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Published: January 6th 2020
On a seasonal island in the middle of the River Betwa, surrounded by a battlement wall, stands Orchha Fort, which was built in the 16th century. The fort consists of several connected buildings erected at different times, the most noteworthy of which is the Raja Mahal. The island is separated from the mainland by a multi arched stone bridge which we walked over this morning. The water isn't flowing in this section of the river, it lies as still as a millpond, tinged green with algae and full of the usual litter.
Admittance to the fort cost R250 ($5) and we spent a couple of hours exploring the ruins and admiring the wall and ceiling frescos in some of the rooms in Raja Mahal, many of them still in excellent condition. We climbed up and down steep, narrow stone stairways, most not much wider than ourselves, using phone torches to light the way. They are in every building or monument we visit and we are very cautious in our approach to them. Often the step heights and tread widths are different and we don't want to risk a fall.
In-between Raja & Jahangir Mahal, within the fort, lies Sheesh
Mahal. I'd read online that this former royal guesthouse is now a luxury hotel but that is far from the truth. The place is in ruins, though under renovation, and may be a beautiful hotel or restaurant some time in the future.
After leaving the fort we headed to Chaturbhuj Temple which was easy to see from the fort, back over the bridge into town and across the road from Ram Raja Temple. Surrounded by a local market, it was built in 1558 upon a massive stone platform and is reached by steep steps. Originally built to enshrine the image of Lord Rama which is housed in Ram Raji Temple, instead it’s now dedicated to Lord Vishnu, a four armed deity. The temple has plenty of light and space inside, unusual for a Hindu temple.
We climbed another flight of those steep winding steps to the top floor to find there were no railings or barricades along the edge here, just a drop straight down, around both sides. The lack of concern for public safety here is astounding, we find unsafe and unsanitary conditions everywhere we go.
On Sunday, our last in Orchha, Hariom takes us a
Inside the complex
little further up river to visit the Cenotaphs. Fourteen of them dot the banks of the River Betwa, memorials to the past rulers of Orchha. They are all different, and the size of each depends on the length or reign of each ruler. As Hindus are cremated, they are empty structures, except for the presence of a colony of vultures, a critical endangered species. They add to the eeriness of the landscape and can be seen soaring overhead and perching like gargoyles on the spires of the cenotaphs.
They are situated near Kanchana Ghat and photos can be taken from there, but there are nice gardens inside the complex which add another dimension, and all structures can be explored. It cost us just R50 each to get through the gate, but admittance is included in the Fort ticket as they are part of the fort complex. We didn't have our fort tickets with us.
The river was very pleasant here, as the water was flowing fast it was clean. People were bathing further down river near the causeway, there were a couple of food stands nearby and the usual cows and street dogs wandered around.
Taken from the causeway
to town via the Orchha Wildlife Sanctuary, a total waste of time. We walked down to the riverbank and took photos of the cenotaphs across the river, and then left. We weren't interested in wandering through the tinder dry scrub looking for wildlife. The place was a neglected mess, starting with the ticket office. The sanctuary lies across the river opposite the cenotaphs and is completely fenced off, so the only way to get those 'across the river' photos of the cenotaphs is to buy a sanctuary ticket and walk to the riverbank, as we did.
We returned to town and decided to visit Ram Raji Temple, which is located right in the centre of town and surrounded by markets. It was very busy and crowded with devotees, so we never actually got inside. This is the only temple in India where Lord Rama is worshipped as a king. The temple is guarded by Police and, to honour the King, a gun salute is given everyday.
We also found, during our wanderings, a neglected garden which was enclosed on three sides by high walls. We stepped through a gateway at the end of a market, and there it
was. There was a tiny Hindu temple in the centre, surrounded by devotees. This garden was set out in Persian style, beautifully symmetrical and divided into four sections with sunken garden beds, separated by long fountains with multiple water spouts. What a beautiful place this must have been, many many years ago. But now, as with so many places we have seen, it's neglected, unloved and full of litter. A woman, with a rubber thong on her hand, was scrapping rubbish into a huge pile against one of the walls. I've not been able to find any reference to this place on google, so its history remains a mystery.
The streets were teeming with people, noise levels high with traffic and beeping horns, there was nothing else we wanted to see, so we retreated to our peaceful room, moving onto the bar and then the restaurant for dinner later in the evening. Tomorrow we head to Khajuraho.
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