27 Oct 2013
We meet again at Ramrajah for an early breakfast. Our tables are on the edge of the road and we are treated to an endless flow of people coming into the town from the surrounding countryside for the festival at the temple. Many of them are openly staring at us in amazement. The son of the owner talks to a group of ladies and brings them over to say hello and shake hands. We take their photos and show them, and they are delighted. This opens the floodgates and everyone coming past stops to have their photo taken. It is wonderful to have this interaction.
We were supposed to be taking a public bus this morning but we all convinced Bhanu that we should get jeeps instead. We are so grateful because it is another long hot bumpy dusty ride and we would not have been able to stop for comfort breaks – Sue and Martin are still not well. It was worth the extra $10 each.
Making our way out of town is proves difficult because there are so many people in the town and at one stage both options for us to exit were closed off. Eventually the police are persuaded to let us through. The Madhyr Pradesh countryside is just beautiful – rural life at its everyday best. But the road is so bumpy that we can’t take photos along the way. 4.5 hours later we arrive in Chanderi and are charmed by our hotel: clean, light, bright and airy. My room has a window! And it looks out at a lovely garden.
Lunch is served at the hotel and we have time for a short rest before heading out on a walking tour with our local guide Kalley Bhai (black boy) Muzzafah. He is an irrepressibly cheery man who just loves his job. He has worked with Intrepid since 2001 and has just learnt English via that interaction. It is not a town visited by other tourists and we are treated like movie stars. Everyone is smiling and saying hello, some just looking at us and all the kids shyly asking if they can have their photo taken, some practising their English.
We are met by the local reporters who take a group photo and interview us for the local paper – the theme is how bad the roads are and how much better it would be if they had good roads.
It is an absolutely stunning town with hundreds of years of history. In the 17-18th centuries there were 170,000 inhabitants, now there are about 14,000. We are shown remnants of 15th century castles and mosques. The town is 45% Muslim along with Hindus and Jains – all living together happily. Kalley Bhai is Muslim and his family chose not to leave for Pakistan at partition in 1947.
Many of the ruins have only been excavated in the past 10 years. Kalley Bhai is paasionate about archaeology and has made all sorts of finds. We wind through the markets that are just like in a medieval city, saying hello to everyone we pass. Women are beautifully dressed in saris even when they are working in the dirt. They have a very regal stature carrying big loads of sticks, dirt, water etc on their heads.
We met the former mayor of the town (a woman) – the current mayor is her husband.
That evening we are invited to dinner at Kalley Bhai’s house – a communal home that he shares with his 2 brothers’ families. We take our torches and file through the narrow winding streets. On the way we meet KB’s mother who is a herbalist and is sitting in her corner shop rolling local cigars made from ebony leaves. We enter a little gate that opens into a courtyard and are greeted by all the sons, daughters, nephews and nieces all lined up in height order. They tell us their names and present us with garlands of flowers – we are expected to tell them our names in return.
We dine up on the rooftop and his wife has prepared a magnificent feast from a tiny kitchen. The table is set with name cards for us, written in Hindi and Urdu. None of us are able to guess which one belongs to us. The meal consisted of soup, rice, chicken and spinach (very spicy), cashew paneer curry, potatoes, chipati and a sweet dessert.
KB shows us his ancient coin collection including some 4th century ones. He has won various tourism awards and shows us his trophies. We learn that the shawls that were presented to medal winners at the Commonwealth Games in India in 2010 were made in Chanderi.
His daughter comes out after dinner and does henna paintings for Mel and Ciara – she paints so fast and is a skilled artist – the results are just beautiful.
For this and other similar tours see:
Peregrine Adventures (Comfort tours)
Geckos Adventures (for 18 to 30s)
Note: After people telling me they had booked an Intrepid Tour on my recommendation, I now have affiliate links with the Intrepid Travel group of companies and may receive a commission if you book a tour online within a couple of months after clicking through to these sites. So if you are enjoying my tips and stories and finding them useful in choosing your own travel, please click on these links and help me to bring you more ☺.