Orchha is a beautiful village packed with superb palaces and forts. It is located about 20 kilometres south east of neighbour city Jhansi. This little lovely town located by the river is the perfect place to break your journey if you are coming from Rajasthan and heading to the Khajuraho ruins or Varanasi.
Anyway we didn’t find any passengers on the road to Orchha and after 20-25 minutes we arrived to the town. My Rough Guide stated that the fare was 10 rupees, I gave the driver 30 rupees but he demanded 50 rupees. If I was still a ‘green’ tourist I would have given him the rest of the money, but by now , it was my 3rd week in India and I thought I didn’t have to go through the ritual of agreeing the price before you get on any wheeled vehicle. It was the wrong assumption.
All the Americans were gone one by one by 10.00 (it really shocked me as it was New Year Eve and in Spain most youngsters will party well after 10.00, a.m. that’s it) but this was Orchha medieval town and not Spain so who could blame them for deciding to have an early night.) I ended up the last minutes of the year 2004 with an empty glass between my hands and having a conversation with the Welsh man who have been working in Korea for three years (no time for New Year’s resolutions). It was a very surreal experience to start the New Year sitting in a roof terrace in this little medieval town surrounded by all these people from so many different nationalities but at the same time it was fukcing brilliant.
Orchha is a little jewel tucked away in Northern India. It is outside Jhansi and a very easy stopover. We went there for just a couple of hours and came back miserable that we were unable to spend more time there. The palace is very unusual when compared to other palaces in India as it is one the very few which has both Mughal and Hindu architecture. So it is very interesting to see the use of some animal life form (Hindu) complemeting the beautiful Mughal carvings.
The frescos at the palace are a must see. They are still in fairly good condition and restoration work has commenced on saving them. The colours are beautiful and although not very elaborate, make for a good viewing. There are some very good government guides there and if you can get one from the archaeological society, you will go back with a wealth of information.
One distinct feature which you really have to look out for are the blue tiles that are used all along the upper exterior walls. They are barely visible as most seem to have come off. But the few that are there give an idea of what this palace must have looked like in its glory days.
The best way to get there is to get on a tempo or a bus. A word of advice, agree with the driver the price in advanced. I was dropped after a four and a half hour jumpy bus ride from Khajuraho at the crossroad and got on the first tempo I saw going toward Orchha.
Of the three palaces, Jahangiri Mahal is the most beautiful palace, a beautiful bridge lead you from the old town to the main gate which is franked by stone elephants.
Here you can pay the entrance fee, thirty rupees for all the palaces and temples in Orchha. Persistent local children would auto-invite themselves to be your guide during your visit for a few rupees.
After weeks of paying anything between twenty and forty rupees notes for my auto-rickshaw rides while the locals paid a few rupees. I have nothing against that don’t get me wrong, but if people try to rip you off ten or fifteen times a day for three weeks, you reach a point where enough is enough, and you are not arguing for a few rupees but for your own pride. Anyway after my first encounter with the first local I thought things could not get worse and luckily they didn’t…
The location of the palace is superb, in a natural island between the rivers. The palace is huge in size and you can spend hours exploring all the rooms. The magic of the place is due to the wilderness and lack of restoration. What you see now it is what you probably saw a hundred years ago.
This palace was built for the Mughal king Jehangir by a Hindu king Raja Bir Singh Deo in the 17th century. Thus it is one of the most unique palaces with Mughal and Hindu influences in its architecture.
Today was New Year Eve so I came back to the guesthouse where I met a girl from California. I had a shower and then we went to the bazaar area have dinner with three American friends of her. After dinner we meet a gang of young Israeli, a German girl I met the day before in Khajurao and a Welsh man.
After observing and photographing these local performers, I visited the three enchanting temples of the old town: Ram Raja, Jakshmi Narayan and Chatubhuj. This area was packed with people and not as relaxing as the island tour I did earlier on the day, the fact that it was Saturday afternoon it didn’t help either.
I strongly recommend a walk around the palaces gardens, or should I say forest,
It is interesting to explore the several ruins and the local fauna and flora. During my visit, New Year day the island was empty and managed to see a pair of little owns resting in a tree near the fortified walls. From here, the views of the village and river are marvellous.
After my visit to the palace I stopped to have a quick lunch in a roof terrace restaurant, With 2 days to go back to London I bought two wooden carved crafts and a monkey face carved on a coconut . After that I strolled around the market square where several holy men were playing musical instruments.