Orchha and Khajuraho

#1 Feb 5th, 2016, 23:37
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#1
Orcha : A lost world
Every Journey has a story. Some stories are told while others await to be narrated. On one Sunday morning , I was browsing through the old photographs of my travel through MP- Orcha and Khajuraho , the anecdotes of the place and the people I met then immediately rushed to my mind . I had no other choice but to narrate it.

Orcha caught my attention while reading an article in Sunday times. The vision of an abandoned town , hidden and forgotten was enticing. The chattris ( cenotaphs) testimony of its glorious past , standing unchallenged by the banks of the Betwa river , giving away only the amazing reflections at sunset. The story of poetess Rai Parveen , muse of the Raja , who even captivated the great Mughal emperor- Akbar with her charm . Such folklore of love, betrayal , grandeur are aplenty in Orcha and provides the perfect panacea to the wanderer heart.




I managed some unplanned leaves during Dusshera / Durga Puja period. So I set the ball rolling , by making a rough itinerary first . My entire plan was dependent on the Indian Railways and the whimsical online ticketing system. But I was up for it that time , after few agonizing minutes , I came victorious and managed a tatkal ticket in DELHI- Bhopal- Shatabdi ( Train No 12002). This is the fastest and probably the most comfortable train from Delhi to Jhansi , also it has the distinction of being the first Shatabdi train in the country. But my exit route from Khajuraho ( I also wanted to add Khajuraho for obvious reasons) by KURJ NZM EXPRESS ( TR. NO- 22447) was still in waiting list. With the hope that it will get confirmed, I started my voyage towards the ancient land of the Bundelkhand.

Day1 :
I reached Delhi in the wee hour of the morning and rushed towards New Delhi Rly station . The train was on time and chair cars have comfortable seating with enough leg space. I met many interesting people and had many fascinating conversations with them . The best however, was a Ghost story told to me by a lady who is a lecturer in a private engineering collage. In between our conversation she told – “ Never come back to Jhansi by the same route “. I was intrigued , “ Who so?” . She mysteriously smiled and questioned me back “ Do you believe in Ghosts?” . I shaked my Head ,” No , I don’t” but I do love Ghost stories . She continued in the same tone “ Believe me or not , many Indians lost their lives while the British laid the Railways in this part , it is said that their ghosts still roam these tracks. So never retrace our journey by the same route .” Her voice mixed with the rhythmic beat of the train sounded more ghastly . I looked away as the Jhansi fort came into view. Now I have another secret to explore and that is the undying souls that might roam the ancient ruins of Orcha , I thought.

For my stay , I had contacted Friends of Orchha, an NGO which works with local villagers for homestays. I called Asha , who started this NGO for arranging my pickup from Jhansi station. I reached Orchha around noon , the roads in Jhansi were in bad shape , I was pointed out that it is in UP. Comparatively, MP has made improvement in its roads , the puns on MP roads no longer holds ground.

The family , I stayed with had two rooms made by the NGO’s help . The indian style toilets were on the outside of the room and common for the Guest rooms. The room was basic but the experience of staying with a local family was in itself very rewarding.

I had lunch and as the sun was still very high , I decided to take rest . I was very tired from the journey and sleepless night the previous day and soon fell asleep. I woke up at afternoon and jumped out of bed. I hired a bicycle which was available on rent and started towards the Betwa River Ghat. For a while , It felt good, remembering the boyhood days when we used to ride bicycle to school. But , my joy was short lived , soon I realized the rear tyre was leaking air and it became difficult to climb the uneven roads. I had already reached a point of no return , so finally decided to push forward , cycling the downslope and dragging it to climb upwards. After much delay, I reached the Ghats just in time for the evening ticket.
The chattris under the late afternoon glow







There were vultures resting on top of the Chattris :


Silhouette of a vulture under the setting sun :



At the bank of Betwa , a Hindu sadhu meditating :


I roamed the village till the last hours of dusk , amazed at the beauty of the place.
#2 Feb 6th, 2016, 18:26
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#2
Day 2 : Orcha

I woke up early to catch the sunrise over Betwa. Unfortunately, I had to take the same punctured bicycle as repairing shops were closed yesterday. And began the same routine of cycling and dragging the bike uphill. I was on the lookout for a high vantage point from where I could view the sunrise. Close to the homestay was the Laxmi Narayan Temple located on a hillock. Perfectly suitable for my need.

I climbed up to the temple by a narrow mud road . The entire town was visible from above , the imposing Chaturbhuj temple , the Ram raja temple, the silhouette of chattris far behind in the morning mist . I watched the sunrise above the old ruins and it was a magical sight. This one I would remember for a lifetime.



