Orchha: the erstwhile capital of Bundelkhand

India is a country of colors. No matter where you go, you are bound to discover a new color – a sketch of the forgotten past with strokes of victories coupled with dabs of eloquent art and architecture.

At a distance of 485 kms. from Delhi, between the heroic Jhansi & monumental Khajuraho, lies a place that’s bathed in tones of cinnamon brown & speaks aloud the stories from the past – the medieval Orchha.

Orchha, meaning ‘hidden’, is a place that hasn’t much moved on from the time king Rudra Pratap Singh founded it in 1501 A.D. Shrouded with thick forests, the place never attracted much limelight and thus was a brilliant choice for the capital of Bundelkhand region. Amidst the palaces, forts & temples, Orchha grew for a while and then retired to silence, preferring to live in the glory of past instead of moving on with the rest of the world. In spite of no special restoration efforts, the proud Orchha fort shows no major signs of wear & tear. The fort and the place have held on to the grandiose life that the erstwhile capital saw centuries ago. The place refuses to move on.

Raja Mahal, Orchha fort complex @Life on Weekends
Raja Mahal, Orchha fort complex @Life on Weekends

Natives of Orchha: 

Betel stained teeth, unkempt hair, untucked cotton shirts over creased trousers & signature bata sandals (with hooks and loops), our guide in Orchha fort looked exactly like the receptionist from Rajmahal Hotel (where we stayed in Orchha), who in-turn was the mirror image of the cab driver who dropped us at the hotel. Another thing that they all shared was fluent (albeit erroneous) English speaking skills and the love for Orchha.

When I enquired about the flow of tourism that Orchha receives, my guide said,

“It’s not much, madam. We still have to look for other sources of income.”

“Orchha has really become popular now?”, I asked.

“Orchha has been popular since 16th century. It’s sad that Indians forgot about it. We do get many people from China, America and other countries every year.”

“They must come here after visiting Khajuraho. Right?”

“Oh, yes madam. Everyone in Khajuraho recommends Orchha. And they all come here and enjoy the place. But things are changing. Now, even people like you are coming to visit Orchha. More awareness. Please ask your friends to come here too, madam.”

And with that, he walked, with a purposeful gait, towards the Orchha fort. Just before the entrance, he stopped, looked at us and loudly declared:

“Orchha, meaning hidden, was the capital of Bundelkhand, but today it’s a small place with hardly 10,000 people. Let me first take you through the popular Raja Mahal and then we will see Sheesh Mahal & Jahangir Mahal.”

Jahangir Mahal, Orchha fort complex @Life on Weekends
Jahangir Mahal, Orchha fort complex @Life on Weekends

Orchha fort complex: Raja Mahal, Sheesh Mahal & Jahangir Mahal 

In the middle of this medieval town, where you get only ‘Aquafina’ for mineral water, stands a gigantic, avoided, but proud Orchha complex with magnificent architecture – one of its kind.

Unlike the hillforts of Rajasthan, the watch forts of Goa, the acoustic marvels of Hyderabad and ruins of Kerala forts, the Orchha fort complex is a medley of murals, latticed windows, cenotaphs, balconies and domed roofs – with big rectangualar spaces in between. The small gates and narrow gateways suddenly open into vast spaces where you are bound to look around and marvel at the ornamented walls against & under the azure backdrop.

Raja Mahal:

A very simple yet elaborate architecture – Raja Mahal was constructed with an unpretentious outer design arousing no curiosity about the inside. But as you enter the arcaded doors and walk through the narrow passages, you discover the ornamented walls, the beautiful murals with natural colors and the latticed framework.

Orchha fort complex @Life on Weekends
Orchha fort complex @Life on Weekends
Murals in Raja Mahal, Orchha fort complex @Life on Weekends
Murals in Raja Mahal, Orchha fort complex @Life on Weekends

A part of Raja Mahal is dedicated to Ram Raja Mandir where Lord Rama is worshipped as a King – the one and only place across the world.

Raja Mahal, Orchha fort complex @Life on Weekends
Raja Mahal, Orchha fort complex @Life on Weekends

Sheesh Mahal:

Sheesh Mahal sits pretty between Raja Mahal on one side and Jahangir Mahal on the other side. Once constructed to host the royalty, the place has now been converted to a hotel. The interiors of the Mahal are beautifully designed with high ceilings. From the upper floors of the hotel, you can enjoy the panoramic views of the town.

Sheesh Mahal, Orchha fort complex @Life on Weekends
Sheesh Mahal, Orchha fort complex @Life on Weekends

Jahangir Mahal:

Constructed to host emperor Jahangir (son of mighty Akbar), Jahangir Mahal is an exemplary fusion of Indian and Mughal architecture.

Jahangir Mahal, Orchha fort complex @Life on Weekends
Jahangir Mahal, Orchha fort complex @Life on Weekends

The entrance to the Mahal is ordinary that opens into a square courtyard with amazing wall work. Using the steep staircase, you can climb up the floors of the Mahal and enjoy the scenery flanked by the small and big domes of the Mahal.

The whole place beams around evening with Sunlight funneling through the latticed windows, the open balconies and the arcaded gates.

Jahangir Mahal, Orchha fort complex @Life on Weekends
Jahangir Mahal, Orchha fort complex @Life on Weekends

By the river Betwa:

Orchha is situated on the banks of the river Betwa – spotless and clean. Betwa is one of the cleanest rivers of India. It could be the less tourism that Orchha attracts or the sparse populace of Orchha – the river is unblemished & unsullied. 

Betwa river, Orchha @Life on Weekends
Betwa river, Orchha @Life on Weekends

Other tourist attractions of Orchha:

Along with Orchha fort complex, one must visit the Chattris (Cenotaphs) by the river Betwa. Other tourist attractions are:

  1. Ram Raja Mandir (temple)
  2. Lakshmi Temple
  3. Lakshmi Narayan Temple
Chhatris, Orchha @Life on Weekends
Chhatris, Orchha @Life on Weekends

Travel Trivia:

Orchha can be clubbed with a trip to Gwalior or Khajuraho.

Stay:  INR 3k (non-peak season)/ INR 5k (peak season) per day in any decent hotel. Orchha also has homestays available. If you are willing to explore the rural side of India, please go for it.

Tickets and other charges (Orchha fort): INR 10 for Indians & INR 250 for foreign nationals. Videography and Camera charges extra.

Guide services- INR 500.

Connectivity: the nearest airport is Khajuraho (at a distance of 173kms.) ; nearest railway station is Jhansi. One can take an autorickshaw/ cab from there.

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