Orchha by the River

02 Mar

Only a town like Orchha could make up for a train delayed by five hours in the fog. Just like Anupriya and Diana a year back, we reached Jhansi in the late afternoon, instead of the scheduled 10:30, and took an auto to Orchha. A smooth ride through sarson fields, small villages and suicidal goats running about on the road.

The Orchha skyline is full of domes and chhattris from the Bundela dynasty: Jahangir Mahal, Ram Raja Mahal, Chaturbhuj temple and the haunting row of royal chhattris by the river. From our hotel, which was to the north of the town on an incline, we could see the whole town bathed in evening light. Living amidst these medieval edifices are the warm and friendly Orchha locals in their pretty white houses, entrepreneurs from other cities and the floating population of tourists.

The view from the hotel

There are more tourists in Orchha than one would expect, but it is still an ignorable number. With the tourists come amenities that one wouldn’t associate with such a small town. Restaurants all over the place, lavish hotels and dingy inns and even cycles on hire. There are innumerable holy men, and an equal number of foreign cameras lapping up the exoticism.

Tourists are easily ignored by other tourists, but the locals are hounded even into their baths

After checking in, we left for the chhattris on the riverside immediately. It was already getting dark, but we discovered a short cut from our hotel. Sitting on the plinth of Bir Singh Deo’s chhattri, we watched the light get dimmer, and listened to the sounds of the river. The chhattris we would see again and again throughout the trip, from all possible sides, at different times of the day, every time acquiring a different sort of beauty.

From the opposite banks at sunset

The ghostly line-up

Through fields of gold

The most endearing part of Orchha, for us, was the river. Except where the main road crosses over the river to the Orchha Forest Reserve, the water is clean, and there are almost no signs of human damage in the waters. Our best moments were trekking by the river, both upstream and downstream. About a kilometre upstream, we discovered a sangam of three rivers, each cascading over rocks to form the Betwa. There were places where there were natural rock pools where one could go swimming, and never any need to carry a water bottle though we trekked through the sunny afternoons, because the water was delicious. There were no people around at all.

where the streams converged

natural pools in the Betwa, and the forest reserve on the opposite bank

Downstream, we trekked along the Forest Reserve, where we even saw a fox coming down to drink water. Every now and then we’d see the remains of a fire, still smoking, but no other signs of people. Orchha is full of wandering sadhus, the invisible lighters of the fires. Finally we met one sitting on the banks. Did he know if we could cross the river upstream? It looked very inviting on the opposite bank. Were there any wild animals about? He was vague and said maybe we could cross the river if we continued walking a little more. But could we give him a little money?

As we walked further, there were no more forest fires. No signs of people at all. But suddenly we saw the ruins of a short fort wall. Then before long, our walk came to an end. The river had become wider, and joined another river, another sangam. We could jump from little islands of rock to a point where we were surrounded by water on all sides. I discovered later (on google maps), that all the joining streams were actually part of the Betwa.

From the Forest

I enjoyed cycling around the town. We even took our cycles into the Jahangir Mahal complex and cycled around the surrounding ruins (see the Orchha Travel Guide,  pg 14 for a map).  Orchha, which according to many, literally means hidden, has many secluded, scattered monuments built by the valiant Bundelas. The Bundela king Rudra Pratap chose Orchhabecause it was surrounded by impregnable jungles and provided for by the river and made an ideal capital. Until 1783 it remained the capital of the Bundelkhand region and flourished under the succeeding kings.

Here are some photographs from our cycle trips:

Jahangir Mahal

Dearly Beloved Chungul Bird, which I wrote about in the Orchha Travel Guide and just had to find on the walls of Raj Mahal

Against the fort walls. Cycles abandoned in the gate in the walls behind me.


Posted by on March 2, 2010 in holiday accounts, travel


Tags: , , , , , ,

16 responses to “Orchha by the River

  1. Swati

    March 2, 2010 at 11:23 am

    Beautiful, Tanya…I, too, want to go to Orchha again!

  2. Nishant Nair

    March 2, 2010 at 12:25 pm

    Useful stuff

  3. nupur

    March 2, 2010 at 1:46 pm

    Once again Tanya, you’ve captured the charm of the place in your words as well as in the lovely photographs! And added another destination to my must- visit list. 🙂

  4. Bernadette

    March 2, 2010 at 4:19 pm

    Tani, this is perhaps one of your best written blogs. I think thats because you really do love the place! It shows. 🙂

    The photograph of the Chhattris taken at sunset is amazing.

    You had told me about the trip long back but reading it in your words is just another experience altogether!

    Love it. 🙂

  5. Amina

    March 3, 2010 at 4:17 am

    Hey Tan…nice write-up! The chhattris look so intriguing and mysterious. Nice shots of the river too. Cycling must have been such an awesome way to explore the place. Always interesting to read ur blog posts. 🙂

  6. nidhi

    March 3, 2010 at 7:21 am

    Lovely post Tanya.. u’ve given orchha such a dream-like quality 🙂 wid d river n d bicycles.. its so tempting!

  7. lal

    March 3, 2010 at 9:18 am

    Hi Tans

    I’m really tempted to take a holiday. No crowds, water and views. How much would a two week trip cost? Also, are there monkeys about the place?


  8. Jai Iyer

    March 3, 2010 at 11:41 am

    Beautiful. Orchha, the home of the Dearly Beloved Chungul Bird, complete with bicycles , chhatrris and suicidal goats…

  9. rama

    March 3, 2010 at 1:49 pm

    Going away like this on enchanting trips and then giving us a picture of it is becoming a habit with you. I didn’t realise I had sort of got lost in those descriptions and then those pictures make the image I’ve created come alive. Next time, you can’t go without me! I want to see it all with your eyes and mind!

  10. beena

    March 4, 2010 at 4:16 pm

    The pict& the describtion about orchha was gives us a good guide to visit the place. good work wishes for ur future work.

  11. alex thomas

    March 15, 2010 at 2:03 am


    The photographs are B..E…Autiful, and specially your description about ORCHHA…. so we have a travell guide in our family huh…..Ha..Ha..Ha… 🙂

    Wonderful job.. God bless.. have fun..


  12. Tanya Matthew

    March 15, 2010 at 2:17 pm

    Thank you ma’am!

    @Nupur, Bernie, Amina – my old faithful blog readers, thanks as usual for reading and saying nice things 🙂

    @Nishant… useful? how? You should get your google people to buy goodearth books when they go on their india tours ya.

    @Nidz, thankyee

    Its pretty close from Delhi, about 5 hours if there isn’t any fog. But then the best time to go is the winter. About cost, its about 1000 for the train tickets, and then it depends on how many days you stay, where you stay and what you eat 😉
    There were langurs, and no monkeys. But I can’t guarantee that…

    chungul was the absolute best.

    @ams, yes we’ll go together next time

    @ beena, alex… thank you soooooooo much. But i’m not a travel guide 😛

  13. richa

    March 18, 2010 at 5:24 pm

    breathtaking pictures, tanya. you’re a pro.
    had never heard of the place as a tourist attraction, but have now added it to my must-see list.

  14. Paparee

    May 2, 2010 at 1:27 pm

    Swati di! Thanks to Anando for forwarding me the articles.. you have a good team ..lovely pictures.. must add Orchha for our next trip. amazing!Read the Destination Assam too… wonderful pics of Kamakhya Maa.

  15. Manoj Rai

    March 1, 2011 at 3:12 pm

    Dear Tanaya great photo of orchha . thanks
    for your coming in orchha

  16. Manoj Rai

    July 4, 2013 at 2:50 pm

    Best place to visit in Central India with fort & River forest etc


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