I usually travel by myself and really enjoy it. As usual, on this trip I met lots of great people, both Indians and western travellers.

It was my second trip to India and I thought I would try to go slightly “off the beaten track”.

So I got to

  • Jhansi on the way to Khajuraho
  • Orchha
  • Nagpur on the way to Pench Tiger Park
  • Kanha Tiger Park
  • Pachmarhi
  • Indore on the way to Mandu
  • Maheshwar · Omkareshwar
  • Khandwa on the way to Jalgaon
  • Ajanta
  • Ellora
  • Aurangabad on the way to Mumbai.

OK, Jalgaon is is not MP!

It was the beginning of a three month trip to India. I was in Pushkar for the camel fair, and then someone suggested I go to Rishikesh. I hadn’t planned to go there, but had the time, so I did. I know, both touristy places, but I really liked both. It always depends on who you meet, where you go, and what you do. But after that, I thought I would try to see a less visited part of the country.

Heading to Madhya Pradesh

 Some train picsBy sab kuch milega
From Haridwar (near Rishikesh) I got a day train to Jhansi. I had booked it on Cleartrip a few weeks previous while I was in Pushkar. Nice clean 2AC, good food and a nice, but fairly reserved family as company. I was hoping to go to Khajuraho but the train got in around 8:30 pm, and there was no one to share a taxi with. (I just thought I would wing it, and this time it didn’t work out) I got a rickshaw to a hotel, it was just for the night and nothing in Jhansi seemed too promising. It was a typical “train station” hotel, lots of men in the lobby, and I always feel a bit weird because I don’t think they expect to see single women travellers in these hotels. I picked one out of Lonely Planet called “Shinrat”, he took me to one called “Samrat”. Probably six of one, half a dozen of another, but neither of the names inspired confidence!

Jhansi to Khajuraho

 Dusk from the train...I am sitting at the open door, the best place to be!By sab kuch milega
Got an “unreserved” ticket from Jhansi to Khajuraho. I try to avoid unreserved tickets, but they are OK for fairly short distances. This was six hours and a bit messy (the train split in Mahoba, half went on one track and half on another! Fortunately a nice Indian guy helped me out, we chatted a lot, and it was a pretty good trip. One thing about unreserved, there is always lots happening, vendors, musicians, all kinds of people, so always very interesting!

I went to Khajuraho first, then Orchha because I wanted to go to a homestay, and it was the only time I could get in at Orchha.

Peaceful Khajuraho...

I stayed at Surya hotel in Khajuraho for two nights and it was a nice place with really helpful staff. I didn’t think Khajuraho was that bad for touts (I’ve been to Agra!) and the food was good everywhere I ate. I was surprised at how small the town was! You could see the main temples in a morning, but I got a bike and rode around to some others. It’s a very nice place to ride, and no worries about traffic.

On to Orchha

My homestay teacher's school

Street scene:

Bathing at the ghats:

 

On to Orchha on yet another unreserved train ticket! It’s just the way it worked out. We had good seats and a really fun group of three other travellers. We had a good time talking to all our seatmates, shared food and showed postcards and money from our countries. One fellow had a little cage with two parrots that he put under the seat. That night was the eclipse of the moon. I didn’t know about it, but stuck my head out the door at a stop and there it was…I was able to watch it for several hours after that, through the window of the train. Beautiful!

Orchha felt good right from the get go. I was there for four days and could have stayed longer. It is one of the most pretty, clean small towns I have been to in India. I stayed in an Orchha homestay for a couple of nights and it was fun doing stuff with the family. I went to school with them one day, as Kieran, my homestay hostess, is a teacher. I also got a bicycle again and rode around taking tons of pictures. Didi (Denise) at Didi’s Café was so nice and helpful. We sat up on the roof of the restaurant and talked for quite a while. She helped me connect with an Indian female friend of hers who took me to her meditation ashram, run by all women. Super people! 

Jhansi to Nagpur on the overnight train

Back to Jhansi, and I got an overnight train to Nagpur, on my way to Pench Tiger park. That was one of my best train experiences…Jhansi is a really well organized station, everything well marked (no running for bogeys!), the train was very clean and comfortable and on time, beginning to end, wow! Even the ladies waiting room was good, clean bathrooms and an attendant.

No idea where to go once I got to Nagpur, so I went to see the station master and a guy who was sitting in the office just offered to walk me to the bus station, which was very close by. Nice guy! The bus took about three hours, the usual bus, had some baskets of chickens strapped to the roof but it was fine. Then they let me off at a dusty junction…now what? But there is a cab there, and I’m the only one around so off we go, about 10 km to Kipling, the MP tourist hotel.

Pench Tiger Park and Kipling Court, an MP Tourist Hotel

 The hotel is quite impressive! Very pretty garden and pool. A very nice pool! I’m staying in the dorm. The first night it is just me and someone’s driver….I stay at my end and he stays at his! I think it feels a little weird for both of us, but its fine. The second night there is a big group coming in to the dorm and they upgrade me to a cottage for no extra charge! The food is buffet and is really good. Still, the dorm is 1000 rupees (!) including food. I was there for four nights, three in the dorm.

