Saturday, February 2, 2008

February 2, 2007 - from Lalitpur to Jhansi

COLD START, WARM FINISH. On this day last year, we were thankful to bicycle on a smooth road for the first time in many days. And, for the only time on the 6-week, 2,000-mile journey, we were cold. When we began at 6:45 am, the temperature was 52 degrees Fahrenheit. Our fingers were numb and we were chilled. But by 9:00 am, the temperatured had climbed to 70. By noon it was over 80 degrees. Yep, an American Midwestern September day! When we arrived in Jhansi, we stayed in the guest house of the Maria Ackerman Hoyt Memorial Hospital.

JHANSI KI RANI. We arrived in Jhansi, our day’s destination, early in the afternoon. Our hosts told us that Jhansi was the beginning point of India’s freedom movement against Great Britain in 1857. The story goes that a 22-year old woman named Lakshmi Bai, the recent widow of the area’s Maharaja (territorial prince), rallied the town to fight the British when they tried to seize control of the area after her husband’s death. Agreements between the Maharajas and the British stated that Indians would maintain control of an area as long as there was an heir. Lakshmi Bai was childless, but she and her husband had adopted a son. Upon the Maharaja’s death, the British refused to recognize the child as the next prince and moved to take control. Rallying the town to resist the British and fight for their freedom, the people occupied the local hillside fort. A traitor in their midst opened the gates and the British forces flooded in. Lakshmi Bai, with her child on her back and a horse under her, leaped from the high fort wall and escaped to continue the freedom challenge. She is revered as Jhansi ki Rani…the Queen of Jhansi.

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