The one I captured with the sun's flare:



The magnificent Chaturbhuj Temple :



The panaromic view of Chattris ( Cenotaphs)

#3 Feb 6th, 2016, 18:36
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Contd...
I climbed down through a different path and headed towards the Betwa River. The reflections of Chattris on the river bank, the trademark shot of Orcha , was in my mind. For capturing the entire panaroma , I had to go to the opposite bank . But the river crossing had a bridge which was the most scariest I ever encountered. For the Bridge , had no railings and it was wide enough for a bus to pass. So , if you encounter any bus or car coming from the other side , you either need to jump in the river or walk back . It happened to me couple of times , atlast I decided to run the distance with my bi-cycle, too scared even to paddle. On the other side , there was a beautiful jungle road . If anyone had a hired car can explore this forest , seemed very peaceful to me. There was a park on this side of the river , which I needed to enter to go to my possible spot. There was no one at the ticket counter as it was too early in the morning . I looked for someone to guide me but seeing none , I entered the park , not knowing if I was trespassing. Just then , the official came out and asked me what I wanted . I showed him the camera and asked him if I could take photographs there. He allowed me but asked me to take tickets before leaving . I was glad that he allowed me , else I would have returned broken hearted.

The shot I had been thinking about :


Betwa was surprisngly calm and the reflections held still



Only the river can see its glorious past : Orcha




After taking shots to my heart’s fill , I sat there for a while . There was hardly any soul on this side of the bank but on the other bank entire medley of activities being enacted , people washing , bathing , praying . I was enjoying the morning breeze, the river was calm at the banks but upstream little ahead had strong ripples . I felt like swimming to the other bank but the only problem was I didn’t know swimming.

I sat there for about an hour watching the drama that unfolded on the other side till I started feeling the hunger pangs.

I reached the other bank again via the deadly bridge as there was no hotel on this side of the bank , mostly a forested area. I had paratha and chai at a roadside stall . Few sadhus ( saints ) posed for me at the bathing Ghats but then they started demanding money from me , I said I would delete those photos. I also found a cycle repair shop and got the puncture repaired.

Finally , after the bike repaired and extinguishing the hunger , I was rejuvenated and paddled away through the lanes , by -lanes of Orcha.
#4 Feb 6th, 2016, 19:11
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#4
Contd..

My next destination was the Fort complex . I didn’t carry any map but my guides were the local people who were too happy to help. I was really touched by the simplicity of the people and the wide smiles I got whenever approached any passerby. I didn’t face any tout during my stay as it was not yet corrupted by greed. Hope it stays like that always.

Tickets were available for all forts for entire day outside the Raj Mahal . There was also a sound and light show at night .


My first stop was the Raj Mahal . The palace was built in the 17th century . The exteriors are plain but the interiors had beautiful murals , scenes from Mahabharata , Ramayana are depicted in the paintaings. It depicted the religious inclinations of the Rajas.It is essential to hire a guide to understand the history as no audio guide was available.

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The doors to the Raj Mahal:




The most important of the fort was the elegant Jahangir Mahal ( Palace),It was constructed during the visit of the Mughal emperor Jahangir . I was told Jahabgir stayed for one night in that palace. But the design and artitecture of the palace is extraordinary and far grandeur than the Raj Mahal itself. Ironical case of the Guest House outshining the living Room. It had the combination of Indo - Islamic architectural style, the rectangular shapes and lines and chatris at the top.


The palace had over 100 rooms, and several courtyards, hanging balconies, porches and domes. The entrance facing the east is an elaborate and traditional gateway with the front walls lined with turquoise tiles. There are two stone elephants with hanging bells on the sides of the entrance, which in earlier times used to mark the entrance of the King.

The grand entrance, exit in my case :

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The Chaturbhuj Temple could be seen from the Jahangir palace.
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#5 Feb 6th, 2016, 19:34
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#5
Contd..

My next stop was the Rai Parveen Mahal , located at the eastern gate of the Jahangir Mahal. The persona of Rai Parveen, popularly called the "Nigtingale of orcha" was surrounded in amazing folklore. . She was perhaps the muse of the ruling king Indrajit singh and well known for her beauty , poetry, horse riding abilities .When her reputation reached Delhi , the Mughal emperor Akbar summoned her to his court . The king was too weak to protect her but her love for the King made the emperor change his intentions and returned her to Orcha with honor. Though the tales were extraordinary but the Mahal was in a dilapidated state. Perhaps, ASI no longer cares about her legend.

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Still those architectural beauty holds:

#6 Feb 6th, 2016, 19:35
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#6
Bah! Beautiful report
#7 Feb 6th, 2016, 19:40
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#7
Nice report..
A good traveler has no fixed plans, and is not intent on arriving.
Garhwal | Dooars | Dhabaleswar | Dabu | PURI | Gujarat | Kamarpukur-Jairambati
#8 Feb 6th, 2016, 20:26
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#8
Contd..

I completed my fort circuit and rode towards the Chaturbhuj temple . It was the most magnificient monument in Orcha and probably could be seen from all parts of the town. The most striking feature of the monument was that it looked more like a fort than a temple.

There was another extraordinary legend surrounding the temple . Erstwhile queen Kamala Devi, who was a devotee of Lord Rama constructed this temple for her deity Rama. She then went to Ayodhya, the birth place of Lord Rama in search of an idol for the temple . She was given an idol on condition that it cannot be placed on ground before reaching the temple. But the Queen was so happy on reaching her kingdom , she forgot the divine dictum and placed the idol in her palace kitchen. Since then the Idol couldnot be moved from its place . The present day Ram raja temple was built around that idol and Chaturbhuj temple was kept without any deity in its sanctum

Such anecdotes showed that Orcha still lives in a Medieval time wrap. For the common tourist it becomes very difficult to dissect the fact from the fiction. On second thought, why would anyone even try , for me such legends add to the mystical charm of this place . The ancient forts, palaces, temples, tales of love, betrayal and divinity is what made orcha- Orcha!

