Orchha the small town of palaces is a magical city, situated on the banks of River Betwa and sorrounded by the scrub forest. 16 kms from Jhansi the beautiful town of Orchha gives us the feel of a 20th century complex nestled and preserved in the cocoon of time. Our stay was in Sheesh mahal, a beautiful palace managed by MP tourism. A total of 8 rooms, less rush, big, open and airy rooms was what greeted us, the staff were very cordial and helped us plan our next two days. All other palaces are just a walk away, and a climb to the top of our room itself gave us the entire view of Orchha town. Right to the opposite was the Raj Mahal and Jahangir Mahal, The temples of Chaturbhuj and Ram Raja temple was just a road away and the chhattris on the banks of the river could be seen a little away.
Took rest in the afternoon and decided to have a look around. In the hallway met Dubeyji who introduced himself as a guide and so the rest of the day accompanied us. As we drove around the 2 km radius of the sleepy town, nothing much to mention about the place. In 16th century Orchha was the capital of Bhundelkhand region. Under the kings Bharti Chand, Madhukar Shah and Bir Singh Deo Orchha reached its zenith of prosperity. Many monuments here were built during Bir Singh Deo's reign.
Our first place was Laxmi Narayan temple, although there is no idol here, as it was stolen. The temple has jaali windows a feature not seen in Indian temples, the walls and ceilings are well decorated, but the ravages of time and careless visitors have led to the ill health of these beautiful pieces of art. The life of Lord Krishna, Ramayana and the fight of Rani Lakshmi Bhai of Jhansi has been well depicted. One wall shows the army of Rani and the other wall shows the advancing British soldiers. The temple is 1.5 km away from Sheesh mahal which made us take our car.
Our next destination was the Chaturbhuj temple and Ram Raja temple. The Chaturbhuj temple stands on a massive stone platform with a flight of steps, and was built to enshrine the Ram idol now in Ram raja temple, since the idol refused to move. Now an image of Radheykishan is worshipped here.
The Ram raja temple is just the opposite, and has an interesting legend associated with it. Madhukar Shah's wife Ganesh Kuwari saw a dream of Lord Ram and went on a pilgrimage to Ayodhya, and brought an idol of Sri Ram with her to Orchha on condition that she will non stop continue her journey from Ayodhya and that once she places the idol anywhere she wont be able to move it. Since the Chaturbhuj temple was not ready then, she placed the idol in her palace, but then when the temple was ready the diety refused to move. So it was installed there and Ram here is worshipped as the king, and the prasad here consists of 2 ladoos, a pan and incensed cotton stick for Rs 10/-. Thousands of worshippers visit the temple during Ram Vivah, which is held every year in November.
We then proceeded to see the cenotaphs or chaatris, there are 14 ones beautifully located on the Kanchana ghat of the river Betwa and enclosed in a well maintained garden. This year the water in the river was lesser, hence the collector and his team was there for inspection. We spent around 45 mins there. All the cenotaphs are similar in design, and symmetrically located.
We came back to our hotel complex besides which stand the towering palaces of Jahangir and Raja mahal. Jehangir mahal was built by Raja Bir Singh Deo in the 17th century to welcome Emperor Jehangir. Raja Mahal was built by Madhukar Shah and it is here the Light and sound show is held. The mahals are well decorated with Vishnu avatars and various other gods and goddesses. Climbing up we can have the entire view of Orchha and around.
At a distance one spots the Rai Praveen Mahal a double storeyed brick apartment, who was the courtesan of Raja Indramani. She was asked to go to Delhi, to Akbar's court as she was a skilled dancer, singer, musician and a poetess & had become quite famous. She was reffered to as Nightingale of Orchha. The second floor of the mahal has many scenes of her dance postures. Akbar smitten by her dance and grace asks her to stay back in the mahal, but Rai Praveen tactfully answers the emperor back hinting she belongs to Raja Indramani and lower creatures like dogs and crows feast on remains. Akbar understanding her message sends her back to Orchha with full honours. The king gets this mahal made for her then. It also has a Top khana which kept vigil round the clock from any exterior threat.
