recently flooded out. Orchha Palace Hotel is a fortunate upgrade for our party.

The hotel opened only two years ago. Orchha seems to be just getting into the tourist trade. None too soon. It’s absolutely beautiful here.

After lunch in a local restaurant, we went to the nearby Orchha Fort.

The Fort went on and on. In our free time a guard caught up with us and offered to walk us about. We were able to see all the best views this way and got closer to the monkeys.

After the fort, and some free time, we made our way to a group of mausoleums along the river.

We capped off our evening in Orchha with a religious ceremony in the Hindu temple. No pictures were allowed. There was a ceremony performed by a high priest, followed by a time of offerings–flowers and sweets were given. The laneway all the way to the temple was filled with vendors of flowers and sweets.

Tomorrow will be lots of free time in Orchha, along with a cooking class which I’m overly excited about participating in! This will be followed by a 10:30 pm train boarding. An overnight train ride to Varanasi! This, I’m sure, will be a highlight in our adventures!