I fell madly in love with Orchha. It’s a beautiful, small town in Madhya Pradesh. It was established by Maharaja Rudra Pratap Singh in 1501. He later died trying to save a cow from a lion. It’s amazing how much the countryside has changed, from the cities to scraggly bush to wheat fields and sugar cane. Pradeep says they even have rice paddies here and I can see why. It’s the end of the dry season yet there’s still plenty of water still around. Every hilltop either has a fort or a temple on it. The temples have these long stairways leading up the steep hills. Amazing.
We stayed at the beautiful Amar Mahal where I had the best gulab jamun in India. It’s 2 balls made from dough and spices soaked in a sugary syrup. They served it with ice cream and I kid you not, it tasted very close to malva pudding (a South African dessert). I was in heaven! Besides the yum food, the staff is also incredibly friendly. After a very delicious lunch we headed off with our guide to explore Orchha.
Our first stop was Jahangir Mahal, built by Vir Singh Deo as a welcome present for the Mughal Emperor Jehangir when he visited the state in the 17th century. It’s three stories high and has many beautiful carved windows. The local monkeys came to say hello as they played around the palace. It reminded me a bit of The Jungle Book. The area is surrounding by dhak (called Flame of the Forest in English) forests and it was very humid. We even had a nice thunderstorm as we were exploring the passageways and rooms.
We then walked next door to the Raj Mahal. It was started by Rudra Pratap and completed by Madhukar Shah in the 17th century. The interiors are beautifully decorated with murals depicting the Ramayana and different gods.
We then made our way to the other side of town to Chaturbhuj Temple. An old man was sitting on the steps playing his flute. Chaturbhuj Temple was originally built in the 9th century. The name Chaturbhuj is derived from the Sanskrit words meaning four arms referring to Lord Vishnu who has four arms. The temple is particularly significant as it’s the first place where the symbol ‘0’ is recorded.
The statue of Vishnu is no longer in the temple but people still come here to pray to him. The walls are decorated with more recent images of the wars between the Britishers and the Indians.
We then headed towards the Chhatris. They are beautiful buildings built in memory of kings. They were often built on the cremation site. It was late afternoon and quite humid so there weren’t that many people around. I found a rare moment in India where I had one of the monuments all to myself. The sun popped out from behind a cloud as I watched a local family come down to the Betwa River to bathe.
Our last stop that afternoon was the Lakshmi Temple in the town itself. It’s built in a similar style of the Chaturbhuj Temple. We walked through the small bazaar where delicious sweets and beautiful dyes were on display. We then returned to our hotel where we had yet another delicious meal and enjoyed some traditional music in the courtyard.
We were very lucky to be invited by our guide to visit the evening prayer at the Ram Raja Temple. What makes this so special is that this is the only temple in the world where Lord Rama is worshipped as a king. We couldn’t take any photos inside the temple. You enter through the doorway where you ring a bell to wake up the god.
Inside everyone gathers in the courtyard. There are several shrines of other gods located around the courtyard. Lord Rama is located behind a closed, beautiful silver door and he has his own security guard. Our guide informed us that only a Brahmin can have that job as his caste allows him to work within the temple. The priests begin to chant and the doors are opened revealing Lord Rama. It really was an amazing experience and we had some local kids coming to talk to us in perfect English. They wanted to know where we came from. The poor people wait outside the temple. Priests come to provide them with a free meal. This happens every night.
I really enjoyed our very short stay in Orchha and wish we stayed longer. The people are incredibly friendly. I only hope that in future we can return to Orchha and spend more time visiting the beautiful people and scenic surroundings.
The next morning after a delicious breakfast we left for Khajuraho. The road was terrible and once again our lives flashed in front of our eyes at least a dozen times or so. I made sure I drank lots of water before we set off as it’s been quite hot but regretted it about 10 minutes into the drive. Thankfully we stopped about 2 hours into the drive at a shop and restaurant! Secretly I think Pradeep is psychic. He just magically knows what to do. Our adventure in Khajuraho will have to wait until next time.