Orchha is a small town in Tikamgarh district of Bundelkhand region of Madhya Pradesh. Situated on the banks of Betwa river, Orchha looks as it is frozen in medieval times. There are several monuments on either side of the Betwa river. After my visit, I can definitely say that Orchha is one of the offbeat tourist destinations in India with fewer tourist. There are several places to visit in Orchha for sightseeing, the most popular ones are Orchha fort complex, Jahangir Palace, Orchha Palace, Chaturbhuj temple, Orchha wildlife sanctuary, Cenotaphs, Betwa river, and Ram Raja Mandir.
Orchha also has religious importance among people of the Bundelkhand and surrounding areas. They affectionately refer to it as “Orchha Dham” meaning “Adobe” of God. There are a very interesting story and legend associated with Ramraja temple. Lord Ram is considered the ruler of Orchha town.
Orchha’s literal meaning is “hidden place’ and it is indeed a hidden gem of Madhya Pradesh. Orchha is strategically located between the Betwa river and jungle, there were no big battles fought here. That’s why most of the monuments are in good condition today.
History of Orchha
It was founded in 1531 and Raja Rudra Pratap was his first ruler. He founded the city of Orchha after the fall of Garhkurar after the battle with Tuqlaq dynasty rulers. Most of the monuments in Orchha were constructed between 1531 to 1591 under different rulers of the states.
Orchha reached its architectural glory during the rule of Vir Singh Deo’s between 1605 to 1626. Jahangir Mahal and Sawan Bhado Mahal are two best creations of his rule. These were built to commemorate the visit of Mughal emperor Jahangir.
Mughal emperor Shah Jahan defeated Bundela kings and his armies occupied Orchha from 1635 to 1641. Except for this short duration, Orchha remained under control of Bundela kings and finally merged with India on 1st January 1950.
Best time to visit Orchha (Orchha weather)
Weather in Orchha remains hot during summer months similar to most of the central and northern India.
In monsoon months between June to September, Orchha weather remains hot and humid.
The best time to visit Orchha is the winter months from mid-October to mid-February. The temperature remains between 30 to 32-degree Celsius to 7 to 9-degree Celcius. I visited Orchha at the end of December. The days were pleasantly warm but nights & morning evenings were cold during my stay.
How to travel to Orchha
The nearest airport is in Gwalior, which is 120 Km from Orchha. There are direct flights to Gwalior from Delhi, Mumbai, Indore, Hyderabad, Jammu, Bangalore, and Kolkata. Gwalior airport is part of airforce station and falls under the umbrella of Indian airforce.
Delhi to Orchha
The nearest railway station is in Jhansi, which is one of the biggest railway stations in India. Jhansi railway station is on the busy main Delhi-Chennai and Delhi-Mumbai railway line. There are several trains between Delhi to Jhansi.
Jhansi to Orchha is 15 Km and takes about 30 to 45 minutes.
Taxis and auto rickshaws are available outside Jhansi railway station. A taxi from Jhansi to Orchha will cost 600 to 800 INR and take 30 minutes. An auto-rickshaw from Jhansi railway station to Orchha will cost 250 to 300 INR and take 45 minutes.
There is a railway station in Orchha but it is 5 Km outside the main town. There are local passenger trains between Jhansi and Orchha. From Orchha railway station you need an auto rickshaw for the city.
Places to visit in Orchha Madhya Pradesh
The monuments in Orchha are still in good condition. The architecture and design of the palace, fort, and temples are mainly Bundelkhandi with strong Mughal influences. Most people visit Khajuraho for its temples but give Orchha a miss. Khajuraho to Orchha is only 170 Km but the architecture is totally different.
Orchha has so much to offer, it is a peaceful and beautiful offbeat destination in India to beat the crowds.
Orchha Fort complex
It is a group of monuments which includes Raja Mahal, Sheesh Mahal, Jahangir Mahal, a temple, gardens, and pavilions. The construction of Orchha fort stated in the 16th century by Bundela king Rudra Pratap Singh. Subsequent kings constructed palaces and temples in the Orchha fort complex over the years.
