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Monsoon Magic at Orchha

Monsoon Magic at Orchha
Highlights

The river Betwa can be seen almost from any place in Orchha but no point boasts of a better view than the Raj Mahal. The view becomes even more...

The river Betwa can be seen almost from any place in Orchha but no point boasts of a better view than the Raj Mahal. The view becomes even more magical during the monsoons when the complete area turns verdant green

Sriparna Saha

Remember the song “Kata Kata” in the Abhishek Bachchan - Aishwarya Rai starrer “Raavan” in which a large crowd of brightly-dressed wedding guests are shown singing and dancing on a bridge with chattris (cenotaphs) dramatically rising in the background? Ever since seeing the movie, the place has been playing on my mind and one weekend we set out for Orchha, a sleepy medieval town on the banks of the river Betwa.

The road from Jhansi was not as smooth as expected, partly because of the rains. But the discomfort during the journey was quickly compensated by the picturesque scenery all along the way –temples and ruins of tombs sprouting amidst the gorgeous greenery.

Orchha was founded in early 16th century by the Bundela chieftains. Lovingly girdled by the Betwa river, the place is breathtakingly rich in culture and architecture. The main square of the little town, where the buses from Jhansi download fresh arrivals and depart with the waiting mass is a hotbed of activity- fruit sellers lining the main road; chai vendors doing brisk business in the background; gathered ladies in gay coloured synthetic saris chatting amongst themselves; bidi-smoking sadhus (holy men) seated under trees holding lively debates and doubling up as astrologers.

But once one reaches the river bank, much of the present retreats and the remains of a rich past loom large. The twin palaces, Raja Mahal and Jehangir Mahal are a unique blend of Bundela and Mughal architecture. The palace rooftop offers magnificent views of the surroundings- whispering monuments, a gurgling river and the fields beyond. The river Betwa can be seen almost from any place in Orchha but no point boasts of a better view than the Raj Mahal. The view becomes even more magical during the monsoons when the complete area turns verdant green.

The Raja Mahal is a typical royal family abode adorned with beautiful paintings on the ceiling and murals on the walls. The Jehangir Mahal too has an interesting story. Built in honour of the Mughal emperor Jehangir, it took 22 years to be built and consists of 236 rooms. However it was occupied only for a night when Jehangir visited Orchha at the invitation of the Bundela king. The emperor was so impressed with the palace that he promised sovereignty to his host, as long as he reigned over Delhi.

Orchha's commanding and gothic temples, towering structures of stone with high-vaulted ceilings are more than 500 years and still in use even today. The Chaturbhuj temple built at the summit of a hill on a massive stone platform commands a panoramic view. The Raja Ram temple is the only temple in the world where Ram is worshipped as a king, and not as a God. The interesting fact is that Orchha has not one, but two Ram temples and a legend connecting the both.

After the first Ram temple was constructed in the 15th century, the queen had a divine dream instructing her to travel to Ayodhya to pick up the statue of Ram. She did so to and received the statue from a holy man who told her that the temple would have to be built at the very spot at Orchha wherever she first put down the statue. The queen agreed and by coincidence, after returning to Orchha she placed the statue right on the plot adjacent to the already-built Ram temple. That explains the existence of the two adjacent Ram temples at the place.

Picturesquely poised on the banks of the river Betwa, the chattris (cenotaphs built in memory of Bundelkhand's former kings) too have a mesmerising appeal. One can easily spend hours here, just watching the waters flow. During night-time the reflection of these illuminated chattris in the water forms an extremely incredible backdrop.

We visited Orcha during the monsoons. A bath in the river was one of the most enjoyable features of the trip. The Betwa an otherwise seasonal river is a changed entity during the rains, flowing ferociously and producing a thundering sound that can be heard from a distance. The current was quite strong and we had to hold each other hands to resist the force of the water.

Orcha has something for everyone- temples for the faithful, an array of outdoor activities for the adventure seekers, amazing monuments for the lovers of history and a cocktail of everything at extremely affordable prices for the foreigners. Furthermore in a small place like Orchha, it is easy to make the transition from observer to participant and really connect with the locals, get invited into their homes for a peek into their unique customs and culture.

From the minute you enter Orchha, you will encounter history at every step. Stay anywhere and you are bound to sight some monument or the other either from you room or from the roof top. Though the place can be seen from end to end in just half a day, the captivating ambience and flavours of a bygone era invites one to look closer and linger.

Fast Facts

Location: Madhya Pradesh
Convenient Railhead: Jhansi (14 kms). The best option is the 12707 Sampark Kranti Express departing from Hyderabad in the evening and reaching Jhansi next day at around noon. Outside Jhansi railway station, 6- seater shuttle autos (Vikrams) ply to Orchha from dawn to dusk.

Stay: Bundelkhand Riverside Resort (http://www.bundelkhandriverside.com ) on the banks of the river Betwa offers a memorable stay. One can also experience life with a local family at only INR 500 per person per day( www.orchha.org ).
Food: In the market place, there are many small restaurants serving inexpensive Indian, Asian and assorted "Western" cuisine. The home stay provides home-cooked meals at very reasonable rates.

Activities: Other than visiting the monuments, one can go for cycling sessions around the place. Best time of the year: Round the year, except summer. Monsoon turns the area into a veritable green paradise. Travel Tips: Bathing in Betwa river is quite safe and is highly recommended.

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