Orchha, A precious ‘Gem’ of Bundelkhand.

Orchha, is a charming village on the banks of river Betwa, a prominent river system in the Bundelkhand region. For those who are not familiar with Bundelkhand, this is the region which lies in the central most part of India, occupying southern region of UP and northern region of MP. Prominent cities include, Jhansi, Hamirpur, Chitrakoot, Banda, Chattarpur, Khajuraho, Panna, Tikamgarh, Sagar to name a few. The economy is mostly farming and little bit of tourism, mostly due to world renowned Khajuraho temples and Orchha, which is fast picking up as a major tourism attraction and is en-route to Khajuraho. I primarily belong to Bundelkhand region, and as a child growing up here, I have been to most of these places, but among all, Orcha is my favorite. It’s located on the banks of a beautiful river, famous Ram temple, Forts (with Bundeli and Mughal influence), national park and nice resorts.

Orchha
Sunset at banks of river Betwa

Orchha
Orchha Landscape

This time during my trip to Jhansi, like everytime, we drove to Orchha, around 25 kms from Jhansi, a quick and easy drive and a perfect getaway place. We stopped at the Azad memorial, a small cave, where Shaheed Chandra Shekhar Azad was in hiding from Britishers during freedom struggle, this place is very quite with a Hanuman temple and it is said that Azad disguised himself as priest of this temple and ran his freedom mission from here. There is a small creek as well, A must stop if you want to get a feel of freedom struggle.

Next stop was the Orchha fort, which is pretty huge with amazing architecture and views. Orchha use to be main center and capitol of the mighty Bundela dynasty during 15-16th century. Orchha fort primarily contains, Jahangir Mahal, Bundela king of Orchha built to welcome and honor his friend, Jahangir (Salim), the Mughal prince after he became the emperor, following Akbar. Jahangir Mahal, is a fine example of perfect symmetry, It provides a breath taking view of the river side and the chattris. There are various fine paintings on walls and ceilings using vegetable colors. Next to Jahangir Mahal, is the Raj Mahal (King and Queen’s Palaces). These have some fine paintings of Hindu Gods, including Lord Vishnu and His 9 avatars, exquisitely done on the ceilings of the halls inside the palace.

Paintings
Lord Ram painting on the ceilings.

It is said that the Queen of Orchha was a big devotee of lord Ram, and she insisted her Husband to invite Lord Ram from Ayodhya to Orchha. She built a huge Chaturbhuj Temple in His honor. the temple was built in such a manner that the queen could see Lord from her Palace’s window. But before agreeing to move to Orchha, there was a condition that Lord Ram had, that he would remain in the place where he would be first brought. When Queen reached Orchha, the Chaturbhuj temple was still under finishing touches…so she requested Lord Ram to be placed in the Palace next to the temple, later when they tried to move the idols, it was impossible to move, and then they remembered lords wordings. As a result the palace became the residence of lord Rama and is currently known as famous Ram Raja Temple, local guide tells us. Also, this is the only temple(in a shape of a palace) in India where lord Ram is worshipped as a King.

Jahangir Mahal
Jahangir Mahal

jahangir Mahal2
Jahangir Mahal

It was almost time for Sunset, so our next stop was banks of Betwa river. The river is very scenic and is surrounded by small Chattris and some well hidden resorts on one side and national forest on the other side. The flow in the river was pretty heavy with bunch of rapids which makes it a perfect place for white water rafting, however this sport is not well developed here. It’s all natural beauty. The view during sunset were amazing…

Betwa River
Betwa River

From here we started to visit the Ram Raja mandir, as it was time for the evening ‘Aarti’. We bought some parshaad…my favorite here is brown milk cake…very tasty. Outside of the Ram Raja temple, you can visit Sawan Bhadon palace and Phool Bagh, showcasing the story of Hardaul, the prince of Orchha. There is a story about him as well…his brother Jujhar suspected his queen’s relationship with Hardaul and ordered her to poison him, however Queen could not do this but as proof of his innocence Hardaul took poison himself and died, giving birth to a legend of noble sacrifice, people of Bundelkhand still worship Hardaul.

Moniye
Moniye dancing.

