Tag Archives: Palaces

Orchha – A Hidden Heritage Site

Just because you’re stuck at home doesn’t mean you can’t add another place to your travel list.

Orchha in Madhya Pradesh, India is a ‘hidden’ gem. It’s historical monuments adjacent to pristine nature narrate a story.

I happened to be in Orchha, Madhya Pradesh, on the occasion of ‘Namaste Orchha’ festival, whose director Yasmin Kidwai said that, “Madhya Pradesh is a very underrated destination. While its wildlife is acknowledged, the state’s vast historical and architectural heritage is not. The state represents what best India has to offer. Orchha is a part of these untold and undiscovered destinations in the state.” 

A small town in Bundelkhand region may have just emerged as the key to unleashing the rich potential of tourism in Madhya Pradesh, but it is a treasure trove of forts, rivers, forests, and cultures. 

So, to explore its historical and architectural heritage, I had decided to roam around the nooks and corners of the small town with a glorious past. 

Colors of Architecture 

Chatturbhuj Mandir

Founded in the 18th century by Rudra Pratap Singh, Orchha became the capital of the Bundela Rajput dynasty. Planned along the river Betwa, the complex of forts, palaces, and cenotaphs surprise the visitors with the unexpected. While exploring them, legends come alive and you are lost in a labyrinth inducing curiosity.

Yes, this is Orchha. A vast canvas with all the colors of architecture and each color tells a unique and vibrant story. It is the only place in India where Lord Ram is worshipped as a King. The grand temples stand majestically against the landscape, merging the stories of valor of the Rajput Kings with those of the Gods. 

Chhatris – Memorials of Rulers 

Chhatris along the river.

Fourteen chhatris or cenotaphs line the Kanchan Ghat of the river Betwa. Built in the 17th and 18th centuries, chhatris are memorials spaces for the rulers of Orchha. Like the pyramids of Egypt, they were constructed to respect the dead, but no treasure can be found here. While watching the flowing river, walking through the green fields, you can marvel at their intricate beauty. While passing through the square shape cenotaph of Vir Singh Deo, I felt as though I could spend hours admiring the structure. 

Splendid Palaces 

Orchha, which means ‘hidden’, has a paradise of forts that need to be explored and admired for its blend of Mughal and Bundela architecture. To understand the grandeur of the past, one must visit the fort complex where Orchha’s rulers used to live. It is a delightful experience to watch the sunset from the jharokas built on the fort’s exteriors. From the top, you can see the entire town and three main structures of the fort – Raja Mahal, Jehangir Mahal, and Rai Praveen Mahal. 

Raja Mahal includes the Sheesh Mahal and every evening you can enjoy a light and sound show which narrates the story of the Bundelas. It is one of the most historic monuments in the fort.

Situated to the right of the quadrangle, is a palace built by Madhukar Shah. The plain exteriors crowned by chhatris, give way to interiors with exquisite murals, bold colors, and a variety of religious themes.

Jehangir Mahal has intricate carvings and large verandahs at every step. Passing through several dungeon-like staircases and maze-like rooms will leave you in awe. Invited by the Bundela King, Jehangir came and ended up staying for a long time; this was constructed to honor him. The Jahangir Mahal is multi-story and offers spectacular views from its balconies.

Rai Praveen Mahal was constructed for the poetess and singer of the royal court at Orchha during the time of Raja Indramani. When Emperor Akbar heard about her beauty, he ordered to send her to Delhi. But, her commitment and love for Indramani forced Akbar to send her back to Orchha. The palace built for her is a low two-storied brick structure, designed to match the height of the trees in the surroundings. Now it is left with stories of the glorious past in its ruins.

Temple Tales 

Raja Ram Temple is the main temple for the people of Orchha, where Ram is worshipped as king, not as a God. This complex was originally the palace of then-ruler, Madhukar Shah Judev, a devotee of Lord Krishna. His wife, Queen Ganesh Kunwari, worshipped Lord Rama and wanted to place his idol in the palace. At odds, the Queen set out to Ayodhaya. Pleased by her prayers alongside river Sarayu, Lord Ram appeared in the form of a baby and agreed to go with her on the condition that he will be the king of Orchha and the first place she seats him will be his final place of stay. On returning, the queen placed him in the palace for the night. Next morning, when she tried to take the idol to the Chaturbhuj Temple, which was constructed for it, Lord Ram did not move; hence the palace became the Raja Ram temple. 

