Have you noticed destinations have become relatively easy to process? We come exploring the destination with a picture in our heads and leave with our heads in the picture.

Orchha in Tikamgarh district of Madhya Pradesh, India, was one such place for me! Orchha, the name translates to hidden; true to the name I had hazy pictures of the obscure place, not yet burdened by tourist footfalls, in my mind.

If you were to turn the pages of the history of Orchha you would see the first chapter begins with mention of its discovery in 16th century. Maharaja Rudra Pratap Singh is credited with the discovery of this beautiful town in 1501. After that, Bundela dynasty Kings ruled the city. The kings maintained good relations with the Mughals, one of the reasons why the town is devoid of battle scars. Later, as the British moved in, the kings maintained an amicable relationship with them too.

Incidentally, it is in these forests of Orchha that the great freedom fighter Chandrashekhar Azad carried out his secret revolutionary work against the British during the years 1926 and 1927. No modern skyscraper has reared its ugly head yet in this medieval town layout. Thus, this small jewel of a city, Orchha, has been able to retain its medieval charm.

The town of Orchha is made up of architectural marvels like palaces, a mighty fort, elegant gardens, medieval era temples, old bridges and streets crisscrossing the length and breadth of the city. Of course, seeing them and soaking it up all in one day would be like seeing a movie trailer, nevertheless I made an effort to at least scan through, not sure when I would visit next.

I personally liked the Raja Mahal for its yellow and light brown faded facades and for the majestic views it offers from its elegant jali-windows. In the vicinity there is the Jahangir Mahal, Rai Praveen Mahal, Sheesh Mahal, all of them a confluence of Rajput and Muslim architectural styles.

There is a lingering sense of mystery wrapped around the Rai Praveen Mahal and the beautiful garden, Phool Bagh. After all, it belonged to Raja Indramani’s court dancer and poetess Rai Praveen whose beauty had charmed Emperor Akbar to the extent that he wanted her in his harem. The intelligent woman outwitted mighty Akbar with following lines:

Vinit Rai Praveen ki,
suniye sah sujan.
Juthi patar bhakat hain,
bari, bayas, swan.

Which translates to “O good and intelligent! Please listen to the prayer of Rai Praveen. Only a low caste individual, barber and scavengers ate from a plate partaken by someone else.” Akbar got the hint and respectfully accepted her love for Raja Indramani, and sent her back with dignity.

The towering presence of temples in Orchha exaggerates the infinitesimal-ness of humans and the human world where tangible matters become less significant.

Vir Singh Deo built Lakshmi Narayan Mandir on a hilltop, a little outside the Orchha main city, in 1622. It was dedicated to Goddess Lakshmi with the belief that She would shower her blessings on the town of Orchha. There is no idol of the goddess inside the temple, yet tourists flock around the temple for its architectural splendour, fabulous mural paintings and pillars with ornate carvings.

Chaturbhuj Temple, dedicated to Bhagwan Krishna, is an imposing temple with tall pinnacles built on a high stone platform. It is easy to mistake the huge Chaturbhuj Temple to be a castle. Next to Chaturbhuj Temple is the Raja Ram Mandir where Bhagwan Rama is worshipped and honoured as a king and not as God. The guard of honor given to the seated idol of Raja Ram by the state police personnel is worth watching.

Next I meandered towards the cenotaphs of Bundela Kings on the bank of River Betwa. One must take time out to frame it during the twilight hours. Today the chhatris, as they are called locally, are home to a group of endangered vultures. The waters flow calm and clear, almost throughout the year, thus making it ideal for boating and river rafting. On the other bank of River Betwa is the Orchha Wildlife Sanctuary.

Food and accommodation

If you are looking to sample some local dishes, the small food stalls around the Raja Ram Mandir would be ideal to explore. They are popular for unfamiliar cuisines, like this cuisine of Bundelkhand that includes the dishes from various tribes. If just one food is to be mentioned, munch on Murar Ka Kebab, which is made of lotus stems roasted on a grill — a delicious snack item that will give you a taste of Orchha's local culture.

A good number of accommodation options have mushroomed in the town, that give a comfortable experience in a wide range of budget to suit all pockets. The ones facing Betwa River are sure to give memorable moments for a lifetime.

Orchha offers a heady mix of history, architecture, nature and wildlife experience; it is near impossible to see and experience the whole of Orchha in a span of 24 hours. First timers would do well to visit Orchha during the Diwali festival when the city is wrapped in a blanket of lamps!