Note: Ram Raja temple gets very crowded during Ramnaumi celebration, which is the busiest time of the year in Orchha. I remember one time we litrally came back from the highway because there was no room to even put your feet on the ground. Also during this time, you can see tribal people (Moniye) wearing and holding peacock feathers in their hands and doing traditional dance performances etc.

After darshan and aarti, our next stop was the light and sound program, which happens daily in the fort area. The show was simply great and the lighting etc were amazing, it feels like the entire area has come to life. During the show they narrate the entire history of Orchha and Bundela rulers and their dynasty. To read more about it, you can visit the wiki at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Orchha. The show happens twice daily, first at 7 pm in English and last at 8 pm in Hindi. Seems like MPT and ASI have invested a lot of money in setting up the light and sound programs around the famous places and have become a big hit not only among tourists but among the locals as well. Similarly, they have a light and sound show in Jhansi fort, which is awesome, depicting the life of Rani Laxmi Bai, the famous queen warrior of Jhansi and her fight for freedom during the great revolt of 1857. Famous bollywood star Sushmita Sen and Om Puri have landed their voices as Rani Laxmi Bai and the Great Fort of Jhansi. I would highly recommend these two shows if you are in this part of the country. The shows are great for all ages, my 6 yr old really liked it as well.

LightAndSound
Light And Sound at Orchha

Jhansi Fort
Jhansi Fort entrance gate

After the show we headed back to Jhansi, however in the past, We have stayed here in one of the river side resort. Bundelkhand Riverside resort and Betwa Cottages(run by MPT) are pretty good and have very nice location, I would certainly recommend spending one night here, if you have time. Also due to Orchha’s
close proximity to Jhansi, which is one of the biggest railways junction, you can visit here anytime you are passing from Jhansi. Very conveninent and does not require any advance planning. I think the resorts have lot of accomodation and finding a room would not be very difficult, but the stay would be worth it, I can certainly promise that. :)

Happy journey!!!

22 Comments

  • upanshu says:

    Travelling Orcha with you is wonderful, Nandan told me about Orcha long back and has a desire to go there.

    You are taking real nice pictures.

  • Pamposh Dhar says:

    Thanks for this post and the fabulous pictures. I’ve been to Orchha only once, many years ago. It was a hurried trip – I don’t remember seeing the river at all! Must go back one day. One of those places one can just feel all the history and human drama that’s gone before.

  • Manish Khamesra says:

    Atul,

    This post of yours is an eye candy. We have pleasant meories of our stay at Orchha (year 2002) and your pictures have re-evoked those memories. It is good to know that a sound and light show has started in both Jhansi and Orchha, both of them have the potential. ASI is waking up. I wish people also realize the potential and the economic advantages of living in such a beautiful place.

    The Betwa river bank is a nice place to walk, if the locals also realize it and don’t use area around it for … At that time I felt that the only place that was not having somebody sitting along was where an idol of god was kept.

    Thanks again for sharing the pictures and a post on Orchha, the place deserves it … and your post has justified it very well.

  • Nandan Jha says:

    Great pics.

    I first went to Orccha in 2002 along with a true Ghumakkar, MK. Rachit was few months away. When we landed at Jhansi early morning, we spent quite a time on finding a right mode of transport to take us to Orccha. Finally when we reached Betwa Resort (run by MP Tourism), it was so early that everyone was asleep. That was our first real encounter with MP Hotel staff :-)

    It was a very exciting trip, there were two couples , MK/Jaishari and another friend/wife and two singles (me and a friend). In less than 24 hours, we have scoured every street and by late evening we were roaming around as if we were locals, its a small place. So much so that when we found the local liquor shop closed, it was not hard to find help from a fellow shop-keeper, who promised us that he would buy the stuff and keep it with himself. It was post 9/11 and business was bad, esp for places like Khajuraho and hence Orccha.

    We were to be there for two days and it turned out more exciting when I , along with another couple, retreated back to Delhi just after first night (what do we do now ?, we have visited all the places was the argument, you defend only till a point and then you give up), so there I was in Shatabadi finding myself heading back to home :-(. At Gwalior, I stepped out and figured out that something is amiss, it didn’t take long to find out that Mr. Madhavrao Scindia’s chooper has crashed.

    long story.

    I was there again, 2008 Christmas break, the place has changed entirely in those 6 years. That old world solitude is missing from the streets, its difficult to find place to park your car. Sound-n-Light show was not happening till then, but I did see the preparations.

