First, I have a confession to make. Well, two confessions actually. The first is that until I went to India, I had never heard of Orchha. I simply jumped at the chance to camp at the banks of the Betwa River which flows through the Central state of Madhya Pradesh and on to the North-East of Uttar Pradesh via Orchha. In my mind I saw myself waking up at the banks of the river with fog surrounding our tents and the smell of morning dew. Perhaps I would even take a dip in the river......
View of the Betwa River
Well, here's where I make my second confession. I am a sell out! The property we had booked to camp with offered us a free upgrade to its hotel. As excited as I was about camping, I was fully aware that the next leg of my trip involved an overnight sleeper train. Sure listen, I won't even try to defend myself, I traded my riverside camping dream for a deluxe room with a garden view and a pool in the Orchha Resort!
A room fit for Royalty
I don't know what I did to deserve it, but I somehow found myself in a room fit for a Princess. Everything was made entirely from white marble, from the bed frame, to the coffee table, the light fittings to the chaise long. The bed was draped with gold silk and dressed with a runner of turquoise silk and light pink velvet. Six large velvet pillows in light pink and turquoise trim topped off what I had already named my "Princess Bed". It was a far cry from the tent, but I was not complaining! Along the wall a large and elaborate painting depicting a scene from a Hindu legend featuring Lord Krishna. Of course by now I had dumped my backpack and although I would have been happy to take full advantage of my beautiful room, I had places to go.
A bed fit for a Princess
Orchha is relatively new to tourism and it struck me how much they had learned about the industry. I was told that this would be a good place to do some souvenir shopping and as soon as I left the resort, I was surrounded by stall owners trying to attract me to view their goods. I was joined on my shopping trip by two Norwegian girls and realised quite quickly, that they were far better at haggling than I was. As we wandered further into the centre of the town we found a full and bulging market selling everything from food, to clothes, to local art and tiny idols of Hindu Gods. Everything was so cheap in comparison to home and so I ran amok, buying gifts such as bangles, beautifully decorated cloth bags, bejewelled bindis and a teak carving of the elephant formed God Ganesha.
Later that evening, after a delicious buffet dinner at the resort, we ventured down to the local temple to witness a real life Hindu ceremony. Outside, we purchased pink petals and incense to dedicate to the Hindu Idols. As we presented the flowers we made a wish, touching our foreheads to the ledge. Similarly we made a second wish while moving the incense in a circular motion. I enjoyed how interactive the Hindu ceremony was and noticed the significant differences between this and a Christian ceremony.
Visiting the Cenotaphs
The next morning we got up early and decided it was time to see more of Orchha. Right next door to the resort were the Centotaphs or "Chhatris" which are tombs in memory of the Bundela Kings and members of their dynasty. As Hindu people cremate their dead, the cenotaphs were erected at the site where the kings were cremated. The buildings were three stories tall and the complex surrounded by beautiful blossoming flowers. Other than this the only life to be seen were the Vultures that nested at the top of the cenotaphs. I had never seen a vulture before and couldn't help get the feeling that they got an awful bad rap, often considered to be evil in children's tales. I found them to be quite majestic.
At the Cenotaphs
A majestic Vulture
A Palace for One Night Only
Next we grabbed a tuk tuk and took the short journey to the Orchha Fort Complex a collection of palaces including Raja Mahal, Sheesh Mahal, Jahangir Mahal and Phool Bagh. The palace that intrigued me most was the Jahangir Mahal, because it was built exclusively for the Mughal Emperor Jahangir, who was a guest in the Palace for one night only. I couldn't believe that this three storied Palace which took years to build was only occupied for a single night. It was an example of just how powerful and ludicrously rich the Kings were at this time. As I wandered through the complex of this enormous fort, I couldn't help but wonder, "How have I never heard of this place?". How can a place this rich in history exist and hardly anyone has ever heard of it? It felt bizarre and humbling.
Views from the Orchha Fort
I had been waiting for a long time to get some Henna art done and I knew that it lasted roughly a week, so I decided to wait until the end of my trip to indulge. I was only 4 days from home, so I decided to have my Henna Tattoo done in Orchha. Following a cooking demonstration from a lady named Vandana, she recommended her neighbour who came over with a laptop full of designs. I wasn't sure what I was expecting, but a young man with a large portfolio was not it! Without even asking what I would like, he looked at me and then began a swirling design on my left hand. He had no English and I had no Hindi, but I somehow trusted him to know what I was looking for. Within minutes my hands were completely covered, front and back with the most intricate designs and a strong minty smell! It was so beautiful that I stop looking at my hands all afternoon. I was told that the darker your Henna, the better your husband will be and back at the hotel a man joked "You will marry a millionaire!". Even the feminist in me didn't complain.
My trip to India was coming to an end, but I had one last stop and on e last adventure. That night I boarded an overnight sleeper train to take me to the spiritual city of Varanasi. And what an adventure that turned out to be.......