Exploring Palace-town Orchha - Madhya Pradesh, India
If you take the road from Khajuraho to Jhansi, you can't miss this palace cum temple town's skyline to your left as you cross River Betwa. It is fascinating, even from that distance, to say the least. Orccha is 18 km from Jhansi, but seems a world apart from city life. True, it isn't a city, it is a well preserved video from history, with colours and sounds just as good as they must have been four centuries ago.
On the road to Orccha
Maharaja Bir Singh Deo, the king of Orchha built the Jhansi fort in the year 1613. He named it Jhansi, because he could see the place 'Jhan si', which in the local dialect means -- barely a glimpse. Orccha is really a palace town in an island on River Betwa. There are several temples too, albeit outside the island's perimeter, Raja Ram and Chaturbhuj mandir being the highlights among temples here.
Despite there dwindling numbers all over India (courtesy dicholfenac drug found in dead cattle, their main food), vultures multiply here
Firstly, a drive to this place is beautiful -- green foliage and blue sky for company. Traffic was quite negligible, while bird calls were louder than any human induced sound here. This is Madhya Pradesh, the heart of India they say. A heart close to nature :-)
Nothing garish about Orccha itself, either. It is mainly a group of beautiful palaces, temples and equally elegant resorts by the River Betwa. The river makes itself heard, carrying on its waters voices of people come to bathe or swim.
The story of Orccha begins by this waterfront. Orccha's palaces: Raj Mahal, Jehangir Mahal and Raj Praveen Mahal are all safely enclosed behind high walls that surround an island on Betwa.
Music of the Betwa
Orinthologists' joy: Vultures of Jehangir Mahal
There is an archaeological museum too within Jehangir Mahal. Plus a regal place to stay: Hotel Sheesh Mahal which is again within the palace. Its restaurant cum coffee shop is a welcome hangout. Vultures nesting in Jehangir Palace's chatris and rooftops are the surprise element here.
Watching them flap there wings and lounge around their residence by the light of the setting sun was a delight.
Come to think of it, this palace was built by Maharaja Bir Singh Deo for his childhood friend prince Salim, who later became the Mughal emperor Jehangir. Deep blue glazed Persian tiles decorate the front of this palace. It has been built differently from the Bundela style of architecture that other palaces and temples of Orccha exhibit. This one is more towards a mix of Mughal and Bundela styles.
Kings and emperors have all long gone, but these vultures have been here for generations, the local guide pointed out with a smile. The residing royalty here is these vultures! Good to know that despite there dwindling numbers all over India (courtesy traces of dicholfenac drug found in dead cattle that is their main food), these vultures are well off, in Jehangir's palace, Orccha.
The king's Raj Mahal
Orccha's Raj Mahal, the king's palace was under renovation. Special care was being taken to keep the original artwork on the walls intact. All interiors in the Raj Mahal were well decorated with wall paintings. Those in the king and queens' bedrooms were best preserved. These wall paintings were again stories from earlier history: tales from Ramayana, Mahabharata, court life, etc.
The living quarters were interesting for other reasons too. All rooms were double-walled to keep them cool in summer and warm in winter. Slanting windows brought in direct natural light and allowed for complete privacy. Once the bedroom door was shut nobody could possibly get a peak or hear a thing!
Temples of Orccha
Chaturbhuj mandir, outside the island palace zone, but directly opposite Raj Mahal has a very special meaning in Orccha's landscape. One of the queens visited Ayodhya and wanted to bring back an image of Ram. The deity agreed, but set a condition, that he should not be put down anywhere in transit or he would stay there and not carry on to Orccha. As the deity was brought to Orccha, the Chaturbhuj temple, which was built for him, was receiving its finishing touches. So, the deity was placed in the place which is now Ram Raja temple.
When Chaturbhuj was ready to receive the deity, no one could move him! He reminded the queen of his condition, and remained where he was. It was then that Ram Raja temple was built for him. And an image of Laxmi Narayan was later installed at Chaturbhuj temple, which is still the grander of the too. The evening arti at both these temples is worth experiencing, different flavours too!
Orccha can be visited in a single day, but more time makes room for more experiences to take back home.