It was as whimsical as one could be; Orchha had beckoned for years and I had chosen the middle of April to finally set foot in this land of riches and subsequent ruins. While the original plan was to see it over 2 days; I ended up spending close to a week. It was slow travel at its best, caused largely due to the searing heat in the afternoons.
A shared auto ride costing 20 rupees each bring us to Orchha, from Jhansi. The small town feel of the former capital of Bundela Rajas is charming indeed. Although there is much to write about the sights and monuments of Orchha, this post is about the cenotaphs (or Chhatris) of the kings of Bundela Dynasty; and I must not digress.
Orchha was founded in 1531 and was the capital of Bundelkhand (Kingdom of the Bundela Rajas) until 1738. There is a certain air of melancholy that prevails in Orchha. The grandeur of the past feels like a mirage with derelict monuments of the present.
My first sight of the cenotaphs is etched in my mind; I had gasped ‘Wow’ at the conical spires of the tombs. Even the chićness of the French origin of the word ‘Cénotaphe’ isn’t lost on me; these are classy monuments for real.
The sky is bursting with light even at 1630 hrs, after all this is the summer of India. The path to the cenotaphs winds across the village. The cenotaphs themselves look identical, except the one made for the most successful Bundela Raja – Vir Singh Deo. His cenotaph is round and square, reminiscent of Mughal architecture – maybe because of his friendship with Prince Salim. I wonder if it would be a spectacular sunset with the cenotaphs in the background across Betwa river, clicked from the other side.
The cenotaphs are home to endangered vultures and emerald parakeets, who laze on the spires. The greenery of manicured lawns is history; water levels in the Betwa have plummeted after successive years of scanty rainfall. Drought like conditions have ensured Bundelkhand is in dire straits and the warm winds are almost unbearable.
In total, there are 14 cenotaphs in memory of the Orchha rulers built on Kanchana Ghat on the banks of Betwa River.The monuments shine like gold when fading sunlight falls on them; and quickly become a structure of stones when the light goes away. It is a telling statement on the plight of Orchha; capital of a flourishing empire once and reduced to a neglected obscure town now.
If I compare the cenotaphs to the more illustrious designs found in Rajasthan; the cenotaphs of Orchha will lag behind. What they lack in intricacy and carvings, they surely make up for in size. I will pen down more anecdotes and sights from Orchha in due course of time; this was my most memorable first day of the journey; from April 2016.
Entry Tickets : There is a small priced entry ticket for entry to the cenotaphs in Orchha. I can’t exactly remember the price. Dusk is a recommended time to visit them.