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Debangana Sen Apr 07 2014

Which are the various things to do in Orchha?

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Dotted with cenotaphs, Orchha is an unusual yet quite interesting destination to explore. Here is a list of things to do in Orchha while you are in this city full of palaces and temples.

Orchha

Lost in the 18th century to dense forest and the mighty River Betwa, Orchha has now been defrosted for tourist consumption. Incidentally, it was meant to be an island fort but fate had other plans for it, and it wasn’t long before it turned into a palace-city.



Orchha (by gromanuk)


The Fort-Palace Tour

Raja Mahal

The oldest building in Orchha is the fort-palace of Raja Mahal whose construction was started by Rudra Pratap. It was completed in 1545 by his successor, Bharat Chand, after Rudra Pratap was killed while wrestling a tiger. Today, it is one of the most popular places to visit in Orcha. The entrance to the fort is over a granite bridge, through a 16th-century door, to the fort-palace, Raja Mahal. The mahal, a rather serious and self-contained structure, houses two rectangular courtyards. The plan of the courtyards, according to some historians, follows the ancient Indian concept of the mandapa (or “secret cosmos”). One of the courtyards has a dancing platform and a fountain.



Raja Palace (by marinfinito)

Surrounded by royal quarters and an assembly hall for private audience, the Diwan-i-Khas, it boasts of a no-nonsense utility. Inside, however, the rooms burst into riveting images and colours. Though much faded now, the Diwan-i-Khas ceiling can be admired for its Persian carpet-like motifs and the queen’s chamber for mythological subjects such as Bhima fighting the Kauravas and a palaeolithic bird flying with six elephants!

Jahangir Mahal

Up ahead from the Raja Mahal stands the Jahangir Mahal, built in the 17th century by Raja Bir Singh Deo. The palace was named after the Mughal Emperor Jahangir, with whom Bir Singh shared some anxious years before either of them ascended their thrones and Jahangir was still Salim.




Jahangir Mahal (by Saad.Akhtar)

The palace is an impressive structure. Heavy yet light, climbing three storeys high with apartments topped with domes and hanging balconies, it’s a fetching mix of Indo-Islamic architecture. Note the two elephants gracing its eastern entrance and the crouching male sculptures on the canopied kiosks gracing the roof. The last, according to some, represent images of the architects or their patron gods. Exploring this mahal is definitely one of the best things to do in Orchha while you are here.


Rai Parveen Mahal


The last palace in the series is the Rai Parveen Mahal, just below the Jahangir Palace. Make your way over there by stepping down the hill beside the royal hammam and unth khana, the camel stables. The mahal is a simple two-storeyed structure with an octagonal Mughal garden on one side. Inside, on the second floor, look for the painting of Bir Singh’s favourite courtesan, who later became a queen.



Rai Parveen Mahal (from the official website of luxuryholidaysofindia)

The Temples’ Tour

Beyond the palaces, one can make out the beckoning shikhars (rising tower) of four temples lying in the middle of the fields. A kilometre-long hike will bring you to the closest one, Shiv Mandir. A short distance away, across a wheat field stands the Panchmukhi Temple complex, where three temples have been converted into living quarters by the villagers. Next comes Radhika Vihari, which doubles up as granary, and then finally Van Vasi Ram Mandir, with an attached but deserted ashram. Further your exploration by checking out other temples in Orchha.


Ram Raja Temple

The Ram Raja Temple is unusual for the reason that its resident is worshipped as king and the temple is not a temple, but a palace. According to a legend, Madhukar Shah brought an idol of Rama from Varanasi in the 16th century and installed it in his palace while he waited for the Chaturbhuj Temple to be completed. The king did not bargain for the god’s caprices, however. The idol refused to move from its palatial home and thus the palace was turned into a temple.



Ram Raja Temple (by Yann)

Chaturbhuj Temple

Entering the Chaturbhuj Temple is akin to entering a European cathedral. Everything, from its vaulted roof to the massive doors and the large hall, reinforces the impression. For an adventurous climb, try the stairway to the top of the temple, from where you can view the entire city.



Chaturbhuj Temple (by Dmitry Shakin)


Lakshmi Narayan Temple


A kilometre away from the Chaturbhuj lies the Lakshmi Narayan Temple. Paintings on its walls and ceilings reflect day-today life, besides mythological themes. It includes 16th-, 17th- and 18th-century painting styles patronized by various Bundela rulers.




Laxmi Narayan Temple (by Vinod Shenoy)


Royal Cenotaphs

On the riverbank, south of the Chaturbhuj Temple, stand the royal cenotaphs. Here you can admire the carved marble portrait of Madhukar Shah and the crumbling remains of Bir Singh’s cenotaph. The best view of them can be had from the other side of the river, provided you don’t mind skipping over boulders.

Rafting on the Betwa

For a close interaction with the inviting Betwa, try rafting at Orchha. Madhya Pradesh Tourism organizes two river safaris at Orchha. Beginning from the scenic Kanchana Ghat, the 90-minutes of adventurous ride culminates at Shiv Ghat and goes up to Note Ghat. The raft accommodates a maximum of six people. Monsoon (July-August), when the river is in spate, is the best time to raft; there might not be enough water in some summer and winter months.



Rafting at Betwa (from the official website of orchha.wordpress.com)

These were some of the things to do in Orchha. For more information, check out the Orchha Travel Guide. Feel free to add more information as a comment in case you have any. The Indian Railway has provided several superfast trains to these international destinations. Also, check the PNR status of your ticket on different websites and portals, whenever there is the need.

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