COMPILED BY AMRITA LALL
At first look, Orchha seems frozen in time. When you first see the royal cenotaphs rising like giant spires into the sky, you’ll find yourself wondering how the little town must have been back in the day – as the seat of the Bundelas, one of the most powerful dynasties to ever rule the country. Built along the banks of the Betwa River, the town was founded in the 16th century by the Bundela king Rudra Pratap, and served as the capital till the mid-18th century. The historic town now serves as a living, breathing reminder of its rich, glorious past.
Over time, it has become synonymous with the 14 majestic royal cenotaphs (or chhatris) located along the banks of the Betwa and it’s easy to see why. Built in honour of Orchha kings, the cenotaphs are unassuming from the inside, but, if you walk across the shallow water to a tiny island where you’ll find locals bathing or washing clothes, they offer a picture-postcard view. The Orchha Fort complex, located in the heart of the town, is also a must-visit. Accessed by a multi-arched bridge and divided into three sections, the complex is home to the Raj Mahal, where you’ll find exquisite wall murals of Krishna and Ganesh, and the magnificent Jahangir Mahal. Built by Bir Singh Deo in the 17th century, this is one of the largest of Orchha’s palaces and showcases stunning Rajput Bundela architectural styles. Its multi-storeyed balconies offer great views over the rest of the town and the cenotaphs in the distance.
Orchha’s temples are as majestic as its palaces and cenotaphs – begin your temple-hopping with a visit to the Ram Raja Mandir, one of the few temples in the country where Lord Ram is worshipped as a god. Head next to the Laxminarayan Temple, where you’ll find a rich collection of murals that range from gods and goddesses to British soldiers and depictions of the daily lives of royals. The temple is also home to murals that tell the life story of Rani Laxmibai of Jhansi. Take your time marvelling at the rich, intricate details that have remained intact over the centuries. A relatively lesser-known spot that will excite history lovers is the memorial of Dinman Hardol, the prince and son of Maharaja Bir Singh Deo, located in Phool Bagh. According to local folklore, Hardol took his own life to prove his innocence when accused of having an affair with his brother’s wife. End your art and history trail of the city with a visit to Saaket Museum, an art gallery with lovely folk paintings. You’ll find a wide variety of Ramayana-themed art along with Madhubani paintings from Bihar. For nature-lovers, there’s the Orchha Nature Reserve – you can choose to go hiking or cycling down the 12km-long trail. The wildlife here includes monkeys, monitor lizards, a wide variety of birds, and four types of turtles.
Located far from the madding crowd of bigger cities, this little historical town makes for a great weekend getaway. Whether you’re interested in exploring the rich heritage of Orchha or are simply looking for a laid-back, hassle-free weekend – Orchha checks all boxes.