Orchha – A walk back into history

Visitors who tell you that this is just another temple town, haven’t visited in the way it counts. Orchha is filled with stunning monuments, legends and folklore, fairytale views, a charming market place and a serene river bank. Established in the 1500s by the Bundela Rajput Kings, this little town, a few hours south of Gwalior, is packed with plenty to do and see, and makes for a great short getaway with family or friends. We ended up spending six days in Orchha and chalked out a few things you
can do.

Marvel at the Bundelkhand architecture

The Bundela Rajputs developed their own distinct architectural style inspired by both the Indo-
Saracenic and Rajput designs. The small town of Orchha boasts several palaces, a sprawling fort
complex, detailed frescos and massive temples that are akin to citadels. Our favourite by far was the
Laxmi Temple, a testament to the vision of Vir Sing Deo one of the most illustrious of the Orchha
Rajas. Built on a square plan with a central dome, this old temple, now a monument, is filled with
murals depicting the great epics, battle scenes and clashes between gods and demons brought alive
with evocative natural dyes that have stood the test of time marvellously.

all of these monuments together offer a glimpse into a unique side of Indian history and a dynasty that prospered for several centuries in this region

Raja Deo also built the perfectly symmetrical Jehangir Mahal in red and yellow sandstone with a
seamless blend of Hindu and Islamic motifs, perhaps one of the most stunning palaces in the
country. It was a gift to Jehangir (who visited only for a night!), complete with expansive views of
the Betwa flowing below and 120 rooms. While only the structure remains, the palace is open to the
public and is a part of the other ticketed monuments within the fort complex.

unlike other temple towns, Orchha has a very unique story and houses the only Ram Raja temple in the world

The towering Chatarbhuj Temple is another must-visit. You’re rewarded with wonderful views of
Raja Mahal, the town and the surrounding areas. All of these monuments together offer a glimpse
into a unique side of Indian history and a dynasty that prospered for several centuries in this region.

The Jehangir Mahal in Orchha, built by Bir Singh Deo for Jehangir, who only occupied it only for a night! • Image Credit: Hoshner Reporter

Cycle along the Betwa

With a river running through town, there’s plenty of adventure to be had. Rafting, picnics, and fabulous sunsets! The northern bank is home to the Orchha Wildlife Sanctuary, which also has cycling tracks in designated zones. While the wildlife sanctuary is small compared to Kanha and Bandavgarh, it is especially suited for bird watching, and plays host to many migratory river birds. The sanctuary also offers treks and hikes, and we suggest winding up any activity by sunset along the riverside – the views are worth it. 

Soak in the spiritual vibes

Unlike other temple towns, Orchha has a very unique story and houses the only Ram Raja temple in the world, from a time when Lord Ram became (and is still considered) the King of Orchha. There is an interesting story attached to this, which is best heard from a local when visiting. You’ll be forgiven for thinking that the temple looks more like a palace than a typical Hindu place of worship, because it is one. It was the Queen’s Palace and bears resemblance to the other monuments in the fort complex. Today a daily guard of honour takes place and Ram Raja is always offered the first invitation to weddings in town, as one would to a king, and also to seek his blessings.

Traditional weaving in Chanderi, where you can get a gorgeous silk sari for a bargain. • Image Credit: Hoshner Reporter

Witness the beauty of the Chanderi Silk

A short three-hour drive from Orchha, Chanderi is home to the famous (eponymous) sari. Chanderi itself is full of crumbling monuments, a fort perched high above the town, caves and other pieces of history that can be explored over a couple of days. However, if time is of essence we suggest a day trip to visit the old town and Chanderiyaan, a weavers’ cooperative set up to showcase the beauty of the delicate warp and weft of the sari making process.

in the early hours when the soft cool mist is punctuated by domes and spires, Orchha looks straight out of a fairytale.

The collective is located within Raja Mahal, an iconic structure and potentially one of the most stimulating places to work in. The methodical khat-khat of the wooden loom fills the old palace, artisans busy at work, using traditional methods to make the sari. Each piece takes about a week to complete, and there’s a shop on the premises where visitors can make purchases, and we highly recommend that you do!  

 

The spires of Orchha from seen from Ganj • Image Credit: Hoshner Reporter

Eat and stay local

While the MPTDC run Sheesh Mahal offers charming old world accommodation and the chance to live in a palace within the fort complex, also check out Ganj, a small village just outside town. Primarily a lower caste village, with the assistance of a local NGO – Friends of Orccha – many of the homes now offer basic homestays, bringing them economic opportunities and a certain level of dignity and confidence. Even if you don’t stay, we recommend a meal with a family that allows you a small peek into the lives of the locals in the region, stories and some fantastic local homemade Bundeli dishes. 

It doesn’t hurt that Ganj is located on a small hill set above the main town and affords some of the best views of Orccha, especially in the early hours when the soft cool mist is punctuated by domes and spires, straight out of a fairytale.


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