Orchha which, so long, served as a satellite attraction to Gwalior, is now emerging as a destination on its own merit. With Madhya Pradesh Tourism supporting local people to offer homestays to visitors, you have more opportunities to stay in beautiful locales other than the state tourist lodges. The opening up of accommodation facilities will now help visitors to explore the many attractions of Orchha, including palaces, temples and monuments as well as try a spot of river rafting too.
Founded by Rudra Pratap Singh in early 16th century, Orchha is steeped in the culture of Bundelkhand. The light and sound show (ticketed entry) at the Orchha Fort complex will acquaint you with the history of the former royal province.
Things to see and do in Orchha
Ram Raja Temple
A tour of Orchha usually begins with a visit to this temple. Part of ruler Madhukar Shah’s palace, this is the only temple where Ram, the hero of the Indian epic Ramayana, is worshipped as the king, including being offered a guard of honour. The temple is open from 8am to 10pm.
This 16th century fort lies near the confluence of the Betwa and Jamni rivers. The sprawling fort complex contains several palaces inside, of which Jahangir Mahal, Raj Mahal, Sheesh Mahal and Rai Praveen Mahal, are very popular. Raj Mahal exhibits some fantastic murals. Jahangir Mahal exhibits a mix of Mughal and Bundela architecture; note the delicate lattice work along the courtyard. Sheesh Mahal has been converted into a star hotel by Madhya Pradesh State Tourism Development Corporation (MPSTDC).
Check at the ticket counter if the brochure on heritage walk is available. That will help you enjoy the many attractions of the fort. Entry to fort premises is allowed from 9am to 5pm. Ticketed entry. Timings of the light and sound show: March - October: 7.30pm - 8.30pm in English and 8.45 - 9.45pm in Hindi; November - February: 6.30pm - 7.30pm in English and 7.45 - 8.45pm in Hindi.
Dauji Ki Haveli
If you have some extra time in hand, you may visit this 17th century structure near the Rai Praveen Mahal. Although in ruins, its arched entrance and roof and murals are reminders of its former glory. Open 7am to 9pm.
Lakshmi Narayan Temple
This ancient temple dedicated to goddess Lakshmi was built in the 16th century. However, it is bereft of an idol. Do not miss the murals within the temple. Open from 9a to 7pm.
Etched against the horizon, the group of 14 chhatris or cenotaphs along the Kanchan Ghat of the Betwa River look magnificent when seen from a boat. Memorials to the former rulers, they reflect beautiful architectural styles. Ticketed entry.
This ninth century temple, identified by its tall spires, was built to house a statue of Ram. But owing to some divine intervention, the idol – which was temporarily installed in the queen’s palace (Rani Mahal) – could not be moved to the newly built temple. The Rani Mahal became the Ram Raja Temple and an image of Vishnu was installed in the new temple. Do not miss a chance to climb to the roof the building for a panoramic view of Orchha. It is open from 9am to 5pm.
A summer retreat of the former rulers, this beautiful garden with fountains, subterranean rooms, and the unique Badgir Sawan Bhadon Towers built to catch the wind and cool the place, is a popular attraction. It is open from 8am to 8pm.
Boating and rafting
Depending on the water level in the Betwa River, you may go boating or even rafting along it. A ride in the river in the late afternoon can be fun. Usually, monsoon is the best time for rafting. Check with the tourist lodges of MPSTDC for more details.
The Orchha Wildlife Sanctuary, established in 1994, is located opposite the royal cenotaphs along the river. It is best to take car safari inside. The nature reserve, mostly known to shelter common avifauna, has received mixed reviews from visitors. Best time to visit is between November and March. The sanctuary is open from 7am to 6pm. Ticketed entry.
Try some of the typical dishes of Bundelkhand in Orchha. Such as Kodu Til ka Bhaat (the kodu variety of rice cooked with black sesame), Bundeli Gosht (meat cooked in a clay pot with spices and boiled chickpeas), ras kheer (where rice is cooked in sugarcane juice), etc. The market around the Ram Raja Temple is worth exploring for its street food and local eateries.
Information: Gwalior is the nearest airport for Orchha, about 130km by road. The nearest rail head is Jhansi, about 10km away by road. It is also possible to drive to Orchha from Khajuraho. MPSTDC operates the heritage MPT Sheesh Mahal and the MPT Betwa Retreat. There are also a few private hotels and lodges. You may also opt for the homestays registerd with the state tourism. The best time to visit Orchha is between November and March. If you are keen to go rafting, then monsoon is the best time.