The Orchha fort complex is connected with an arched causeway with the town. The causeway leads to the large gateway of the fort complex.
After the main entrance gate is a large quadrangular open space which leads to the Sheesh Mahal, Raja Mahal, a temple, Jahangir Mahal, then gardens and pavilions.
The Orchha fort walls have battlements with the ornamentation on its walls. The fort has projected balconies, open areas, and latticed windows. All these make it a beautiful monument.
Entry Timings: 9.00 AM to 5.00 PM
Entry Ticket: INR 10 for Indians and INR 250 for Foreigners. Camera ticket is INR 25 and Video camera ticket is INR 200.
Raja Mahal in Orchha fort complex
It is one of the first construction done in Orchha fort complex and served as the official residence of kings till 1783. The Raja Mahal is on the right side of the main complex. The exterior of the palace is plain with arched windows and passages. There are several chambers in the palace, which were used by kings and queens of Orchha.
The interior walls of these chambers are decorated with murals of social and religious themes. The images of Lord Vishnu and goddess with mythical animals and people are the main attraction. These murals faded at several places over the years but still in good condition.
There are open space and chambers are built around these.
Our guide showed a couple of secret passages inside the palace compound. She told that these passages were constructed for escape in case of an emergency or enemy attack. (There are female guides also in Orchha, which is very rare in India’s historic sites)
It was built by king Udait Singh as his royal accommodation. Now Sheesh Mahal is converted into a heritage hotel and has 8 rooms/suits. During the renovation, while converting it into a hotel, they could not recreate the exact old design but still, it is a nice place to stay. The view of Orchha town from the rooms and upper floors of Sheesh Mahal is beautiful.
The high ceiling hall in the Sheesh Mahal is converted into a multi-cuisine restaurant.
This is one of the most beautiful buildings in the Orchha fort complex and connected with the Orccha fort through a small gate. Jahangir Mahal was built by Bir Singh Deo in 1605 to welcome the Mughal emperor Jahangir, who visited Orchha for one day. The palace is a perfect example of Mughal and Rajputana architecture.
There is a square inner courtyard in it with eight large domes around it. Jahangir Mahal is built in four levels and has a plethora of rooms with arcaded openings with projecting platforms.
The stairs leading to the roof of Mahal are steep and narrow but give a panoramic view of Orchha.
The narrow corridors with the latticework make the upper floors of Mahal airy and cool. The Betwa river is on one side of Mahal and temple & Orchha town on the other side.
The main entrance gate of Jahangir palace is on the other side. Nowadays everyone enters the Jahangir Palace from Orchha fort’s side so the main gate is the last thing you see in the Mahal.
There are shrubs around the Jahangir Mahal and that’s why it is difficult to come from the actual main gate.
The entrance gate of Jahangir Mahal has beautiful carving and ornamentation, it is one of the most decorated parts of this palace. The passage from the gate leads to the royal baths. There is a small dwelling built within the garden ahead of royal baths.
Anand Mahal of Parveen Rai
This elegant dwelling is in the garden and was built for Parveen Rai, who was the female escort of the Raja Indrajit. She was a poet, singer, and musician. There is a very interesting story about Parveen Bai, which shows that she was not only beautiful but intelligent also.
According to the story Mughal emperor, Akbar was fascinated with the beauty of Parveen and taken her to his palace in Agra to be his courtesan. But Parveen Bai didn’t want to stay in Agra and wanted to return to Orccha. So to get out of this situation she composed a couplet. In this, she stated that her status is of an already used woman, who is not fit for an emperor. After this Akbar released her from his court and she returned to Orchha.
This beautifully laid garden has a line of water fountains and palace-pavilion with eight pillars. There is an underground retreat in this garden, which was used as a summer retreat by the royals of Orchha. Phool Bagh is still very well maintained and water supply comes here from Betwa river.