Kipling Court Entrance:

The dorms:

The pool!:

It is tricky booking safaris when you are a single western person. Because its really expensive to go by yourself, and if you go with Indians (there were no westerners at my hotels at both Pench and Kanha), then there is confusion about what we should all be charged, as western people are charged quite a bit more. So in both parks, it was quite a hassle to get something arranged. In Ranthambore, the main booking office just seemed to organize everyone from all hotels into gypsies or canters, but they don’t do this in either Pench or Kanha, so just be warned if you are by yourself.

Pench is a beautiful park…lots and lots of different animals, and it is quite open so you can see a lot. No tigers, but apparently their numbers are really up at this park. They guides seemed quite bored though, I’m not sure why.

Beautiful Pench

Pench to Kanha

I got the bus for Kanha, and the first hour or so was the worst road I have ever been on! I literally got thrown right out of my seat, my head hit the overhead sleeper and I just about got bounced onto to the floor! Things got better, and it was a little confusing at the end, but I ended up in another MP tourist hotel, the only one inside the park, called Bagheera Log Huts. They have a dorm also, but not nearly so nice as Kipling. The dorm is quite separate from the hotel, and you have to eat at the canteen down the road…thali, thali, thali. OK, but not great. In both parks, most people spoke iffy English, so that made things a little more difficult, but things got worked out.

Going for tigers:

I did see a tiger in Kanha! The park was quite a bit more heavily forested than Pench, and didn’t have the variety of animals, but the guides were really keen. I went to Kanha zone a couple of times. It was supposed to be a “hot” zone, but it was quite dead both times. I saw my tiger as a result of the “tiger show”, not as contrived as I had expected. The elephant mahouts track the tigers in the morning, then they radio around, and if you’re close, your guides take you to the elephants and, for another 600 rupees, you go a short distance into the bush, on the elephants, to see the tiger. Ours was sleeping under a tree. We got quite close to him on the elephants. Yes, it was a tiger show…. probably not so good for the tigers, they are harassed, basically. So I feel a little guilty, but I was glad to see him!

I also saw a leopard on my last safari. The guides said they only saw them once a month or so, so it was a bit lucky. (again, we had “help” from the elephant mahouts) Kanha has an amazingly good interpretive centre, but its right in the middle of the park, so you can only go there “on safari”…too bad, I wanted to go through it slowly, but didn’t want to take up “safari time”, what a shame you can’t get to it otherwise.

Pachmarhi Hill Station-heading west

A large family staying in my dorm happened to be going to Pachmarhi at the same time I was and offered to give me a ride in their mini-van! They were all so nice, and it would have been a long day for me otherwise if I had gone by train. We had a picnic with lots of homemade food at a chai stand, and listened to Bollywood soundtracks all the way. It was really fun!

Pachmarhi….not my kind of place. It was nice enough, but LOTS of cheap souvenir stalls selling junky stuff, and just not much to do. It seemed like you could do short walks (which I did), but if you wanted to really trek, it seemed a little harder to work out. I probably just didn't give Pachmarhi enough time.

I was with a school group in Saket hotel and they ran roughshod over the entire place at all hours of the day and night. I actually ended up hanging out with all of them in the lobby the next day and they were all really nice actually! The female teachers spoke good English. One of them even said “I think we met each other in a previous life”. Really sweet!

A young French couple and me did have a lovely Christmas Eve at Golfview hotel in Pachmarhi, which is an impressive place with formal gardens and a very good restaurant outside in the garden. I also rode a bike out to the Shiva temple and climbed up the rock to a sadhu cave, nobody there so I left some rupees in the top of the sadhu’s bag.

To Indore and Mandu

Overnight bus to Indore. I try to avoid these things, but it was a pretty good trip. For some reason I really didn’t like Indore on the way in…it seemed really dirty. (Nagpur, on the other hand, had looked really clean).

I managed to get on the bus fairly quickly for Mandu, and after muddling through a couple of changes I got there quite early in the day. I loved Mandu, it reminded me of Orchha, but Mandu seems quite a bit smaller. Mandu is my favourite place for riding a bicycle! I also loved the palace, it seemed like someone had designed it with love, lots of beautiful details and not as ostentatious as other palaces. Just my opinion anyway!

Mandu palace

There are only a couple of restaurants and a tiny market in Mandu, also very little accommodation. I stayed at Maharaja and it was probably the worst place I have stayed in India! The room was pretty marginal for 200 rupees, but at first I liked the place…. out of town about 1 km, a big walled field with a stepwell, trees, and cows grazing right outside the door.

But…on the last night, an English guy and me were the only ones there. He came over and asked me if I had noticed all the guys with guns drinking with the owner around the campfire on the far edge of the field. Hmmm. So we sat together on the porch and chatted and watched to see if anything would happen. So, THOSE guys were fine, but then a minivan full of young Indian guys turned up at about 9:00 pm. They got pretty drunk and hollered and yelled all night and slammed doors running in and out of every room that wasn’t occupied. It was a little scary as we were a little on edge already because of the guns. Anyway, the next morning, it turned out they were not much more than teenagers and tried to look chastened as I chewed out the owner. The English guy and me laughed afterwards, as we knew it was futile, but it felt good!

