Since the outbreak of COVID-19 in India in Feb-March 2020, for wanderlust people like me, last one year was like home detention. Came 2021 and the notorios virus took a halt. That was the time for me to come out of my cocoon. Athough like many others, I am still in alert mode but finally I dared enough to plan a visit. Since there were no long holidays round the corner so I decided not to go far from my place. On carefully looking for the nearby destinations, I found Orchha, which is at good 4-5 hrs drive from my city.
Orchha is a small historic city, nestled on the banks of Betwa river, in the state of Madhya Pradesh. It is 15 km away from another historical city of Uttar Pradesh, Jhansi. Orchha was founded in the 16th century by the Bundela Rajput king, Rudra Pratap. It served as the capital of Bundelkhand between 16th and 18th century. This small old town seems frozen in time, with many of its monuments still continuing to retain their original grandeur. The literal meaning of Orchha is ‘hidden palaces’ and it seems true as the city is like hidden treasure of central India.
I started driving to Orchha around 10 AM and reached there by 3 PM. I’ve got my accomodation booked at Amar Mahal, which is a good luxury hotel. After checking in and taking some rest, I left for Laxmi Narayan temple. The temple is dedicated to Lord Vishnu and was built in 1622 AD by Raja Veer Singh. The temple looks more like a fortress. Corridors and ceilings of temple are used as big canvas and are covered with beautiful paintings depicting various episodes of ancient Indian epics like Ramayan, Mahabharat, Gita etc.
Visiting the temple in detail, I left for a unique tree called ‘Kalp Vraksha’, which means, as per Hindu belief ‘The wish fulfilling tree’. It is said that the tree is more than 1000 years old. Leave aside the folklores, I must say that I have never seen such a unique tree.
By this time, the sun started losing its shine, so after clicking some pictures and getting amazed by the tree, I headed for the riverbank, which is the best place in Orchha at the dawn as well as in the dusk. People gather in large number here. There are two ways to enjoy evening, either you can sit on the stairs of the Ghat and enjoy the breeze, boating, have tea, ice-cream etc. or walk on the nearby narrow bridge and silently watch the twilight. I chose the later. 🙂
Orchha is the only place in the world where Lord Ram is worshipped not only as God but also as a king. Along with the usual evening prayer daily, He is given ‘Guard of Honor’ too. After enjoying the mesmerizing sunset, I headed to Raja Ram Temple, which is near to the river bridge, to witness the unique custom of ‘Guard of Honor’ to the God. However, clicking picture isn’t allowed within the temple premises. Adjacent to this temple, there stands high the ‘Chaturbhuj Temple’.
At a short walk from the Raja Ram Temple, there is Orchha fort. The garden of the fort is the venue for the light and sound show, which is held daily in evening in both Hindi and English languages. The cost of ticket is INR 200 and the duration of the show is around 2 hrs. The light and sound show is now being organized at almost every historical place of tourist attraction and if you want to know the history of the place, those are a must watch.
Post the show, I took dinner at Indiana cafe and restaurant, which a roof-top small restaurant that serves good vegetarian food. It marked the end of day 1.
My second day at Orchha started early with sunrise in a very unique way. A hotel staff was playing flute in corridor. Listening to him in the wee hours of the morning was really great.
I decided to walk to the riverside as it was very close to my hotel. The cenotaphs were shining like gold in the bright sunlight. The morning scene at the Ghat was amazing. A sense of sprituality was there. People were taking bath in river, worshiping, enjoying boat ride and white water rafting, the atmosphere was just electrifying. I also enjoyed boating.
Spending a good time at the riverbank, I visited the cenotaphs. Cenotaphs are the strutures which were built by the successors of the deceased king (usually his eldest son) at the cremation place of the king. The premises houses many cenotaphs which were related to former rulers of Orchha. The main cluster is situated in a calm Mughal style garden.
After having breafast in a luxurious dining hall, I loaded my bags in the car and checked out from the hotel, but my journey didn’t end here.
I parked my car in the parking of the fort and leisurely walked to the ‘Chaturbhuj Temple’ which is merely 200 mts from the fort. It looks more like a fortress and less like a temple. The temple dominates the whole town with its towering spires. The construction of the temple was started in 1574 AD by king Madhukar Shah but completed in second phase by king Veer Singh between 1605-1627 AD.
Adjacent to the Ram Raja Temple, lies a row of fountains, which culminates in an eight pillared pavilion. A basement constructed below the pavilion, was the summer retreat of the kings of Orchha. It was cooled by two adjoining wind-catching towers. The towers were named after the two rainy months in the Indian calendar – Sawan and Bhado.
The towers were perforated on the top, to allow them to catch the wind, while their lower part was connected to a water reservoir. The towers, the aqueducts, and the underground reservoir of water were ingeniously connected to a Chandan Katora (fountain) in the pavilion above the retreat. The water from the underground reservoir was pushed up into the Chandan Katora, from where it rained on the roof of the retreat to cool the basement. This is perhaps the only example of the Persian cooling system in India.
My next destination was again Orchha fort, where I parked my car. This time for exploring the fort. The fort is not very big though as other forts of India but undoubtedly it is very impressive. It consists mainly of two grand palaces: the Raj Mahal and another palace known as Jahangir Mahal or Jahangir Palace. Both palaces are in great condition, and house plenty of intricate archways and lovingly painted murals of Gods and mythical people and animals.
There is a combined ticket for the two palaces, plus several other sites including…
- Cenotaphs of the Rajput rulers
- Chaturbhuj Temple
- Lakshmi Narayan Temple.
The ticket is very cheap at INR 20/- for Indians and INR 250/- for foreigners. For camera, you have to pay INR 25/- more. Don’t forget to collect the multilingual audio guide as it the most authentic way to explore any monument. Here, the audio guide is free of cost. All you have to do is to deposite any of your ID to them, which has to be collected on returning the audio guide at the end of the tour. The combined ticket is valid for the day of purchase only.
By now, I became very hungry so I moved to Hotel Shesh Mahal, which is within the fort itself, where I took sumptuous lunch in a royal dining hall. After that I returned the audio guide and collected the ID. My bags were alraedy in the car so I said bid adieu to this lovely small city and started driving to my city.
Orchha has some more to offer. Here, if time permits, you can also venture into the Orchha wild life santuary, which is just across the bridge. You can go on a nature trail by paying a fee.
One more thing to mention, I’ve never seen more number of vultures before, not even in national parks. Orchha is home to a large number of this endangered bird. For the first time, I saw Egyptian Vulture in open air. It was really a treat to the eyes of a bird watcher like me.
How to Reach
Orchha is very near to Jhansi, which is a big railway junction. Every train to South or Central India from Delhi passes through Jhansi. Orchha can be reached from Jhansi taking public bus or cab.
The nearest airport is Gwalior at 125 km. Other airports are at Khajuraho at 190 km. Agra at 250 km, Kanpur at 235 km and Lucknow at 310 km.
Jhansi, the nearest city to Orchha is connected to all major cities of India via a network of national highways. Orchha is on Jhansi-Tikamgarh road.
Where to Stay
Orchha being a small town, doesn’t have many big hotels. Orchha Palace and Convention Centre is a good hotel but a bit out of the city. Rest of the good hotels are within the town limits and every point of interest is at walking distance. Bundelkhand Riverside, Amar Mahal, Orchha Resort, Betwa Retreat and Sheesh Mahal are very good hotels. The last two being managed by MP Tourism. You can also book white water rafting at Betwa Retreat hotel.