Outstanding Orchha

On climbing a few steep steps the passage suddenly opens up into a huge square shaped courtyard with intricately embellished sandstone walls and windows with elegant latticework. The upper floors are adorned with resplendent cenotaphs wherefrom superb views of river Betwa passing along the reserve forest beckons wanderers with unfailing charm. We are in ‘Jehangir Mahal’, indisputably the most imposing palace in Orchha. In the nearly forgotten capital of mighty Bundela Rajputs, this beautiful but unkempt monolith stands testimony to a sordid tale of Mughal India. Abul Fazal, the great scholar and one of the nine jewels in Emperor Akbar’s royal court has never kept his disaffection about Salim’s meandering ways a secret and harboured serious reservation for the empire’s future on his accession to Mughal throne. Salim therefore hatched a conspiracy with Vir Singh Deo, the Bundela chieftain and got Abul Fazal assassinated in Bundelkhand in circa 1602, during the scholar’s return journey to Agra from the Deccan. Subsequently Salim accessed the throne and assumed the title ‘Jehangir’ and also crowned Vir Singh as the King of Bundelkhand. On his part, Vir Singh constructed this fabulous palace where Emperor Jehangir stayed during his visits to Orchha. It was a win win situation for both conspirators, only the Indian history lost the great author of “Ain-I-Akbari” at a pre mature age of fifty one only.

Jahangir Mahal

Jahangir Mahal

Jahangir Mahal

Jahangir Mahal

Orchha is breathtakingly beautiful. Regal on appearance and serene in ambiance. Apart from Jehangir Mahal, the Raja Mahal, Rani Ki Mahal, Rai Praveen Mahal and Sheesh Mahal adorn the dusty hill tops of Orchha. The last named has been converted into a heritage hotel by M.P. tourism with limited accommodation and unlimited scope for improvement in maintenance. There is an interesting anecdote about the Rai Praveen Mahal. Rai Praveen was a courtesan and an accomplished poetess in the Orchha kingdom. For her legendary beauty, she was once sent to the “Harem” of Emperor Akbar against her wishes, as she was deeply in love with Raja Indramani of Orchha. On a face to face meeting with the great Emperor in the Mughal court, she recited one of her poem telling that only “a crow and a dog eat off the used plate of another”. Akbar was too smart and generous to understand the subtle hint and immediately ordered Rai Praveen’s return to Orchha in full honour. All other palaces have their attendant history as well.

Now a converted hotel by MP Tourism

Now a converted hotel by MP Tourism

Royal Food

Royal Food

Not only huge palaces but also there are many temples dotting the land. Prominent among them are Chaturbhuj temple, Ram Raja Temple and Laxmi Narayan Temple. Out of the three, Chaturbhuj temple is the most imposing. But it is intriguing that Ram Raja Temple is the only temple in India where Ram is worshipped not as a God but as a King, seated on a throne. “Aarti” in Ram Raja temple is fascinating with devotees chanting in the radiance of the ornamental diyas. Laxmi Narayan Temple is on the outskirt of Orchha and we missed the visit as it was a ‘Holi’ day. Locals informed that this is the most decorated and ornamental of all three. The ceiling of the temple is said to be marvelous as every inch is covered with assorted murals of the Bundela school of paintings.

Temples

Temples

Worship

Worship

The early morning stroll along the nature walk on the fringe of the reserve forest was fascinating. We crossed the bare granite bridge over river Betwa to reach the forest. Thereafter, a forest road ran miles after miles bisecting the reserve forest till it reached ‘Tikamgarh’. Luscious streams of water were gleaming past the boulder strewn river bed. Cenotaphs of all past rulers of Orchha were lined up on one side, silently but unmistakably reminding us about the transience of human life. It was serenity at its best.

Alongside Betwa

Alongside Betwa

Betwa river

Betwa river

We reached the same spot again before the onset of the evening. This time the place was agog with expectations of witnessing a fabulous sunset. There were photographers all around and Indians were hugely outnumbered by foreigners. My name sake Abhijit and my son Chirojit were furiously active on taking shots on every movement of the sun on river bank. The expectations were, however, not belied. Slowly but surely the red ball started pouring molten gold in the river…the shadows of the lined cenotaphs started growing longer and longer. Ultimately the sun lovingly kissed the river Betwa taking away one more day from all our lives.

