No1 Budget backpackers guide to Orchha
With so many historical wonders in India, it is hard to know what to put on your itinerary. Some places grab all the headlines and for a good reason. Some areas deserve a lot more attention then they receive, and Orccha is definitely one of those.
The whole village is fascinating, with historical ruins stretching as far as the eye can see. Underrated and missed by so many my No1 Budget backpackers guide to Orchha is aimed at changing that. I want my readers to share in the joy of visiting this tiny corner of the country and immersing themselves in everything this village has to offer.
Sitting on the banks of the picturesque Betwa rive this timeless place captures your attention and fills you with a sense of the exotic. The village makes a simple diversion from your journey to the infinitely more famous erotic temples of Khajuraho nearby. With oodles to see and experience for yourself, why wait? Start planning your own trip here today, and you won’t be sorry.
It won’t just be the elegant Mogul architecture that will keep you entertained. There are countless traditional villages close by to explore and a wealth of natural diversity to take in, including a large number of Indian vultures that seem to like the ruins as much as we do as they make their nests in the rooftops of crumbling the grand palaces.
I have visited this town twice now and have spent almost a week both times as I continuously find new things to do here. It is a place where it is easy to lose track of time. With so much to offer the intrepid traveller, it is hard to understand why it does not get more attention? Let us take an in-depth look at what this enchanting town has to offer, and I want to start with the show-stopping historical ruins.
A very brief history of Orchha.
I have to give a brief history of the area so my readers can understand where all this splendour comes from. I will keep it as short as possible as I don’t want anyone to fall asleep on me.
Please don’t get me wrong the area was settled long before, but it came into the limelight in 1531 when it became the headquarters for the Bundela Rajput clan. It reached its high point under the rule of Bir Singha Deo who had a good relationship with the moguls at the time. His son Jhujar Sinha however, tried to rebel against the famously short-tempered Shah Jahan who went on to sack the whole town and damage some of the buildings bringing the Orchha kingdom to an abrupt halt.
The moguls went on to rule here for several years and left their own footprint for you to take in and appreciate. The moguls have such a remarkable history I can’t help but recommend this excellent documentary on the mogul empire. Orchha is featured on here, so it makes an even more exciting watch when it helps you appreciate when you want to visit.
In the 18th century, the mighty Maratha forces were victorious in capturing all the States of the Bundela Rajputs other than Orchha. In the year 1783, Tehri (presently known as Tikamgarh), became the capital of Orchha. Tehri was located 40 miles to the South of Orchha. It was in Tehri that the famous Tikamgarh Fort was built.
During the period between 1848 and 1874, Orchha was ruled by Hamir Singh who acquired the status of Maharaja in the year 1865. In the year1874, Maharaja Pratap Singh(born-1854) succeeded to the throne of Orchha. It was under his rule that Orchha experienced major development.
At the beginning of the 20th century, Orchha was the most ancient and prosperous state in the Bundelkhand region. Finally, after independence, Orchha became a part of the State of Madhya Pradesh in 1956.
Orchha’s numerous historical wonders.
The cost to enter is currently two hundred and fifty rupees for foreigners and one hundred rupees for Indian nationals. There is a twenty-five rupee fee for a still camera and two hundred for a video camera. The ticket covers you for all seven of the significant sites that you can cover in a full day. Leave the minor sites for the next day as there is no fee to enter them.
I want to lead with the incredible and conspicuous Orchha fort. It sits right in the middle of town, and you can see it from just about anywhere. To Access it, cross over the granite bridge in the centre of town where you will pay the entrance fee. The imposing fort is clearly a formidable place to attempt to conquer, and at the same time, the delicate mogul structures give it a sense of elegance. You will find two palaces Inside of the fortified walls.
The 16th century Jehangir Mahal and the Raj Mahal both have beautiful murals but the former is quite a lot larger. It may be worth hiring a guide around as there is such a lot of history to take in, and it is hard to absorb it all from merely reading the plaques that are scattered around. For those who do not have the budget to take a guide have a look at the Wikipedia page as it is quite insightful.
There is also a camel stable just outside that makes for an interesting side trip. There is also a serene garden here that you can wander around. There are many birds attracted to the plants, and the smell of Jasmin is intoxicating. There are many smaller archaeological sights around the island for those who are interested. For me, they tend to be no less attractive than there more grand counterparts.
