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Fort or folly in rural India

I sat in disbelief; thinking over and over again what my husband had just mentioned. They built a fort just to welcome the emperor? I was amused. A sleepy town called Orchha in the central Indian state of Madhya Pradesh was the topic of discussion. This is where the ruler built a fort to commemorate the visit of an emperor! Exciting as it sounded, I decided to head for Orchha; hardly able to conceal my exhilaration at the thought of visiting this historical place and discovering the architectural legacy so talked about.

Chaturbhuj Temple

Chaturbhuj Temple

We decided to head for Orchha to bring in the New Year (that’s 31st December) amidst the greens that are a characteristic of this state. We drove to Orchha covering a distance of 455km in eight hours from Delhi though one can take a flight to Khajuraho which is the nearest airport and then can hire a cab to Orchha. The distance between Khajuraho and Orchha is 178km. One can also take a train to Jhansi which is the nearest rail head and then hire a cab or a bus from the station to Orchha.

Settling down in the car and commencing the journey forward; hardly able to contain my excitement, I started recollecting ¬¬– I had read about Orchha. The town was built during the 16th century by the Bundel Rajput King Rudra Pratap along the river Betwa.Though Orchha is situated on the Jhansi-Khajuraho road, it hardly attracts as many visitors since most are Khajuraho bound. But I still felt there was more to be discovered than just read. As we were approaching Orchha, the drive left me spellbound. It was a picture perfect journey with greenery and small streams surrounded with boulders and trees that almost looked like something straight out of a painting.

Wasting no time after reaching, I took to the small winding streets of this town trying to capture as much as I could. Having been warned of harsh temperatures at this time of the year, days seemed very comfortable and the perfect sunshine was just what I needed to accompany me in this trail. With temples and palaces being a major attarction in this medieval city, the Bundela rulers had left a legacy of architectural wonders, of which the cenotaphs and temple spires spectacularly stood out and caught my attention.

View from Orchha Fort

View from Orchha Fort

Orchha’s treasures include the famous Orchha Fort, Jehangir Mahal, Lakshmi Narayan Temple and the cenotaphs amongst others. Nestled inside the Orchha fort is the Jehangir Mahal, built by the then king Bir Singh Deo to welcome Emperor Jehangir on his visit to this town; hence the name Jehangir Mahal. It is a 70 metre palace characterised by a small courtyard, a central fountain around which apartments and terraces were built. The Lakshmi Narayan temple is a hub of people, especially in the evening, offering prayers and locals selling their wares.

The Betwa River holds many surprises. Surrounded by a row of chhatris or cenotaphs of pale brown domes and spires, the banks of the river are a favorite place for the locals as well as travellers who sit and relax amidst the serene environment. The cenotaphs were built in the memory of illustrous Bundela kings who ruled this region. The river, where it is calm at one end, the other end holds many rapids and is a rafter’s destination. Many rafting enthusiasts are seen excitedly heading towards the river to experience the rapids.

The Chaturbhuj Temple is another major attraction in this town. It was built by King Madhukar Shah for his queen. All these temples have beautiful murals and paintings from the Bundel region.

Orchha Fort

Orchha Fort

There is not much to shop around in Orchha. You would mostly find small shops along the roads dealing in embroidered sling bags and t-shirts. In the evenings, the vendors collect around the Ram Raja Temple selling wares made of mud, gemstones, handicrafts and toys. One extraordinary thing that caught my eye was people selling vermillion in all possible imaginable colours apparently to match the colour of the outfit.

Orchha was a treasure trove. As I walked back to my hotel, I realised that these architectural wonders were situated so close to each other that just by walking, I covered the whole town! The trip was coming to an end but I was completely elated by the fact that I finally witnessed this architectural legacy. The first ray of the sun was signalling the beginning of a brand new year and of course another brand new destination.

Key Information

Getting There: Orchha is easily reachable by rail and air. The nearest rail head is Jhansi which is well-connected with trains coming from Delhi, Bhopal, etc. One can hire a cab from the station or a bus which will take you to Orchha which is 18km from there. One can also take the auto rickshaw from Jhansi railway station to Orchha; the cost of which is about Rs 250. The nearest airports are Khajuraho and Gwalior and are connected with all the major airlines like Jet, Kingfisher and Indian Airlines.

Hotels: There are a decent amount of hotels to choose from. Some of them being the Sheesh Mahal Hotel, Amar Mahal Hotel, Orchha Resort, Bundelkhand Riverside and Hotel Sunrise. There are many bed & breakfast options available as well.

Travel Tips: The best time to visit Orchha is between October and March as the weather is pleasant and you can get a glimpse of the most spectacular Palash flower blooms during this period. With comfortable days and chilly nights, this is the ideal period to be there.

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