    All said, I would want to go to Orccha in a real off season sometime. Betwa can be mesmerizing and I would really want to drive on that bridge, guess that leads to Tikampur.

    I should stop now. Thank you Atul.

  • Atul says:

    Thanks Upanshu, Pamposh, Manish & Nandan.

    So, Orchha has certainly changed a lot in past 10 years, and so is tourism in that part. I have been there so many times at various seasons etc and crossed that bridge to Tikamgarh, by Bus, by Car, By scooters several times and by walking in the night when a bus was coming from the other side…, its always pretty adventurous. My first swim lessons were in Betwa as well :). Orchha is certainly not a happening placeits more of a spiritual place, with a big cultural and religious significance. Its away from all the pollution and population, you should certainly visit there during off seasonsSept/Octprobably after the rains to see Betwa in its full. Also, I would imagine, there is nothing there for young singles or people with kidsyou can pretty much get bored after a dayIts more of a place for relaxing and reading, spending time with your better half or a friend for that matter :)

    Manish, I agree with you on your findings ;)but now, the area on the other side of the river, after crossing the bridge, has drastically improvedMPT has taken over and enforced a fence, and developed a park and a picnic area, they did lot of cleanup as well, they even charge a ticket nowso that area has improved. But again this is a laidback areaand a true village. We stayed at Orchha Resorts, I think it is a three star resort, and is good IMO, bit pricy though. Betwa Cottages is sarkari, so you can imagine, but they have nice location and layout.

  • nandanjha says:

    Tikamgarh, yes, thats right.

    MK – if you remember that corner shop, the one where we would always get freshly cooked food (to the extent that it would take more than an hour, no visitors so there was nothing already cooked), that place is now buzzing. now it looks more like modern day bus-stand’ish restaurant, with open seats, rush and all that.

    • Manish Khamesra says:

      Bhola restaurant :-)

      We have fond memories of that trip.
      The only regret is that we had a good singer – Lavanaya with us and still we could not spend some quality time together. I think Jaishree was feeling tired at that time.

      After reading Atul’s post I was prompted to consider another trip soon, but reading your comments I wonder that will it spoil the good old memories of that laid back town.

      Don’t worry, I know that I will be planning another trip soon, Bundelkhand region has certain charm to it. MP tourism was in bad shape at that time. Good to see that things are improving there.

  • Jashree says:

    Nandan

    I still remember that corner shop very well. I was expecting Rachit and was very happy to find freshly cooked, nutritious food– Aate ki roti, salads which we ( me n manish) would buy from the sabjiwali across the street, and then you guys saying- Kheere, tamatar accha hai, only to be washed at the very next moment with bottles and bottles of coke, which we two would not touch.

    We spent a serene, peaceful evening at the village teple called Raja Ram ka Mandir after you guys left. Aarti, sound of bells, nagaras and then rendering of bhajans in Saddhukari language from the fathoms of soul- all kept us glued there till the time locals were there. It had a subtle atmosphere of Milan and Viraha- the charms of Bhakti Marg.

    What I feel is that when you want to LIVE your vacations, it is not just the monuments or sights or tourist spots which make it livable, your diffusion in that place is also very important. And ALL the places do not allow ALL to diffuse into them. Because we ALL are not alike. AND THAT MAKES EVERY TRAVEL EXPERIENCE SO DIFFERENT TO EVERY GHUMAKKAR.

  • Jaishree says:

    Atul:

    can you allow/ send me your first and second last photos by mail.
    As of now, I am toe-deep in watercolor and pastels and currently obsessed with monuments and play of light and dark.

    Although the request itself reveals, still I can not stop myself saying

    FABULOUS!!!!!!!

  • nandanjha says:

    MK – Yes, it was (or is) Bhola restaurant. I would see if I have a pic from my recent visit.

    JS – Yes. Frankly its the place, not sure whether you remember but a good part of our first evening was spent in a ruin, which was all to ourselves, generally sitting on chhajjas and killing time. Beet gaye din….

    Well, since you talked about Salad, me and Avi still talk about the incident when after MK nicely sprinkled the salt and squeezed a lemon on a saucer full of nicely cut Kheeray/Tamatar, I think Avi just used his not-so-clean hands to mix it well.

