It's 6 am and it is dawn in Orchha. This medieval town, lost to the world, was founded by the Bundela kings in the 16th century. I walk past the Betwa river to see the massive chhatris, or cenotaphs, of its rulers glowing in the morning light.
Palaces, temples and tombs dot this town, standing out amidst the clutter. Almost every monument tells a story – sometimes it’s a love story, sometimes one of betrayal. Emotions literally run high here as the Bundelas have even built a palace dedicated to friendship. Almost every brick here tells of mysteries and mysticism
Take the story of Jehangir Mahal, an impressive palace that stands for friendship between a Bundelkhand ruler, Raja Bir Singh Deo, and the Mughal emperor Jehangir. It is believed that Jehangir stayed here for just one night. The 236 chambers built over three storeys with an underground passage, decorated with ornate doors and domes and a massive courtyard in the centre, simply leave you spellbound. All this was for a title of “Maharaja” given to Bir Singh in return for the head of Jehangir’s nemesis, Abul Fazl.
My favourite is the Laxmi Narayan temple. To begin with it hardly looks like a temple. The walls are painted with stories from history depicting wars, friendship and trade. Laxmi Bai, the Rani of Jhansi, is immortalized here by the artists as we see soldiers all set for war. One of the paintings shows the entry of Europeans in the political scenario. I see them socializing with the Indian kings in “high spirits“.
Orchha is a centre of pilgrimage for devotees of Lord Ram. The deity is called Ram Raj and is worshipped in the form of a king as well. While local folklore narrates the story of how the deity was housed originally in the queen’s palace, the Chaturbhuj temple next door was meant to be the original temple for the deity
Saffron-clad saints and singers roam the town, giving it town a touch of mysticism. Almost every mahal is now a market as a mélange of tourists, travelers, backpackers and devotees throng the town.
I roam from one monument to another, lost in the world of stories –- not of battles fought and won -- but of dead men coming alive, of gods accompanying a queen to her palace, of a king mercilessly killing his son for ruthlessly killing a seer. Its 6 pm and the Betwa is shrouded in a coat of crimson as I return to my palace for the night.