The infamous "Maharaja" :)

Transportation is a little tricky around this area, and I managed to work out a cab to Maheshwar. He waited while I had a look around for the morning, then things got a bit muddled, but I ended up on a couple of buses to Omkareshwar. I was getting a little short on time because I had Mumbai-Goa train reservations and I couldn’t change them, so I had to choose not to stay in Maheshwar, but it was a pretty place.

Omkareshwar - Pilgrim town

Omkareshwar! What a crazy little place! I liked it but it was nuts. Like nowhere else I’ve been in India. So noisy! Temples, motorboats, dogs, monkeys on the roof…if I could have stayed in a quieter place I would love to have stayed longer. Later I was told there is a really nice ashram on the island, but I didn’t know about it when I was there. I stayed in Ganesh. It was pretty good for 200 rupees. But major bhang lassi and smoking. A bit much after a while. The whole town REALLY smokes a lot. The restaurant was pretty average but there weren’t many other places to eat. The food carts in the market ended up being really good, and there is a great lassi place there also.

There are two parts to Omkareshwar: the mainland, and a small island connected by a bridge. The island has a paved path that goes past all sorts of temples and sadhu camps and ashrams. The path is for the many pilgrims that visit the town.

The island part of Omkareshwarand the big white Shiva temple

I had an absolutely wonderful second day there as I met an older hippie guy who was an excellent companion. He took me all over the island to a bunch of temples and he knew all sorts of interesting things about them. We also sort of bushwhacked to the Sun temple (a little old temple) and had a swim in the Narmada river, a really clean place opposite the dam. The dam was a little weird, it really took over everywhere that you looked. Also, the warning horn (that they were opening the water gates) usually went around 4:00 am. The next day I visited a couple of sadhus, one group who gave me breakfast (nice) and another guy who was very friendly and gave me a tour of his ashram. All very nice.

Old and new: the dam and temple

The temple below Ganesh hotel had BIG week-long all night chanting and preaching going on. Really interesting, and the Indian people in the temple all tried to make sure I had a good place to stand. LOUD!

The Shiva temple was packed with people coming for puja and you could watch it on closed circuit TV as you were waiting in line. Only in India!

On the last day, me and a Spanish girl walked way up the river to a lovely friendly ashram with both sadhus and women (not sadhus). We got a bit lost on the way back, ended up on the road, and a school bus picked us up! The kids were so excited to ride with us, and it was lucky for us as it ended up being quite a ways into town, and we got there about 15 minutes before dusk.

On to Jalgaon for New Years Eve, goodbye Madhya Pradesh!

Got a bus to Khandwa railway station the next day, only 2 ½ hours to Jalgaon, but unreserved and REALLY packed. I sat on a luggage rack the whole way and felt like a pretzel afterwards.

So, out of Madhya Pradesh now. And on to the Plaza Hotel in Jalgaon; it was fantastic! It was SUPER clean, amazing, and the owner just attended to every little detail of every guest’s needs. He was really just great, and I needed that place! :) I was a little burnt out.

It was New Years Eve, and a Dutch guy and me had a very good dinner at a local middle-class type restaurant. We had to wait in line to get in and the food was great. Jalgaon seems like a nice town. It seems quite prosperous and clean, and the people were nice. I had “paan” ice cream (really delicious!)at an ice cream shop run by nice Sikh guys. Funny place to have New Years, but it was good!

Ajanta and Ellora

Beautiful Kailash temple in Ellora, all carved out of one piece of stone!

Beautiful stone sculpture at Ellora

The next day, the Plaza hotel owner had managed to find two other people to share a cab around Ajanta and Ellora (Ajanta is closest, Ellora is about 150+ km away), so we had a good day (and a long day) around both places. The Dutch guy and me went on to Aurangabad, where I also met up with some people I had met in Khajuraho. We all stayed at a good “train station” hotel (Shree Maya) with a good dining room…they very considerately sent out for cold beer for all of us!

I would like to have looked around Aurangabad, but I had a train ticket to Mumbai early the next morning. A short walk down the road to the train station at 5:00 am in the pitch dark, but it felt fine.

So that was the end of my trip around Madhya Pradesh. Every place was so different! I had no idea what to expect, and it was a good adventure. My pet peeve was all the mothballs in the sinks and showers at the hotels, for some reason I find that smell profoundly depressing…

I told someone Madhya Pradesh makes Rajasthan look like a well-oiled machine! :) But as usual, all the Indian people were so nice, and it was quite easy to meet other travellers, except in the tiger parks! No problems being a solo female, but I was surprised at the huge number of people that wanted to take my picture. (Its fun to hold out your hand afterwards and say “Ten rupees please!” …they laugh! ) Also, quite a few people came up to talk to me and said I was the first western person they had met! But there were also a lot less people that spoke English. I can give more details re: accommodation etc. if anyone wants to know. Thanks for reading!

The pictures didn't come out quite the way I wanted, but check out my Madya Pradesh Dec 2011 photogallery if you want to see any full size ones