The Orchha is popular for its unique temples. These temples are popular among tourists as well as religious travelers. The architecture of Orchha temples is different from the other Indian temples. The famous temples of Orchha are Shri Ram Raja Mandir, Chaturbhuj temple and Laxmi Narayan Mandir.
Shri Ram Raja Mandir or Orchha Dham
This temple is also known as Orchha temple and devotees call the town Orchha Dham due to this temple. The Ram Raja Mandir was initially a palace for King and queen of Orchha. The story of the conversion of Palace into the temple is very interesting.
According to the story, Orchha King Madhukar Shah Ju Dev was a devotee of Lord Krishna but his wife Ganesh Kunwari was a devotee of Lord Ram. Once king and queen went to the temple of Lord Krishna but the temple was closed so they decided to wait for its opening.
While they were waiting they saw a group of devotees singing and dancing in praise of Lord Krishna, they joined them. Lord Krishna felt very happy with their devotion and joined them. They all sang and danced together. After this incident king told his wife that she should also devote herself to Lord Krishna instead of Lord Ram as he never responded or appeared on her prayers. Queen refused to do so then the king asked her to bring the child form of Lord Ram, whom she prays every day. On this, the queen went to Ayodhya to get Lord Ram.
In Ayodhya, she settled herself on the banks of Saryu river near Laxman fort. She prayed and fasted for days, eventually, she stopped eating. After her one month long prayers and fasting when Lord Ram didn’t appear she jumped into Saryu river at midnight to end her life. As that moment Ram appeared in the form of child and agreed to go to Orchha with her.
He put 3 conditions to go to Orchha i.e. (1) He will travel only in Pukh Nakshatra (2) He will be the king of Orchha instead of her husband (3) Since he is in child form so he will travel in queen’s lap and where ever she will seat him, he will remain there forever.
Queen agreed to fulfill these conditions and due to this, they took 9 months to travel from Ayodhya to Orchha.
In the meantime, King had a dream in which Lord Krishna scolded him for his treatment to the queen and told him that he & Ram are the same. King also got the information that the queen is coming with child form of Ram so he started the construction of Chaturbhuj temple. When the queen arrived in Orchha, he welcomed Ram and declared him the King of Orchha. On reaching her palace queen decided to take Ram to Chaturbhuj temple the next morning and put the child form of Ram on the floor.
Next day when she tried to pick him to take to Chaturbhuj temple, the child form of Ram refused to move according to his condition. After this, the palace was converted into a temple for Ram Raja.
Even today the Ram is treated as Raja of Orchha and every day he is given the guard of honor. Police have been designated as security personnel of Ram at the temple and work in the same manner as they are working for a king.
The statue of Ram in the temple was in sitting position with left leg on the right thigh. According to the story, initially, the statue of Ram was in standing position. Queen used to feed him every 3 hours and she used to gets tired. So Lord Ram told her to sit and feed but she refused to do so because Ram was in standing, after that Ram sat.
Temple also has a statue of Sita, Laxman, Hanuman, Jamwant, Durga, Sugreev and Narsingh in the temple. Lord Ram is considered as the Raja of Orchha.
Temple timing: In summers the temple remains open from 8.00 AM till 12.30 PM. Again open in evening at 8.00 PM and closes at 10.30 PM.
In winter months it remains open from 9.00 AM till 1.00 PM. Again open in evening at 7.00 PM and closes at 9.30 PM.
Packed prasad of Ladoo is available in the temple for 20 INR.
The literal meaning of the temple’s name is four arms i.e. “Chatur” means four and “Bhuj” means arms. This means the one who has four arms. The temple is dedicated to Lord Vishnu. This is one of the highest monument in Orchha Madhya Pradesh.
The main temple complex is made on a platform of 4.5 meters. The interiors of the temple are plain but exterior walls have beautiful design and carvings.
The overall height of the temple is 105 meters with spires in the shape of pine cones with ornamentation. The architecture of the temple is a mix of temple and palace architecture. From distance, it gives the impression of a basilica.
