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Published: January 4th 2020
Orchha, meaning ‘Hidden Place’, is a town in Madhya Pradesh on the banks of the Betwa River. This medieval town seems to have frozen in time, its palaces and temples still retaining their original grandeur. Orchha had the distinction of being the capital of one of the largest and most powerful kingdoms of Central India.
At heart, Orchha is nothing but a tiny, agricultural village that shouldn't really be of much interest to anyone, but it was blessed by history. For nearly 300 years it was one of the most important urban areas in this part of India. Orchha owes its glories to the Bundela clan of Rajputs, who set up their headquarters here in 1531, though Orchha reached its zenith under Bir Singh Deo who reigned from 1605 to 1627. He was on good terms with the Mughal emperor Jehangir, son of Akbar the Great. In the 1630s Bir Singh Deo's son Jhujar Singh unwisely rebelled against Jehangir's son Shah Jahan, whose armies trashed the Orchha kingdom and damaged some of the town's fine buildings.
Orchha has a supreme display of Mughal-influenced architecture in the shape of spectacular palaces, temples and royal cenotaphs. And thanks to an important
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Typically used for Hindu Rituals
temple dedicated to Rama, it's also a major pilgrimage and spiritual centre.
The drive from Gwalior to Orchha took 3.5 hours. The road was good in sections but there were also many diversions where we travelled over rough dusty tracks around road works where no one seemed to be working. Hariom said it could take up to five years to get a job finished here, totally believable. There is never any heavy machinery at these sites, let alone workmen, though every site seems to have a steamroller.
We passed through small rural villages, all of them grubby looking with everything bowed down under layers of dust and unrelenting poverty. I wonder what the residents think when they see tourist vehicles pass through, with us enclosed in our clean, air conditioned capsules, looking out at them.
We finally arrive at our accomodation - The Orchha Palace and Convention Centre, about five kilometres outside town. Surrounded by high walls and accessable only through gates with security guards, it's an oasis from the dust and noise outside.
We had a couple of hours break then Hariom dropped us in the centre of town. We don't have time this afternoon
to visit any palaces or centopaths so will just do a village walk and have a look around. Busy local markets with the same souvenir items on sale here that we've seen everywhere, but a lot more of it. Stall after stall of cheap toys, jewellery, brass items, plastic homewares, embroidered bags, shawls and hippie style clothing. There are the usual fruit and vegetable stalls as well, though we've unable to buy bananas that we'd be happy eating, every bunch we've found is over ripe and turning black.
The beggars zoomed in on us, all rubbing their fingers together and asking for money, which we don't give. The shop owners also didn't miss us, asking for us to please visit their shop, what's your name, where you from....anything with the hope of making us pause for a moment. We don't buy cheap souvenir stuff, we don't want it and nobody at home wants it either.
We haven't found anywhere in town where we would risk eating, so I guess all meals will be eaten in the convention centre restaurant. They have signage up stating the twelve steps they take to ensure their food is safe, so here's hoping..
Hariom dropped us back late afternoon, we said 'good night' and headed inside. He spends so much time sitting around waiting for us, such a lovely patient man!
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