Orchha is the erstwhile capital city of the Bundela rulers. The town is steeped in history and is famous for its palaces and temples built in the 16th and 17th centuries. The architectural splendor of the monuments in Orchha reflects the glory of its rulers. The Betwa River, on whose banks Orchha lies, and the forests around it attract tourist to this place.
The history of Orchha is linked with the local Bundela rulers. It has a chequered history. The Bundela dynasty was founded by one of the local Rajput princes in the 11th century. Garkhurar was the earlier capital of the Bundelas. The Bundelas ruled the central part of India from Orchha, from 1531 to 1783. Raja Rudra Pratap moved the capital of the Bundelas to Orchha in 1531. The association of the Bundelas with the Mughals created many problems for the Bundelas. Bir Singh Deo, the ruler of Orchha from 1605-27, got into serious trouble with the great Mughal Emperor Akbar in 1602, when he was associated with Prince Jahangir, the son of Emperor Akbar. Mughal forces all but destroyed the state of the Bundelas.
However, the situation changed in 1605, when Akbar died and Jahangir became the Mughal Emperor. In 1606, Emperor Jahangir visited Orchha. For the next 22 years until 1627, Bir Singh Deo had good relations with the Mughals. In 1627, when Shahjahan became the Mughal Emperor, Bir Singh revolted against the Mughals. However, this revolt was put down by Aurangzeb, the then 13-year old son of Shahjahan. Though the Mughals defeated the Bundelas, they revived their lost empire. In 1783, the Bundela rulers shifted their capital to Tikamgarh.
There are a number of tourist spots in Orchha. The main attraction of Orchha is the Orchha fort complex, located on an island on River Betwa, having a number of palaces to visit within it. A four-arched bridge leads to the fort complex on the island. The Jahangir Mahal, which was built by Bir Singh Deo in the early part pf the 17th century to mark the visit of the Mughal Emperor, is an important monument of this fort. It is known for its delicate work on one hand and balanced with strong masonry on the other. Raj Mahal, the second palace in this fort complex is well known for its murals, depicting religious themes. The Rai Parveen Mahal, dedicated to the 17th-century poetess-musician, is the third palace within this complex and is set amongst well-laid gardens.
There are a number of interesting temples to visit in Orchha. The Raja Ram Temple, which was formerly a palace, is an important tourist spot. According to legend, Lord Ram appeared in dream of the then ruler Madhukar Shah. The ruler subsequently brought an idol of Lord Ram and placed it in this palace, before installing it into a temple. However, when the time of installation approached, the idol refused to move from its present place. The king had to recall his dream, which had indicated that the idol would remain in the place, where it was first placed. Thus this palace became a temple and Lord Ram is worshipped here as a king. The Chaturbhuj temple in Orchha was the original destination of the idol of Lord Ram. This temple has been decorated with religious symbols on the outside, while the interiors are stark. The Laxminarayan temple is a unique blend of temple and fort architecture. The frescoes within this temple depict social and secular themes. These frescoes have retained their vibrant colors.
The Phool Bagh is a well-laid garden and was the resting place of the erstwhile Bundela rulers. This garden has fountains, pavilions and ingenious water ventilation system. Orchha has 14 chhatris or memorials for its rulers, situated near the Kanchan Ghat on River Betwa.
The Shahid Smarak commemorating the martyrdom of Chandrashekhar Azad, the great freedom fighter, is an important place to visit. Other places to visit in Orchha include the shrine of Siddh Baba Ka Sthan, Jugal Kishore, Janki Mandir, Dinman Hardul's palace, Sunder Mahal, and the Hanuman Mandir at Ochharedwara.
Orchha's fort complex, approaches by a multi-arched bridge, has threee palaces set in an open quadrangle. The most spectacular of thee are:
Built by Raja Bir Singh Ju Deo in the 17th century to commemorate the visit of Emperor Jehangir to Orchha. Its strong lines are counterbalanced by delicate chhatries and treillies work, the whole conveying an effect of extraordinary richness.
Situated to the right of the quardrangle, this palace was built by Madhukar Shah, the deeply religious predecessor of Bir Singh Ju Deo. The plain exteriors, crowned by Chharties, give way to interiors with exquisite murals, boldly colourful, on a variety of religious themes.