After a full round of Orchha back in our hotel, we went to see the Sound and Light show (English 7.30 to 8.30 and followed by hindi). It is a beautiful story telling of Orchha with sound effects and light illumination of the palace. It would the better if one sees the mahals and temples after the sound and light show. It familiarizes us with the history and past of Orchha. The journey of Ganesh Kuwari from Ayodhya to Orccha with Lord Ram, The poisoned death of Lala Hardaul by his sister in law to prove her faithfulness to her husband has been beautifully expressed. Had a wonderful time, but dont forget to carry odomos tubes with you as there are mosquitoes. The entry is Rs 75 for adults and Rs 40 for kids under 12.
Khajuraho to Orchha is another 175 kms. Our bookings were made in Hotel Payal which is just near to the Western group of temples and the sound and light show. The hotel guys say its just walking distance but we preffered to take our vehicles along. There is no parking issues as such anywhere. There is a Mrignayani handloom emporium here, a big one. By 2pm we were in Khajuraho, the place much heard and studied in history books. Are kids allowed in the temples? Is it ok for kids to come along? were our worries after reaching here. Well after seeing the temples we felt that just a few expressions were unexplanatory, but kids could hardly sprain their necks to the heights and come up with questions. So overall we were relaxed when the hotel guys told us that kids can be take along and its not as such, as being projected. So in the evening we decided to visit the Eastern group of temples. The location of Payal is very much strategic as far as visiting the temples are concerned, although accomodations are basic their location and service is good.
The roads were under construction and so we took to the Parsvanath temple ie the largest Jain temple first. From the gate we got a local guide who agreed to show us the Eastern group of temples for Rs 150/- not a bad bargain.
The Jain temple complex is a group of 16 temples, of which Adinath temple is the famous. The temples here are well sulptured with life events and more. The Parsavnath temple has a throne within which is the bull emblem. The Ghantai temple depicts the 16 dreams of Mahavira's mother and a Jain goddess on a winged garuda. Each temple has its own speciality as the Chaturbhuj temple opens westwards, The Shiv temple has a 12ft murti which is very lively and beautifully sculptured. A new group of temple remains have been discovered at Vijay math and work on the excavations is going on. The guide(Im sorry to forget his name) was fast to show us the spot just near the Suhagraat temple. The Shiva, Vishnu and Krishna temples were followed by Vamana, Javeri and Brahma temple. By the time we reached the last we were tired of climbing the flight of stairs and straining our necks. But the temples truly were mesmerising and felt as it it was built by some super human. Back on the way he tells us about the history of Khajuraho, temples built somewhere in 950-1050AD. There were 85 temples of which around 22 survive. The hands behind the temples are believed to be of the moon descents. The daughter of a Brahman priest Hemavati was seduced by moon god while she was bathing in the pool. The child born was Chandravarman, who founded the Chandela dynasty
The temples as were great centres of worship and rituals once, later they got neglected and then if passed on to the tantric cult who occupied there temples. This too didnt last long and later got engulfed in the thick forest, to be re-discovered by British engineer T. S. Burt later. Could be thats the reason why there temples were able to withstand the plunder and devastation of the mughals. By the time we were returning it begin to drizzle as so the light and sound show was cancelled. We had to wait for the next eve.
The next day after breakfast we set out to see the Western group of temples, which is in a complex. The temples have a ticket entry and we can also take an audio visual tour. the tickets are _________. The Chaturbhuj temple, 4 armed Vishnu is seated here who was brought from Tibet. The Duladeo Temple has a large shivling in the garbha griha, and is decorated with carvings of Shiva and Parvati, many in erotic poses. The Jagadamba temple has a large sculpture of goddess and is the only temple where worship was going on. The Kandariya Mahadeva temple, the finest of the all is again a Shiva temple and the largest one in the complex. The Lakshmana temple the most exquistely decorated, covered almost completely with images of over 600 gods and goddesses. This temple also has sexual carvings on the southern side of the temple. The Chitragupta and Vishwanatha temples are the others, the former being dedicated to Surya sun god and the Vishwanath having a 3 headed image of Brahma.
The sun was strongly shining and it was very hot, the park and sorroundings are well maintained. Do carry caps and sunglasses with you. Some temples are in a good condition while many sculptures are damaged. There is a small stall inside selling snacks and drinks. The guided tour provides a well marked introduction to the place and it is a must to take one. In order to have a good look of the carvings one can spent a whole day here. We could hardly spent 2-3 hours by the time the sun drained us out and we left for the next destination is Raneh falls. It is inside a jungle and is called the Niagra falls of india. In monsoons water tumbles down from the heights giving a spectacular view, the rocks of granite, basalt and quartz mountains are seen here. There were some small falls which were itself so beautiful, the falls had formed deep gorges and the water flows in between. Its a beautiful place. The best time to visit here is monssons ie July August to see waterfalls. The entry here is Rs200 for car and Rs60 for the guide. Its closed on Wednesday.
