My first stop for the day is the palace of Rani Laxmibai, more popularly known as Jhansi ki Rani. Who can come to Jhansi and ignore this iconic figure of the Indian Independence Movement and the part she played in the Great Indian Mutiny of 1857? There are places where history leaps at you, even if only through imagination. Jhansi is one such place where present day traffic and general lack of hygiene does not suggest its glorious past.
As palaces come, this one is a rather unimpressive building. I have to ask around for directions and walk through little streets until I arrive at a two-storeyed building. The fact that it is larger than any of the surrounding buildings in this part of town may be enough to call it a palace. Nonetheless, the facade is a study of late eighteenth century period architecture. Arrays of long windows with wooden shutters stretch from the central entrance portico along the two wings that line the street. Pilasters rise to rectangular frames above the windows. These frames contain cusped arches which in their turn encompass semi-circular arches around a peacock motif. Rosettes complete the design. The best part of this biege coloured facade is the way it stands brightly catching the full radiance of the morning sun.
‘Five rupees, no change,’ tells the security guard at the entrance. I have nothing less than a hundred. I walk to the nearby shops looking for change. Service in India has lots to catch up with the rest of the world.
The ground floor of the palace has a collection of stone sculptures, possibly excavated from historic places of the region. Not finding anything interesting in them, I do a quick tour. I take the stairs to the first floor where there is a darbar hall. The back wall has some wall paintings but the rest of it is plain. It might have been a grander interior 200 years ago but today the walls are plain and stripped of their original grandeur. From here, a doorway leads into an inner room where the wall paintings are better preserved. Surprisingly, the themes are not religious. Most of it is floral work, creeper motifs, peacocks, roses and bulbous vases. The designs are splendid though the colour may be a little faded.
The room leads down to a series of rooms. In each one, long windows bring in light and air from the street outside. On the right, a matching set of doors lead into a corridor which gives access to other rooms. This sort of architecture is motivated mostly by climate. This makes the best use of natural light and cater for maximum ventilation.
It is sad to see that this palace is not at all maintained properly. In one corner I find red stains splattered on the walls. Some people may complain that the palace was better before the British took over it. You decide if ghutka stains are any better.
From here I walk back to a busy intersection that has become my personal landmark to finding my way around town. From here it is a short uphill walk to the Jhansi Fort. The road winds up along high walls, passes a massive bastion and goes under an arched gateway. The gardens and lawns are beautifully maintained. At this time of the year it is never too hot even during the day. On the northern side outside the fort walls are bougainvillea bushes adding touches of colour. A couple of temples inside the temple continue to be used for prayers. Monkeys sport on the ramparts. A balcony projects dangerously from a high bastion. I step out on it for a few moments to get a high view of the fort and Jhansi town. There are ruined buildings inside, an old cannon and stables.
‘This is where the queen jumped to the back of horse and escaped,’ points a guide to a group of Indian tourists. I look down the fort walls. If this is true, she must have jumped some thirty feet.
This is a fort I quite like. It is compact, accessible, well-preserved and neat. Add to these its popular history, it is quite a draw with domestic tourists. From here it is a short walk to the Government Museum. I am hungry. A nice lunch is in order but it looks like I would have to walk all the way back to town for it. I’ll have to take a quick turn in the museum and have a late lunch.
The foyer has pencil sketches of buildings in and around Jhansi. The museum has many fine exhibits. I particularly like the miniature paintings. I wish I had more time. Back in town, I walk and walk in search of a decent place to eat. A clean place is hard to find. After an hour, I give up. I buy some bread, chips and fruits. I return to my room and finally settle down for lunch. It is well past 3 pm.