Poetess and musician, Rai Praveen was the beautiful paramour of Raja Indramani (1672-76), and was sent to Delhi on the orders of Emperor Akbar, who was captivated by her. She so impressed the Great Mughal with the purity of her love for Indramani that he sent here back to Orchha. The palace built for her is a low, two storeyed brick structure, designed to match the height of the trees in the surrounding, beautifully landscaped gardens of Anand Mahal, with its octagonal flower beds and elaborate water supply system. Skilfully carved niches allow light into the Mahal which has a main hall and smaller chambers. Ram Raja Temple: This palace - turned - temple has a charming legend attached to it. Following the dream visitatio of Lord Rama, Madhukar Shah's wife, Ganesh Kunawari brought a statue of the god from Ayodha to Orcha. While the king was a worshipper of Lord Kridhna, the Queen was devotee of Lord Krishna, the queen was a devotee of lord Rama. The image was placed in a palace prior to its installation in a temple. When the idol proved impossible to move, the queen recalled, too late the deity's edict that the image would remain in the place where it was first installed. Today, with its soaring spires and palatial architecture, the temple is surely one of the most unusual in India. It is also the only in the country where Rama is worshipped as a king (Raja).
Built upon a massive stone platform and reached by a steep flight of steps. The temple was specially constructed to enshrine the image of Ram that remained in the Ram Raja Templ. Lotus emblems and other symbols of religious significance provide the delicate exterior ornamentation. Within, the sanctum is chastely plain with high, vaulted walls emphasizing its deep sanctity. Laxminarayana temple: A flagstone path links this temple with the Ram Raja Temple. The style is an interesting synthesis of fort and temple moulds. The interiors Covering the walls and ceiling of three halls, these murals are vibrant compositions and cover a variety of spiritual and secular subjects. They are in an excellent state of preservation, with the colours retaining their vivid quality.
Laid out as a formal garden, this complex testifies to the refined aesthetic qualities of the Bundelas. A central row of fountains culminates in an eight-pillared palace-pavilion. A subterranean structure below was the cool summer retreat of the Orchha kings. An ingenious systems of water ventilation connected the underground palace with Chandan Katora, a bow-like structure from whose fountains droplets of water filtered through to the roof, simulating rainfall.
Hardaul was a son of Bir Singh Ju Deo, and died to prove his innocence to his elder brother Jhujhar who cast doubts on his relationship with his (Jhujhar's) consort. This saintly prince was, after his martyrdom, worshipped as a god, and even today, the villages of Bundelkhand contain platform -like shrines where Hardaul is worshipped.
This small palace, almost in ruins today, is still a place of pilgrimage for Muslims Dhurjban, son of Jhujhar, embraced Islam when he wed a Muslim girl at Delhi. He spent the latter part of his life in prayer and meditation and came to be revered as a saint.
There are fourteen 'Chatries' or memorials to the rulers of Orchha, grouped along the Kanchana Ghat of the river Betwa.
Commemorates the great freedom fighter Chandrashekhar Azad who lived and worked in hiding in Orchha during 1926 and '27 a Sthan, Jugal Kishore, the Janki Mandir and the Hanuman Mandir at Ohharedwara.
The historic city of Jhansi is 18 km from Orchha. It is a famous tourist destination and is known for the exploits of Rani Jhansi, who played an important role in fighting the British during the revolt of 1857. A number of monuments belonging to this period including Jhansi Fort and Rani Jhansi's Palace are important tourist attractions of Jhansi.
Orchha is within easy reach from Delhi. Visitors often combine it with a visit to the Taj Mahal in Agra and the erotic temples of Khajuraho. Jhansi is the nearest railway station and Gwalior the nearest airport.
The distance between Jhansi and Orchha is 18 kilometres. There are several trains running daily from New Delhi to Jhansi (via Agra and Gwalior). They depart either from New Delhi station or Hazrat Nizamuddin station. The Shatabdi is the fastest train: it leaves New Delhi station early morning at 6:15 a.m. and reaches Jhansi a little before 11:00 a.m. Other trains take about 6.5 hours from Delhi to Jhansi.
The fastest train from Bhopal to Jhansi is the Shatabdi. It leaves Bhopal at 2:30 p.m. and reaches Jhansi at 5:45 p.m.
The trip from Khajuraho to Orchha can be done by a slow train that stops at Orchha station, or by bus to Orchha tigela or Jhansi bus station and then by autorickshaw to Orchha or else the luxury way by taxi.