Gwalior to Orccha is about 117 km. What should have been a fairly easy journey turned out to be a backbreaking 5 hours over some truly horrible roads (if you can call them that). The kids even started feeling puky so I asked them both to close their eyes. We were in an Innova so Y was able to stretch out on the backseat and sleep. Ads also managed to get some rest while I kept a plastic bag handy to catch any projectiles that the kids might eject. At the end of it we were dying to get out of the car and stop being hurtled from one end of the vehicle to another. We made two stops, at Datia and Jhansi. Wiki describes the 17th century palace of Bir Singh Deo at Datia as one of the finest examples of Hindu domestic architecture available in Northern India. We were unable to walk past the first/second floor, stymied by a huge beehive!
Clearly, the ASI or INTACH (or similar bodies if there are any) need to get more involved in preserving and maintaining these beautiful monuments! Right now, its the State Monuments Authority at Bhopal who is overseeing the care and upkeep of some of these places. The Jhansi Fort was quite interesting, I believe. Y fell asleep in the car so I stayed behind while S and Ads explored the fort.
We reached Orccha around 4 pm, pretty tired. I’d selected the hotel based on its location and the photos on its website. The river Betwa flows right past the hotel, which has been constructed by the Maharaja of Tikamgarh (about 100 km away and one of the capitals of the erstwhile Bundelkhand region). The resort was designed in a very traditional manner, all arches and colour and traditional murals on the walls and ceilings, no TVs and intercoms in the room etc etc. Our room had a small patio which directly overlooked the river – it was perfect! All you had to do was to walk down to the rocky ‘beach’ to reach the riverbank. It was a very idyllic setting and all it needed to make it even more perfect was a sunset, which unfortunately we could not view from that spot.
We did however wake up early enough next morning to view the sunrise. The sun arose right over the trees fringing the river and we got a few picture-postcard shots of birds flying high against the backdrop of an orange orb :)
What a pretty little town Orccha is, all but forgotten and ignored in the present time. It’s glory days were back in the 12th -14thcenturies when it rose to become the capital of Bundelkhand. I hadn’t even heard of it a couple of months ago, yet it was overrun by American tourists with some Europeans thrown it. Have you noticed how in India the tourists are all either the young backpackers on a thin budget or else the empty-nesters with fat wallets? India is not a place for the in-betweens! I vividly remember the young American family at the Taj Mahal last August – parents with 2 very young kids, probably the same age as mine. Remember the weather this part of the country in August is maddening with the high levels of humidity. The father was soaked in sweat and trying to manage 2 cranky kids and fobbing off pesky vendors, photographers and general hangers-on while his wife was gamely trying to make sense of what the guide was saying. I felt intensely sorry for them especially as my own son was in the middle of a humungous tantrum at that time.
Anyway, I digress....back to Orccha. First we visited the Jahangir Mahal which was built by the King to extend the hand of friendship to the Mughals. It took 22 years to build yet Jahangir stayed there only for 1 night, promising to return but never managed to. The Mahal is a very interesting fusion of Hindu and Muslim architecture. For example in the photo below, the dome on the left is clearly simple and Islamic whereas the one on the right (an inverted lotus) is plainly a typical example of Hindu architecture.
Every doorway, every stairway, really every bit of every room was so intricately carved in sandstone!
Orccha is extremely green and the view from the palace is simply beautiful, with a thick band of blue-silver where the Betwa winds its way across the plain. I could imagine how much more enticing the view must have been even just a hundred years ago with no ugly houses, electricity pylons and cellphone towers to distract the eye.
The Raja Mahal had some eye-catching murals on its walls and ceilings but the building itself was in a sad sad state of disrepair. Extremely dark and dingy with no signage, it made me sick to see many murals defaced by ignorant and uncaring people.
Our last stop was the Chhatris or cenotaphs that seem to define Orccha. You see them from any vantage point. The resting places of the kings of Orccha could not be more scenic, placed as they are on the banks of the Betwa. The neat and well-laid out gardens provide a dignified setting to the skilfully carved Chhatris. We bid adieu to our guide there as we wanted to linger and savour the quiet and beauty of the place. Later in the evening, we braved the narrow bridge full of honking and speeding vehicles, our hearts in our mouths as we walked across the bridge with no railing to provide safety from the rushing river beneath us. Or destination was the vantage point to see the sun setting over the Chhatris. It was well worth the effort although Ads kept panicking every time a vehicle passed us and I was sure one of us was going to get swept away in the river with all the tension he was inducing!
So ended our trip to Orchha, which was less about the sights than about discovering a little-known Indian gem at a leisurely pace. Next up – Khajuraho!