Introducing Orchha, a Small Town Full of Ruins, Temples and Palaces in India
Unless you’re researching a trip to India (or you’re from there), you probably haven’t heard of Orchha. This small town in Madhya Pradesh, around five hours from Agra, features an array of historic wonders, including palaces, temples and mysterious riverside chhatris.
Seeing the Chhatris at Sunset
The huge, temple-esque chhatris are memorials to the past rulers of Orchha. These massive structures on the edge of town melt into the lush countryside — seeing them bathed in the late afternoon sun is something I’ll never forget. It was such a special place that I proposed to Gia there on our last night in Orchha. You can walk inside the chhatris but we could only find a way to climb up the smallest one. I’ve seen some great photos of the chhatris from the other side of the Betwa River but heavy monsoon rains washed away the bridge just before we visited.
Orchha, once the capital of one of central India’s most powerful kingdoms, was founded in the early 1500s. Orchha means “hidden”, and that name still rings true today. There were only a handful of people wandering around the chhatris at sunset, in fact most sights in Orchha were almost completely devoid of other tourists. I can’t believe how quiet Orchha is given its close proximity to Agra (AKA Taj Mahalville).
The fort complex, which houses two impressive palaces, dominates downtown Orchha. We bought our Orchha tickets (250 INR for foreigners, good for all the sights in town) and headed straight for Jehangir Mahal. Dozens of small pavilions and arches surround the massive inner courtyard of this 17th century palace. We stayed there for ages, happy to be quietly immersed in such a beautiful piece of history. It’s worth seeking out some of the original turquoise tiles scattered around the palace and you can also see great views over the ruins-laden countryside. We walked around Jehangir Mahal for an hour or so and then moved on to the Raj Mahal.
Almost the entire palace opened up before our eyes upon entering the inner courtyard of the Raj Mahal. The structure crams in an unbelievable amount of little arches — it’s fascinating to see and would have been even more amazing in its 17th century prime. We climbed up various narrow staircases and walked along paths with no railings to keep people from falling down to the courtyard below. This definitely isn’t a place for small children who like to wander!
There are some colorful treasures lurking inside some of the Raj Mahal’s hallways. These ancient paintings have been really well preserved — it’s some of the best palace art that we saw in India. You’ll need a guide to decipher them, but some things are probably best left to the imagination.
This ancient Hindu temple in the centre of Orchha is a popular hangout for locals. Apparently the views from the top of the temple are worth the climb but we couldn’t find a way up there (and no locals offered to guide us up). Chaturbhuj temple is surrounded by market stalls and sits next to the Ram Raja temple, an important Hindu site.
Orchha is a tiny town and you’re never far away from the countryside, which happens to be teeming with ruins. The Camel Stables (a building which may or may not have housed camels) is worth seeking out. We saw lots of little ruins on the short walk from the palaces to the stables. We then headed past another small palace on the way to a temple where dogs and cows roamed around the crumbling walls and narrow passageways. There is so much to see in the countryside outside Orchha — we didn’t come close to discovering it all.
Orchha Travel Tips
- Where to stay in Orchha: There are plenty of cheap hotels in Orchha, but if you’re looking for something a bit special you should head to Amar Mahal. This luxurious haveli style hotel makes you feel like you’re sleeping in a palace. The property is full of beautiful arches, paintings and seating areas, and you can also see views of Chaturbhuj temple and the chhatris. Check out Gia’s review of Amar Mahal over at mismatched passports.
- Getting to Orchha: Most people arrive on a train or tour bus from Agra. The trains stop at Jhansi, where you can catch a rickshaw to Orchha (200 INR, or 20 INR for a crowded shared rickshaw). If you’re travelling from Agra to Orchha make sure to stop off in Gwalior to see the fort, palaces and Jain sculptures. From Orchha we travelled by train (via Jhansi) to Khajuraho, the next logical step when travelling east to Varanasi and Kolkata.
- Where to eat in Orchha: We ate excellent butter chicken at Amar Mahal and some great thalis at Betwa Tarang Restaurant. They were so good that we didn’t bother eating at any other restaurants.
Would you like to visit Orchha? Have you been to any small towns in India? Let me know in the comments below!
Disclaimer: I was hosted by Amar Mahal. All thoughts and opinions are my own.