A small-sleepy town with idyllic settings and an idle way of life can have conflicting effects on visitors. While it may fill some with ecstasy and longing for a similar demure existence, the silence may cause some to feel lonely and depressed. It is on visiting places like Orccha that you come to relate with your actual self and find answers to the questions – that are you a lover of solitude or are you painfully lonesome.
Orccha is the perfect tourist spot for the silent traveler, the deep thinker, the resolute historian, the solitary reaper and the passionate photographer. It’s for the sensitive soul who can enjoy the changing colors of a sunset, or feel the melancholy of the cenotaphs, or even sense the palpable historical richness of the forts and buildings. The two towering gates (darwaza) firm on their historical foundations, welcome you into a village of huts with cobalt blue walls and thatched roofs. The sight is preamble enough to the mesmerizing splendor of Orchha.
And if none of these appease you and all you want to do is laze around and glorify your idle self, then just check into the Hotel Betwa Retreat, and enjoy beer or cocktail by their little swimming pool, take a walk in their greenery-rich landscape and relax in a Swiss tent or cottage. A word of caution, though, the Swiss tent can offer you a little more of nature than you may appreciate, with chameleons, garden lizards, and moles visiting you. With mongoose scampering amongst the rose bushes, you may also have a garden snake as your visitor!
The Hotel Betwa Retreat is situated on the banks of the river Betwa and provides you with fascinating views of the Cenotaphs of the Orccha rulers. A short walk away is a bridge spanning the river on the Orchha – Tikamgarh road, and is definitely not for use by the faint hearted. The maximum width of the bridge is a little more than the width of a bus, and the moment a bus or heavy vehicle plies on the bridge, the passerby has to either squat to brace against the velocity, or sit on the extreme edge with legs dangling from the side. It sure seems like a close brush with an untoward incident. However, getting on the bridge and even crossing to the other side is almost imperative to get amazing photographs of the Cenotaphs.
The other way to capture an absolutely breathtaking view of the Cenotaphs on the Kanchana ghats, is from the middle of the Betwa river, but you need to row down the river to reach such a strategic point. While bathing and daily ablutions are a common site in the river, boating is still not popular, but we got a big surprise, when the Retreat manager, offered us a river rafting experience on the Betwa. The river was in full spate after good monsoons, but having done the rapids in the Ganges via Rishikesh, we knew that this river wouldn’t offer rafting fun. Nevertheless, we agreed to take the early morning raft the next day, and though as expected we didn’t get a rafting experience, we were in no way disappointed by the short “row the raft” guided tour.
We saw an indigenous fish net made of twigs and branches, caught amazing glimpses of the Jahangir fort, and the Cenotaphs of the Queen and her maids, and of course missed our cameras because we realized that the middle of the river gave the most amazing panoramic views of the Chattris or Cenotaphs. The trip was made enjoyable by the historical narration of our guide. Rafting in Betwa is seasonal and totally dependent on the volume of water in the river. If you want to take a raft tour of the river, then ensure that you make the enquiries beforehand, else you may be disappointed.
Historically, Orccha was a former princely state of central India, in the Bundelkhand region. The central feature of the village is Jehangir Mahal, a 17th century classic that combines the ruler Bir Singh Deo’s eye for detail with sweeping views from its turrets. The ornate palace is a singularly beautiful specimen of Hindu domestic architecture. Elsewhere about the town are fine temples and tombs, among which may be noticed the Chaturbhuj temple on its vast platform of stone. The Ram Raja temple is an imposing temple in white, and is actually a palace converted into a temple after an idol of Lord Rama in transit was installed here and the then ruling king, Madhukar Shah had a dream in which he was instructed that the idol should not be removed to any other location. Hence, the temple lacks distinctive temple architecture.
If you seek a temple in classic Hindu style of architecture, close to the Ram Raja temple is the Chaturbhuj temple that stands tall in its entire antiquity. This temple was initially built to house the idol of Lord Ram, but after the king’s dream, a statue of Lord Vishnu with four arms, was enshrined here, and hence the name of the temple, Chaturbhuj. The temple doesn’t have modern electrical fittings and hence the last prayer in the temple is offered before sunset. We climbed the stairs and sat on the high boundary walls of the temple, under the twinkling night sky and enjoyed the view of the evening hustle-bustle and the view of Jehangir temple in the distance. It was primordial silence, interrupted only by the sounds of bats and insects from within the old temple walls, and a mesmerizing sense of mystical enchantment for the kings and the people of the ancient land of Bundelkhand, that sadly fell to the wrath of the Mughal King, Shah Jahan, in the 17th century following the rebellion of the Bundela chief Jujhar Singh.
Orccha and its monuments are an artist’s paradise, the perfect model for a sketch, a photograph, or the inspiration for a song or music. The simplicity of the people of Orccha adds to the age-old minimalism of the place. If you ever want to see grandeur sans ego, if you ever want to see archaic beauty sans modern intervention, if you ever want to wish that time stands still, then Orccha should be your next travel destination.