Under the Goan sun

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Orchha – unexplored combination of natural beauty and Bundeli Legacy

IMAG0431Orchha situated on the banks of river Betwa is about 20 kms away from Jhansi which happens to be my hometown, I have been here countless times during my childhood but have never liked it so much as my last visit in Dec’2012.

Orchha has always been known for the famous Ram Raja temple and seldom for its architecture.

Our one day tour started with the visit to Ram Raja temple.

The Rama Raja temple is devoted to Lord Rama, as per locals this is the only temple in India where Lord Rama is worshipped as King and not as God. The deity worshipped at the temple as a king and a Guard of Honour is held everyday. Police personnel have been designated as Guards at the temple too, much in the manner of a king. The food and other amenities provided to the deity at the temple are a royal repast. Guess thats the reason why even today the very first inivitation card of any Hindu wedding in the region is sent to Raja Ram, my wedding invite was no exception to it :-).

And like various other temples, this temple trust does not allow to click any pictures inside the temple

This temple was built by queen Kunar Ganesh who was wife of Madhukar Shah.There are multiple stories about the temple the most common one goes like this:-”The King of Orchha King Madhukar Shah was a devotee of Banke Bhihari (Lord Krishna) while his wife was a devotee of Lord Rama. One day they had an agrument and queen decided to leave the palace to bring Lord Ram to Orchha along with her and ordered her servants to start building a temple (Chaturbhuj Temple) when she brings Lord Ram with her.

After reaching Ayodhya the Queen fasted for several days in Ram temple. The queen became very frail after several days had passed; eventually Lord Ram appeared in front of the queen. The queen requested Lord Ram to come with her to Ayodhya. Lord Ram agreed but he put forth three conditions: 1. Since Ram was “Maryada Purshottam” he said …”I will take the form of a small child and then go with you”, 2. “Once I reach Orchha, I will be the King of Orchha and not you and your husband”, 3. “The moment Pushya nakshtra sets in I will become immovable at will stay at that place forever”. The Queen agreed and Lord Ram took the form of a baby and started his journey to Orchha in the Queens lap.

She took 14 years to reach, as she travelled only on a particular day in a month.

On returning back to Orchha the queen went back to her palace with diety of Ram, only to take Lord Ram to the Chaturbhuj temple when it was ready.But the diety never moved from the palace,to this day the Ram Raja Temple is in the palace and not in the Chaturbhuj which is right next to the palace. Additionally as promised by the queen Lord Ram is the King (Raja) of Orchha, hence the name Ram Raja Temple”.

After attending the arti at the temple we went to visit Hardowl Baithaka Palki Mahal and Phool Bagh a small garden which has entrance from two sides on from Palaki Mahal side and other towards the road to Lakshi temple.

There were local vendors ouside the place and even near Hardaul ki Baithak, selling an odd range of things from cosmetics to seasonal fruits, utensils to daily needs. I enjoyed gol gappas at one of the stalls and believe me they were so yumm … that my mouth had started watering even now.

From there we went to Chaturbhuj temple which is situated at the left side of the Ram Raja temple,IMAG0365
first look at unkept and dusty and high stairs of Chaturbhuj temple can demotivate any one from going further but we decided to climb those stairs and decided to find out what is above those stairs, this was the first time when I had visited this place, we had always avoided prior to this visit due to one reason or other. The view from the temple platform was spectacular, Raj Mahal in front , chataris on the right and betwa on the left. From the back side of the temple platform we could se some more structures of abandoned temples and houses each telling a unique story about there existence.

Directions for the places mentioned can be find on heritage walk foot print which can be found near in Chaturbhuj temple .IMAG0356

This was the temple which was build by Queen’s servants for Lord Ram. Its a huge temple built in same style as that of other temples in Northern India. High Ceilings, big windows , secret passages, 3 stories, small jharokas meant for royal ladies and not to forget weirdly high stairs and low ceilings of the stair case. In this temple we met an unprecedented guide he was best I have ever met he showed us all around the temples, , scenic points, birds visiting, told the stories about the king and queens and the monkeys who are the most common visitors of the temple. Had this temple been the main temple of the city it would have been one of the best.

Beholding the beauty of the view from the top of the temple we started walking towards the residence of the royals.On the way to the palace we saw shops selling copper , bronze and various earthy idols of Shiva, nandi, chilums(smoking pipes),etc. IMAG0395All these items looked like they have been in existence from hundreds of years. And not to forget there were ghungroos(small metalic bells used by dancers as ankelts.) telling the story about Rai Praveen, she was the best dancer of the kingdom era.

Raja Mahal is on a island connected to main city with a small bridge , along side of it there is Jahangir Mahal, Rai Praveen Mahal,Hamam Khana and Uth Khana .IMAG0358

After buying the tickets we started out tour on this side of the city with Jahangir Mahal, a huge structure presented to Jahangir by the King during his visit to Orchha which later as told by the local people became one night palace for the royal visitors.