    Try coke, it tastes fabulous :-)

  • Avinash says:

    Great discussion!
    I too remember it but not in the same level of details. I am less of a ghumakkar and more of a bhulakkar. Sorry.
    I do remember us discussing later the ‘coke’ point and complaints of ‘dehydration’ all the while.
    And I do remember us (I, Manish, Jaishree and few months young Rachit) in the SheeshMahal the next day (when Nandan had left). Room had two small windows in almost 2 ft thick walls. And it had a bathroom of the size, you don’t get bedrooms these days in modern flats.
    And I do remember dozing off on the banks of Betwa when the lovely couple must have been busy hand-holding and talking the way Atul mentioned.

    • Manish Khamesra says:

      BTW Avinash you should have told me that you were giving us the much needed romantic break. I thought that you were missing Nandan who left us to ensure that Alok and Lavanya don’t get any personal time with each other :-) all in the name of friendship ;-) I spoilt my romantic break worrying about you.

      Sorry Atul for this personal discussion, but that was an eventful trip and any post on Orchha will keep on reminding us of that trip :-) Two names are missing from the discussion, I wish they could also join in. I am sure they also have lot to say.

  • Jaishree says:

    Let 2-3 more posts come on Orchha and we would remember each and every detail of every minute KILLED/ SPENT there….. could make a plot for a lovely short novel. But where are the two other characters, who made a twist in the storyline, making it still ‘ discussable’

    Nandan : sachmuch hi beet gaye din. har samay kaam, samay kill karne ko hi samay nahin hai. Aur ghumakkari to ab bachhe karte hain, hum to unki ghumakkari ko anukool banate huye apne liye pratikool ki seema tak bhi chale jate hain

    ab generally baithe rahne ka hi samay nahi…….
    Aur shayad hi koi jagah ho jo all to ourselves ho….

    taaje kheere, tamater; fir us oer coke; aur ab yeh Avinash ki not-so-clean anguliya……..ab aur koi flavour to nahin bacha dalne ko?

    And that dehydration complaint reminded me…..

    All those people who drank some 10-12 bottles of coke with lunch, forgot/ or did not bother to carry a single bottle of water…. eyed my bottle of water, which was supposed to be shares between me-cum-Rachit and my hubby dear….. and we did share……. ek-ek ghoont sabke liye

    Avinash: you dozed off! How could you ? wasted those bachelorhood days……when you could be all to yourself……but good in a way ……… nothing to repent :-)

    and thanks for calling us a lovely couple…Manish contributes the most for the cause:-)

  • Atul says:

    Delighted to see such an awesome discussion, old memories coming to life. And to share some of my own…Orchha is very special to me…other then all of childhood memories….Orchha is where we spent our short Honeymoon before heading back to Lake Tahoe, CA for an extended one :) I don’t seem to recall this specific Bhola dhabha but we did spent a lot of time on the banks of Betwa on the side across the narrow bridge, and having chai and garam mangori’s, which you can find in Bundelkhand pretty much at every highway side dhaba. And my favorite, the brown milk cake. I miss all of that living here in Seattle. But that’s always in my agenda when I visit India.

    Jaishree, Thanks for appreciations on the pics, I’m glad you liked them and want to capture them in water colors…I’m honored. Yes, you are welcome to use them. I’ll email you the large versions soon.

  • Beautiful post. I was posted at Tikamgarh for over 4 years in the 90’s and was required to visit Orchha at least once a month. If you could permit use of your pictures, I would make a post in Hindi. I long to visit the place once again. Out of all the forts I loved Gadhkudar.

  • Smita says:

    Beautiful pictures, Atul. And a splendid description too. We went to Orchha two years ago, in its peak season. I had heard of the place from various people but I never thought that such a magnificient throw of history, culture and architecture lies in aplace so close to Delhi – it was a surprise package for us. However, I missed the light and sound show – I wish we did that too.

  • Atul says:

    Thanks for the appreciations Smita, You are right, Orchha has good old charm and something to relish and feel proud of. Hope your trip there was a memorable one.

  • usha t says:

    beautiful picture and post. i like this.

  • Madhu Nair says:

    Excellent set of pictures … loved the ones from the S&L show.
    Cheers,
    Madhu

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