The best places of Orchha, India

Orchha

Orchha is a medieval town in Madhya Pradesh in north central India in the Tikamgarh region. It is known for its well-preserved temples and palaces on the banks of the Betwa River. Orchha, built in the XVI-XVII centuries, still amazes tourists with the beauty and grandeur of the stone facades of the past centuries. You can come to the fortress through the bridge with several arched openings. On its territory there are several temples, three palaces, and a rectangular square in front of them. The most famous palaces are the Raj Mahal, the Rai Parveen Mahal, and the Jahanjir Mahal.

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Video: Orchha

History

Orchha was the capital of the Rajas of Bundela from the 16th century until 1783 when they fled to nearby Tikamgarh. Bir Singh Deo ruled Orchha from 1605 to 1627 and built Jhansi Fort. As a favorite of Mughal prince Salim, Bir Singh had a terrible relationship with Emperor Akbar, his father, who nearly destroyed his entire kingdom.

When Salim became emperor Jehangir in 1605, Bir Singh gained power at court. The Jehangir Mahal Palace was built a year later especially for the emperor’s visits.

Sightseeing ticket

The Orchha Sightseeing Ticket (Indian/foreigner Rs. 10/250, Photo/Video Rs. 25/200) covers seven monuments: Jehangir Mahal, Raj Mahal, Raj Praveen Mahal, Camel Stables, Chhatri, Chaturbhuj and Lakshmi Narayan Temples. You can buy it only at the ticket office (8.00-18.00) . You can walk around the palaces for free.

What to see

The Raj Mahal Palace was built in the 17th century by Shah Madhukar, the deeply religious predecessor of Vir Singh Ju Deo. Simple on the outside, the palace inside is elegantly decorated with ornate ornaments and colorful paintings depicting various religious subjects. Legend has it that Emperor Akbar was fascinated by the beauty of the poetess and musician Rai Parveen, one of the concubines of Raja Indramani. On his orders she was brought to Delhi, but Raja Parveen was able to convince the emperor of her love for Indramani and she was allowed to return to Orchha. Raja Indramani had a palace built for his beloved. The low two-storied brick structure was to be in harmony with the tall trees and the wonderfully landscaped gardens.

Jahangir Mahal, built by Raja Bir Singh Ju Deo in the 17th century to commemorate Emperor Dahan Vir’s visit to Orchha, is known for its beauty, exquisite proportions and architectural decorum.

In addition to the palaces, Orchha is notable for its temples, not the least of which is the Ram Raja temple complex, one of the most unusual in India.

The Chaturbhuj temple was erected on a massive stone platform with a stone staircase leading up to it. Chaturbhuj houses the sacred statue of Rama. The lotus and other religious symbols are the main motif of the wall ornaments. Inside, the sanctuary is distinguished by the impeccable clarity and purity of the lines of the vault.

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Next to the Ram Raja temple is the Lakshmi Narayan temple, which combines the appearance of a fortress and a temple, and inside is one of the most exquisite paintings in Orchha.

The regular Huu Bagh Park is planned according to the principles of refined Oriental aesthetics. A series of fountains leads the visitor to a pavilion palace with eight columns and an underground part, where the rulers of Orchha rested from the summer heat. An ingenious system of ventilation and water supply was implemented here. The palace was connected to the Chandan Katora, a bowl-shaped reservoir from which drops of water seeped through the ceiling, simulating rain.

The smaller palace, Sunder Mahal, which lies in ruins, is still a place of pilgrimage for Muslims. Dhurjban, son of Jhujkar, converted to Islam by marrying a Muslim girl from Delhi, and spent the rest of his life in prayer, and after his death he was venerated as a saint.

Entertainment

Walking Trails.

Some trails in the vast palace grounds lead out to the river through a gate. Another option for a walk is the 12-kilometer trail at Orchha Nature Reserve, a 44-square-kilometer island surrounded by the Betwa and Jamni rivers. Buy a ticket (Indians/foreigners 20/150 rupees) at the ticket office (8.00-18.00) to the reserve, which you can explore on your own, although you will be offered a guide (200 rupees) . The trails are well marked and the roads are signposted, so it’s nice to ride your bike here. Along the way, you are sure to see local fauna such as monkeys, deer, rams, and peacocks. If you want to see one of the four species of turtles that live here, you should go to the Ret Ghat, 14 km south of the box office, on the Jamni River.

Massages and Yoga

Amar Mahal and Orchha Resort (252222; www.orchharesort.com) offer high-quality Ayurvedic massages (from Rs 500; 8.30-20.30) and yoga classes (Rs 500) . Of the two options, Amar Mahal is better, but more expensive.

Rafting

River rafting (single descent 1.5/3 1200/2500 rupees) : the trek starts from the boat club, but tickets need to be purchased at MP Tourism offices in Sheesh Mahal or Betwa Retreat hotels. One to six people per raft.

