Chittogarh (6th – 7th April)
Chittogarh the Father of Forts, makes Gwalior look puny. There are 33km worth of walls surrounding the fortress which sits 180m on a plateau and the road leading up to the fort zig-zags for about 2 km before we even reach the main gate. Irritatingly, it is also too big to fit into my viewfinder from the town below.
By some blessed miracle, not many foreign tourists visit the charming behemoth with its collection of rustic ruins in its huge compound. It was pleasantly tout free and the local tourists who approached us were genuinely and politely interested in the two little specimens from Singapore.
The 6 storey Victory Tower with its unique staircase that wove its way intermittently through the core and sides of the tower was the main highlight for me. The insides were inlaid with stone figure carvings and the top gave us great views of Chittogarh and the urbane mess of Chitto far below.
Our autorickshaw driver also displayed some rare Indian astute business acumen. Instead of the usual haggling, he simply said ‘If I provide good service, you pay me 150. If you are not happy, you pay me 120.’ Of course, the service was good and 150 left us both happy. Chittogarh is so huge that even with an autorickshaw and 4 hours, it wasn’t enough to take in all the sights.
Besides two Jain temples with their ornate pillars and ceiling carvings, the other big draw was a rectangular stone pool built into the sides of the fort. We also visited the local temple where the festival of the Goat was celebrated with great fervor. We didn’t see any bloody beheadings and mutton ditribution, just lots of locals collecting a sample from a huge ash heap right in the middle of the temple. Perhaps it was all thats left of the poor goat. After a while I found the tree outside heavy with lounging langurs more appealing.
Our driver brought us to the back gate which overlooked the vast (and by now darkening) empty plains to the East and the ancient battle scene came flooding back as we sit just outside the massive wooden double doors. Men riding out to meet the enemy and women committing sati of self-BBQ inside. While Gwalior was a dead fort, Chittogarh still bustles with the 2000 citizens that stay in a village within its impressive walls.
Our dark 120Rs jail cell at Natraj Hotel by the bus terminus is now tops on our most ‘unaccommodating accommodation’ list. Well, at least it had a filthy attached toilet with a fat resident cockroach.