The Chaturbhuj Temple is dedicated to Lord Vishnu and constructed on a stone platform and is a rectangular building only reached by climbing a long flight of stairs. The temple has brown walls and beautifully carved high ceilings; a 202-meter-high ceiling is undoubtedly a unique feature of any Hindu temple. You will not find any carvings in this temple but the beautiful blend of palace and temple architecture is impressive. Lotus emblems and other symbols of religious significances provide delicate exterior ornamentation. Within the sanctum, it is chastely plain with high, vaulted walls emphasizing its deep sanctity.

Laxminarayan Mandir

Laxminarayan Temple is also a blend of fort and temple architecture. The interior is decorated with wall paintings and ceiling murals, which are vivid compositions. Although it’s a palatial temple with ongoing construction, you can still feel the serenity and calmness soothe your mind and body. 

Homestays – An Emerging Concept

Maximum tourists are preferring to stay in homestays, which is an emerging market. Designer Anupama Dayal painted the walls of these simple but comfortable stays with the drawings of Gond art. “It is a repetitive motif albeit in completely different art styles in the frescos and the colorful Gond art. These lovely motifs symbolize the freedom and the link between earth, waters, and strong elements of Orchha,” she told. 

Suman Bajpai is a freelance writer, journalist, editor, translator, traveler, and storyteller based in Delhi. She has written more than 10 books on different subjects and translated around 130 books from English to Hindi. 

Hyderabadi Splendor!

Hyderabad, the capital of Andhra Pradesh, epitomizes the perfect blend of diversity, both in culture as well as age, seamlessly integrating the ancient with the modern.

I decided to devote a few days of my summer vacation in 2013 to exploring this historic city, which is known for its magnificent forts and palaces, gardens and lakes, and of course the delectable Hyderabadi biryani, shimmering pearls and colorful glass bangles.

The beautiful Charminar Monument in Hyderabad, Andhra Pradesh
The beautiful Charminar Monument in Hyderabad, Andhra Pradesh

I began my trip with a visit to Charminar in the old city area. The most identifiable monument in Hyderabad, the Charminar is a majestic structure built in the year 1591 CE by Mohammed Quli Qutb Shah. An imposing edifice of four ornately decorated minarets and four grand arches facing onto different streets, the Charminar exudes the grandeur of Indo Islamic architecture. It has a profusion of balconies and balustrades, with a mosque on the fourth floor of the structure.

The exquisite exterior of the Chowmahalla Palace in Hyderabad, Andhra Pradesh
The exquisite exterior of the Chowmahalla Palace in Hyderabad, Andhra Pradesh

There is an interesting anecdote associated with the construction of this grand monument. It is widely believed that Mohammad Quli Qutb Shah promised to build a mosque at the center of the city where he prayed, on the eradication of a plague that had been ravaging his city.  Thus, the Charminar was built to celebrate the end of the dreaded plague.

Gazing at the tall imposing monument made me feel as if I was looking at a signature icon of the city somewhat like the  The Gateway of India is to the commercial capital, Mumbai.

Adjoining the Charminar area is the popular market called the Laad Bazaar, where I found rows and rows of shops selling lacquer and glass bangles studded with many hued dazzling stones. I entered one of the stores to take a closer look and the salesman filled my wrists with the dazzle of multi-colored bangles! It was, indeed, very difficult to choose and buy one or two pairs of bangles out of the many lovely designs and colors available.

Close to the Charminar is the Chowmahallah Palace, which was our next experience of Nizami grandeur. I was awestruck at the sheer brilliance of the architecture and the lavishness of its appointments. The Chowmahallah Palace was once the throne of the Asaf Jahi kings and was believed to have been inspired by the Shah’s Palace in Tehran, Iran.

The Chowmahallah, which literally means four palaces, was originally spread over an area of fortyfive acres (of which only twelve acres remain), consists of the Afzal Mahal, Mahtab Mahal, Tahniyat Mahal and the Aftab Mahal. Though the palace’s construction was originally started by Salabat Jung in 1750, it was completed in 1869 through the efforts of Nizam Afzar ud Dawla Bahadur. The Chowmahalla palace has two courtyards—the northern and the southern. The southern courtyard is the oldest part and has four palaces in it. The Khilawat Mubarak contains the royal throne with the richly decorated chandeliers and architecture complementing the grandeur.