The temple was built to place the image of Lord Ram but it was not possible to transfer the image from Ram Raja temple so it remained empty for several years. Now a statue of Krishna and Radha are worshipped in the central dome of Chaturbhuj temple. This is one of the most beautiful temples of Orchha.
Laxmi Narayan Mandir
This temple is on a hillock slightly outside the main Orchha town. This temple is a mixture of temple and fort architecture. There is a small temple dedicated to goddess Laxmi. The main attraction of this temple is the beautiful mythological paintings on inside walls, which are still in good condition. The restoration work is going on for the maintenance of the original structure and paintings.
The view from the top of the Laxmi Narayan Mandir is beautiful and whole Orchha town can be seen from the top. The temple is situated away from everything, so be prepared to walk or arrange an autorickshaw for going and return.
Credit: Wiki Commens
Other important Hindu temples in India are Somnath temple in Gujarat, Kashi Vishwanath temple in Varanasi, Rameshwaram temple, Madurai temple, Kamakhaya temple in Guwahati and Guruvayur temple in Kerala.
The cenotaphs are one of my favorite places to visit in Orchha. They are at the far end of Orchha on Kanchan ghat on Betwa river. The cenotaphs are 1 Km from Ram Raja Mandir. In case if you need an autorickshaw for going then ask the driver for “Chattris” which is Hindi name for cenotaphs. If you are staying in Orchha resort then cenotaphs are next door.
There are total 14 cenotaphs, some are inside the compound and others just outside the compound on the banks of river Betwa.
All the cenotaphs are in a similar rectangular design with high spires except for Raja Bir Singh’s cenotaphs, which is made in the Mughal style of architecture. These Cenotaphs or Chattari’s have 2 to 3 stories but the stairs leading to upper floors are closed to protect the structure from destruction.
The cenotaphs compound is surrounded by a high wall and there is a caretaker at the gate. The cenotaphs premise is well maintained and have manicured gardens.
These cenotaphs can be seen from Orchha bridge as well as from Orchha wildlife century.
The endangered species of vultures are found and protected in Orchha. These cenotaphs are home to these vultures and they laze on the spires.
Orchha wildlife sanctuary
The Orchha town is one side of the Betwa river and wildlife sanctuary is on the other side. There is nothing much to see in the sanctuary in terms of wildlife. At the most, you will see Wild boar, Langur, Blue Bull (Nilgai) and if lucky then Sloth Bear. Bird sighting is also below average. A tour to the sanctuary is avoidable.
I don’t recommend a tour in the sanctuary but a visit necessary according to my experience. We sat on the banks of the Betwa river in the sanctuary and saw the activities on the other side of the river. My favorite time for visiting the sanctuary is before sunset. Spend some time walking around on the banks of Betwa river and then watch the sunset behind the Cenotaphs from here.
It’s easy to walk to the sanctuary but there are lots of langurs and monkeys on the trees near the entry gate. Be aware of them.
Also, Betwa river bridge is quite narrow and if a bus or truck is passing from it then there is only 1 or 1.5 feet space left on sides. Most importantly there are no support or railings on the side of the bridge.
Entry Ticket: Entry fee 50 INR and ticket for taking a tour of the sanctuary is 150 INR. Ticket for auto rickshaw and the car is separate.
Opening Timing: 7.00 AM to 6.00 PM
Orchha is a laid back place and best for relaxing. We would just sit near the river and see the day to day activities, it was fun. For me sitting there was a surreal experience. The boating facility is also available in Betwa.
Betwa bridge is a perfect spot to catch sunrise and sunset. The sunrise can be seen from the Orchha town side as well as from the bridge. Sun rays fall on cenotaphs and they look golden in the morning.
Sunset is best seen from the other side of the Betwa river and from the wildlife sanctuary. The sun sets behind the cenotaphs and looks marvelous.
Things to do in Orchha
When in Orchha don’t miss some of these things.
River Rafting in Orchha
Except for monsoon when current is strong and summer when water is less, river rafting option is available in Orchha. It is better to arrange through the hotel.
