A hidden gem


, Travel

The charming town of Orchha in Madhya Pradesh mesmerises visitors with its 15th-century architecture, teeming wildlife sanctuaries and sprawling gardens.   By team Shubh Yatra

The mellow rays of the sun filter through the jaali (carved lattice) screens to form patterns on the ground. Hanging balconies offer mesmeric views of the surrounding land and of perfectly-shaped domes standing around a well-maintained courtyard. At Orchha’s historic Jahangir (Jehangir) Mahal, time seems to have come to a standstill. The citadel’s Indo-Islamic architecture, walls covered with turquoise tiles and elaborately-etched doors offer visitors a glimpse of the glorious yesteryears. Built around the 17th century by the then king Bir Singh Deo in honour of Mughal emperor Jahangir, this palace is a prime attraction of this town in Madhya Pradesh.

The Jahangir Mahal is a part of the magnificent fort complex comprising the Raja Mahal and the Sheesh Mahal. What Orchha lacks in size, compared to other historic Indian cities and towns, it more than makes up with its Mughal-influenced Rajput architecture, royal chhatris (cenotaphs) and revered temples. The most prominent being the Ram Raja Temple, where Lord Rama is worshipped both as king and deity.

Close to this temple stand two towering perforated pillars. Named Sawan and Bhado, they are ancient cooling systems. The openings on the top of the pillars were meant to catch the wind and circulate it to the bottom, which was connected to a water reservoir.

Orchha’s other calling card, the chhatris, can be seen at several spots in the town. But the most popular with tourists is the cluster located around one kilometre away from Sawan-Bhado, on the banks of the Betwa river. Experts say, the chhatris, or royal cenotaphs, are a fine example of Indian architectural heritage. Appearing like half-open umbrellas, these were constructed in honour of the region’s erstwhile rulers. At dusk, as these exquisite canopies stand silhouetted against the setting sun, the magic of the land envelopes all!

Orchha means “hidden gem”, and rightly so. Even with such historic and breathtaking sights, Orchha still exudes the air of a quaint town, where there is a mystery at every turn. No wonder the town has bagged the award for the best heritage city by the Ministry of Tourism, Government of India. Orchha’s palaces and monuments date back to the 15th and 16th centuries. The banks of the Betwa river offers numerous nature trails and a bird sanctuary that boasts such avifauna species as woodpeckers, dark swans, wilderness shrubbery quails and geese. Nature enthusiasts find solace in Phool Bagh, a vast expanse of lush greenery dotted with pretty fountains. This March, the sleepy town will come to life, as the Madhya Pradesh government hosts Namaste Orchha, a festival that traces the natural and cultural wonders of this region.

1. Royal cenotaphs of Orchha

2. Chaturbhuj Temple in Orchha

Time and place

The Namaste Orchha festival will be held from March 6-8 across such landmarks as Orchha Fort Complex and Betwa Ghat among others.

Music and more

Some of the artistes performing at this three-day event include Shubha Mudgal, Indian Ocean, Shilpa Rao and Clinton Cerejo, who will collaborate with Madhya Pradesh’s local folk and classical artistes. Renowned French-Spanish musician Manu Chao will be the key attraction. Bollywood actress Swara Bhaskar and noted lyricist Swanand Kirkire will also grace the event.

Event highlights

The festival will feature diverse forms of music, dance, art, wellness, adventure, history and curated culinary experiences by celebrity chefs. A spectacular maha aarti (fire ritual) will also be curated at the banks of River Betwa. 

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