Swimming

Locals swim daily in Betwa. The most popular beach is in front of the boat club near the bridge that leads to the Orchhi Reserve. Another option is the gravel bottom area near the Bundelkhand Riverside Hotel. Follow the path from Jhansi Road to the hotel, but at the point where the road turns left to the hotel, continue down to the river.

Some hotels offer bassinets for those who don’t live there. These are Bundelkhand Riverside (Rs 150), Betwa Retreat (Rs 150), Amar Mahal (Rs 200) and Orchha Resort (Rs 300).

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Ganj Village: Stay at homes of locals

Thanks to Friends of Orchha (9098353799; www.orchha.org; 1-bed/ 2-bed. Rs. 350/450, extra room Rs. 100, breakfast/dinner Rs. 30/50), a non-profit organization run by Dutchman Louk Vreeswijk and his Indian wife Asha D’Souza, travelers now have the opportunity to stay directly in the homes of villagers in a delightful homestay program.

This is a unique chance to get a taste of real Indian village life, so don’t expect much luxury: only the most basic amenities are waiting for you. “Friends of Orchha” helps with credits for some repairs – like installing eco-friendly dry toilets in the yard of each house – but you will still live in earthen homes and eat the same simple vegetarian food that your hosts’ family eats every day.

A one-night stay here is not welcome for logistical reasons. If you want to stay just one night, the room rates will be a little higher. In any case, the measured pace of life in the village of Ganj should be experienced slowly. At the time of our exploration there were only five families ready to receive guests (although there are plans to set up guest rooms in several more), so it’s worth booking in advance.

The Friends of Orchna run clubs for the children of the village, where the latter go after school. Volunteers and, of course, donations are always welcome. The Friends of Orchha office is right in the village of Ganj, on the left side of the main street when entering from Orchha.

Information

Internet cafes (20-30 rupees) are everywhere. Canara Bank (252689; Jhansi Rd; 10.30-14.30 and 15.00-16.00 Mon-Fri, 10.30-13.00 Sat) Exchange of travellers cheques and currency. There’s an ATM near the bus stand. MP Tourism (252624; Sheesh Mahal or Betwa Retreat hotels; 7 a.m.-22 p.m.)

The way to and from Orchhi.

Tempo (big car rickshaws for several people; 10 rupees) run all day from the bus stand in Jhansi to Orchha and back. Private auto rickshaws cost about 150 rupees. When you arrive from Khajuraho, you can ask the driver to drop you off at the National Hwy at the Orchha turnoff, where you can catch a car that will take you to Orchha.

Unfortunately, there are no buses from Orchha to Khajuraho. You have to go to Jhansi first and then take the bus (120 rupees, six hours, 6.00-14.00) . Jhansi-Khajuraho buses usually do not stop on the road to pick up voters. A cab to Khajuraho will cost at least 2,000 rupees.

You can also take the slow passenger train to Khajuraho from the tiny railway station in Orchha, which is on Jhansi Road, 3 km from the village center. The train leaves daily at 7:25 and takes 5 hours (if there are no delays). There is only 2nd class here, so tickets cannot be booked. Just come to the station and buy a “general” ticket (30 rupees) . The train from Khajuraho leaves at 12:30.

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Raiu Bikes (Laxmi Narayan Temple Rd; 7.00-18.00) provides loose bikes for a great price (hour/day 5/40 rupees) .

Orchha village, its palaces and temples

Orchha is my biggest impression and discovery in India. I had never heard of this Orchha before. Meanwhile, the village, now home to about 8,000 people, was once a capital city.

Orchha was founded in the 16th century in a bend of the Betwa River and soon became the capital of the powerful principality of Bundelkhand. The principality flourished in the 17th century, but gradually fell into decline and its rulers abandoned the place at the end of the 18th century. Powerful palaces and temples were abandoned and have been preserved as evidence of former greatness.

Now Orchha is inhabited by non-subdued people, and it is not as dirty as other places visited before in India. And most importantly, it is adorned by magnificent palaces and temples, preserved from ancient times in their original form.

But first things first.

Orchha Village

In Agra I parted ways with my Golden Triangle tour mates (originally there were five of us, but I was the only one with Cajuraho on the program) and took the train to Jhansi. Unfortunately, there was a lot of fog, and I couldn’t see anything from the train on the way.

At the station I was met by my guide. We got in the car and drove to Orchha which is about 16 km away from Jhansi.

When we arrived, the fog had cleared, but there was still haze in the air. (Anyone going to India in winter should keep in mind that at this time of year India often has a lot of fog. It’s not too hot in the winter, though).

The first thing we went to the palace complex. The ticket costs 250 rupees and the photo shoot is 25 rupees. With the same ticket I went to the Lakshmi Narayan Temple and the Cenotaphs, the ticket is valid for 1 day.

Jehangir Mahal, one night palace

First I went to Jehangir Mahal Palace, which the local raja built for 21 years and gave to the great Mogul Jehangir who visited Orchha. Legend has it that Jehangir spent only 1 night in the palace and never used it again (you can’t use something that’s already been donated, can you?). All the more surprising is the wealth of the local lord.

