Grilled and ready to be served- we were like mobile meat walking at 118°F under the brutal heat, zombified and mutated by the royal sun. I am starting this article with an introduction to ORCHHA’S weather because it wasn’t pleasant in the month of September, and because weather is a matter of utmost importance while traveling anywhere in India. [Best time to visit ORCHHA, heads down- November to March]
Take for example Taj Mahal, if you choose a foggy winter morning in January to visit the love emblem, you’ve got yourself fragmentary pictures of the monument peeping in the background. And mind you my friend- These damn pictures hold the key to most of your old age happiness and your young age glory.
Coming back to ORCHHA, its a beloved hamlet of (a handful of) brave Bundela descendants living amidst a conglomeration of Castles and Cenotaphs. Having survived the wrath of various pre- Independence conspiracies that ingrained the borders and paved enmity between kingdoms and inhabitants, ORCHHA was a small princely state on the border of Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh, ruled by fierce Bundela chieftains, during British Raj.
Like a worn-out Lion,
resting on the lap of wilderness,
and roaring at the River flowing by,
Sweet are the graveyards of History,
marking the realms and twining the tales
From the shadows of ruins soaring high.
Located in the state of Madhya Pradesh and secured on the banks of River Betwa, ORCHHA was founded by Raja Rudra Pratap in 16th century. Stories about his extreme courage and valor have been sung by locals from time immemorial. It is believed that he was martyred, while single handedly rescuing an injured cow from a ferocious tiger. *WOW okay* :O
ORCHHA can be reached by road(private car) and Train from Delhi, although if you’re a Flight guy, the nearest airport will be Gwalior, which is again 130KMS from ORCHHA. We took the best and most recommended way i.e, the Train, at 6AM in the morning and reached Jhansi by 11AM. From Jhansi we booked a private car and reached ORCHHA, which is at a distance of 15KMS from there, in another 45 minutes.
Not to down play the fact that I am not at my best behavior under the torture of Sun- but the moment I laid my eyes at the fort, I just couldn’t help but fall in love with ORCHHA – the burning terracotta, the clear white sky, the strewn dried cobblestones settled on Betwa and the noteworthy local legend. The gigantic fort city is skillfully crafted by artisans and divided into The Raja Mahal, (the King’s Palace), The Jahangir Mahal, built to honor the Mughal empire Jahangir, The Raja Ram temple, The Chatarbhuj Temple, The royal Cenotaphs of Bundela rulers, and a trifling sum of architectural ruins spread around the fort. We spent 5 hours in the fort that day, bruised and tanned, before heading back to the army quarters in Jhansi where we were putting up.
Next morning, I woke up more inspired than ever, cant stress more on whether it was the wine or the books. So I cleaned up and took off with the camera, learned a few phrases in native Bundelkhandi from local shopkeepers, like “Kai Kahuro”, translation- Hi, how are you? And “Kai Datta, kitte jaare?” translation- Hi brother, where are you going?, bought a few bangles and peacock earrings from handicraft sellers and dined at a traditional Bundelkhandi restaurant. Soon the day retired and I managed to capture the colors of fading sun on the shallow Betwa, with the cenotaphs rising in the backdrop.
Moving on to another colossal monument rising from the backyard of much celebrated Raja Ram Temple, was Chatarbhuj Temple. Succumbed to darkness as the sun sets, the temple stands there in shame, without the very God it was so artistically built for.
Legend has it, that the Queen of ORCHHA Rani Ganeshi Bai was a devotee of Lord Rama. She ordered the best artisans to built a temple for her beloved God and left on a pilgrimage to Ayodhya(the birth place of God Rama) to fetch his Idol.
Meanwhile, following her orders, a huge temple structure was made, right in front of the Palace. It was instructed to the Queen, that she must not keep the Idol anywhere but at the place of its installation, or else, it could not be moved. The Queen returned to ORCHHA, worn-out and drowsy and she slept in her palace, accidentally keeping the Idol of Rama in her Palace Kitchen.
While hefty preparation were made to move the Idol to the newly constructed Chatarbhuj Temple, the Idol for one, refused to move at all. When no one could take the Idol of Rama to the temple, the Queen had to convert her Palace kitchen into a temple, giving birth to the tradition of praising God Rama as a King. Locals still praise God Rama as the King of ORCHHA and the temple(palace) came to be known as Raja Rama Temple.
I picked a string puppet and “Damroo”, from the shops outside the temple and drove myself back to Jhansi. It was a long thoughtful drive and I couldn’t be more excited about traveling to Khajuraho soon. For there’s a thing about art, it calls for more, and rules you like an old wine rules your senses. The temples and forts are the purest and most profound form of art ever was and god forbid, if I had to leave any of them, unseen and unexplored before I die.