Just across the road from the main complex is the Ram Raja Temple. You will find the entrance at the west end of the market square. It is an active place of worship so expect crowds of devotees who have come to pay homage to Rama.
The mighty Chaturbhuj temple was built to house a statue of Lord Rama. It never made its way in here; however, it now provides some of the best views in town from its decaying roof.
Further down the road from the tiny village are a set Chhatris. They are tombs or monuments to the dead. These are best seen at dusk from across the river. Here is the best place to see the vultures if you are interested. There are many more Chhatris scattered around the village, and less loved of them are left to fall into disrepair. I have seen some used as hay barns and some that have been overrun by thousands of bees.
The Phool Bagh was built to commemorate prince Dinman Hardol. He is revered locally as a hero after committing suicide to prove his innocence. He was accused of having an affair with his brother’s wife and him killing himself somehow exonerated him? I’m not sure what that proves myself, and I don’t think it is just me, right? Today it is a well-maintained garden with a memorial in it. Local people come here to see if they cant get some of there wishes granted.
Orchha’s wildlife sanctuary.
Just across the bridge is a tiny wildlife sanctuary. I want to tell my readers in advance not to expect the world from it. Some people visit and expect Shere Khan and Balu dancing in unison. Well, that’s not going to happen, but if you enjoy birds, there are over 200 species of those. You may be lucky and spot one of the resident owl species. Or way more likely, the colourful peacocks or bee-eaters.
For real birders, the highlight is seeing so many vultures in one place. Their numbers had dwindled in recent years because of the introduction of an injection that was given to livestock that contained Ibuporofin that caused them to suffer kidney failure when they fed on their carcases.
Even more, sadly is as the numbers of vultures declined the number of rabies cases increased as they kept that number down. They are now beginning to show signs of recovery due to the injection no longer being given and rigorous conservation efforts. Even if you don’t like birds so much, they are still a joy to watch.
Numerous mammal species are easy to spot such as Hanuman Langur, Ruddy mongoose and the Samber deer. The park also has a small population of Bengal tigers, Sloth bears and the Indian leopard. In all reality, the latter animals are very elusive, and you shouldn’t hold your breath, hoping to see them. It is also an excellent place to spot reptiles including any of the parks many freshwater turtles.
The park is impressive if you are a wildlife enthusiast or just want a relaxing walk in the forest. Please note that if you decide to walk here in the hight of the Indian summer, you will need a lot of water as it becomes scorching hot. The park may only be small but walking anywhere when its forty-five degrees out with little shade is a challenging task for anyone.
The Entrance fee is ten rupees for Indian nationals and three hundred and fifty for foreigners. I am not going to lie many people walk away from here disappointed, but if you are a genuine wildlife enthusiast, then this will do just fine.
Visiting the Traditional villages.
Several incredible villages around Orchha simply ooze traditional culture. Visiting these places will leave you in a state of wonder. I recommend immersing yourself in the culture of Madhya Pradesh anyway. The state has a rich and varied tapestry of culture and traditions, and Orchha is as good as place as any to begin to get an insight into that.
Ganj is a village close by and is very well set up for tourists. Here you will find there are very basic homestays that are fascinating in the extreme. The local people have their own artwork that comes in many forms, and you can expect to be shown these a lot during your time here as obviously, they want to sell them.
Orchha Homestay is one that is advertised, and I suspect the first. Since then many of the homes in this beautiful little village have opened the doors to tourists. Rates include your nights stay and all meals that will be all authentic.
If you don’t want to stay in Ganj but want to see the local culture you can arrange for a rickshaw to drive you around the villages. The driver can double up as a translater but expect them to stop at their friend’s houses to see if you don’t want to buy a painting or two. They are excellent and reasonably priced, but if it is not something, you are interested in then simply politely decline.
A rickshaw for the day should only cost a few hundred rupees and split the costs with other travellers if you can. If like most backpackers will not be spending very much time in the state, this may be one of your only chances to experience the culture. So capitalise while you can for a truly fascinating insight.
Getting a bite to eat.
Unfortunately, this is going to be short as it is hard to get any good food in this town. The Laxmi Betwa Tarang restaurant near the bridge leading into the fort is ok. It is not overly hygienic, but the thalis are pretty damn excellent and good value. I even managed to buy beer from here that was served in a teapot to make sure no one knew about my sinful behaviour. I thought that was adorable, although the beer was way overpriced.
