I was expecting the evenings here to be chilly but last night was nut clenchingly so. I spent my last waking minutes researching the possibility of chucking the whole thing in and flying south to the warmth. I’ve grown up since so onwards.

Welcome to salubrious Gwalior

You are never too far from officialdom in India. First thing today was to plan and execute my exit strategy and another trip to the railway station.

There are usually more than one reservation hall in rail stations and Gwalior has three. I went in all of them before ending up in front of the “supervisor’s” booth doubling as the place where handicapped, freedom fighters, ladies and tourists reserve their tickets.

The supervisor studiously ignored me for the requisite length of time casually tapping tally figures into his calculator. I swear I saw him tap 10 plus 11 then 1 plus equals before entering the result in a ledger that looks as it saw the days of the Raj.

“Single ticket to Jhansi please” in my new found basic hindi direct from my posh twat iphone app. Amazingly it worked. “Reservation form” was his terse reply. Completely flummoxed, a nearby educated gent not only helped me but filled the form in for me. Job done, ticket in pocket, off to the fort. Iv’e only been to India 6 times and I still fall at the lowest of hurdles.

The approach to the fort

Gwalior hill fort has 2 ways of approaching it. All the guides suggest the eastern approach as being the most impressive. Maybe I should have looked at the map as it took me 2 hours from the hotel to the ticket office (including several wrong turns!)

Navigating around Indian towns is not normally difficult, you take a rickshaw or taxi! On foot however you use a combination of the guide’s maps, a compass and shop signs which usually have the street address on them. Trouble is in Gwalior all of the shop signs are 100% Hindi!

I apologise for blowing up my rear end but I have seen a number of hill forts and Gwalior’s is not among the greatest. I guess if Madhya Pradesh had the same number of tourists as Rhajasthan enjoys then it would have been restored to former glory.

Man Singh’s palace within the fort was a highlight with some delicate freizes and a pitch black prison cell replete with squeaking bats. A group of Indian lads spotted me with my torch and followed me down. When they saw the bats they all turned tail and hoofed it back up the dark stairs. Apparently all bats in India are vampires. Yea Right!

Man Singh’s Palace.

For the most part the palaces within the fort are crumbling graffiti stained ruins. I do not want to downplay their historical or archeological significance but they are not really worth the admission fees.

Talking of admission fees I have noticed that the multiplication factor between what an Indian pays for admission into monuments and what a foreigner does has crept to 5 times. If this continues through the rest of the trip I will have to reconsider the budget.

When as is inevitable India becomes one of the richest counties in the world maybe we should charge them 5 times the rate for access to York Minster or St. Pauls.

There are some temples cut into the hillside on the way down from the fort on the western (opposite) side. They cannot (sorry again) compare with those in Ellora but are interesting all the same and well worth a gander and some pics.

More by luck than judgement I managed to find the next box requiring a tick, the Jai Vilas Palace Museum. Inside a huge white wedding cake of a pile which part of serves as the home of the present Maharaja, some 35 rooms have been set aside and filled with his Highness’s cast offs so that Indians and foreigners ali8ke can wander about marvelling at how the other half live. It’s rather like visiting a stately home in the UK. You know that the Queen never actually slept in that bed and it would have been in a different room but it’s interesting all the same.

The stand out star and for me the highlight of Gwalior is the Durbar Hall. Google it. Absolutely stunning in it’s ostentatiousness with the largest chandeliers in the world at 5 tons apiece. Maybe I am a closet socialist but I could not help thinking about all this wealth and priviledge payed for by the labours of some of the poorest peasants in the world.

My Kashmiri best friend of yesterday was right, Gwalior is not the cleanest place in the world and the walk back to the hotel provided ample proof. It’s odd that a brief release from the madness in the streets was a decent coffee at a moderm mall with well known brands like Levi’s, Benneton, McDonald’s and Dominos. Its only a matter of time…..

Back to the hotel to wash my feet, blow the streets out of my nose and to write this (my) journal before heading out for a beer and something to eat.

Lastly and as promised earlier, Indian pubs. We British should be proud of our public houses among the finest in the world. In India a pub is a bar usually attached to a hotel as these are the only businesses that can afford the license. They are invariably dimly lit, have TV’s tuned to Hindi or Tamil “action” films at atmospherically loud volumes and are always men only smoking obligatory zones

There are more genteel ways of having a beer at the more well heeled hotels but at up to 5 times the price. Beer in India is in “pint” bottles and brands tend to to vary from state to state. Kingfisher is generally everywhere as you would expect. Cobra does not exist as that is an English confection. My favourite is Hayward’s 5000, not burpy gassy and more than avearge strength. Two is enough to get your knees warm.

A warning: Indian beer can taste “creamy”. If you have more than 2 of these in an evening expect the mother and father of all headaches in the morning. Something to do with the added glycerine to keep the beverage fresh.

Stopping now as the cyber cafe is closing and I am off a little further south in the morning to Jhansi with the intention of ending up in Orchha or Khajuraho. It could be a nightmare of a journey so my next post could be “I’m coming home!!

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