Sam and I both wanted to see somewhere a little off the beaten track and perhaps more peaceful. So Orchha – meaning ‘hidden place’ – seemed a very attractive option.
After another white knuckle ride into the hills, we met a small charming town – with the bustling rural atmosphere we’d yet to meet in India. We had decided to stay in a homestay organised by a charity. The place was so peaceful and welcoming and we had the sounds of chickens and cows instead of that incessant beeping.
But this wasn’t just an ordinary town, as ordinary as it must seem to it’s inhabitants. Growing out of hills and sprouting out of the river banks were the evocative ruins of palaces and temples, so long a part of the furniture here, that they almost felt like a natural phenomena, like volcanoes or glaciers.
Always in the distance you can pick out the tops of these structures, raised above a foundation of ordinary rural life in India. They’d even built the market into the base of one of the dilapidated temples. It’s a strange sight to behold, like some weird inverse of London. The lifestyle of the people is a polar opposite and instead of the Shard or the Gherkin piercing the sky-line, you have the ruins of a once magnificent kingdom, which you can use as landmarks to navigate around.
We were able to fully appreciate Indian indifference to health and safety in it’s full majesty, as we had the rare opportunity to explore each elevated walkway, tower and hidden staircase with complete freedom. Steps were crumbled and walkways ended in sheer drops, but always with that spectacular view of rolling hillside and ornate ruins hidden amongst the market town. All of this was open to explore as you wished. I felt like a child, giddy of the excitement of adventuring this colossal palace. It had retained enough of it’s shape and traces of the rich blue tiles, that you could imagine the place in all it’s glory many years ago.
Our temple spotting led us down to the river, filled with families bathing happily and a quick stroll down the ghats led us to complete seclusion (a first and hopefully not last experience in India). We climbed the rocks across the river to sit and watch the world go by and congratulated ourselves on a successful day.
We then met the romantically crumbling Cenotaphs (around 14 in total), towering by the sides of the river. However those nearest the water were heaving with huge mutant wasps, so we dared not venture in. Some of them had been thoughtfully restored and were surrounded by lush and beautifully maintained gardens – yet the insides still had a waspish presence and Sam even spotted a family of vultures nesting in the tall towers.
Orchha was a definite highlight of the trip so far and I truly have no idea why this place doesn’t have the fame it deserves.