This is a huge structure built in a combination of both Mughal and Indian architectural style. One has to visit this structure to feel the grandness of it. At the entrance, large stone statues of elephants are kept at the either side decorated with beautiful stone carvings representing the finesse of the stone artist of that age. As per legends these elephants symbolizes real elephants who were at entrance when Jahangir has visited.

At the centre there is a huge platform surrounded wall on all four sides with same construction on all four sides. This structure had four stories, one underground for the army and rest for the royals. The walls are decorated with blue stone work, it was simply amazing to see this kind of colored work on the walls, and believe me all the visitors whom I met in this palace were amazed by the beauty of this blue stone work.A glimpse of it can be seen in this picture.IMAG0387

The whole of kingdom of Orchha is not a very big one which I should say on a positive note as one can see the entire Kingdom standing on of the roof of the main construction.
On the top floor of the Mahal we were able to listen to the sound of the Betwa flowing near by and sitting in one of the window we experienced the most fresh air and serene beauty of the place. Sitting there was rejuvenating, the fresh air had done it magic.
From the window we could see Rai Praveen’s Mahal, her dancing platform and some more temples which were built on smaller islands rather I should say cluster of rocks in the river.

Uth Khana or the palce for resting camel army is right in front of the Jehangir Mahal. Name of this stable and contruction style are quite contrary, in fact the note from the archaelogical society leaves a question for us whether it was a really a stable or something itself. Along side is the front view of Jehangir Mahal from the here.One can see the complete structure from distance only as its too grand to be caputred by human eye.IMAG0378

Ancient days Sheesh Mahal situated at the back side of the Mahal is now converted into a heritage hotel owned by MP tourism.It appeared to be good hotel but since Jhansi is my hometown I didn’t stayed here. Then came the time to visit the royal residence the guide told us that the ruler Rudra Pratap Singh has built this palace- fort. He said to have 6 queens,this story is evident from the painitngs at the wall showing six queens along with the king.Like a typical palace this also have Deewan-e-Khas and Deewan-e- Aam for royals and commeners respectively. Then was the Kings room a huge room with 3 rooms on either side for each queen respectively. IMAG0392The walls as well as celings were decorated with various paintings decipting stories about lords incarnation, king’s hunting adventures, queens performing rituals during various festivals . Similar to Jahangir mahal this is also have big platform in centre surrounded by walls on all four sides. In the left corner there lies a dancing platform which tells the story of Rai Praveen, the musician, the poetess the beautiful paramour of Raja Indramani (1672- 76) and was sent to Delhi on the orders of the Emperor Akbar, who was captivated by her. She so impressed the Great Mughal with the purity of her love for Indramani that he sent her back to Orchha.Rai Praveen so called residence was near by which I have mentioned earlier was also visible from the top of Jahangir Mahal.After walking thorugh the entire palace we got so tired that we decided to take a break and eat something.

We came to main street which we have seen on the way to the palace, and I was amazed with the fact that these small restaurants were serving various cusines beside Indian. One can easily find Italian, Israeli , Mexican and chinese meals on this street, we settled for most familiar North Indian thali, even if your are not Indian you should try this atleast once.The boy who was working at the hotel told us to definitely visit Lakshmi Narayan temple which is situated on a hill at the back side of the Ram Raja Temple.

After having our meal we started driving towards the place and I was suprised to see the number of hotels which have come up all around the city and more suprising was to see tourists from far of coutries staying here for as long as fifteen days and exploring all the details.IMAG0398

The guide at the fort told us that lakshmi narayan temple in the shape of owl which is goddess Lakshmi’s vehicle, the entrance represents owls face , wings are represented by sides and the back represents the tail of the bird.Among all the structures this temple is excellently preserved,we could see the paintings on the walls , windows and ceilings which stood timeless and ageless, colours still intact no sign of fading and all representling the unmatched skill of painters of that age.

Such bold use of colours attention to details representing each expression so beautifully throughout the painting is such an amazing thing to watch.At the door step of the temple we meet a man dressed like a sadhu who was sitting and playing flute and waiting for some help in cash from the visitors, he sang many dohas(small poems) from the colletion of famous poets of Hindu age and also told there meanings. The explanation which he gave was incredible.Listening to him I realised how many things of hindi literature are still not known. After walking for whole day and climbing so many royal stairs up ad down we were almost at verge of loosing our traveler’s spirit for the day but as soon as we reached the KachanGhat of river Betwa which is at the right side of the we re gained our energy. On right side of this ghat there are fifteen cenotaphs, tombs of the Bundela Kings.Each of these are built in the memory of the respective king the one built  in memory of Virdeo Singh who built the Jehangir Mahal, phool bagh and Lakshmi Narayan temple is very different from rest and is situated right at the banks of the river.Similar to Jahangir Mahal these are also built in mix Bundeli and Mughal style.IMAG0434

We enjoyed our evening tea sitting at the Kanchan Ghat with a thought in mind that will be soon paying another visit to this serene and absolutely beautiful place.One day is just not enough if one likes to get indulged completely in the beauty of the place and its surrondings.

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