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  • Wild fever

    Posted on October 21st, 2009 Sheila Yair 185 comments

    orchaOrcha, the land of lost castles. Nestled in the Gangetic plains, Orcha was the capital of the Bundela rajas, a small kingdom that lived in the shadow and under the protection of the much greater Mughal Empire to the north. Orcha means hidden place and after the last raja, Bir Singh Deo was killed by bandits in the beginning of the 17th century, the city was all but lost to the surrounding jungle. Most of their palaces, temples and tombs have been recently reclaimed by the new Indian nation to become tourist attractions but many still remain under jungle custody.
    The weather is very hot in Orcha, just about as hot as you would want any dry sauna to be, except there is no exit door here. There is only flat land all around, not even the tinniest hill to create some breeze, not even the smallest valley to channel a draft. Still hot heavy air all around you like a thick blanket. The air, not used to moving for lack of wind, becomes lazy. You can see the fans struggle as the motor pushes the blades through the languid air molecules, which reluctantly follow the laws of physics and ever so lightly blow on you. In places like this where the air has not moved for millenniums it becomes heavier and heavier with every tale it helps weave. This is the exact same air Raja Rudra Pratap exhaled when he tried to save a cow from the jaws of a tiger. It is the same air the tiger used to snarl in delight as an unexpected royal treat just jumped right into his mouth as he was devouring some divine bovine. It is the same air King Akbar the Mughal used to sigh in surprise when he saw the beautiful palace they built him for his one and only visit. The same air the princess pushed out of her lungs to call for help as she fell into the river. The same air that was going through the queen’s head as she dreamt of the god Rama in Ayodhya. Later organizing a convoy of elephants to go fetch a statue of Rama from Ayodhya and place it in a temple where it still sits till this day. And the same air Bir Singh Deo used to express his surprise as bandits attacked his camel convey loaded with booty killing him and putting an end to the partnership with the Mughals. His successor Raja Jujhar Singh used the air to declare a rebellion against the Mughals and was crushed and exiled from Orcha. This exact same air is now boiling all around us, encumbered with the stories it partook in. an oven of royal fairy tales. We push our way through this weighty air to see all the places, temples and tombs, the reclaimed ones and the ones still lying under the jungles claws. The Bundelas built a striking fusion of Hindu stone curving and pointy domes with Moghal arches porches and red rock. All the buildings, especially the jungle covered ones seem to attain a certain romantic mysteriousness, but maybe it is just all the local air in me talking.

    orcha2Our last night in Orcha we go to bed early as we are planning to catch the early morning bus further down the plains. At around 1am I wake up feeling freezing, in my sleep stupor I start thinking maybe the sauna heat has turned to ice overnight. Maybe for the first time in history a cold front mistakenly made its way to Orcha. But as I slowly climb out of my sleep and reach the plains of “awakeness”, consciousness settles in and I realize I am burning with fever. I cover myself but still feel the cold. When I get up to put my long pants and a few extra layers, Sheila conquers, the reason I am feeling so cold in this sizzling dry sauna is fever, a very high one. I toss and turn till morning but the fever is still with me, flowing through my entire body. We are both nervous it might be malaria. Since the decline of the Bundela kingdom, Orcha has become a very small village with no big towns around it. So if there was an ideal place for contracting malaria, and I am not quite sure such a place exists, Orcha would not be it. Sheila goes inquiring about a private hospital as we have heard some horror stories of the conditions in the government hospitals. She is given an address to a hospital called Medical in the neighboring town. Medical, that is a very original name for a hospital, would you kindly direct me to Medical hospital? yes I work at Medical hospital, I hear conditions in Medical hospital are very good etc. It is probably almost as good as Curing hospital and a whole load of chapatis better than Hope You Get Well Soon hospital. So we get on a rickshaw and off we go. This is a fever like nothing I have ever had before. I feel extremely weak and all my joints are aching. It is very hard to walk to the rickshaw and the road which is well paved feels worst than the bumpiest roads we traveled on in the Himalayas. We take two rickshaws to get to the above mentioned Medical hospital. The price to see a doctor, a Medical doctor, is a whopping 2 cents. The rooms are filled with simple beds and people. The people outnumber the beds by about 5 times. The air is heavy with odors of cleaning detergents, staleness, body orders and urine. It is obviously a government hospital. I can’t decide which is worst, malaria or laying here for 3 weeks recovering from malaria, hmmm I guess having both is the worst. We decide to keep looking for another place. As I can barely walk we take rickshaws for even crossing the street. The drivers ask for exaggerated prices as they can see I am in no mood to haggle. It is strange the way this street is set, to the south the Medical hospital covers a few blocks and to the north there are a bunch of private practices, private pharmacies and private test labs (for the more fortunate unfortunate people). We find an office that looks OK and see the doctor. He asks me a bunch of questions and sends me for a blood and urine test at the nearby lab. He diagnoses me with having wild fever, well even I having no medical background could have told you this is no tame fever. The lab is outside on the street. They take my blood, the guy is wearing no gloves, and hand me a tube telling me to fill it with urine. Where is the bathroom I ask, just go to the corner. This is typical India, privacy is something nonexistent in a subcontinent that is home to over one billion people. So I try to find a somewhat secluded corner on the street where I can fill my urine test tube. As I return the tube I see the guy is taking blood from two more guys and sending them to fill their tubes in the comfort and privacy of their own bustling street. He tells me the results will be ready in 45 minutes. All this waking, about 40 meters, with some steps of up to 10 centimeters has really tiered me out. I stretch out on one of the benches and uncomfortably rest. As crooked as this bench is I am much happier here than at Medical. So there I am outside on a bench on the side of the road among outdoor labs, pharmacies and patients, trying to gather enough energy to hope it is not malaria. After about 40 minutes that seem like eternity the results are in, it is malaria negative. The doctor prescribes some paracetamols and antibiotics and sends me on my way. Sheila loads me up on another rickshaw and we go back to the hotel. We wont be leaving Orcha after all. The fever subsides after 2 days and the joint pain sticks around for about five days. It was a nasty blow out of nowhere. And as I am laying here fully recuperated sweating to death I find myself missing the fever a little bit for despite all the swelling, the pain, the discomfort I felt nice and chilly even cold for those two days, a luxury unimaginable in a sauna with no exit door.

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