A small, quiet little Authentic town of only 15,000 People, once used to be the King of the regions home, and a sprawling Fort city of 65,000. Orchha means Hidden, and this certainly is the hidden city of Madhya Pradesh , which was once the grandest and largest city on the bank of the River Betwa.
The first thing i notices when driving through the only main road are the minimal amount of foreigners, it is not a tourist spot, with businesses mainly relying on locals and Local or National indian tourists rather than westerners. But due to it being close to Agra and the Taj Mahal it is gradually rising in popularity which will be fantastic for the towns economy and the people or if I selfishly don’t want the town to lose its character and charm which I feel in love with.
I stayed in Orchha resort, 1 minute walk away from the Cenotaphs, but for the special rooms which are actually tents, I didn’t even need to leave my room to see them, with their shadows towering over the area my tent was located. You could see huge Vultures flying around them and even resting on the very tops of the towers.
The Palace and Cenotaphs
If there is one building you must visit within the Fort it is the Palace of Orchha, in total there are 11 within the town , with 7 of them being within the grand fort Palace, on the edge of the Batwa River. The journey starts by crossing the Bridge which matches the palace in rustic and grand appearance. Within the first section there is a beautifully arched greeting zone, with stairs upto it, balconies where people would used to throw flowers, and be playing music to the guests. Special ramps and area for people to gracefully jump off their elephants and camels. Even a Stable for camels with higher arches. As you move within the complex more there is the …. Palace, known if by coincidence because of its blue mosaiced facades which still remain.
The grandest of all the palaces is the Jahangir Mahal which was only used for 2 days after the 6 years it took to build. You walk into a grand open courtyard, with a central bathing tub, and decorative elephant carved edges the same on all sides, all very symmetrical. Once you look up you see the beautifully intricate animal carvings and detailed towers, all symmetrical to each side of the palace, with remains of some of the mosaic tiles, but mainly the detail of each column, roof, and how you could actuaaally get lost from all the rooms it had. This palace was gifted to the King of , due to how magnificient the king said it was, so the King of Orchha gifted it to him. However the king never returned due to death, so therefore was never used again. Which is such a shame because I could of spent all day there admiring the entrance door carved out of one whole stone piece, with 2 symetrical elephants, and detail beyond belief to the front door, the intact ceilings, walking through each one of the hundred or so rooms, looking out onto each balcony on each side of the palace, as well as just twirl around admiring the central courtyard.
When you buy the Palace ticket, you also get the Cenataphs entry within that, so I recommend about an hour to go and explore these 12 magnificient structures, all in memory of the Kings of Orchha.
Sunset over the River
Once the heat has become bearable in the evening, the sunset over the cenotaphs is one of the most beautiful I have ever seen, with the prime spot being on the rocks in the middle of the river…. A 20 minutes walk from Orchha Resort, and only 5 minutes through the back of the palace roads and the stately homes. Takeaway chai tea with you to have the ideal scenario. In October when I went sunset was around 6pm, put look it up in different times of year. It lit the sky on fire, and then reflected into the river to create an amazing view. I just watched, relaxed and took it all in. The silhouettes of the Cenotaphs became more and more dramatic and contrasting with the red sky. Magical! The hard part was finding our way back across the rocks once it was dark! The biggest surpise was seeing alot of roaming Holy men making a camp for the evening along the river
The daily Ram Raja Temple ceremony
Once the sun has set, every day at 8pm the Ran Raja temple is open for locals to go and pay their respects to the statue of Lord Ram, the statue has never moved since it first set foot on the ground.
The story goes that King married Queen Ganesh , he worshipped Lord Krishna instead of Lord Ram who is wife worshipped , after a pilgrimage by the queen to bring proof of Lord Ram back he promised to build another temple for her belief, however the statue which was brought back to be placed in the temple was dropped in the exact location it has stayed for centuries. They say it is extremely unlucky to ever move it again, so there it stays, with people every day coming to pay respect and give offerings. The Orchha temple (Ram Raja) is one of the only temples which is guarded and ceremonially opened by the head of the police every evening and is seen as a pilgrimage for believers of Lord Ram.
It was an incredible experience to see how people reacted when they opened the door to the statue, but also to see what they did to honour and bless the god we had just seen. Due to the festival season, there was a lot of activity outside with dancing, music, singing and alot of bright lights. The final evening i was in Orchha was the final day of a ceremony called Bathukamma where the goddess Maha Gauri is blessed with colours, flowers, prayers and food and finally laid within the river to be washed away to bring luck in womanhood and life. As we walked home there was music, dancing, singing, Holi colour powder, which some of the locals decided to include us within the festivities, within 30 seconds I was covered in pink powder! AMAZING!! But in shock! Those cheeky spirits!
We also had the privilege of being invited to a local family house who has been working with Intrepid Travel for over 15 years now. She has grown a business out of cooking classes, and now owns her own restaurant with her husband. The family have grown up with Intrepid being part of their lives, and them theirs. Its amazing to see what such travel companies are doing to improve the lives of the people in India and in particular towns. Her name was Vandhi and she spoke amazing English with whit, charm, giggles and a pure heart throughout the night.
We met her whole family including her cheeky little boy. All while learning how to make proper Chai tea, rice, mixing spices, cooking curries and making the chapatis. It was eye opening and such an incredible experience. The food delicious and so with the icing on the cake being the Saree I had the opportunity to try on and the Henna I was given. V was so excited to dress me and it was such an honour to be dressed by her and her daughters. I always worry about being rude or being too touristy but they really do just love showing their culture, family and lives to you which they are so proud and humble about.
In the morning we had to leave for the next stop, but this place was my first real unexpected love story in India, I didn’t expect to come here and be blown away by the history and humble people who are so welcoming. Orchha isn’t rich, it hasn’t got a lot of the tourist money, but mainly the local everyday income from shops, businesses and farming, which makes it much more special due to know one really knowing about it . In some ways its Rich in so many other ways instead of the money kind.
All I can say is you should go and see for yourself. Namaste!