If Madhya Pradesh is the “Heart of Incredible India”, then Orchha is its heart. Founded in the 16th century by the Bundela chief Maharaja Rudra Pratap, this town today lies well off the beaten track for most travellers. With its riches of palaces, temples and cenotaphs by the banks of the Betwa River, it is a fascinating study in sepia. When in Orchha, here’s what you can see, do and experience.
WHAT TO DO
Visit the Fort Complex
This is the most significant of Orchha’s sites, containing within its large open square the elegant Jahangir Mahal, the Raj Mahal and the Rai Parveen Mahal. The best time to visit the 17th century Jahangir Mahal, built in the emperor’s honour, is just before sunset. The fading sunlight imparts a golden glow to the walls and domes and from the windows on the narrow steps to the top, the silhouettes of the soaring temples and cenotaphs present a magical sight. The Raj Mahal, just across the square, seems bare in comparison but is enriched by the colourful murals inside.
Being inside the Chaturbhuj Temple is like being inside an ancient European cathedral. With its tall walls and bare sanctum, the temple is a spot of tranquility despite the bustling market just outside.
The Laxminarayan Temple is a must-see, if only for the rich collection of murals inside that have stood the test of time and retained their vivid colours. What makes these paintings even more interesting is that their themes are not just religious and mythological, but also contemporary for the times in which they were created, like the painting of a regiment of marching British troops.
If your thirst of temples is still unquenched, then head to Ram Raja Temple—the only place in India where Lord Ram is enshrined and worshipped as a king in his palace.
See the cenotaphs
Orchha is also known for its cenotaphs locally called chhatris. There are 14 of them, all built as memorials to its kings. Although a visit to the memorials is worth it, the best views are from across the Betwa River early in the morning.
Watch the sound and light show
Orchha has a scintillating sound and light show every evening in the Raj Mahal. Feel history come alive as the walls resonate with the sound of the horses’ hooves and the battle cries of the warriors. This hour long son-et-lumiere starts at 7.30pm in English and 8.45pm in Hindi during the summer months (March to October). In winter (November to February), the English show begins at 6.30pm and the Hindi show at 7.45pm. Entry tickets—priced at Rs 75—can be bought at the main gate of the fort.
WHERE TO STAY
Managed by MP Tourism is situated right inside the fort complex and is a great place to stay just for its location.
Sheesh Mahal, Jehangir Mahal, Orchha, Madhya Pradesh, India (firstname.lastname@example.org) Doubles from Rs 2,000
Located right on the riverbank, this hotel is very popular and offers beautiful views of the Betwa from the open veranda.
Bundelkhand Riverside, Tikamgarh District, Orchha, Madhya Pradesh, India (www.bundelkhandriverside.com) Doubles from Rs 2,036
The Orchha Resort
Also by the river, the resort has rooms and Swiss tents overlooking the cenotaphs.
The Orchha Resort, Kanchanaghat District, Tikamgarh, Orchha, Madhya Pradesh, India
(www.orchharesort.com) Doubles from Rs 2,000
CNTtip: Although the narrow main road has several small restaurants with interesting names like Cha Cha Moon and El Bulli, it is best to eat at your hotel or resort.
HOW TO GET THERE
The best way is to take the Bhopal Shatabdi Express train from Delhi to Jhansi (just 16km away) and then take a prepaid autorickshaw or taxi. Distances within Orchha are manageable on foot, but in the hotter months it may be best to keep the taxi for the duration of your stay. The nearest airport is at Gwalior, 120km away and it is worth your while to combine a visit to Gwalior along with Orchha.
Published in Conde Nast Traveller, 03 September 2012