Once the capital of the Bundelas, Orchha is now a quaint riverside vacation spot.

THINGS TO SEE AND DO

Orchha Fort Complex

Like all splendidly built forts, the one at Orchha too can be spotted from a distance as it stands tall, right in the middle of the town. Unlike a lot of other forts in India, however, the fort is not perched high atop a mountain, but is located next to what is a small, but busy, market today. Surrounded by water on all sides, the citadel was well protected from enemy attack.

A flight of steps leads to the Diwan-e-aam, the traditional site of the king’s interactions with his subjects. Look up to admire the beautiful paintings adorning the ceiling. Painted using natural colours, these are remarkably well-preserved and have never been retouched.

Shome Basu
The regal Raja Mahal, located inside the Orchha Fort Complex
The regal Raja Mahal, located inside the Orchha Fort Complex

To the right of the Diwan-e-aam, up another flight of stairs, lies the Raja Mahal. This complex served as the residence of the king and his six wives. The Diwan-e-khaas is at the entrance to the mahal; this hall was meant for the king’s ministers to hold discussions with the sovereign. Beyond it is the dining area that was meant for the king and his queens, which features a 16th-century painting. Walk past Sheesh Mahal, which is now a hotel and restaurant run by MP Tourism (see Where to Stay on p380) to Jehangir Mahal. This palace was commissioned in the 17th century by Bir Singh Dev as a gift for Mughal Emperor Jehangir. To the right of this mahal is another structure known as Rai Praveen Mahal, constructed by Prince Indrajit Singh in honour of a famous dancer and poetess called Rai Praveen.

Entry Indians ₹10; Foreigners ₹250 Photography ₹25 Videography ₹250

Tip The fort entry ticket is valid for all the monuments/sites in Orchha

Ram Raja Temple

This temple, down the road from the fort complex, does not look like a traditional place of worship, and for good reason: it was originally the palace of Raja Madhukar Shah’s queen Rani Ganeshkuwari, and used to be known as Rani Mahal. According to lore, she was a follower of Lord Rama and sanctioned the construction of this temple. While it was underway, she kept an idol of the lord, which she brought from Ayodhya, in her palace. When the time came to transfer the idol to the temple, it was found to be immovable. Therefore, the palace itself had to be turned into a temple. It is notable also because it is the only shrine in the country where Rama is worshipped as a king.

Entry Free

Chaturbhuj Temple

The massive Chaturbhuj Temple never received the idol it was originally built for. It currently houses a shrine containing an image of Radha and Krishna. The temple is built on a 4.5-m-high platform, with its towering shikharas dominating the tiny hamlet’s skyline.

Entry Free

Gireesh GV
Murals depicting Lord Krishna in the Laxminarayan Temple
Murals depicting Lord Krishna in the Laxminarayan Temple

Laxminarayan Temple

The Laxminarayan Temple enjoys a fantastic, though isolated location. Built by Bir Singh in 1622, it is a well-preserved rectangular structure. This edifice is an interesting mix of temple and fort architecture, with battlements on top. You can climb up to the upper level of the temple, which affords breathtaking views of the fort and the Chaturbhuj Temple. There are galleries around the inner walls of the temple and an open courtyard in the centre. Stop to admire the beautiful paintings adorning the walls and the vaulted ceilings. The subjects of these paintings range from stories of the epic Ramayana, to mythical, martial and secular scenes, including an unusual and noteworthy depiction of two European-looking soldiers drinking at a table. These paintings are excellent examples of the mature phase of the Bundelkhand School of Art, which flourished in this region between the 17th and 19th centuries.

Entry Same ticket as the fort’s, valid the same day. However you cannot buy it here, so head to the fort first

Bundela Cenotaphs

Head to the southern bank of the Betwa river and visit the 15 cenotaphs, known as chhatris, of the Bundela rulers and the members of their family. The chhatris rise on a square platform and hold the ashes of the cremated princes and princesses.

Entry Same ticket as the fort’s, valid the same day. However you cannot buy it here, so head to the fort first

Sound and Light Show

The show depicts the history of Bun-delkhand on the walls of Raja Mahal.

Entry Indians ₹100; Foreigners ₹250 Timings March–October: 7.30–8.30pm in English & 8.45–9.45pm in Hindi; November–February: 6.30–7.30pm in English & 7.45–8.45pm in Hindi

Rafting

One of the best ways to see the chattris, and to have a quintessential tourist experience, is to go rafting down the Betwa. Madhya Pradesh Tourism Dev-elopment Corporation organises rafting down the river during season, starting from the bank in front of the chattris.

WHERE TO STAY

You can stay at MP Tourism’s Sheesh Mahal (Tel: 07680-252624; Tariff: ₹2,590–9,590), the former hunting lodge of the Bundela royal family. It enjoys an enviable location, right within the fort complex. It also has a restaurant. The Bundelkhand Riverside Retreat (Tel: 252612; Tariff: ₹4,600) has several rooms with balconies facing the Betwa River. Amar Mahal (Tel: 252102, 252202; Tariff: ₹5,600–9,900) overlooks the fort. The Orchha Resort (Tel: 252222/ 24; Tariff: ₹4,650–5,250) is built near the chhatris on the banks of the Betwa at Kanchana Ghat. MP Tourism’s Betwa Retreat (Cell: 084349102398; Tariff: ₹2,590–4,290) is located down the road from the Chaturbhuj Temple, close to the edge of the Betwa river and the Boat Club. Accommodation is in spacious rooms as well as tents and has a restauant.

Friends of Orchha (Cell: 09919 774261; Tariff: ₹600–850; W orchha.org) is a ‘rural’ homestay, operated by the NGO of the same name, and can be reached by going half a kilometre past the Laxminarayan Temple. The stay with local families helps funnel money into the local community and allows tourists a unique and wonderful staying experience.

WHERE TO EAT

Most of the local eateries are concentrated around Ram Raja Temple.

The delicious north Indian and Indianised Chinese fare served in the hotel restaurants is decent enough and they all welcome guests from outside. Just phone earlier to be sure that seats are available, though.

FAST FACTS

When to go October–March, when the weather is pleasant

Tourist Offices

MP Tourist Office, Railway Station, Jhansi, Tel: 0510-2442622

MPSTDC, Hotel Sheesh Mahal, Orchha, Telefax: 07680-252624

STD code 07680

GETTING THERE

Air Nearest airport: Gwalior Airport (121km/ 2.5hrs). Taxi charges around ₹3,000

Rail Nearest railhead: Jhansi (18km/ 30mins) is linked to many cities. The train Bhopal Shatabdi (No. 12001) from Delhi is convenient. Taxi to Orchha costs approx ₹600, prepaid auto ₹250

Road The NH2, NH3 and NH75 are the highways that connect Orchha to Delhi, Gwalior and Jhansi Bus State transport buses cross Orchha from Gwalior. Private buses also run between Jhansi and Orchha