The Ram Raja restaurant is directly next door is a little more disgusting and serves up the usual tourist fare. Check it out anyway as your options are very limited indeed. I found the deep-fried snacks that are sold in the market place in the evenings to be helpful. The samosas with Chole and Imli are quite tasty.
If you don’t mind spending out the food, the Jharokha Restaurant is a little better. It is attached to Hotel Sheesh Mahal that is very close to the fort. In the evenings they have a tandoor oven that serves up food that is a cut above the rest you can find in town.
It is a bit of a shame as this is one of the states where Mughlai cuisine can find its roots. There are so many classic dishes that can trace its roots back to this culinary train of thought. While Orchha is unlikely to provide you with the excellent food, you are looking for elsewhere in the state certainly will. For a full breakdown of where to get the very best food in the country check out my in-depth post on delicious India.
Getting a nights rest.
I have always stayed in town and always at Hotel Aditya. It is right in the heart of town, so it is central to everything you have come to see. Each room is either air-conditioned or comes with a water cooler. The owner is non-intrusive, and you can get breakfast on the terrace. Walking in would be just fine, but if you want to book in advance use booking.com.
If you don’t mind spending out, then the heritage Hotel Shish Mahal is stunning. Expect to pay six thousand rupees upwards for a nights rest. If you are not visiting for a long time and want a little class, then this may be for you. It was built in the eighteenth century as a royal guest house, and today you don’t need to have royal blood to spend the night. If this sounds like it is up your street click the link for booking.com provided.
If none of these options suit you there are dozens of hotels all in the same tiny area so shop around for what suits you. If you are a couple one of you, one of you can grab a coffee while the other shops around for the best deals. If you come alone with no luggage that insinuates you already have a place to stay and that gives you a little more wiggle room when bargaining.
While it is not a place to sleep, Kairali Spa can send you in that direction. It gets rave reviews for the ayurvedic massages, and people come far and wide to get rubbed by these people. It is a very upmarket affair so expect to pay a few thousand for their services, but if your muscles need a little attention after carrying your rucksack for months on end, then this may be your jam.
Getting there and away.
It is easy enough to get to Orchha as you have three options. You can connect from Jhansi as It is on the main railway line, so there are many trains. It is only eighteen kilometres away so you can pay for a private or shared rickshaw to Orchha. You can get the train to many major tourist destinations from here including Bhopal, Gwalior, Dehli and Udaipur.
My advice is to organise any train tickets you need before you arrive, preferably from one of the tourist offices in a city such a Dehli. It is preferable because it will be a massive headache to try and organise it from somewhere with no tourist quota and on the day you want. In all reality, you will be waiting hours and probably walk away with nothing. It would be best if you got your ducks in a row before you start. For more information on getting around the country, check out my post for my best tricks and tips on the matter.
There is a good chance your next choice of destinations will be Khajuraho so let us talk about getting you there. From Orchha, there are a few slow unreserved trains that head to and from there.
Train number 19666 leaves from Jhansi 3.30 pm arriving in Khajuraho three hours later theoretically anyway.
Train numbers 54159 passes through the tiny train station at Orchha five kilometres north of town. That train goes to Mahoba where you have to connect to train number 51821. They are seriusly uncomfortable, crowded and not to mention slow. These are second class trains, so there is no need to book in advance. Just turn up and see if you can squeeze on.
There are no direct busses to Khajuraho from Orchha. Getting there is a little tricky, but I would imagine faster and more comfortable. You have to go to Jhansi and get a bus to Chhatarpur. You then change for Khajuraho. With all the options to get to and from Orchha, none are remotely straightforward. However you decide to arrive here, you can bet your effort will be rewarded tenfold.
In summary of my No1 Budget backpackers guide to Orchha.
Well, this is one post that turned out to be much longer than I anticipated. I knew there was a lot to say about this place, but I surprised myself. I hope you found this post insightful and of value. If you have any comments or questions, you know what to do. I find this particular town to be enthralling and I hope you do too. I want to draw visitors here and give this tiny place the attention it so deserves.
Orchha has a little of everything that you could look for in a holiday destination, so start planning your own adventure now. Well, that about wraps up this post on this fantastic town. So until the next time my fellow intrepid traveller’s happy trails.
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