Chaturbhuj temple , as seen from Jahangir Mahal:



The Jahangir Mahal , from the chauturbhuj temple:



There was a hidden stairway to climb above the Chaturbhuj temple. From above the views are amazing. But standing above the corridors without any railing one might feel vertigo. The stairs could be accessed by a door kept by a young keyholder for some bakshish . Unfortunately the boy was deaf , so parting with little money wouldnot hurt that much.
#9 Feb 6th, 2016, 20:30
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#9
Fascinating report! I'm hooked.
#10 Feb 6th, 2016, 21:21
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Contd..

Right next to the Chaturbhuj temple is the Ram Raja Temple . This is an important Hindu pilgrimage and receives record number of devotees. This is the only temple where Lord Rama is worshipped as Raja ( King), hence the name Ram raja . The temple was brightly coloured in Yellow and Orange but architecturally I was not impressed. There was a village fair around the temple , selling puja offereings and local articrafts. The temple was thronged by devotees for the approaching dusshera.
I walked through the bazaar in search of something to eat and bought some local sweet.

The Ram Raja Temple :

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There were two gigantic towers named Sawan- Bhado ( Two months in Hindu calender) adjacent to Ram Raja Temple . In its heyday,the towers were used as a water cooling unit. The towers were perforated on the top such that they could circulate the wind, while the lower part of the towers were connected to a reservoir of water. The water from the underground reservoir was pushed up into the summer retreat of the king and fell like a fountain onto the roof of the retreat thus keeping the palace very cool.This was another example of architectural ingenious of the orcha kings.

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#11 Feb 6th, 2016, 23:34
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Contd..

I was panting by the time I reached Laxmi Narayan Temple. I had been cycling the whole day and was exhausted . It was high time, I actually use the Gym membership card , I pay every month

The temple was part of the Indo-gothic or Indo-Saracenic style of architecture. There were many ecentricity in its construction and mixture of forms and shapes. Its outer structure resembles the shape of an owl, the vahana of Goddess Laxmi.It has an octagonal central tower inside a triangular temple within a square compound , also the entrance gate is set in a corner rather than the main wall. Ecentricities aside, these was perhaps the tressure trove for art lovers. The walls of the temple had fabulous paintings depicting scenes from Hindu holy books- the Ramayana,the Mahabharata and also more contemporary events like the battle of Jhansi with the British. The paintings were in a better state of preservation than any other fort.

The Laxmi Narayan Temple

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The ecentric shapes :

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The paintings on the wall :



Lord Krishna with his vahana Peacock:



Lord Ganesha listening to a messenger:



A scene from Mahabharata , Lord Krishna dancing on Vasuki, the serpant:



Another scene of Mahabharta: Lord Krishna and Gopiyas ( Raas Leela)


The siege of Jhansi. This scene was vividly dipticted , as one can see the battle readiness of the British , along with the daily chores of drinking, cooking, attending coutesans etc.



The battle of Jhansi , beautifully painted with attention to details.



There are countless such paintings adoring the walls . For me , this must be the icing on the cake. This hidden treasure of Indian art needs immediate attention for preserving from any further damage.
Last edited by sindabad; Feb 7th, 2016 at 01:05..
#12 Feb 7th, 2016, 00:10
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#12
Contd..

I was back to the Ghats for the sunset . I once more crossed the same scary bridge and walked to the forest gate. The official greeted me with a smile , it was as if he was expecting me .
The sunset lasted for a short while but it was most rewarding.



The beautiful reflections , one last time :



The menacing clouds gathered above the Cenotaphs ( Chattris):



From the Ghats , I went to the Laxmi Naryan temple once again. The temple was closed by then but I loved the ambience. The place was deserted and only a mystery breeze was howling through. It was not a good time to remember the Ghost stories

I waited for the lights to come up . The chaturbhuj temple looked spectacular under neon light.

#13 Feb 7th, 2016, 00:34
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#13
Contd..

I had a wonderful dinner with the family with fresh cooked food and home made Ghee. I enjoyed their hospitability and with their help came to know an unknown part of my own country . With the influx of foreign tourists , I hope they are doing brisk business.

They were a potter family and they showed me how to do it. It was harder than it seemed :


The kids were the most excited lot



Finally, when my trip to Orcha was coming to an end , I still had to make travel arrangements for my next day journey - Khajuraho that is !!
#14 Feb 7th, 2016, 13:30
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#14
Quote:
Originally Posted by asishdas View Post Fascinating report! I'm hooked.
Thanks asish sir for liking it ..hope you have read it complete.
#15 Feb 7th, 2016, 13:50
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#15
What a beautiful report and such lovely pictures. We were there during March last year and stayed at the MPTDC resort in the palace complex. I was sad to see the entire complex slowly crumbling down... Not due to the forces of nature, but due to man.
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