{ Travel Tales } : Orchha, Madhya Pradesh

By 06:36 Tuesday, 31 March 2015 , , , ,

An account of my recent college trip to the town of Orchha in Madhya Pradesh. I was initially very skeptical about the place but wasn't disappointed once I got to know it better:

-About Orchha-

Orchha is about 12 hours away from Delhi by road, and the nearest railway station is Jhansi which is 18 km from Orchha, in case you prefer a train. It is situated on the banks of river Betwa and isn't very populated. The village is small enough that you can reach almost everywhere by walking. It thrives on tourism (and small-scale farming), thanks to the architectural beauty of the town. The Bundela Rajput chieftain, Rudra Pratap, founded the city in the 16th century. 'Orchha' literally means 'hidden' and rightly so, as it is still very much untouched by urbanization and the architectural marvels have managed to retain their magnificence throughout centuries.

-About Betwa Retreat-

We had a blast throughout our bus journey which took longer (16 tiring hours to be precise) than it should have, thanks to the carelessness of our driver. We reached Orchha in the afternoon around 2 pm and checked into Betwa Retreat, a riverside resort which is the most preferred one in Orchha. We stayed in the resort's cozy Swiss tents on quad-sharing basis. The tents are equipped with the basic facilities- a refrigerator, television, dressing room and a dining corner and are fairly comfortable for stay. The Resort has a decent pool where I and my college mates had the best time ever as we organised a little pool party of our own- yes, with music and everything! 

The Restaurant at the resort serves good North Indian food which is way better than what is served in the eateries nearby. It has both indoor as well as outdoor seating. The beautiful garden areas with swings and flowers are perfect for relaxing in the sun. The garden also has a staircase leading to what looks like the remains of a historical structure, which makes for a good photography spot. The staff is quite welcoming and hospitable. We requested for bonfire and folk show for our second night that they readily agreed for. All in all, I enjoyed my entire stay at Betwa Retreat and would definitely recommend it.


Orchha is full of big and small forts and complexes that are a definite must-visit. The historical town gets its grandeur from a unique mix of Mughal and Rajputana architectural sensibilities that I observed in its tombs and buildings. Here's my list of must-visit places in Orchha:

Orchha Fort Complex
The main attraction of Orchha is this widely spanning fort complex that was home to Orchha's rulers in its imperial years. It's beauty lies in its discoloured walls that have stood the test of time. The Orchha Fort has aged beautifully and proves to be a lesson in Indian history if one takes a little interest. My absolute favourite moment while exploring the complex was watching the sunset from one of the many jharoka's at the exteriors of Fort. One can practically see the entire town from the top. It has been divided into three main structures:

Raja Mahal- Raja Mahal is the first stop you'd make on entering the Fort. It houses the sheesh mahal and is also the venue for the light and sound show that takes place every evening in English as well as in Hindi. It is a simple play of beautiful coloured lights and shadows and makes use of the objects in the complex while telling the story of the Bundelas. 

Jehangir Mahal- This one is my favourite one in the complex mainly for its breathtaking views, intricate carvings and spacious verandahs at every other step. It awakened the explorer in me as I passed its several dungeon-like staircases and maze-like rooms.

Rai Praveen Mahal- It was constructed for the popular poetess and singer of the royal court at Orchha during the time of Raja Indramani. The tales of her breathtaking beauty reached Emperor Akbar and she was sent to Delhi. However, her loyalty and love for Indramani made Akbar send her back to Orchha. Yes, I paid attention during the light and sound show.

Raja Ram Temple
This is the most important temple for the locals of Orchha presided by the deity of Lord Ram. Also known as the Orchha temple, the complex originally served as a palace for the then ruler Madhukar Shah Ju Dev (1554 to 1592), a devotee of Lord Krishna while the loyalties of his wife, Queen Ganesh Kunwari lied with Lord Rama. The story goes that after a disagreement with the King, the queen set out on a difficult journey to Ayodhaya to prove her devotion to the king. 