The guide said a few introductory phrases in not very good Russian and said that you can look around on your own. It would be more interesting to visit the palace with a knowledgeable guide, but where could one get such a guide?

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Orchha

The palace is huge, multistory, with many passages, dungeons and rooms, where one can enter freely. I ran around the palace in sheer delight, as if I was in a fairy tale about India. What can I say, you have to see it.

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Orchha

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Orchha

This wooden door is 500 years old.

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Orchha

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Orchha

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Orchha

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Orchha

Orchha

From the upper floors of Jehangir Mahal one could see many structures that were lost in the haze.

Orchha

Among them stand out:

Orchha

– Shish Mahal, which now houses a hotel. Judging by the reviews of tourists, to spend the night there is very interesting, although by Indian standards expensive. The price for a room from 40 dollars a night.

Orchha

-Rai Praveen Mahal, the palace that one of the Rajas built for his beloved named Rai Praveen

Orchha

Raj Mahal.

Raj Mahal was the last of the palaces in the complex that I visited. It was the residence of the raja himself. The walls of this palace are painted with colorful murals on the themes of Hindu religion. It was also the palace where the Raja held court. And he was a defensive castle, so the outer walls of his deaf, with only narrow windows, and looks like a fortress.

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Orchha

Orchha

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Orchha

Chaturbuj Temple

By the arched bridge we crossed into the village and went to the temple Chaturbudj, which captivated me, huge as Stalin’s high-rise.

According to legend, the statue of Rama, for which the temple was built, refused to move to the new temple (it seemed to be chained to its place, they could not move it). I think that’s why the temple is somewhat neglected. The guide even said there was nothing to do there, not interesting. But I ran to look anyway.

You can go inside, there is even some kind of sanctuary. But no one requires removing shoes at the entrance. There are almost no people inside. Nor are there any of the proper decorations in a Hindu temple. All in all, not a respectable place for Hindus, as I understand it. And for nothing. For me – this is one of the most interesting buildings to visit on a tour of the Golden Triangle + Cajuraho.

The Chaturbhuj Temple is built in the shape of a cross. It was built in 1558-73 under Raja Madhukar at the request of his wife Ganesh Kunwar.

Orchha

Orchha

Orchha

Orchha

Ram Raja and Palka Mahal temples stood close by. But due to time constraints I only saw them but didn’t go inside.

Orchha

Cenotaphs

After visiting Chaturbudj, we moved to a complex of monumental structures built on the banks of the Betwa River. These are so-called cenotaphs, which means “false graves” in Greek.

The fact is that Hindus have no graves. Their bodies are burned and their ashes are scattered. So these structures are built on the site of the burning of the rajas. There are 14 of them in all. Their ashes, the guide said, were scattered over the Ganges, as the Ganges is the most honorable place for ashes.

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Orchha

Orchha

Orchha

Orchha

If you look closely, you can see a vulture

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Orchha

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Orchha

The guide did not go to the complex, and I walked alone through the fenced and well-kept area, admiring the gloomy beauty of the complex. The vultures added to the gloom. What do these carrion birds eat, it is not quite clear. After all, the bodies were burned a long time ago. True, the bodies of the poor, whose relatives have no money for expensive firewood in India, just dumped into the river. And not into the Ganges, but into the nearest one. Perhaps this is the food for the vultures. The guide did not clarify my doubts.

Lakshmi Narayan Temple

Again, this Lakshmi and her consort Narayan (we had already “met” them in Delhi and Jaipur). This temple was built in 1622, and in 1793 rebuilt. It is located 2 km from Orchha on the hill, and from its top floor offers wonderful views of the surroundings.

Orchha

Now the church is not working and is abandoned. Some restoration works are carried out there, there are brooms and brushes but I haven’t seen workers. But you can walk around and climb everywhere, which I took advantage of. It is a wonderful opportunity.

Orchha

Orchha

Interesting are the murals, which are almost monochrome. In addition to the gods and Indian devils, they depict the English. Just like the song, “what I see is what I sing about.”

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Orchha

Orchha

Orchha

After that we went to a restaurant run by descendants of the Rajas, I was told. There were no people there. And I was the only one served by the whole restaurant. About ten people were carrying dishes in and out, waiting for my orders. I kind of felt like a raja myself.

It was delicious, and I especially liked the ice cream. On the walls of the restaurant there were pictures and photographs of colonial life – noble white-skinned ladies and gentlemen surrounded by swarthy Indian servants. The movie “Gone with the Wind” came to mind. Unfortunately, my camera got naughty, and the pictures didn’t turn out well. Or maybe it was Lakshmi who spoke to him. Or did Narayan interfere?

Abandoned Orchha palaces with almost total absence of tourists, marvelous views of the surroundings, complete freedom to go and climb wherever you want, and, of course, the architectural perfection of the palaces and the skill of stone carvers and artists who painted the palaces – what else do you need to be enthralled! Definitely ran out of time, so I recommend those planning to visit India to stop in Orchha for a few days.

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