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Orchha by the River

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.

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

 

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Orchha – Behind the Scenes

Travelling in Madhya Pradesh (see our Madhya Pradesh guide) is possibly one of the pleasantest experiences affordable for the tourist in India. The roads are a dream, the people hospitable, and the lodging and transport facilities absolutely godsent. Orchha was no different. But that said, Orchha is a destination that will always counter expectations.

The gateway to Orchha

The gateway to Orchha

We arrived on a warm winter afternoon, the fog having delayed our morning Shatabdi and put us in a mild state of apprehension regarding our packed itinerary. But what took our breath away was how, with the clearing of the fog, the spectacular ramparts of the Palace Complex arose out of a decidedly small and sleepy town.

The impressive ramparts of the Palace Complex

The impressive ramparts of the Palace Complex

But daylight was fast disappearing and Time (the ruling factor on work trips) was laughing diabolically in our faces. So we decided to head to the Betwa river to catch a glimpse of the lovely chhatris of the Bundela kings reflected in its waters with the sunset.

The Chhattris of the Bundela Kings

The Chhattris of the Bundela Kings

Heading back to the fort and our MPT lodge within it (called Sheesh Mahal), we realized we had traversed the length of the town in under ten minutes! The lodge itself was a real bargain for the setting, the food and the facilities. Diana pigged on butter chicken and I had some stew as we watched some local troubadours perform in the hotel restaurant-cum-lobby.

At the Sheesh Mahal restaurant

At the Sheesh Mahal restaurant

And then we happily turned into bed in preparation for an early morning. Of course, the fog didn’t agree with us and morning couldn’t start as early as we had hoped. But we still managed to cover Jehangir mahal, Raj Mahal, Rai Parveen Mahal, Chaturbhuj Temple, Ram Taja Temple and Dinman Hardaul’s Palace. Laxminarayan Temple was out of bounds what with Ram Gopal Verma shooting his Ravan, with Abhishek Bachchan, inside!

We lunched at a beautiful terrace eatery aptly called Open Sky where the owner actually refused to give us a bill. ‘Humko sirf khilane mein khushi hai. Meri beti ne banaya hai’, he said, nudging a shy, pretty girl, who was studying for her B.Sc exams.

Open Sky Restaurant and its welcoming owner

Open Sky Restaurant and its welcoming owner

Leaving Orchha, we knew we’d come back again and bring more people with us. We hope the Orchha Travel Guide captures some of this longing.

A family in Orchha poses for the shutterbug

A family in Orchha poses for the shutterbug

The Orchha Travel Guide is now available in bookstores. Here’s a sneak preview:

A spread from the chapter Exploring Orchha

A spread from the chapter Exploring Orchha

Another spread from Exploring Orchha

Another spread from Exploring Orchha

 
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Posted by on May 28, 2009 in goodearth guides, travel

 

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