Pleased by her prayers alongside river Sarayu, Lord Ram appeared in a form of baby and agreed to go with her on the condition that he will be the king of Orchha and the first place she seats him will be his final place of stay and will be famous by the name of Ramraj. On returning, the queen placed him in the palace for the night. Next morning, when she tried to take the diety to the Chaturbhuj Temple (which the queen had got constructed for this very purpose over the years), Lord Ram stuck to his condition and did not move. Hence, the palace became the Raja Ram temple. Read the full story here.

Chaturbhuj Temple
The famous Chaturbhuj Temple gets its name from its four 'Bhuj' or pillars that stand at each corner of the temple (only 3 remain now). Originally made for the diety that presides in the Raja Ram temple, it is constructed on a stone platform that can be reached by climbing a long flight of stairs. Inside the temple, plain brown walls support the beautifully carved high ceilings. You can reach at the very top of the temple by climbing one steep staircase after another. The temple gives a breathtaking view of Orchha.

14 cenotaphs
There are fourteen chhatris along the Kanchan Ghat of the river Betwa, each of which serves as a memorial to the different rulers of Orchha. You can watch the river flowing, walk through the green fields, or pose for the camera on huge rocks and wooden logs, like I did. A beautifully maintained garden is situated right in the middle of the complex. Unfortunately, it was closed during the time I visited the cenotaphs but I did manage to have a glimpse after a little bit of wall climbing. The chhatris have stunning domes built in honour of the dead ancestors of the Bundela rulers.

Jhansi Fort
On our way back to Delhi, we made a quick stop at the famous Jhansi Fort, which unlike the Orchha Fort, had no similarities to the Rajput architecture. Situated on the Bangira hilltop, the fort spans across 15 acres. It is only a half an hour drive away from Orchha so you must include it in your travel itinerary. Jhansi is definitely more urbanized than Orchha with malls and many popular restaurant chains. Maybe it was just me, but after seeing the mesmerizing  forts of Orchha, this one failed to make an impact on me.


The local street food of Orchha like vada pao, pakoras and chaats are a must have. I personally don't recommend any local restaurant but yes, there are a lot of options, given the small size of the town. The variety of cuisines is unbelievable, and that's because Orchha attracts a lots of foreign tourists. Italian, Chinese, Mexican, Mediterranean, name it and you shall have it. There are many sweet shops near the Raja Ram temple that you can try. I enjoyed food at Betwa Retreat more than I did at the local cafes.


There are many souvenir shops selling everything, right from the shawls of Kashmir to the Rajasthani tribal jewellery, eastern Budhhist artefacts to the South Indian style brass figures of Indian gods. Artificial jewellery and hippie clothing hangs at every next shop.  Since I went around the time of Holi, the streets were full of dry colours and sindoor. The best shops for jewellery and artefacts are inside the Chaturbhuj temple complex. However, there's is nothing that you can't find in Delhi.

-Parting wisdom-

Like always, I've got some tips for you. Take note of these little but important things, okay?

#1. The best time to visit Orchha is October to March. Winters are way more pleasant than the summers.

#2. Even if you are a fearless foodie, I suggest you stick to simple Indian food while ordering at the cafes and eateries- no matter how good the wood-fired pizzas, quesadillas, nachos etcetra might sound. Don't say I didn't warn ya.

#3. There are no wine and beer shops in Orchha. The nearest one is 8 km away from the town. Carry your own booze if it means too much to you on a holiday.

#4. Climbing your way to the top through the steep staircases at Chaturbhuj might sound adventurous, but it's risky and there isn't any light. Wear sturdy sports shoes and fuss-free clothing while visiting the temple if you wish to enjoy the view from the top.

#5. Carry light woollens as evenings tend to get a little chilly.

#6. The forts and temples have a fixed opening and closing time. Do take note of the timings and set your itinerary accordingly. I didn't and missed out on the Raja Mahal.

#7. Beware of monkeys at the Jhansi Fort. There are too many of them. You just can't win.

#8. Places like Orchha have a lot to offer and they need your love. It may be an unconventional place for holidaying but do give it a chance.

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