The colorful Laad Bazaar in Hyderabad, Andhra Pradesh
The colorful Laad Bazaar in Hyderabad, Andhra Pradesh

At the time of Indian independence, the Nizam of Hyderabad was said to be the richest person in the world. On September 17, 1948, the Nizams lost Hyderabad to  the Indian union. At present, Princess Esra, the last Nizam Mukarram Jah’s wife, is overseeing the renovation of the Chowmahalla along with the government.

The fine intricate carvings on the walls of the palaces; the huge ornate chandeliers hanging from the ceiling and the royal throne of the king give a perfect glimpse of royal Nizami setting of a bygone era. The Chowmahallah Palace also houses different items of daily use owned by the Nizams. Ornate items of furniture, exquisite cutlery, pieces of royal clothing, lethal weapons and much more can be found on the upper floors of the palace.

The dreamy Ramoji Film City in Hyderabad, Andhra Pradesh
The dreamy Ramoji Film City in Hyderabad, Andhra Pradesh

Lingering at the Chowmahallah, we didn’t realize the passage of time. It was past two in the afternoon when we left. To set our hunger pangs at rest, we hailed an auto and arrived at Paradise Food Court; which is well known for its special Hyderabadi biryani.

Hyderabadi biryani is made from a superior quality basmati rice and is flavored with a number of spices and condiments. While cooking, the edges of the vessel are sealed with dough to keep the aroma intact. Hyderabadi biryani has a spicy, tangy taste which lingers on the palate for long afterwards!  After the sumptuous biryani, it was my turn to tuck into the delectable double ka meetha. This dessert is a tasty bread and milk pudding topped with dry fruits and is a must for anyone with a sweet tooth.

A visit to Hyderabad would be incomplete without shopping for pearl jewellery. Today Hyderabad is the world leader in the pearl trade and pearls of different hues and designs can be found here. I headed to the showroom of Mangatrai Pearls and Jewellery at Basheerbagh. The extensive collection of pearl earrings, pendants, bracelets, necklaces and finger rings tested my resolve.

Satisfied with the pearls I finally bought,  I hired an auto and whizzed off towards Hussain Sagar Lake along Necklace Road. This lake was excavated in 1562 by Hussain Shah Wali during the rule of Ibrahin Quli Qutb Shah.  This lake offers facilities for water sports like boating and paddling among others. At the center of the lake stands a majestically built monolithic structure of Gautam Buddha, which is 18 metres (~60 feet) tall. It was carved out of a single white granite stone weighing 496 tons and was erected in the year 1992.

 

A night time image of the impressive Buddha Statue at Lumbini Park in Hyderabad, Andhra Pradesh
A night time image of the impressive Buddha Statue at Lumbini Park in Hyderabad, Andhra Pradesh

I strolled through Lumbini Park and bought tickets for a boat ride to the Buddha statue. As our boat steered towards the huge statue, a mild cool breeze touched our faces. On reaching the statue and the enclosed garden, I marveled at the serene atmosphere prevailing there.

A visit to South India must accommodate the delicious food of the south. Though usually taken for breakfast, I had  a masala dosa for dinner and topped it with a tall glass of lassi at Chutney’s a vegetarian restaurant

I had heard so much about Ramoji Film City that I could not resist verifying it. A drive of one and a half hours from Hyderabad, Ramoji Film City has been acknowledged by the Guinness World Records as the largest film studio complex in the world.  A wonderland to the eyes, the film city left me mesmerised. The Mughal gardens, the Japanese gardens and the Hawa Mahal are all here at Ramoji. A movie makers paradise, it has everything from the settings for every scene of a film to the technical support required to make it happen. Our friendly guide, Halder, informed us that scenes of the recently released blockbuster Chennai Express were shot here. Ramoji Film City also has a number of restaurants, shopping centres, hotels and rides. Different cultural programs, which include an opening and closing ceremony, stunt shows, and dances are performed live throughout the day at several theatres and at the central court. There was also a session dedicated to the art of film making, which showed how sound mixing and video editing is done in films.

The world class environs, the magical world of films and the many fascinating sights and rides of Ramoji lure thousands of people to this wonderland of cinema.

Even as I left Hyderabad, the sights, smells and sounds of this Nawabi city lingered on my senses. Hyderabad was an unforgettable blend of history with modernity.

Arundhati Nath is a freelance writer from Guwahati, Assam. She has written for publications like Child, Crystal Quest, Pulse and Sterling World. She can be reached at [email protected].