The intoxicating sunset

The intoxicating sunset

Red ball pouring molten gold

Red ball pouring molten gold

From the Ghats

From the Ghats

There were two resorts on the river bank facing one another. Seating on the terrace of the restaurant of one of them and sipping cold coffee we were silently ruminating the extraordinary experiences. There was a mild wind blowing from the river side. Orchha by this time fell absolutely quiet after spending a hectic day of “Holi” and the full moon replaced the sun and was already over hung. Nature never keeps a vacuum and life goes on….and so there was another night fall.

On our way back from the river bank we decided to follow a tip from the “Lonely planet” guide book. The idea was to cross check their recommendation about the eatery called “Bhola Restaurant” on Sheesh Mahal road, and their ‘Honey Parota’, in particular. It was a small eatery but well frequented. However once we tasted the item, the culinary expertise of the guide book fell flat on its face. I wished if I could invite the Lonely planet correspondent to experience similar items cooked by my wife who was accompanying us on this trip.

Light and sound shows in Hindi and English were organized in the night at the open air courtyard of the Raja Mahal palace which was the next building after the Sheesh Mahal where we did put up. The quality of the show, particularly its factual contents leaves much room for improvement. The well known accidental death of Great Sher Shah Suri from a gunpowder explosion during the siege of ‘Kalinjar’ fort was portrayed like a defeat unto death at the hands of Chandela Rajputs! Similarly, the story of the assassination of Abul Fazal was penned on a different ink and the scholar was depicted as an army commander who met his death on having the imprudence of engaging with the might of Chandela Rajputs. M.P. Tourism would do well to look into these to keep the sanctity of the history intact. At the end of one such show we quietly entered into the Sheesh Mahal hotel when other tourists were leaving the same arena through the exit!

Going back to the maddening crowd in metropolitan cities after a trip to a serene place like Orchha was never easy. On our return journey in the next morning we took a detour of an extra one hundred kilometers via ‘Shivpuri’, by side stepping Jhansi – Gwalior road as the terrible experience with the said route while reaching Orchha was still afresh. Some patches of Gwalior-Jhansi road were truly nonexistent. We strongly advise all travelers to shun the Gwalior- Jhansi road for reaching Orchha and instead opt for the longer route via ‘Shivpuri’.

Shivpuri

Shivpuri

Return journey was smooth and after we had a fulfilling lunch in the Kwality restaurant in Gwalior, my son was speeding across the city. Seating besides him I could see the fleeting glimpses of the Gwalior fort but my mind was wandering elsewhere. It was lost in the corridors of “Hazar Duari PaIace” in Murshidabad where the original Persian script of the invaluable “Ain-I-Akbari” has been carefully preserved.

Orchha

Orchha

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Photographs by Abhijit Mitra and Chirojit Mukherjee.

25 Comments

  • beautiful post , awesome pictures , especially sunset one !

  • Nandan Jha says:

    Long time Dear Abhjit, but then you return with a brilliant prose on Orccha which is not among popular spots, even though it falls under Khajuraho-circuit. Thank you.

    My first visit was in year 2001 and there was not a soul around. Intl tourists were off-India after that September event and Indian tourist were not visiting Orchha. It had that quaint feeling. My last visit was in 2013 (was in Jhansi to hire some grads and decided to use the opportunity to make the evening count) and the place has changed completely.

    During 2013 visit, I got the opportunity to watch the sound-n-light show. I failed to capture the observations around Abul, I also failed to visit Tikamgarh even though we had the luxury of our own car and a driver (me) who would invent reasons to drive, and when I look at these sun-set pictures, I am getting this sudden desire to be there. Orchha indeed is one place where one can visit many times.

    • Abhijit Mukhopadhyay says:

      Thanks Nandan and it is my pleasure that you liked the post. Yes it has always been my endeavour to write about hidden gems, more so if these are neglected. Somehow I never get the zeal to talk about places like Tajmahal in Agra or Eiffel Tower in Paris !

