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HindustanTimes Mon,14 Jul 2014

Orchha: Madhya Pradesh's Hidden Jewel

Shruti Menon  Orchha, April 17, 2012
First Published: 12:31 IST(17/4/2012) | Last Updated: 12:31 IST(17/4/2012)
Travel destinations with forts, palaces and temples have always fascinated me and I have long wanted to visit them. Before I decided to pack my bags, I was of two minds whether to discover the hills of Mount Abu or the heart of incredible India - Madhya Pradesh. When I was mulling it over, I saw an ad on television and started humming the jingle "MP ajab hai, sabse gajab hai". Spurred on by the ad and the jingle, my friend Surabhi and I decided to take a two-day vacation to a small and historic town in the Bundelkhand region of MP called Orchha. 

Day 1
We took an early morning train (Shatabdi) to Jhansi and from there a half-hour auto ride (about 18kms) to our destination. MP tourism runs two resorts - Sheesh Mahal and Betwa Retreat. Our research showed that the Betwa Retreat was along the banks of the river Betwa so we booked the rooms from the MP tourism office in Delhi. It is a huge resort and the cottages are spread out around the tranquil ground. We were told that the only tourist attraction that we couldn't partake in would be river rafting as the water levels at the time of year were too low for the activity. After relaxing and having a delicious lunch at the in-house restaurant, we decided to walk to Chaturbhuj temple which was about a km from the resort.
After climbing the steep steps, we reached this architecturally beautiful temple, situated on a stone platform. Built in the year 875AD, it was commissioned by Maharani Ganesh Kunwar, (wife of the Ruler of Orchha) to show her devotion to Lord Rama. But they were not able to erect the statue of Lord Rama and hence Raja Madhukar built a statue of Lord Vishu. Chaturbhuj means four arms.

The main tourist attractions of this temple lie in the lotus emblems at the entrance and the huge meditation hall inside which is illuminated by natural light and ventilation. The artistically carved conical shaped shikharas (akin to spires) adds to the beauty.

Orchha is a small town and everything is within a 3-km radius. Standing at the Chaturbhuj temple, you can see the Sheesh Mahal and forts surrounding it. Just nearby is the famous and most important temple in Orchha, the Ram Raja Temple where Lord Rama is worshipped as a king in a palace. It is believed that Rani Ganesh Kunwari brought the statue from Ayodhya after lot of hardship as the King was a devotee of Lord Krishna. The queen left the palace and went to Ayodhya, where after fasting for several days, Lord Rama appeared in front her and agreed to go to Orchha on three conditions. After reaching Orchha, on the Rani's insistence, the King decided to convert the palace into Ram Raja Temple.

Due to Ram Navami, the temple was crowded with devotees from all parts of the world. As you step out of the temple, you will see an entire stretch of road, full of small markets where you can buy idols of Lord Rama and other deities. A little ahead of the market, are a row of dhabas where you get both vegetarian and non-vegetarian meals.

Just before we could bring the curtain down on day 1 at Orchha, we decided to catch the sound and light show at the Fort Complex. The show takes place from 7:30 pm to 8:30 pm in English and from 8:45 pm to 9:45 pm in Hindi. It described the history of Orchha and its existence succinctly, bringing alive a part of history in a visual and graphic manner.

Day 2         
After a sumptuous breakfast, we headed for Orchha Fort. It was only after buying a ticket from the counter at the Fort, we realised that the ticket was valid for all monuments in Orchha. With a guide in tow, we stepped inside and were swamped by the magnificent architecture. Orchha Fort is divided into three sections, namely, Raj Mahal, Jahangir Mahal and Rai Parveen Mahal. We first entered the five-story Jahangir Mahal, which as the name suggests was built in honour of Mughal Emperor Jahangir. Providing a panoramic view of the river, it is decorated with fine paintings , adding to the beauty and simplicity of the palace. The stone jali work of the Raj Mahal is an excellent example of classic Mughal architecture. The palace is dotted with paintings of deities especially Lord Rama as the queen was a devotee of Lord Rama.

Adjacent to the Jahangir Mahal is a lush garden populated by flowerbeds and shrubs which are part of the Rai Praveen Mahal. Built by Maharaja Indrajit Singh who was smitten by Rani Rai Praveen's beauty. Her musical and poetic abilities also led her to be known as the "Nightingale of Orchha".

After looking around and clicking pictures at the fort, we took a 2.5km walk to the Lakshmi Narayan temple. The temple is heavily laden with beautiful murals on the walls and is partly built in the style of a fort. Even though the temple is dedicated to the Goddess Lakshmi, there is no idol of the deity in the temple. After a detailed round of the complex, we headed back to the resort. Our last stop for the day were the Chattris or Memorials, barely five minutes away. A cluster of 14 monuments dedicated to the rulers of Orchha, these are situated along the Kanchan Ghat of the river Betwa.

Day 3
As our train home was at midnight leaving from Jhansi, we judged that we had plenty of time for some more sightseeing. We now headed into Jhansi, since we had put off Khajurao (which is about 175kms) to our next visit. We visited the famous Jhansi Fort which is built on a hilltop called Bangira. The fort, also the residence of Rani Laxmi Bai (who fought the 1857 war of independence), has a wonderful collection of sculptures that illustrate the history of Bundelkhand. As the day came to a close we realised that the sight seeing was over but we still wanted to stay some more. We decided to return to get a slice of incredible India in the not too distant future.

Travel tips

  • Best time to visit Orchha is from November to March
  • If you have a few days to spare, a visit to neighbourimg Khajurao and Chitrakoot is highly recommended  
  • Mosquito repellents are a must
  • Hire a guide to acquaint yourself with all folks and legends that surround each of the temples and monuments
  • Advance bookings and negotiations with local resorts and hotels can get you good discounts

Shruti Menon, a freelance feature writer based in Delhi, is fond of travelling. She loves meeting new people and during her leisure time, surfs the internet on destinations that are untouched by tourists.

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