Orchha: a little village amidst the dense forest of the Vindhyachal range. An ideal weekend destination for families as well as backpackers. Situated right on the borders of Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh, this place is yet to be ruined by the lust of the tourism industry.A little village with a population of 8000, were everyone knows each other. A place where you can enjoy the serenity of mother nature and get awed by the marvelous architecture of medieval India.
We were three of us, we started our journey from the Howrah station as we boarded the Chambal Express, not the best of the trains, but this was the only option we had. The journey was tiresome and hot as this was the peak of the summers. The train was late by few hours but fortunately we encountered a little rain when we reached the Jhansi junction. I you have time in your hand you can easily head out to the Jhansi fort and spend some time admiring the history, or you can call this the starter for the feast you are about to have.
We had contacted an NGO named Friends of Orchha before our arrival regarding our lodging. They offer home-stays with the locals of the village for a reasonable price. We had booked two rooms for three of us for two nights for the price of 3800 rupees. This might appear to be a bit on the upper side, but with the experience we had, I assure you it is not.
We were received at the Jhansi junction by an autowala, who as also our part time guide for time we stayed there. He charged us 300 INR for taking us to Orchha.If you want to travel this patch in the way the locals do, you get a shared autorikshaw to Jhansi bus stand and from there onward you can either board a bus heading that way and unboard at Orchha or take a shared auto from the bus stand to Orchha. It took us around 45 minutes to reach Orchha from Jhansi where we were received by Mr. Romi Samele, the manager of the Friends of Orchha, who us our rooms. The rooms were simple but comfortable and airy. We were greeted by the host families, and let me tell you, you may prefer the luxuries of a five star but the hospitality we were given by these villagers was something you can never get from the professional of the tourism industry.
I decided to take the single room while both the Arnabs (yes, both of my friends who accompanied me were named Arnab) took the other one. the rooms belonged to two different families. For the first we decided to have our dinner with family where the Arnabs were staying. There we met a wanderer hermit, he was one of their family, who sometimes visit his family when he is around. We spent few hours chatting with him. After that we decided to visit the Ram Raja Temple for the evening aarti, It was just a few minutes walk from where we were staying. The Ram Raja Temple have an interesting story of its own.
The Ram Raja Temple, even though it a temple devoted to Lord Ram but it one of the few places where Lord Ram is also worshiped as a king. The temple architecture itself does not resemble any other temple because originally it is a palace. It is believed that once Lord Ram once appeared in the dreams of then Ruler Madhukar Shah, to which he brought an idol of Lord Ram and kept it in the kitchen before installing it in the Chaturbhuj temple. The next day the idol refused to move. And from then onward the palace was converted into a temple. We reached the temple at around 8PM, and it was the time for the evening aarti. It was filled with tourists and devotees yet there was no chaos at all. before entering the temple one must keep their bags and belts outside. The aarti took around thirty minutes to complete. Then we decided much on some street food before heading back to our homestay. We tried some Aloo Tikki being sold right outside the temple, and take my words, that was surely one of the best potato dish i had eaten till date, a must try I would say.
The we decided to walk our way back, the village almost goes silent by 9PM, the way was dark, occasionally lit by a passing vehicle of a street lamp. When we reached back, dinner was waiting for us, freshly cooked rice, lentils, vegetables and chapatis. Homely food away from home. Before we called it a day, we sat together and heard some stories from our hermit friend.
The next day we woke up by 7Am and had called our autowala guide, as the sun had decided not to give us any relief. Unfortunately one of the Arnabs couldn’t bear that heat and was feeling sick, still he did not want to miss the grandeur of the Orchha fort. Our first stop was the Orchha fort, where bought the tickets for the tour and also met our official guide for the tour, Mr Sanjay. Usually I do not prefer guides, but it would be no fun visiting a fort which isn’t mentioned in our history books and not knowing the story behind it.
The first part we came across was the Raja Mahal. This is was the place of residence for the kings of Orccha, The Palace architecture is simple and humble, but its the paintings inside the rooms that awed us all. Mr Sanjay explained us about the different rooms and their relevance. The different trap doors that the king used to visit his queens(though most of them were closed by the British regime), the deewan-e-khas, where the king held his meetings with his ministers, the deewan-e-aam, where the king listened to his subjects, the grand stage where many famous dancers had performed over the ages, the kings sleeping quarters, the six rooms for the six queens. Among all these we came across on very interesting painting in the kings sleeping quarters, an elephant. comprising of 12 women. According to Mr Sanjay, this paining signified a popular belief about the strength of the Rajput women. Rajputs had a belief that women are so powerful that they can defeat 12 women together can backhandedly defeat an elephant.