  • Jaishree says:

    A delightful and thorough account of a delightful place. It remains in the shadow of its towering cousin Khajuraho. I think it commands an individual visit for itself.

    You rightly pointed out the distortion seen in the history and worse is that it is distorted in the text books also.

    Two things I remember most of this place is the view from other side of river Betwa and the evening aarti at Raja Ram temple.

    Thanks. It is time I make another trip there.

  • Vivek Kumar Srivastava says:

    Nice post!!

    Last December, I was traveled Jhansi, Orchha and Khajuraho.

    Thanks for remembering my trip.

  • Anupam Chakraborty says:

    The history needed to be told again and again so that we get a sense of their uniqueness. It was a tale worth telling. Superb photographs of the fabulous monuments and also the beautiful sunset at Betwa River.

    Thanks.

    • Abhijit Mukhopadhyay says:

      As such, we Indians are unmindful of our history. In fact we give scant importance to other social sciences leading to creation of a pride less and hollow society. My only prayer that we leave the sanctity of the history alone…frequent twists and turns, for whatever reasons, would render it completely unacceptable to the future generations.

      Thank you Mr. Chakraborty for your kind interest.

    • Abhijit Mitra says:

      Dear Anupam,

      Thanks for liking the photographs we hope that we were able to capture a part of the beauty.

  • Nitin says:

    Excellent write up! I have never traveled to this part it seems this is a worthy destination to visit. Great sunset photographs.

  • Abhijit Mitra says:

    Dear Nitin,

    Thanks for the compliment but please try to visit this place. You will surely find that we were able to capture only a miniscule part of the beautiful sunset.

  • AJAY SHARMA says:

    Dada,
    Excellent poetic and soulful description of the hidden heavenly place. Liked it is as much that missed two calls while reading it on the mobile. Thanks a lot for enriching our instinct for an immediate visit. Photographs supports your verses equally.

    Keep travelling
    Ajay

    • Abhijit Mukhopadhyay says:

      Thanks Ajay. Some places are such that they drag out the hidden poet inside all of us. Pl. make a visit before it is too hot.

  • Ashok Sharma says:

    very good post.pouring molten gold into the river is great.some pics are really nice.you seem to be a very keen photographer.I think the photography lesson by DL has started showing some results. twisting and turning the history is an old and well practised game. but now things should change. i was there posted in Guna for six years,but was quite unaware of this ORCHHA being so near.Its high time to publishise and maintain our hidden tourist places.
    Same is true with Chanderi.its a beautiful, worth visiting place.I was there in December’2007.It needed urgent attention of govt.

    • Abhijit Mukhopadhyay says:

      Nice to know that you liked the post. All praises for photography goes to my name sake and my son and will be duly passed on to them. For your observations, I can not do anything but agreeing with them wholeheartedly.

      Thanks Ashok for suggesting “Chanderi” , which has been duly noted.

  • Soumyen Mitra says:

    Dear Mr Mukhopadhyaya, It is simply wonderful tour you had recently been with photos and your vivid description . Frankly speaking you have inspired me to visit during early winter. These places are still not much publicised and that is why has special charm with historic background. Regards, Soumyen Mitra

    • Abhijit Mukhopadhyay says:

      Thanks Mr. Mitra for your kind words. Pl. do visit the place once the climate is cooler. Regards.

  • Nirdesh Singh says:

    Hi Abhijit,

    Great post and with my style of writing!

    Evening at Betwa was the only reason I went to Orchha. Looking at the photos makes me want to go back there. I missed seeing Laxmi Narayan temple too. Yes the Gwalior-Jhansi stretch is hell.

    Great writeup along with interwoven history accounts. I hope Murshidabad is taking good care of Ain – i – Akbari!

    Keep writing!

  • Abhijit Mukhopadhyay says:

    It is encouraging to know that all are not unmindful of history and some of them do share my passion for it. Mr. Nirdesh it is readers like you who keep me motivated to write despite thousand distractions.
    Thanks a lot.

  • rdp says:

    I have been to Orcha ,in Nov 2015. Stayed for three Days at MPTDC Betwa Tent.
    Its wonderful to move around lazily in Orcha and get lost in History !!

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