Odd fact: many of the formerly great towns we visited are miles and miles from population centers and show no obvious signs that anyone except the kings, maharajas, or priests ever lived there. Orchha, Sanchi, Khajuraho, and Mandu were all capitals of princely states, or important religious places, and all that's left are the palaces and temples, with a few small streets and a few thousand people who would never have been enough to support the splendor and idle rich who lived there in the past. No sign of "normal people homes". In the case of Sanchi, it's understandable, because the stupas are leftovers from 1000AD or so, but Orccha's palace was inhabited by the Rajas and the Mughals well into the time of British India.
Orchha (pics) was the next stop after Gawilor, and definitely the nicest hotel during the entire trip. An old, renovated royal hunting lodge with only 29 rooms and probably twice as many servants straight out Richard Attenborough's central casting. Even the electrical installation and switchboards were 19th century originals.
Sidenote: Indian electrical systems are a miracle of Rube Goldberg design: Every electrical device has it's own switch. If the room has 5 light bulbs, 3 outlets, and a fan, you have 9 switches, and they are arranged in a single panel or a cluster of panels according to the following rules:
- Every switch has to be as far away from the device it operates as possible.
- Neighboring switches cannot have similar functions.
- Lamps and fans need to be connected to more than one switch, so only combinations turn them on or off.
In a nod to modern India, we visited an EU-sponsored artisan paper factory for single women who would have no other means of supporting themselves...at the same time uplifting and depressing. But they were definitely better off than without and the place had a wonderful quiet and purposeful vibe.
The second night in Orchha was Christmas Eve and the hotel pulled out all the stops by hiring a illuminated dance floor and a DJ. If you've never celebrated the birth of the savior by rocking out to Who Let The Dogs Out in Hindi, you haven't experienced the true spirit of Christmas. Our tour guide--who wiped out on a motorcycle the night before--greatly enhanced the production value by demonstrating why you shouldn't mix pain meds with alcohol: He break danced through three or four repeats of the one and only 80s dance CD the DJ had handy.