Light and Sound show in Orchha fort complex
There is no nightlife in Orchha but watching evening light & sound show is one of the must do a thing in Orchha. In this show, they tell the history of Orchha and it is worth the money.
The seating arrangement for the show is in open near the main gate of Orchha fort complex. In winter months it gets very cold, so carry extra shawl or jacket to keep yourself warm.
Sound & Light Show timing: English Show – 7:45 PM to 8:30 PM and Hindi Show – 8:45 PM to 9:45 PM in Summers
English Show – 6:30 PM to 7:30 PM and Hindi Show – 7:45 PM to 8:45 PM in Winters
Ticket: INR 100 for Light & Sound Show
Cross the bridge on Betwa by foot
This was so much fun for us because as I explained earlier there is hardly any space on the bridge if a bus or truck is passing. All big vehicles make sure that no vehicle is coming from the other side of the bridge before coming on the bridge. They wait for the other vehicle to cross the bridge. Twice I was on the bridge facing the river while a bus crossed next to me and I was hoping that I will not to fall in the Betwa river.
Do the photoshoot
There is practically no crowds in monuments and if you want to do photoshoot then go for it in Orchha. There are so many beautiful monuments, which are the perfect background for photographs.
Go for early morning for bird watching
Get up early and go to the Betwa river to watch some birds. Air is fresh and soothing for senses.
Watch the sunset at Betwa river
The sunset looks spectacular from the banks of the Betwa river or from the bridge. Don’t miss it.
Explore the local market
There are small traditional Indian souvenirs available in the local market. The metal handicraft items are the best item to buy in Orchha. Other than shopping walk around in the market to explore the local culture and lifestyle of semi-rural India.
Important things to know before visiting Orchha
* It is a small town and everything is within 1 to 1.5 Km from the main market of Orchha.
** Orchha is best explored by walking so wear comfortable shoes.
* Since it is a small town so autorickshaw is the best mode of transport.
** There is one composite ticket for all monuments and it is available at Orchha fort complex’s ticket counter. Check the validity of the ticket and keep it safe because it is required at Cenotaphs and Laxmi Narayan temple. In the absence of a ticket, you have to pay extra money to the caretaker of the monument.
Restaurants in Orchha
There is nothing spectacular about the food in Orchha. Most of the restaurants serve Indian as well as international cuisine. If possible stick with Indian cuisine because from my experience dishes like Pizza, Pasta or Noodles can be hit or miss.
Jharokha Restaurant in Sheesh Mahal
This is one of the best restaurants in Orchha with a nice sitting arrangement and air conditioning. They serve Indian and continental cuisine, food quality was good.
Open Sky Restaurant
This small place is on the main road with the sitting arrangement on the first and second floor. Orchha fort is visible from here. Food quality is average.
Well, this not a proper restaurant. There is a small sitting area on the pavement and they cook inside a room. We had stuff paratha with coffee and sweet lassi, which we nice. Don’t know about other items they serve.
Ram Raja Restaurants
It is on the road leading to the causeway going to Orchha fort complex. The restaurant is on the first floor and serves decent Indian vegetarian food. Sitting arrangement is also ok. The most annoying thing about this place is that they give priority to a big group of foreign travelers even if you order much before them.
Kaleva in Orchha resort
The ambiance and interiors are nice but it is outside the main Orchha town close to Cenotaphs. They don’t serve ala carte for lunch and you left with no choice but to eat buffet. In a small town like Orchha, their vegetarian buffet price was on the higher side.
They are inside the Orchha fort complex and have only 8 rooms. It is a good option if you like to stay in heritage properties.
This is a new hotel with a good garden area. Though the entry to the hotel is from a narrow lane. Nice and clean budget accommodation.
This is one of the most popular places with rooms as well as swiss tents.
Orchha Palace and Convention Centre is the best hotel in Orchha.
If one tight budget then stays in Temple view Guesthouse Orchha near Ram Raja temple.
Orchha is one of the hidden gems of Madhya Pradesh in India for a relaxed holiday.