Also one can visit the Pipra ghat and Gharial nature trail.
The next day we start from Hotel Payal to Hotel Kalchuri residency in Jabalpur. We start at 9am. Its quite hot and humid by then, we are served with poha and idli today for breakfast. Food is ok and staff is also ok. We cross the Ken river, stop to shoot a few clicks, the roads after the river were bad, then we cross the ghats to reach Pandav caves and waterfalls. Its nearly 45 kms away. Park the car and pay fees of Rs 200 plus Rs 60 for guide. The place is beautiful, we walk down and descend steps to reach a clearing where a small waterfall and a cave which is now closed is seen. It is said to be the place where Pandavs stayed in agyathvaas. The roots of trees hang down which continously drop water, the water is sweet to drink and said to be fine spring water. People fill water in bottles from here. The guide is near the cave and he just tells you the legend and history thats it. The climb back is tough nearly 1.5 kms, so wear good sports shoes to make the climb and descent easier. We reach Kalchuri by 2.15. That day we take rest and roam about Jabalpur market to have a feel of the place.
The next day by 9 we were ready to see Bhedaghat which is roughly 20 kms away. Being a Sunday there was huge rush here, the water in the river was more hence boating was shut - sheer bad luck. Ropeway was open, Narmada river was in her heights of beauty gushing forth from the mountains and gingelly flowing between the marble rocks. The sight was just amazing, there were many people around have a bath in the river, or filling the sacred water in bottles. There are many shops enroute which sell marble and granite sculptures especially of gods and goddesses. Many shops carve your names in marble, and my daughter too got one for herself.
From here we decided to go to Bargi dam. The route we took was wrong so we had to take a bad route which was just being laid. We were thinking that none would be there. Whose going take this bad road to reach here? but to our surprise we found the place very much happening than expected. There is the Maikal resort run by MP tourism here which has a few rooms just on the banks of the lake. Boating takes place here, and we hired a speed boat to see around. By 3.30 we decided to return back and the traffic police guided us through a better route.
The next day by 10 we set out for Chitrakoot. By 3 we reached, the roads were pretty bad. Once we checked in the hotel and had lunch we met another guide who asked for Rs 1000 but the agreed for half the price. He took us to Janaki kund first, a beautiful stretch of Mandakini river where Sita used to bathe. Its a beautiful and blessed place where one can have a bath and spent time in solitude. The priests here will pester you for money and chadava which is a bit irritating. We then went to Kamadgiri, the original Chitrakoot which is a forested hill and has lots of temples and a small population of people settled here. One parikrama is 5 kms barefoot and dont know how but we did it. Enroute we saw the Bharat milap temple where Bharat ment Ram, the peepal tree where Ramayana was written, various temples around the mountain, Lakshman temple on another mountain where her kept vigil and so on.
The next day we had a long list of temples to see and it started form Sati Anasuya temple complex, located in a forest. It was here Atri muni and his wife Anusuya stayed with their 3 sons. The Mandakini is believed to form here by her meditation. monkey menance on the high here so do not carry bags or food apart from your handbag. We then went to see Gupta Godavari, which are 2 caves one dry and one wet. One is narrow and hardly a single person can pass at a time, but its large inside. There are various gods seated at various pedalstals and we were literally forced to shell out cash at each place. The exit is same as entry and are moved in and out in groups. The next cave is the secret source of river Godavari , which has knee deep water and we have to wade in to reach the shila where puja is done. It is dark and narrow, and as we walk the stones turn pointed, and difficult to step onto. Parking is a issue as the people dont allow us to park in front of their shops. Our guide was helpful at times, in finding some inner places to park our beast. Too hot and humid we were tired for more , so returned back to restart in the evening.
In the eve we dediced to see Hanuman dhara, a flight of 600 steps take u there, small steps but a good climb. After Hanuman returned form Lanka his body was burnt and Lord Ram is said to have created a spring to cool him down. There are again many temples here, and has a good view around.
The Ram ghat was just a walk from the hotel as the hotel is ideally located near the ghat, like most other ghats it comes alive in the eve with arti and bhajans. Many people were taking a dip in the river.
So the end of our MP trip, the next morn at 9am we start for delhi.