The next part of the the fort complex was the Sheesh Mahal, this used to be the rooms for the royal guests , but now this has been converted into a luxury hotel. There is a concrete tennis court in the courtyard of the Sheesh Mahal which was built by the British colonists.
On the right of the Sheesh Mahal lies the magnificent Jahangir Mahal, built by Vir Singh Deo, as a symbol of warm reception for the Mughal emperor Jahangir. The palace is rich in architectural brilliance, a splendid example of fusion of the Hindu architecture and Muslim architecture. We entered the palace from one of the rear entries. The original entry for the palace is a huge, well decorated, east facing gate.
The first thing we encountered on entering the palace was a huge courtyard with a swimming pool right at the center, with small pools around it. The palace is a three storyed structure with a huge basement. Though the basement is now closed for the visitors, during its glory days, it was used to station soldiers, away from people’s eyes. The rest of the palace can be explored on your own. The palace have some astounding piece of architecture, each mounted with a dome, topped by a lotus. From the top of of the Jehangir Mahal , one can get the beautiful panoramic view of the tiny town of Orchha and the forest surrounding the area.
Outside the eastern door of the Jehangir Mahal lies the camel stables and on the north of the palace lies the royal gardens, which was once covered with flowers and trees, now lies dry and mostly covered with weeds. Beyond the fort boundaries lies five temples, which according to Mr Sanjay, were never used. On the south-western side lies the ruins of Dauji Ki Haveli, a miniature version of the Raja Mahal. One might think once about skipping this, but the Haveli contains beautiful well preserved murals which are worth your time.
We then moved on to the cenotaphs or often called as the Chatris. These are the memorials of the different Bundela kings who ruled Orccha throughout the history. There are 14 cenotaphs, 13 of which are inside the cenotaph complex for which we nhaf to show the ticket that we bought at the fort complex and one lies outside. Each cenotaph have a different shape, depending on the tenure of a king’s reign, Vir Singh Deo’s being the largest one. It is also different from others as it has a huge inspiration from Muslim architecture. This is also a place where you can easily spot the now endangered indian vultures.
We were set to visit the Chaturbhuj temple next, but Arnab’s health was not supporting any more. So we decided to have some quick lunch and head back as he needed some rest. We had chapatis and subji at the market place just outside the Ram Raja temple and then went back to the homestay.
Around 4 in the evening we decided to visit the river bank, but instead of taking the road, we decided to walk our way through the forest. People warned us about vipers lurking under the bushes and did considered that. The river was around a thirty minutes walk from our homestay and walk that we would remember for life. Though the forest was mostly dry, we did came across a group of langoors and some birds. We often heard some rattles among the leaves but every time it was a skink running around in the heat. The scenery turned a bit greener as we approached what we thought to be the river bed, but we reached to it, it turned out to be a dried out stream which actually branched out of the main river, on the other side lies the Orchha Bird Sanctuary. We followed the stream to reach the river. When we got there we found an old temple devoted to a Lord Shiva. On our way to the river we also came across some medieval structures, which we assumed to be guard posts during their glory days.
The water was crystal clear and one could spot fished moving around. On the river bank, we came across some villagers who where fishing using chicken intestines. We spent some time on the river bed, admiring the beauty of the nature. I was as if the time has come to a stop.
As it was getting dark, we decided to return but this time we decided to take a walk through the village. Using the tall cenotaphs as our landmarks, we started walking along the river. Soon we came across cenotaphs and then walked straight towards the Ram Raja Temple. As there was still some day light left, we decided to pay our visit to the Chaturbhuj temple, which we missed during our daytime visit.
The Chaturbhuj Temple, just as grand as the tales of Lord Vishnu. Beautiful piece of Hindu architecture. The Chaturbhuj Temple can be seen from any part of the village. You set your feet inside and it feels you have stepped inside a cathedral, mighty arches, majestic towers and inside sits the humble Lord Vishnu. This was built to house the Idol of Lord Ram which brought here from Ayodhya, but since the Idol was established at what we know today as the Ram Raja Temple, this was transformed into a temple for Lord Vishnu.
We then moved to market place outside Ram Raja Temple, gorged on few more of the alu tikkis and then decided to walk our way back. On our way back, on a completely isolated hill, there was another beautiful temple, the Lakshmi-Narayana Temple. Though it was equally beautiful as the other monuments here, we decided against entering it as it was already quite dark, and there was hardly any civilization around it. Behind it was another medieval building which now lay on ruins. Soon after having our dinner we called it a day and took for our beds.
Next morning, we woke up early, had our breakfasts, said adieu to our hosts families and left for Jhansi Station. A weekend perfect sorted, exploring the untold history.
Best time to visit: September-March
Places to stay: Sheesh Mahal, Orchha Homestay
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