An ordinary town with a peculiar location on the political map of India (you could actually start a debate with the locals whether it falls in Uttar Pradesh or Madhya Pradesh) Jhansi would not have been a well known place had it not been for one heroic lady, Rani Laxmibai, the Queen of Jhansi. There is a fort at Jhansi which mostly sums up the tourist attractions. Though the fort is not a spectacular one, a tour with in company of a guide recounting stories from the life of Rani Laxmibai and about her heroic contribution in the Uprising of 1857 could be a nice experience. There is also the State Museum nearby where paintings of Rani Laxmibai, manuscripts and some sculptures can be seen.
As you arrive in the small town of Jhansi, you can still see a strong hold of Rani Laxmibai on the town, even after more than 160 years of her martyrdom. Every alternate place is named after her. The town owes its identity to her. And it owes all the traffic of tourists it receives to Jhansi Fort, where Laxmibai arrived as a 14 year old girl married to the king and went on to become a queen who led her army into the battle against British after her husband’s death.
Jhansi Fort was built by Raja Bir Singh Deo of Orcha in 1613. Rani Laxmibai came here in 1849, at the age of 14, after her marriage with Raja Gangadhar Rao. She became the queen of Jhansi after the King died in 1853 followed by the death of his 4 month old son with Laxmibai, Damodar Rao. It was suspected that the prince had been poisoned so Gangadhar Rao would not have a male heir to the kingdom. Anand Rao was adopted as the heir to the kingdom. But after the King’s death, the British pointed out that since Anand Rao was not a biological son of the king, he was legally not the rightful heir. The queen was made to leave the fort with insufficient pension.
There are several sites within that the tourists take interest in, the sites that tell stories of valor, deceit and sacrifice. Surrounded by a moat, the fort has ten entrance gates. Later, when Rani Laxmibai re-took the fort and resultantly the fort was attacked and besieged by the British, the fort served the purpose it was built for. The bloody stories of the incidents that took place during this battle are as though written in bold words all over the fort. To start with, there is the famous cannon, Kadak-Bijli Toph, outside the fort with a cannon ball stuck in its mouth. It is believed that this powerful cannon was loaded with the ball during the siege of British, but Lakshmibai had ordered not to fire the shot as the British had cleverly taken refuge in a temple which also would have been destroyed in the process.
As you enter the fort, you see two German machine guns. It is believed that originally there were more than ten machine guns. The British took all away with them when they left India, leaving behind the two that were defunct. Inside the main gate, there are welcome-cannons designed to shower important guests with flowers. Further up there is Rani Mahal, the palace of the queen, where Rani Laxmibai spent her days of adolescence after her marriage. A portion of this was later used as a prison by the British. There is also a Shiva Temple where people still come in great number during Maha Shiv Ratri.
In proximity of this temple was a place where the prisoners with death sentence would be hanged. However, upon Rani’s suggestion that it is not appropriate to hang the prisoners near a temple, the point was shifted elsewhere. There is also a secret exit near the temple, which the British had already closed with the help of the traitor, Rao Dulhaju’s tip. It was due to Rao Dulhaju’s help that the British were able to enter the fort, or else the fort may not have fallen. Dulhaju who had been promised the command of Jhansi in return of his help, was executed by the British as soon as the fort had been taken.
One of the most famous places in Jhansi Fort is the cliff from where Rani Laxmibai jumped on her horse, Badal. When it was apparent that she would be captured and her rebellion would end with him, she tied her adopted son to her back and jumped from the cliff to escape. The horse died, but the queen escaped and continued her fight with her faithful ally, Tatya Tope for a few more days until finally she gained martyrdom in Gwalior. Wounded by a bullet, when the capture at the hands of the British was unavoidable, Rani Laxmibai concealed herself within a hut and burnt it down, so the British would never lay hands upon her.
A modest town, Jhansi can provide a comfortable accommodation, but it is suggested that after visiting the fort and the museum you proceed to Orcha for the night stay. The roads around Jhansi are in a terrible state. The surrounding Bundelkhand region is also infamous for dacoits since many a century. Hence it is suggested that you don’t drive around after dusk. Orcha, a through and through touristy place, situated only 20 kilometers from Jhansi, provides some excellent hotels and resorts and makes a wonderful staying option.