Our second day in Orchha was all about exploring the historical structures of the town starting with its crown jewel – the vast Orchha Fort. We started early and after having breakfast at the hotel, we made our way towards the fort. During our walk to the fort we came across a couple of medieval mansions which had fallen into disrepair due to years of neglect but still helped the town to retain its medieval charm.
We soon reached the main road from where the walls of the fort became visible and then continued on towards the market. We turned right, crossed the bridge built over a huge algae covered moat and entered the Orchha fort. A map at the entrance of the fort gave us an indication of the vastness of the complex along with the points of interest. We decided that instead of covering all the points, many of which were just ruins, we would cover the important parts of the fort like Raja Mahal and Jahangir Mahal in detail. We also decided against hiring a guide since they work in a time bound manner and we spend a lot of time in one place to explore it properly and capture perfect photographs.
Raja Mahal, which literally translates to King’s Palace, was one of the earliest structures built in the fort with its construction starting in 1538 AD. It was the first palace that we visited and despite its simple exterior, the interior of the palace was quite beautiful. The symmetry of the palace, built around large open courtyards, was quite stunning but the defining feature of this palace was its exquisite and colourful murals which were preserved extremely well in some of the rooms.
One thing we loved about the place was that unlike most monuments, we had an almost unrestricted access to all parts of the palace which included access to the very top of the palace. We had to climb a long flight of narrow stairs to reach the top but it was totally worth it because from the top of the palace we had a wonderful view of the town, the river, the monuments as well as that of the interiors of Raja Mahal itself. We walked along the parapets of the palace taking in the view from all sides and then came down and exited the palace.
Jahangir Mahal was the second palace that we visited in Orchha fort. This palace was built by one of the most affluent Bundela ruler – King Bir Singh Dev – in the early 17th century to commemorate the visit of Emperor Jahangir to Orchha. Bir Singh Dev was a vassal of the Mughal Empire and this can be seen clearly in the architecture of the palace which has a lot more Islamic influence as compared to Raja Mahal. This combination of Indo-Islamic architecture also resulted in this palace being more beautiful than Raja Mahal. The distinguishing features of Jahangir Mahal palace were its domes, cupolas, stone carvings, latticed windows and elephant brackets supporting the first floor balcony.
Just like in Raja Mahal, here too we climbed to the top of the palace and were rewarded with some great views of the river and rest of the fort complex which consisted of ruins of mansions, temples and other structures. Later, we also saw the back gate of the palace which had extremely beautiful and intricate carvings and was surrounded by statues of elephants on both sides.
After our visit to Jahangir Mahal was over we went to Sheesh Mahal, a palace that has been converted into a hotel, and offers guests a chance to live in same surroundings as the royalty of Orchha. We had a sumptuous lunch there and then proceeded to see other structures in the fort complex.
As we strolled through the fort complex after lunch, we came across several general and military structures such as bungalows of important personalities and officers, a large arched gate (Shahi Darwaza), royal baths (Hamam Khana), cannon storage facility (Tope Khana), camel stable (Oont Khana) and Rai Praveen Mahal (another small palace). Rai Praveen Mahal was constructed by King Indramani Singh for the beautiful poetess and musician – Rai Praveen. We had read a lot about the palace and the beautiful garden alongside it but were eventually disappointed by it. The grass of the garden had withered and had acquired a brown hue even in the month of February.
We also observed few other things which pointed to lack of proper maintenance and security. There were some kids playing cricket in the complex just behind one of the palaces with no regard for history around them. Some parts of the fort area had been encroached by farmers who were using them for agricultural purposes. We could only hope that government would take quick steps to protect this priceless heritage of our country.